By David Colman
Hypes: STakes Work to Drain the Tank
Gripes: Needs Pneumatic Hood Struts
Call this one the ‘Hybridlander.’ At $50,385, it’s right at the top of the model’s price range. Sure, you can buy a stripper ‘Lowlander’ with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder 185hp engine for an entry level price of $29,665. But for sheer practicality, performance, comfort and travel range, you can’t beat the line-topping Hybrid. Almost unheard of in today’s option-sodden market, our test Toyota did not boast a single extra price package. Why? Because it comes delivered only one way: Fully Equipped.
The standard issue abundance starts under the hood, where you’ll discover Toyota’s time tested 3.5 liter V6, featuring double overhead cams and variable intake valve timing. This cornerstone gas engine is augmented by a pair of electric motors, one front, one rear, which supply instant torque when you stomp the accelerator. Combined, all this technology bumps total powertrain output to 280hp, 10 more hp than the V6 alone can generate. So good is the 248 lb.-ft. torque pull of this Hybrid that the CVT transmission never hunts aimlessly for optimal performance. The Hybrid Highlander is one of the few power trains that compliment the CVT’s seamless behavior rather than exposing its sometimes annoying inadequacies.
The only problem you’re likely to encounter in the engine department is gaining access to that department. Despite the fact that the hood is incredibly heavy and awkward to hoist, Toyota neglected to equip it with hydraulic lifts. You are thus forced to struggle with one hand to hold it high while you fiddle to insert the spindly prop rod in the correct receptacle. This charade is not at all befitting a vehicle in this price range.
It is, however, the only such oversight we noted in our week long test drive. The interior is fitted with seating for seven, with a third row bench seat fit for Munchkins, two captain’s chairs in the second row, and fairly palatial Lazy Boy buckets up front. All the seats look inviting thanks to the use of perforated leather. The third row bench folds flat in a 60/40 split, and the second row chairs do likewise. Although the Highlander back row seats lack the nifty electric flip feature available in comparable GM SUVs, there’s really little reason to carp here. Transformation from 7 passenger configuration to a flat floor 40.5 cubic foot cargo hold can be achieved in a matter of minutes, without the help of electric motors. The rear cargo hatch of the Highlander does enjoy such a powered lift, and you can set its altitude to any height you choose.
As you might expect, this pricey Toyota provides a raft of standard infotainment options, including just about any alphabet acronym you care to name. You’ll discover the following standard inclusions: AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/AUX/HD and XMS. If all that doesn’t provide enough diversion for you and your family, may I suggest you suffer from entertainment impairment. And should you doubt the direction of your travel, standard navigation displays itself on a whopping 8 inch touchscreen. About the only complaint we could muster regarding the infotainment nexus is the small size and unsatisfying grip afforded by the radio tuning knobs. But at least Toyota has the foresight to continue supplying such archaic analog features, since most companies have discarded them in favor of digital slides that are impossible to control while driving.
Before you pop for a minivan, you’ll want to examine the benefits afforded by the crisply styled Highlander. It handles better than any minivan thanks to a firm suspension stance aided by Bridgestone Dueler H/L tires (245/55R19). It affords all the space you would normally covet in a van, yet does so without the visual stigma of a pack mule. True, you’ll wait in vain for Toyota to offer a built-in vacuum system in the Highlander, but really, wouldn’t a Dustbuster work just as well? And the deal sealer in this case should be the efficient Hybrid system which offers unexpected power, range and cost dividends thanks to an overall EPA rating of 28 MPG. Such parsimonious performance is most unexpected in an SUV weighing 4,490 pounds.
2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
- Engine: 3.5 liter DOHC V6 with VVT-i plus twin electric motors
- Horsepower: 280hp
- Torque: 248lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 27 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $51,385
- Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars