Toyota rolled out the third-generation Highlander utility vehicle in gas and hybrid form a few years back and the automaker – and consumers – couldn’t be happier. It appears Toyota actually listened as they ironed out all the little kinks and quips with the previous generation model and they proved just that with our recent 2017 Highlander Hybrid tester.
This new Highlander maintains the same wheelbase as the previous generation but grew in length overall by about three inches. It is a smidge wider but some big news was that thanks to re-engineering the rear suspension the third row seat could now accommodate three passengers for a total occupancy inside of up to eight. Granted, that third row is not for anyone you wish to impress as seating is tight but active families will appreciate the alternate choice to the ubiquitous minivan or behemoth SUV here.
For those who state Highlander is still not a “real” sport utility you are correct, as the architecture remains of unibody form. To counter that Toyota states they have a dual-prong approach to the mid-size consumer in the form of its 4Runner SUV for the more adventurous crowd who might otherwise quickly exceed Highlander’s capabilities.
Despite its “greener” appeal, the hybrid version of Highlander does not disappoint one bit as it performed as admirably as its gasoline siblings in previous testing. The gas/electric component of the powertrain in the hybrid edition brings plenty of boost at launch and during acceleration – a common, favorable trait of hybrid vehicles. For 2017 models, Toyota has boosted the engine output of the 3.5-liter V-6 with direct-injection. This engine is mated to the Hybrid Synergy Drive electric component for our test model bringing total powertrain output to 306hp and a bevy of torque available instantly. The gas and electric motors are mated to an electronically controlled CVT gearbox. All Highlander Hybrid models are equipped with electronic on-demand all-wheel drive where a second, independent electric motor powers the rear wheels for optimal traction.
This third-generation is the best-looking Highlander to date and offers a surprisingly nice interior package that includes a device shelf center dash that runs from the just below the radio to over the glove box. This is in addition to an interior that is significantly quieter and offers more amenities than ever before and features all the latest technology including rear parking sonar, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beam headlights, pre-collision system (with pedestrian detection) with automatic brake control, and dynamic radar cruise control.
For 2017, Toyota offers Highlander Hybrid models on LE, XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum trim levels. This is the first year the automaker is offering the hybrid version on its more base grade levels, making Highlander a better value for families. Pricing begins at $36,270 with our XLE tester arriving with a window sticker of $44,080. Fuel economy is rated at 29 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Highlander delivers as promised on long stretches of highway and tight, twisty roads alike, and the passing lane has found a new friend. Never once did a voice need to be raised to carry a conversation despite the road surface condition underneath and wind noise has been reduced thanks to new mirror design and a more integrated roof rail system overhead. The new model handles itself very well and is quite agile in town while offering a very stable ride on the open road. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the dynamic, sleek, and sophisticated utility vehicle the automaker has made it out to be and, for this model line, certainly proves the third time can definitely be the charm.