Like a Highlander, but more so. The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is riding high after a redesign last year. The new generation kept all the virtues we loved about the last one, and dialed many of them up a notch.
That starts with the styling, which is a refreshing change from the boxy looks that dominate the current SUV market. The Highlander Hybrid looks athletic, with a wedge-shaped windowline that draws the eyes to a fashionably raked roof. It’s sharp, even if the Hybrid doesn’t benefit from the sporty XSE trim of its gas-powered sibling (covered separately).
Impressively, the Hybrid adds its namesake powertrain without detracting from the Highlander’s practicality. Cargo capacity is unchanged, with up to 84.3 cubic feet of space after folding all the seats. That’s impressive by any standards, but it’s stellar for a hybrid.
It’s a combination that gives the Highlander Hybrid few true competitors. The Ford Explorer Hybrid comes closest, but it's $10,000 more.
Leading the way. Without any sacrifices in the cabin, the Highlander Hybrid doesn’t provide many reasons to choose the gas-powered version. It comes in four trims that mirror the conventional lineup, and it’s available with either front- or all-wheel drive.
The Hybrid’s all-wheel-drive system is unusual, in that there’s no mechanical connection between the axles. The rear wheels are powered by a separate motor, which kicks in whenever more traction is needed. It may not be as trail-ready as more complicated configurations, but it works well in inclement weather.
The Highlander Hybrid is heavier than the gas version, but it doesn’t harm the handling. It was never meant to be a corner carver, and if anything, the Highlander Hybrid’s extra weight helps soak up bumps in the road.
All the powertrain trickery pays off at the pump: the EPA estimates that it’s good for 36 miles per gallon combined, which is a singular achievement. It's better than any full-size SUV on the market, usually by double digits.
Excellent tech. The powertrain isn’t the only impressive technology on display. Like most Toyotas, the Highlander Hybrid comes with a comprehensive range of safety features. Every model gets advanced tech like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring, which is more than many of its competitors can say.
Toyota has caught up to modern times with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, and the Highlander gets a serviceable 8-inch touchscreen in most models. Sadly, a generous 12.3-inch screen is confined to pricey Platinum trims.
On the other hand, every model gets five USB ports, which means that everyone can charge their phones and tablets at the same time. Still not enough? All except the base trim get a wireless charging pad.
The Highlander to have. For its efficiency, the Highlander Hybrid asks only a small premium over the regular Highlander. In all four trims, it's $1,400 more expensive than the gas-powered variant (all-wheel drive is another $1,600 in either case).
Given the Highlander Hybrid’s lack of compromises, we think that’s a reasonable price to pay. Gas-powered Highlanders have traditionally outsold the Highlander Hybrid, but we’re going to go ahead and say it: the hybrid is better.
It’s especially good value in XLE trim, which is our favorite of the lineup. With synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a power moonroof, it’s surprisingly luxurious, and it stays under $45,000 even after adding all-wheel drive.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a sign of the future, and of how far the industry has come. A full-size SUV getting 36 mpg combined would've been unthinkable not too long ago. The Highlander Hybrid proves that it's possible, and it sacrifices almost nothing along the way.
If you’re in the market for a Highlander, or a family SUV in general, the Highlander Hybrid deserves a look.
Check prices for the 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid »