Highlander Hybrid

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The Good

Performance complemented by impressive fuel economy, as well as a welcoming cabin atmosphere, a flexible second-row seating arrangement, a decently smooth ride, 7-passenger capacity and scads of passenger or cargo room will keep folks kicking the 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid crossover's tires.

The Bad

A cramped third row, alas, as well as a hefty base price, some disappointing cabin materials and lackluster agility might cause a few people to kick and then walk on the 2012 Highlander Hybrid.

The CarGurus View

With outstanding practicality, laudable fuel economy and now, standard seating for 7, the 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid represents a better than merely adequate midsize crossover experience. Ignoring its somewhat dated profile and all-but-nonexistent driving excitement, most will find this well-hewn hybrid totes plenty of utility, a stately cabin, some high-end standard features and admirable safety scores. Once again, Toyota offers a vehicle that fits in nicely with 21st century family values.

At a Glance

Got lots of folks needing a lift? Want to get them where they're going safely, economically and in environmentally sound comfort? Check out Toyota's midsize 2012 Highlander Hybrid crossover. This venerable quasi-ute now boasts 3 rows of seating for 7 and rear-seat climate control, standard, which nicely complements the 94.1 cubic feet of cargo space that's available with the 2 rear rows of seating folded down. The downside? Should the whole gang come shopping, only 10.1 cubic feet remain available for the groceries.

In any case, this fuel-sipping semi-ute comes in 2 well-equipped trims, the Highlander Hybrid Base and the top-shelf Limited. Both are delivered with on-demand 4-wheel drive (4WD) as well as the traditional gas/electric powertrain, boasting a 6-cylinder gasoline engine backed by a trio of electric motors—one for ignition, one for powering accessories when the engine automatically shuts off at stops and one to drive the Highlander Hybrid in driver-selectable EV (electric-only) mode. Be advised, however, that the on-demand 4WD system is designed to get through snow-covered roads, not for any sort of off-road adventures.

As with many of today's hybrid offerings, the Highlander Hybrid Base is equipped similarly to its higher-midlevel non-hybrid sibling trim, the Highlander SE, while the flagship Limited hybrid edition, of course, mirrors its non-hybrid sister. Front and second-row seating is roomy and comfortable, with the second-row seats able to both recline and to slide fore and aft. Despite this unusual second-row adaptability, those occupying the third row will have to be on the small side if they want to be comfortable.

Of course, all these bells and whistles don't come cheap. A little homework ought to confirm whether expected gas savings will approach recouping this hybrid's hefty MSRP, though enviro-conscious families looking for practicality in their crossover ought to be well pleased with doing their bit to save the planet.

Anyhow, should more cargo-toting space be necessary, Chevy's Tahoe Hybrid and its GMC Yukon Hybrid cousin offer full-size SUV room, power and bulk in a green-leaning truck-based package, while Kia's smaller but non-hybrid Sorento lineup sports smaller dimensions, but costs less, boasts nearly the same mileage figures and still seats up to 7 people.

Finally, the Highlander Hybrid will, at first glance, resemble its non-hybrid kinfolk. However, a second look reveals this green-leaning crossover to be distinguished by its unique grille and front bumper, blue-tinted headlight lenses and vertical front fog-light arrangement.


Again sporting a gasoline-burning 3.5-liter variable-valve-timed (VVT) V6 engine and 3 electric motors that put out a total of 209 kilowatts, the 2012 Highlander Hybrid boasts an impressive 280 total horsepower at 5,800 rpm. These ponies are corralled by the usual continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides some 215 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm and also flaunts hill-start assist and descent control.

Auxiliary transmission cooling is standard aboard this cute ute, while the powertrain boasts auto engine start/stop and a couple of driver-selectable modes to help kick mileage figures to 28 mpg city/28 highway. In EV mode, acceleration up to 25 mph for short distances is accomplished through electric power alone, while the Eco mode modulates throttle and transmission performance for more efficient cruising.

Regenerative braking, meanwhile, helps recharge the traditional nickel-metal hydride battery, while the standard on-demand 4WD system offers normal cruising in front-wheel drive (FWD), with either automatic or on-demand switching of torque to the rear wheels when slippery conditions are encountered.

A 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds is noted by reviewers to be among the best in the hybrid crossover class. The engine sounds a bit tinny, according to many reviewers, but quiets nicely at highway speeds, according to most reviews. Additionally, reviewers praise the surprising 3,500 pounds of towing capacity packed into this hybrid's powertrain.

The rarely-used EV mode is mentioned by reviewers as a nice, but somewhat superfluous touch, while the Eco mode is lauded as a major contributor to this hybrid crossover's impressive mileage numbers. Finally, reviewers claim a nearly unnoticeable switch from gas to electric power and back.

Ride & Handling

Once more, Toyota's midsize 2012 Highlander Hybrid crossover rides on a sedan-based, 4-wheel independent touring suspension complemented by MacPherson front and rear struts and stabilizer bars fore and aft. Again, 17-inch alloy wheels grace the entry-level trim, with the top-shelf Limited edition featuring 19-inch alloy wheels, and each trim again rolls on all-season radial tires.

