SUM UP (3 Stars)

By Automobile Magazine

What's New for Highlander Hybrid in 2013

The four-cylinder is now available only in the base model. A touch-screen stereo display is now standard, and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system is optional on the SE. ..more

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a four-door, midsize SUV which offers seating for up to seven occupants in three rows of seats. Toyota offers the Highlander Hybrid in Hybrid and Hybrid Limited trims. While not especially exciting, the Highlander offers carlike handling and ride qualities, convenient features, and exceptional reliability. Mix in roomy passenger and cargo accommodations and the Highlander becomes an SUV well suited for growing families, and for parents who already have enough toddler-induced excitement in their lives.

Exterior

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid presents itself much like a non-hybrid Highlander. Toyota does adorn the hybrid with a few subtle hybrid clues. These include a unique grille, a different bumper, and vertical fog lights. The Highlander Hybrid also sports subtle accents of blue-tinted plastic and chrome trim pieces. Overall, the Hybrid looks much the same as the standard Highlander. Attractive though conservatively styled, the Highlander seems to lack its own identity, looking too much like a poor amalgamation of Toyota’s car and truck design plans. Perhaps that lack of stylishness is exactly what endears buyers to the Highlander. The Highlander does possess an honest, straightforward design which gives it a certain charm all its own.

The Hybrid trim wears 17-inch, seven-spoke alloy wheels. Hybrid Limited trims add two inches and three spokes to Hybrid wheels, wearing 19-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels. The seven-spoke wheels look cleaner than the 10-spoke. Both Hybrid trims include standard roof rails, but the Limited replaces the matte-black rail for more fetching metallic rails. The Limited trim includes chrome door-handles rather than the body-colored handles found on the Hybrid.

Interior & Cargo

The Highlander imparts one of the best designed and most attractive cabins in its segment. This is especially true for both trims of the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Both Hybrid trims feature cabins similar to top-of-the-line trims like the SE and Limited non-hybrid vehicles. Much like the exterior design, interior gauges and controls have a straightforward, no nonsense layout which facilitates ease of use. Outward visibility is top-notch thanks to outstanding window sizing and a high seating position. Both Hybrids come with standard leather seating, and the Hybrid Limited features perforated-leather seating. For the most part, the Hybrid includes standard and optional interior features similar to those in the non-hybrid 2013 Highlander SE trim. Interior features found in the Hybrid Limited trim closely follow those found in the non-hybrid Limited trim.

The cabin design allows for maximum use of space and provides good head and leg room for both front and second row passengers. Third row seats are best left for younger children. Second row seats feature a clever 40/20/40-split design which not only adds variation to cargo configurations but also provides for easy access to third row seats. The center portion of the second-row seats can be entirely removed to create an aircraft-like seating arrangement with a center aisle. The removed portion stows neatly into a hidden compartment beneath the center console. For even greater comfort, the second-row bench slides fore and aft. Second-row seats also recline.

Adding hybrid efficiency doesn’t sacrifice occupant and cargo space. The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers the same cargo capacity as non-hybrid trims. That’s a total of 95.4-cubic feet of space with second and third-row seats folded.

Safety

While the Highlander may be conservative and a touch unexciting, two circumstances during which the Highlander will actually raise drivers’ pulse rates are before or during an accident. For the most part, Toyota has that covered. As a standard family-hauler, this vehicle needs to go beyond simple protection. The 2013 Highlander should protect kids and cargo just as well as any other midsized competitor (and in one case perhaps better). Both Hybrid trims have standard all-wheel drive. Hill-descent control is not available on Hybrid models. Both Hybrid trims also include a back-up camera as a standard feature.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the 2013 Toyota Highlander a Top Safety Pick with ""Good"" ratings (the highest possible) in all tests. That’s equal with most competitors. However, the Highlander gleaned better scores than did the Mazda in IIHS testing. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Highlander scored as well as those 2013 competitors which have been tested. The 2013 Highlander earned an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five).

Driving Experience

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid mimics most of its non-hybrid siblings’ driving characteristics. As a whole, the Highlander is one of the more well-rounded vehicles in driving experiences. The Highlander doesn’t do anything particularly well, but it doesn’t do anything poorly either. It’s a middle-of-the-road choice among midsize SUVs. Handling is decent and ride quality is smooth. The steering can be dull and transmits a sense of limpness. On the plus side, the hybrid does provide less engine noise, and a smaller vehicle makes for easier parking and better low-speed maneuverability. Don’t expect to take the road less traveled in the Highlander Hybrid.

While Highlanders are rated for soft off-road duty, Toyota notes that hybrid versions are not designed to be taken offroad in any manner.

A 3.5-liter, V-6 engine establishes the foundation of the Highlander Hybrid. The V-6 coupled with an electric motor makes for a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle producing 270-horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The Highlander Hybrid matches an electronically variable automatic-transmission to its hybrid drivetrain. Equipped with Toyota’s Electronic On-Demand 4WD with intelligence (4WD-i), the hybrid uses an additional electric motor to power its rear wheels rather than the usual driveshaft coupling found in most all-wheel-drive systems. 4WD-i varies rear torque output with driving conditions. Hybrid Highlanders can low-speed cruise on electric power only. EPA rated fuel economy for the Highlander Hybrid is an impressive 28/28 mpg city/highway.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid provides a 3500-pound towing capacity. 2013 Highlander Hybrids come with supplemental towing accessories as standard features. These include a heavy-duty radiator with an engine-oil cooler, a 240-watt fan coupling, and a supplemental transmission-oil cooler.

Key Competitors For The 2013 Toyota Highlander-Hybrid

  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Kia Sorento
  • Mazda CX-9

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