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Second Look: 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD

As avid road trippers we’ll find any excuse to hit the open road and launch any adventurous opportunities. But for a family of four, sometimes the only source of travel for vaca, is by car. After all airfare can cost into the thousands of dollars and while we may not understand the difficulties of managing children, we’ve seen the troubles at the airport.

Now when it comes to looking at your next car purchase, the main three things consumers look for is Safety, Practically, and Features. However, there is a fundamental flaw that we believe buyers tend to overlook – comfortability. Just because a three-row crossover is big and roomy doesn’t always mean that’s its comfortable and enjoyable. But that’s why we’re here – to ease your pain.

When we had planned our 1000 mile road trip adventure over Southern California, we sought out a crossover that we found to tick all the right check boxs needed for the average family road trip – the Toyota Highlander. However, there was a mix-up and instead of getting the originally planned $47,000 Highlander Limited AWD in Ooh La La Rouge with the BluRay Rear Seat Entertainment, we got a Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD with a Panoramic Sunroof – leaving our passengers to their own imaginations. Luckily we’ve experienced the Highlander Hybrid before – so we know what to expect.

At nearly $52,000, it’s not exactly something we would exactly call cheap. The only way to obtain the Highlander Hybrid is to spring for the Limited which also comes only in an All-Wheel Drive platform and a starting price of $49,990. Once we added in Carpeted Floor Mats ($225) and the most useless Running Boards ($599), we’re walking out the door with an overall price tag of $51,699 after the $885 destination charge.

Having the Limited badge on our Highlander Hybrid meant that we were cocooned with every option available (besides the DVD Entertainment.) Our featured Almond Leather interior was very well appointed with both power adjustable driver and passenger seats, heated and ventilated front seats, second-row captain’s chairs with heated feature, and tri-zone climate control. Our tester also featured a stunning panoramic sunroof and all the latest tech like the 8-inch touch screen navigation, pre-collision assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and a heated steering wheel.

It was love at first sight with our Highlander Hybrid from its gorgeous Nautical Blue exterior, the almond leather and a very well executed interior layout. Maintaining a classy design theme, the architecture is contemporary and to our liking – the switch gear is laid out nicely allowing easy access from the driver, the touch sensitive buttons are quick to respond and of course the navigation system is very intuitive with receptive touch feedback and easy to use voice controls – which came in nicely as we constantly were changing our destination.

Luckily for our case we had enough passengers to occupy just the front part of the Highlander, any more than that and it would have come down to drawing straws as to who sits in the 3rd row. Access to the third row is fairly simple with a quick draw from the second row seats, but once back there, it’s cramp, tight and uncomfortable – best to designate that the time-out bench. Plus with the third row in place, cargo in the back is limited – it was a tight squeeze just for our backpacks.

Essentially there are three motors that move this heavy weight 5000lbs crossover – one 3.5-liter V6 and two electric motors – one for each axle. Combined they make 280-horsepower and manages to hit 60 miles per hour in a few ticks less than 8-seconds from a Continuous Variable Transmission. On the road, delivery of power is linear from its CVT and manages to keep the pace with other motorist. The transition between gas and electric is unnoticeable and is effortlessly smooth. EV Mode can be engaged when traveling less than 25 miles per hour and as long as things stay steady, it can travel up to 2 miles on EV alone. Pedal to the metal and the Highlander will make some odd noises – some interesting drones become rather obnoxious, so we found it best to keep the needle in the “eco” part of the gauge.

Setting our sites toward Lancaster, California from our headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, we set the Adaptive Cruise Control to a comfortable 80 mph. During which we found the engine required more power than electricity and ultimately effected our fuel consumption as we averaged 25 mpg on regular fuel. Even with our so-so fuel consumption, it didn’t take long for us to realize we couldn’t go very far without needed another dose of fuel after 300 miles. However, those 300 miles seemed to go by quickly with a steady firmness from the suspension system that provided a comfortable setting but a good feel for the road. The steering wheel has a nice weight to it; however, it does give a false sense of willingness. Once the wheel is turn, there is not much of an eager connection between the driver and the car. But then again, it is a crossover hybrid, it’s not designed to be thrilling.

When it comes to stopping, which is important, the Highlander Hybrid starts of strong with a firm direct feel from the brake pedal – especially when applied with force. However during the day to day traffic jams and stop lights, the end result had this very uncomfortable, unnatural like feel that felt like abrupt stops – it took some time to get used to.

Since the launch of the Highlander we have admired its new bulky design – Toyota targeted a much brawnier, masculine theme with its bullnose fascia and muscular physique. It’s a design that works in the modern time of wicked polarizing design schemes. Our Hybrid Limited offered up a little more ascetically pleasing features like LED daytime running lights and 19-inch chrome wheels that look good against our Nautical Blue exterior paint.

Our travels took us through the hills of Lancaster, CA on the Musical Road, down to the sunny beaches of Santa Monica and to the desert oasis of Palm Springs; we concluded that hitting the $52,000 mark, it’s difficult to justify its $5000 jump over the standard Limited V6 for just a couple more MPG’s. As a vehicle in itself, the Highlander is a magnificent road trip companion that offered everything we needed during our journey – comfortable atmosphere, smooth ride, and enough safety equipment to ensure our safe arrivals back to headquarters. However, if it was up to us, we’d save the $5k and spend it towards our next family vacation.

Price (As Tested):
2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited AWD: $49,990
Destination: $885
Featured Options:
Carpeted Floor Mats: $225
Running Boards: $599
Grand Total: $51,699


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