Toyota’s Highlander was a pioneer in the midsize crossover SUV category 17 years ago becoming the class benchmark. The third-generation model entered its fourth last year, seating up to eight, with a choice of three powertrains and four model grades, all adding up to an ideal family vehicle. The mid-size SUV began the third generation with the 2014 model lineup which consisted of a new grade strategy featuring four well equipped trim levels: LE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum. LE is FWD only, while all other grades offer both front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations, and AWD gas versions include Dynamic Torque Control as standard fare. Each grade level provides progressively more feature content.
Powering all Toyota Highlander Hybrid grades is a 3.5-liter V6 engine and electronically controlled automatic transmission that offers selectable manual sequential shifting.
The 3.5-liter DOHC, 24-valve V-6 with dual VVT-I delivers 231 horsepower and 215 pound feet of torque. The Hybrid System is coupled to an electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence in three variants depending on the engine and drive configuration. The Hybrid features a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with a planetary gear unit for gear reduction and power splitting; electronic all-wheel drive control system. AWD-i models are equipped with front and rear electric drive motors.
The Hybrid System delivers 280 horsepower (209 kW) with three permanent magnet Motor Generators – 650V max voltage. Max output MG2=167 hp (123 kW) / 247 lb. ft torque / MG3= 68 hp (50 kW) / 103 ft-lb. torque. Sealed nickel metal hydride battery pack with 288V nominal voltage and 45 kW Max power output. The System yields an impressive EPA fuel rating of 27 mpg city/28mpg highway/28 mpg combined, best in class for a three row mid-size SUV. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
Visually, the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a carryover from the 2017 model year, that bowed with a bolder and more dynamic exterior persona, featuring a lower, sleeker roofline and narrowed “A” pillar. It has grown in length by approximately three inches while the width was increased one-half inch. Up front, the hood merges with the stylish trapezoidal grille, wraparound headlamps and deeply chiseled and pronounced fenders, delivering a bolder, more athletic appearance. The length of the profile, from the front fenders to the rear quarter panels stands out with sculptured wheel wells at all four corners, allowing for prominently protruding wheels. The cabin glass area was lengthened with blacked out “B” and “C” pillars and a bright surround that added to the Highlander’s aero-dynamicism.
The aft end finishes with a height-adjustable rear lift-gate with an available one-touch power open/close and driver selectable memory height settings. The taillights and bumper display both style and strength. An integrated rear roof spoiler lip hints at performance. Acoustic-type glass is utilized for the windshield, helping to reduce noise entering the cabin. Even the panoramic moonroof design works to help reduce wind noise, even when open.
The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid benefits from a premium interior design with advanced technological features, offering spaciousness for up to eight occupants, with an extensive array of standard comfort, convenience and technology features and equipment. Premium materials are utilized delivering an upscale ambience, with most models featuring standard contrast seat stitching. All Highlanders are equipped with a soft-touch instrument panel; and silver-painted, satin, and chrome-plated accents thoughtfully placed throughout the interior.
Premium fabrics, available smooth and perforated leather trim seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob add to Highlander’s upscale interior. The adoption of a high quality knit roof lining and available second-row sunshades also contribute to Highlander’s refinement and comfort.
A new roll-top center console provides a comfortable armrest, or when fully opened is large enough to hold a large handbag. All Highlanders feature an LCD in-meter-cluster Multi-Information Display, available in 3.5-inch black & white or 4.2-inch color display. Ambient lighting is available around the front dash, which makes for a relaxing environment.
The 60/40 second row offers bench seating for three passengers or two captain’s seats that feature a collapsible side tray with cup holders for added convenience. Entry into the third-row is easy with the addition of a one-step second-row sliding seat function on both driver and passenger sides that provides nearly three inches of space for easier third-row ingress and egress. The third-row has a standard recline function, enhancing comfort for up to three passengers. Like the second-row bench, the third-row will also be 60/40 split for added passenger and storage flexibility and convenience. Rear cargo space behind the third-row is increased for added storage capability.
My 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid tester came in Limited Platinum trim and AWDi with a base sticker of $48,280 and a final total of $49,275 after factoring in options plus the Delivery processing and Handling fee. The was sprayed a metallic Predawn Gray Mica, while the interior was done in Saddle and Charcoal tones Black with matte finished wood trim accents on the doors and dash.
The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum continues bold and sleek styling, accompanied by enhanced interior appointments with upscale comfort levels, pleasing performance and operating efficiency. The Highlander Hybrid’s Hybrid Synergy Drive System operates seamlessly and is highly efficient, while accommodating the entire family with seating capability for up to eight, with gear. Rear seat entertainment is available to keep kids and grandkids busy during travel, and an in-dash shelf with a pass through to USB and 12V plug-ins allows for easy cable management. The center console will hold a woman’s large purse or 58 juice boxes. Second and third row air vents are provided with available three-zone climate control. Upscale models come with heated and ventilated front seats, with an available heated steering wheel and heated second row seats. A panoramic moonroof is also available.
The Highlander comes with a Backup Camera and Toyota’s Entune audio systems. Upscale models offer advanced safety technologies such as Blind Spot Monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Parking Assist Sonar, and an available Driver Technology Package includes a Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Automatic High Beam Headlights and Safety Connect. Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) driver-assist technology is now standard.
Most of all, this latest iteration Highlander handles spirited driving maneuvers deftly. While not a sports car, it performs with surprising stability on the road, handling with an agile, on-center steering feel, while delivering a most comfortable ride quality. In terms of its performance capability, with a full complement of 8 occupants, on a steep uphill grade, the 3.5-liter V6 is up to the task.
Considering the wide grade range in terms of equipment and feature content, the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid presents itself as an ideal mid-size, three-row SUV. providing several choices for a variety of consumers. It comes with a choice of attractive exterior colors and a basic limited warranty coverage: a 3-year/36,000-mile Comprehensive, a 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain, a 5-year/unlimited-mileage Corrosion Perforation, and an 8-year/100,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage. The Highlander also comes standard with Toyota Care, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Bottom line, the Highlander Hybrid fills the bill as an outstanding and luxurious Hybrid SUV.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWDi
Base Price: $48,280.
Price as Tested: $49,275.
Engine Type and Size: 3.5-liter DOHC, 24-valve V-6 with dual VVT-I and VVT-iW, electronic fuel injection. Hybrid System net 280 horsepower (209 kW) with three permanent magnet Motor Generators – MG1-650V max voltage. Max output MG2=167 hp (123 kW) / 247 lb. ft torque / MG- rear= 68 hp (50 kW) / 103 ft-lb. torque. Sealed nickel metal hydride battery pack with 288V nominal voltage and 45 kW Max power output.
Horsepower (bhp): 231 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque (ft./ lbs.): 215 @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) with planetary gear unit for gear
reduction and power splitting; electronic all-wheel drive
Drive Train: Transversely mounted front engine / AWD with front and rear drive electric motors.
Suspension: Front – Independent MacPherson Strut, coil springs and low friction Shock absorbers.
Rear – Double wishbone with stabilizer bar and shock absorbers.
Brakes: Power-assisted, electronically controlled Brake System, four-wheel discs (vented front) with ABS, EBD, BA, VDIM and regenerative control.
Tires: Toyo A20 Open Country 245/55 R19 – 103T M&S mounted on 5- spoke dark chrome alloy wheels
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length Overall: 192.5 inches
Width: 75.8 inches
Height: 70.1 inches w/ shark-fin antenna (68.1” without)
Approach Angle: 18 degrees
Departure Angle: 23.1 degrees
Ground Clearance: 8.0 inches
Curb Weight: 4,910 lbs.
Turning Circle: 38.7 ft.
Approach Angle: 17.6 degrees
Departure Angle: 23.9 degrees
Fuel Capacity: 17.2 gallons
EPA Mileage Estimates: 29 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
Drag Coefficient: 0.34
0 – 60 mph: Not tested
Arv Voss is a Northern California based freelance motoring Journalist and member and past officer of several noted Automotive Journalist organizations who contributes regularly to a number of national and international media outlets. He reviews not only cars, trucks and SUVs, but motorcycles and unusual wheeled vehicles as well.