2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Review
Two years on, how does Toyota's hybrid SUV hold up in top-level Platinum trim?
I first drove Toyota's new Highlander nearly two years ago already, sampling both the Hybrid and non-Hybrid variants. I liked them both for their quality, impressive interiors, and the Hybrid's outrageous real-world fuel economy. But in the meantime, I've had chances to drive some of its rivals. Now, coming back to the Highlander Hybrid, how does it hold up two years into its model run?
What is it?
Toyota's Highlander, a large crossover/SUV with three rows to seat seven people. It's a vast machine, looking nearly like a large wagon with its stretched length. It isn't cheap at just over $50,000, but this is the top-of-the-line Platinum edition that brings some luxury to Toyotaland. And, most interestingly, this Highlander is a Hybrid with huge EPA-promised efficiency figures. How does 35 MPG overall sound? In a car this big, it's scarcely believable. And it isn't believable, because I only averaged 29 unfortunately. Only 29 is still excellent for such a spacious mover of persons, however.
Fuel economy. Though I achieved nearly 20% less than what the Environmental Protection Agency achieved in their fantasy-land of hybrid testing, the outright numbers are still terrific for a vehicle of this size. At 29 MPG after a week's worth of driving, and 32 MPG alone on the highway, this is a great way to move your family and all your crap while saving money at the pump. Interestingly, 29 MPG was a significant 4 less than I achieved in a identically specced Highlander Hybrid in 2020, driving on the exact same roads.
The interior on this Platinum represents a big step-up from Toyotas of old, and isn't even that far behind some more expensive offerings from Toyota's own Lexus brand. I was more impressed with it back in 2020, but it is a nice place to be when compared to many of its rivals like the VW Atlas. Mazda's CX-9 and the Telluride/Palisade twins are nicer still, but this Platinum does possess an interior that will likely leave a lasting impression on prospective buyers or those looking to upgrade from older Toyotas. The large screen attracts attention, the leather is nice, though some of the switches (like the window buttons) do feel low-rent.
Space and comfort are both commendable in the front two rows. The front seats are particularly comfortable while passengers had zero complaints towards the rear captain's chairs. As you can tell from the photos, the leg space for second-row occupants is generous and will likely garner no qualms. The same can't quite be said for the folding third-row, however, with it being best reserved as an emergency jump seat for one adult, or only for kids. With the rear bench folded down, cargo volume will let you ambitiously pack your Highlander with enough non-perishables for a zombie apocalypse. For reference, that is a large camera bag I placed back there in the pictures, and you can easily see how little of a footprint it leaves back there. Yes, you can put a lot of junk in the caboose.
The hybrid powertrain consists of a four-cylinder with electrical assistance, and works smoothly and in harmony, far smoother than other four-cylinders from Toyota that can be downright meat grinders. Performance is barely adequate, with 0-60 MPH taking 7.7 seconds, but it's an unoffending propulsion package.
The Highlander Hybrid is thoroughly practical, but it's also thoroughly bland. The exterior design is far from congruous and has strange elements like the chrome band holding the front Toyota badge and the random swoop along the doors and atop the rear wheels. Next to something elegant like a CX-9, or understated like the Telluride, it's just not good looking. But, looks are subjective, of course. I did just have my eyes checked for what it's worth.
Bland also accurately describes the driving experience, which is competent, but wholly unexciting. I couldn't help but feel that driving the Highlander was more akin to steering a toy/remote control car - nothing feels organic. Handling isn't bad per se, with a chassis that's more than capable around freeway onramps, but the steering and its weighting just don't give the pleasure that you get from behind the wheel of the CX-9, the best driving SUV in this class. If this makes it easier to process, the Highlander feels like a minivan from the driver's seat. In fact, I think the recently tested Sienna I had actually drove better and felt less van-like than this.
I have to call out some of the amenities in the cabin, too. The large touchscreen, while pretty to look at, is too complicated to use with how its structured, and I hate the fact that some of the climate functions have to be accessed via screen rather than the much easier physical buttons located below it. Also of note is the center storage between the front seats, which is fundamentally obstructed by its wireless mobile phone charger. It lifts up to get out of your hands' way, but what if you have a phone placed there charging? Swing up the tray and the phone will fall out. So, you have to remove the phone first, which is terribly distracting if you're actively driving. And even then, without a phone in place, you have to first lift up the storage cover and then the awkwardly bulky charging tray. No. Just no. Put it somewhere else. Oh, how about the super convenient slot below the touchscreen? It's literally destined for wireless charging, and yet the engineers somehow didn't think of that? Hmm.
While the gas mileage is impressive, the range computer is woefully out of whack. With a 17 gallon tank and averaging 29 MPG, that should equate to about exactly 500 miles of range. However, the range computer said I'd be out of puff at just 400 (even near the end of my week, adding the range plus the miles never broke 400), underestimating itself by too much. Come on, math ain't that hard, Toyota. And this isn't the first time I've seen this on a Toyota. It'll keep the unassuming from running out of petroleum, but don't they want their customers to get excited about filling up and seeing an enormous range from their new Hybrid?
This is an entirely safe choice for a large vehicle. But, if you want real practicality, Toyota's own Sienna minivan has even more space, costs the same, and achieved even better economy in my hands. But, yes, it's a minivan dork-mobile. But, in every sense of occasion, it's the better vehicle. What this Highlander Hybrid Platinum also does is cost too much at an as-tested price of $52,493, being substantially more expensive than a loaded up Palisade or Telluride, so your gas savings are nullified by the MSRP differences. For a Toyota SUV, it does its job well, almost perfectly in fact. Its main saving grace is the fuel economy that no other rival hopes to offer. But, here I am recommending the Sienna minivan as the better choice...