Efficiency Expert: Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Toyota Highlander is a three-row crossover utility vehicle with room for as many as eight people. Further, it’s Toyota’s largest crossover and slots beneath the Toyota Sequoia SUV. Like so many other Toyota models, a Highlander Hybrid variant is offered. Considered on its own, the hybrid model is the most efficient in its class and worthy of consideration during these days of elevated fuel prices.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid front fascia

2022 Toyota Highlander, by the Numbers

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a front-wheel-drive model with available all-wheel drive. Notably, unlike the standard model that’s powered by a V6 engine, the hybrid combines an efficient four-cylinder engine with one or two electric motors to motivate this model. The gas model utilizes an 8-speed automatic transmission to route power to the wheels. The hybrid works with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission to accomplish the same.

The following is our look at the Highlander, by the numbers.

1 – Safety system.

We like that Toyota includes its Safety Sense 2.5+ system across the Highlander’s model range. The bundle comprises a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and full-range adaptive cruise. Further, automatic high beams, lane departure alert with steering assist, and lane tracing assist come standard. Toyota also includes road sign assist, ideal for helping drivers stay within the speed limit. Separately, all but the base model also come with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid profile
2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid profile

2 – Two models. Gas and hybrid.

Leave it to Toyota to develop a hybrid model, especially given this automaker’s leadership in the gas-electric segment. Indeed, until recently, Toyota had the lone entry in the midsize class. But that is no longer the case as the Ford Explorer, Kia Sorento, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Hyundai Santa Fe each supply hybrid variants. Moreover, the Kia and Hyundai models go one up on the Toyota by offering conventional and plug-in hybrid variants.

4 – The 2022 Highlander is the third year of the fourth-generation model.

This vehicle rolled out in 2001 when crossovers were not common. At the time, Toyota had the midsize 4Runner (still available), but that truck-like model wasn’t enough. Enter the first-generation Highlander (2001-2007). Over the years, the Highlander has become roomier, and more sophisticated, and added a hybrid variant. Shop the used vehicle market and the second-generation Highlander (2008-2013) and third-generation models (2014-2019) follow. Lastly, the Highlander Hybrid launched in 2006 and has been a mainstay since.

4/6 – Choose the hybrid model and this one comes with four grades.

That’s two fewer grades than the conventional model. Prices for the hybrid range from $39,555 to $51,460. Choose the gas Highlander and the range is from $35,855 to $48,010. Depending on the grade chosen, the hybrid is a $1,500 to a $3,450 up charge. Add $1,600 for all-wheel drive and another $1,335 to cover the destination charge.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid interior

7/8 – The number of seats offered depends on the grade and cabin layout.

In some configurations, the Highlander comes with a middle-row bench seat. In other configurations, the bench seat is swapped out for a pair of captain’s chairs. The chairs are comfortable, easy to maneuver, and tilt and slide forward for ease of access to the third row. Consequently, they make the cabin more desirable.

8/12.3 – Touchscreen choices.

The standard Highlander comes with an 8-inch touchscreen display. That’s a sufficient size for the market. If you prefer a 12.3-inch screen it comes standard with the range-topping Platinum and is available with the Limited. Further, by making the upgrade it also benefits the audio system. Instead of the standard 6-speaker system, the bundle includes an 11-speaker JBL system.

16 – Cargo space.

The Highlander comes with a not-impressive 16 cubic feet of cargo space. You might think that Toyota added extra space to the third row at the expense of that. But they did not. Thus, some competing models deliver more room.

Fold down the rear seat and there is 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space. With the second-and third-row seats folded, you’ll enjoy 84.3 cubic feet. Moreover, roof rails supply additional storage space as needed.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid storage

18/20 – Wheel sizes.

Models with the L, LE, and XLE appellation come with 18-inch alloy wheels. They’re the most efficient and comfortable wheels the Highlander offers. All other trims come with 20-inch wheels. They’re sportier and come in alloy (chrome on the Limited). In addition, the ride quality slips slightly, but they’re better for light-duty trail skipping.

36 – Hybrid efficiency.

Choose a hybrid model and you expect excellent fuel efficiency. The Highlander Hybrid does not disappoint with its 35/36/36 city/highway/combined EPA rating. Undoubtedly, that’s simply outstanding! Choose all-wheel drive and the numbers fall by just 1 mpg. Compare these numbers to the V6 which delivers no better than 21/29/24 mpg.

295/243 – How much power do you need?

