Quick Take: 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

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It was a bit unexpected, at first. By the end of my week with the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, however, I’d learned my lines. “It’s the new Highlander,” I’d answer. “Toyota, yeah,” after the next question, followed by “the mileage is OK, actually. It’s a hybrid.” As that little script implies, lots of people wanted to talk about the new Highlander. A man in a Mercedes GL450 asked me about it outside a restaurant. A woman at the grocery store, who had a first-gen Highlander, herself, asked me about it. When I pulled up to my bank’s drive-through ATM, the clerk inside hailed me over the intercom to ask about the car. Even my in-laws were keen to talk about it- and they’re not keen to talk to me about much of anything!

So much for “Toyota makes boring cars.”

The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a sharp-looking machine, for sure. There’s more to it than just its looks, though, so let’s get to take some time and look at Toyota’s biggest and roomiest (for now, anyway) hybrid offering.

 

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Looking at It


I know, I know – I said that there was more to this car than its looks. I meant that, but it’s worth taking a look at the new Highlander one more time … if only to marvel at how visually massive the once mid-sized offering has really become.

Compared to the original Highlander, the 2015 Toyota Highlander has grown nearly 10″ in length. It’s also more than 6″ taller than that first Highlander, and 4″ wider. Parked alongside a 2004 model, the newer Hybrid model looked even bigger, still, and felt much more like the last Chevy Tahoe I drove than, say, the current Lexus RX450h. That may have less to do with the added size of the new Highlander, however, and more to do with the fact that it weighs well over 5000 lbs. once all the batteries and electric motors are figured in.

 

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Loading it Up


Climbing into the Toyota Highlander, you’re immediately convinced that it’s a truck. It’s still car-based, of course, but the added size went to adding width to the cabin and making it feel more like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition that the Highlander competes with size/price wise. Being less truck-ish, though, means the Highlander has a much smoother ride and roomier interior. The trade off is most apparent in towing capacities (5000 lbs. for the Toyota, 9000-ish lbs. for the domestic SUVs mentioned), but most buyers will, doubtless, find the Toyota more than capable enough.

All that said, the Highlander is roomy, comfortable, and has plenty of room for four adults, two or three children, and enough strollers, sunblocks, and diaper bags to get you and yours through, say, a trip to the zoo. While you might laugh at the suggestion that it wouldn’t, keep in mind that I couldn’t fit our Chicco travel stroller in the visually bigger Tahoe without putting one of the rear seats down.

 

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Driving It


The 2015 Toyota Highlander stepped up its luxury/premium game with softer leather, better stitching, and tastefully dark matte woods that compliment the rest of the upscale interior’s palette. The massive sunroof, too, creates a feeling of openness that would make even the most claustrophobic motorcyclist warm up, ever so slightly, to this big cage.

Trust me.

The big question about the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid “experience”, though, is invariably about the crossover’s fuel economy. Keeping mostly to Oak Park and the surrounding Chicago suburbs, we never had a trip that reported less than 28 MPG, and averaged just over 30 MPG throughout the week with a best trip of 34.8 MPG. That’s significantly better than the company’s claimed 27/28 MPG, and in keeping with Toyota’s track record of exceeding MPG expectations here at Gas 2.

Beyond MPG, the big Highlander delivered excellent sound through its JBL Audio system. The infotainment software, while still related to Lexus’ hated Enform, is a (small) step above the Lexus’, and doesn’t require quite as much of its drivers’ attention to change stations or set the nav or make a call. With more interior room, comfier seats, better mileage, more curb appeal, and a better user experience overall, though, it sort of begs the question: With cars like the Highlander and Avalon, why does Toyota bother with Lexus at all?

 

Original content from Gas 2.

 

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.