Having already driven the gasoline models of the new 2014 Toyota Highlander, it was not a surprise to us to have found the very capable Hybrid model to be an excellent option for those wanting significantly better, segment leading, fuel economy – without giving up any performance, convenience or luxury – in their Highlander SUV.
The 2014 Highlander Hybrid is available only in the top-of-the-line Limited trim level and fitted with Toyota’s electronic on-demand all-wheel drive with intelligence (AWD-i). It has a base MSRP of $47,300 and, with the additional features of the Platinum Package included, the MSRP is $49,790.
There is a $6,200 price premium in selecting the hybrid over the non-hybrid version which is by no means small change. But it is worth considering. The Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum V6 power plant, bolstered by two electric drive motors, produces ten more combined horsepower (280 hp) than the conventional V6 Limited – and using its electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) with electronic all-wheel drive – delivers its power to the road with better fuel efficiency.
The gasoline Highlander Limited V6 AWD with conventional 6-speed automatic is rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway with an expected average of 20 mpg. In contrast, the hybrid Highlander Limited is rated as a full 40 percent more fuel efficient - with an expected fuel economy of 28 mpg. Depending on your driving habits which effect mileage, along with annual miles driven and gas price fluctuation through the year, selecting the hybrid may well save you up to $2,000 per year in fuel costs – nearly offsetting the price premium for the hybrid during a three year ownership.
We have been wanting to drive the hybrid for some time in order to compare it to the conventional gasoline version that we drove at Santa Barbara, Calif. in January of this year at the media first drive of the all-new 2014 Toyota Highlander. During that first drive, we extensively drove a new Highlander Limited Platinum V6 with front-wheel drive and came away with a very favorable impression of the new Highlander that we reported on examiner.com in early February. We still had question if the hybrid would be equally as good that that we were able to answer just recently.
Right on the heels of being named the 2014 Activity Vehicle of Texas by the Texas Auto Writers Association in their annual Spring Roundup at Texas Motor Speedway in early May, Toyota delivered a brand new 2014 Highlander Hybrid Platinum for us to drive test during a week-long trip to the Toyota Texas Bass Classic championship tournament at Lake Fork, Texas. Lake Fork is about 300 miles from our home base in Austin, located east of Dallas near Quitman, Texas. We mapped our trip to the 27,000 acre lake using a combination of highways, city streets and country roads in order to maximize the drive experience and evaluate the 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited fully.
Our Highlander Hybrid Limited test vehicle was fully loaded up with almost all of the convenience and luxury features available in the Highlander – and we can report that our drive experience was very positive. Suffice it to say that the Highlander Hybrid Limited drives as smoothly and rides as comfortably and quietly on all kinds of roads with very responsive braking, cornering, handling and acceleration so similar to the conventional model that, by the second day, the fact that we were driving the hybrid was not noticeable.
There were several features on this new Highlander Limited Platinum Hybrid that impressed us particularly during this real world road excursion to the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
Drivability and ride of the Highlander is enhanced by its standard 19-inch wheels and, with its 8-inch ground clearance, the vehicle gives excellent command seating driver visibility to the road all around. We are pretty tough in judging seating – especially when you need to spend several hours behind the wheel. Far too many SUV’s are not comfortable for extended hours of driving without constant adjustment of the seat during long trips. Not so the Highlander. The front seating, in perforated leather that is both heated and cooled, is well designed and bolstered and though 8-way power adjustment is available - I adjusted it just once at the start of the trip and drove comfortably for stretches of 3-4 hours.
Other features of note included the incredible cargo capacity (83.2 cubic feet with second and third rows flat) that is easily accessible through the power lift gate and/or through the lift glass opening in the door. Though we did not haul huge amounts with us, the space obviously was more than adequate for major family outings. The second row seating in the Limited Platinum are Captain’s Chairs which offer easy tilt and slide access to the cargo deck behind those seats giving useful haul flexibility with just the third row flat. During the trip, we picked up several fishing rods (think long) at the TTBC for my partner to test for Texas Fish & Game Magazine. The space between the seats in the second row enabled us to lay them flat on the deck without having to fold the second row seats on the return trip.
Convenient miscellaneous storage is a strong point of the 2014 Highlander for road trips, business or family activities. Some we appreciated using on this trip included being able to secure our computers and related gear in the hidden storage compartment under the rear deck at the rear hatch. Our cameras and tablets fit easily and securely into the cavernous soft-touch roll top center console storage area – while the cleverly engineered soft touch in-dash shelf (with ambient blue lighting) and its easy cable management feature allowed both of us to connect our smartphones and lay them safely and securely in the tray when not in use during the trip.
Did we mention cup and bottle holders? There are eight cup holders and four bottle holders in the cabin area. Power outlets? Highlander has plenty of them – three 12-volt auxiliary outlets and one 120-volt AC power outlet along with a USB 2.0 outlet for smart devices.
We talked earlier about the expected 28 mpg average fuel economy efficiency of the 2014 Highlander Limited Hybrid. We confess that we did not quite get that number - averaging a very respectable 26.9 mpg for over 600 miles of mixed road driving. All fuel economy ratings come with a disclaimer about how personal driving habits, road conditions and speed can affect those ratings. Yep, we are one of those - with driving habits that are not always fuel efficiency minded - driving in the 65 to 75 mph range as much as the limits allowed on this trip. Frankly, even in EcoMode, getting nearly 27 mpg was more than we expected.
Our test Highlander Limited Hybrid in a Platinum Gray Mica with a Black Leather interior was the top-of-the-line Platinum model that, with delivery, priced at $50,750.
Some of the premium, safety and convenience features it included were Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Blind Spot Alert and Lane Departure Warning, Automatic High-beam Headlamps with Daytime Running Lamps (DRL), Power Panoramic Moonroof with Sunshade, Heated Steering Wheel, Heated Second-row Captains Chair seating, Back-up Camera with 8-inch Color Display, 4.2-inch Driver Information Display that is linked to the Navigation system, Wood Grain trim, 3-zone Automatic Air Conditioning, Second-row Window Sunshades, Power Folding Mirrors with integrated turn signals and puddle lamps and the 12-speaker Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation and App Suite.
In answer to the question if the hybrid is equally as good as the conventional model – our opinion is that it is indeed. Drive one and find out for yourself.
Jim Nelson is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association