Ride comfort is claimed by most reviewers to be decently composed with either tire size, and far better than in a full-size sport ute, like Chevy's Tahoe or its GMC Yukon cousin. And of course, the Highlander Hybrid's less obtrusive profile means fewer challenges when maneuvering in tight spaces.

Virtually all reviewers complain that steering is too dull, leading to some uninspiring handling capabilities. But all admit that this versatile hybrid crossover is not designed for the track and will provide a competent, if not particularly exciting, driving experience for the daily commute, visits to see the folks and runs to the mall.

Braking tests resulted in this high-stepping hybrid coming to a stop in 120 feet, which is pretty good given more than 300 pounds of battery weight. Reviewers caution, however, that the regenerative brakes will give drivers an unintended thrill till they adapt to the pedal glitches common to this hybrid-unique system.

Cabin & Comfort

The well-wrought 2012 Highlander Hybrid Base trim sports a roof rack, a rear spoiler and body-color power-adjustable mirrors outside, with premium cloth upholstery as well as a height-adjustable and 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat adorning the inside. Power windows and remote power door locks are, of course, standard, as are reclining and sliding second-row seats. A basically kids-only third-row seat is now standard, as is a trip computer that doubles as a hybrid performance display. A telescoping and tilting simulated alloy steering wheel mounts redundant audio and cruise controls, while a rear-view camera helps keep an eye out rearward. Tri-zone air conditioning with new rear-seat controls, meanwhile, as well as Bluetooth hands-free calling, come standard, as do a single-CD player that boasts 6 speakers, satellite radio, auxiliary iPod integration and a USB connection.

The upscale Limited adds a power sunroof and heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors to its exterior adornments, with such extras as leather upholstery and upgraded simulated alloy, as well as leather and simulated-wood cabin accents endowing the interior. Heated power-adjustable front seats come with this flagship trim, as does a leather and simulated alloy steering wheel, with the universal remote garage door opener adding even more security and convenience to this high-end hybrid. Automatic tri-zone climate control, finally, keeps everyone cool without the fiddling customary to manual systems.

Options for both trims include a Preferred Accessory Package boasting carpeted floor and cargo mats, a cargo net and a first aid kit, with the available Convenience Package offering exhaust tips, mudguards and roof-rack crossbars. The Protection Package, meantime, combines features from the above bundles, while the sophisticated Leather Package available to the Base Highlander Hybrid adds leather upholstery, an upsized hybrid performance display, upgraded cabin trim, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a remote garage door opener.

Remote engine start is available as a standalone option in either trim, as are such extras as a 440-watt, 9-speaker JBL audio system, a power liftgate, step running boards, a tow hitch and wiring, and rear-seat DVD entertainment.

Most reviewers are vociferous in proclaiming the Highlander Hybrid's cabin among the most welcoming of a well-wrought lot. Some rather low-rent materials here and there, not to mention the child-only dimensions of the standard third-row seat, do mitigate this praise somewhat, but otherwise this spiffy crossover, as is traditional for hybrid trims industry-wide, reflects the adornments common to higher-level gas-powered trims, in this case the midlevel SE trim in non-hybrid Highlander lineup.

Reviewers additionally note that the Highlander Hybrid's somewhat high stance lets drivers see a bit further down the road, while more than a few compliment the comfy seating and voluminous total cargo capacity of this heady Highlander.


Always among the leaders in safety consciousness, Toyota once again invests the 2012 Highlander Hybrid with its touted Star Safety System. This award-winning amalgam includes 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with emergency braking assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, as well as traction and stability control. Also included are 3-zone head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags and front head restraint whiplash protection. Standard safety extras, meanwhile, include daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights, dusk-sensing headlights, a post-collision safety system and, in the Limited trim, a remote antitheft alarm.

Optional safety equipment includes Toyota's VIP Plus security system and glass breakage sensor, as well as an emergency assistance kit.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Highlander Hybrid its second-best 4-star rating overall, with 4 stars awarded in front crash and rollover testing, and its highest 5-star rating given for side-impact protection.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meantime, has graced the Highlander Hybrid with its Top Safety Pick award for 2012 with top-rated scores of Good in all testing criteria.

What Owners Think

Owners of the 2012 Highlander Hybrid find it to be, in general, a well-made, well-equipped family crossover. But a few owner complaints are heard regarding its cramped third-row seating and a distinct lack of some expected standard features for its budget-straining MSRP. Some chintzy interior materials disappoint more than a few owners, as well, as do some less-than-state-of-the-art displays and electronics. The lack of a key-accessible liftgate lock dismays a number of owners, while a set of new factory tires will, according to some others, put a further strain on the budget.

In a more positive view, virtually all light-footed owners are well pleased with this hybrid crossover's heady mileage figures, while others laud its numerous standard features, top-echelon safety scores and pleasant cabin atmosphere. Still other owners find the 2012 Highlander Hybrid to exhibit better-than-expected utility, while the newly standardized 3-row seating means that those more gregarious owners can invite extra friends and family along for the ride… as long as a few of them are kids.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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Highlander Hybrid

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