The standard 3.5-liter gas V6 develops 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, with power routing to the wheels utilizing an 8-speed automatic transmission. That places Toyota in the middle of the power band for competing models. If you prefer the efficiency of the hybrid, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine operates on the leisurely Atkinson cycle. This one develops 186 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque. But with the electric motor kicking in, 243 horsepower becomes possible. Power routes to the wheels via an electronic CVT.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid engine

3,500/5,000 – The gas Highlander has a 5,000-pound towing capacity when properly equipped.

That number is what’s expected for the segment, although the Nissan Pathfinder pulls up to 6,000 pounds. Choose the hybrid, and it pulls a respectable 3,500 pounds. Either way, Toyota ensures customers can pull when they want to.

100,000 – miles covered.

We understand customers may be concerned about the electric battery found in the Highlander Hybrid’s drive system. Certainly, the engine and transmission are other costly components that may one day need replacement. The same can be said for the battery pack. As per the industry standard, Toyota warrants the hybrid battery system for 8 years or 100,000 miles (longer in California). Our unscientific review of Toyota hybrids is that they far outperform expectations when properly maintained.

On the Road

Our test model was the Highlander Hybrid XLE with all-wheel drive. Its starting price is just over $45,000. Ours came with a special Bronze Edition package that included bronze-colored alloy wheels. Inside, the imitation leather seats featured bronze-colored stitching. Other upgrades covered tech and appearance enhancements. Specifically, you’ll pay an additional $2,025 for the package. Our advice? Skip it.

Shoppers of utility vehicles have choices, especially from Toyota. In the midsize range are the 4Runner and the Highlander. The first choice delivers ride and off-road capabilities paralleling the Tacoma pickup truck. The second choice supplies comfort equivalent to the Camry sedan or soon-to-be-retired Avalon sedan. Similar-sized utility vehicles, different missions.

We laud the Highlander for its excellent forward vision, comfortable ride, and decent handling. We’ve tested both the conventional and hybrid models. The V6 is the choice for anyone placing an emphasis on power and pulling capabilities. On the other hand, the hybrid is highly efficient and offers average power.

2022 Toyota Highlander

Rear Electric Motor

Toyota equips the Highlander Hybrid all-wheel drive model with a second electric motor. Specifically, this one is tasked exclusively with turning the rear wheels only when the front wheels slip. This means the system is not always on, but it will kick in when needed. Compare the hybrid’s all-wheel drive system with the gas model. On some versions, the system automatically shifts 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. On more sophisticated trims, torque-vectoring means power shifts from side to side or front to back as needed. Here, you get the best control possible.

The hybrid’s step-off acceleration is steady and quiet. Under hard acceleration, the gas engine kicks in. When operated with cruise control, the electric motor dominates. The gas engine joins in when additional power is needed, such as when climbing a hill. Together, the systems deliver decent power that we cannot despise.

Competitive Set

If it seems as if every manufacturer has a presence in this segment, you are correct. The lone exception is Mitsubishi, although, with its tie-in to Nissan, we might expect one eventually.

Among the domestics, the Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, and the GMC Acadia are worth comparing. The Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas are also in this segment. Don’t forget the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride. Lastly, the Kia Sorento is another model to consider.

2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid rear fascia

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Considerations

The Toyota Highlander is a strong competitor in gas form alone. The hybrid variant adds an intriguing element of efficiency. In these days of elevated fuel prices, the difference may be too difficult to pass. We recommend the hybrid for this reason.

2022 Toyota Highlander Specifications

Toyota 2022 Highlander
Segment Midsize, Three-Row SUV
Price Range $36,420 to $50,475
Destination Charge $1,335
Engine No. 1 2.5-liter, I4
Horsepower 186 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 175 @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission CVT
Engine No. 2 3.5-liter, V6
Horsepower 295 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 263 @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Seating 7/8
Curb Weight (pounds) 4,145 to 4,450
Wheelbase (inches) 112.2
Length (inches) 194.9
Width (inches) 76.0
Height (inches) 68.1
Headroom (f,r…inches) 39.9, 39.4, 36.1
Legroom (f,r…inches) 40.4, 41.0, 27.7
Shoulder room (f,r…inches) 59.0, 58.7, 55.0
Hip room (f,r…inches) 57.2, 57.0, 45.6
Storage (bed length) 16.0/48.4/84.3
Gross vehicle weight (pounds) N/A
Towing (pounds) 3,500 (hybrid)/5,000 (gas)
Payload (pounds) NR
Fuel regular
Fuel Tank (gallons) 17.9
EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined) 36/35/36 (hybrid); 20/27/23 (gas)
Manufacturing Plant Princeton, Indiana

Specifications supplied by the manufacturer. Compiled by Tom Keegan

See AlsoToyota Highlander: Chronicling the Changes

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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