Toyota’s first mover status in electrification extends beyond the Prius. In the early 2000s, it began offering hybrid SUVs in the form of the Highlander and the Lexus RX. Fast forward to today and electrified versions of both are now mainstays. In the mainstream segment, the 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid competes in a class of three entries, all of them formidable. Toyota’s mastery of the hybrid powertrain gives it an edge against its rivals. Will that be enough to keep it at the top?
2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: A Little More Flair
The 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid sports a distinct look. From its unique grille shape to its angular exterior lights, the SUV possesses a different character. This test car, the new Bronze Edition amps up the flair with unique bronze 18-inch wheels. It also gets the Cement exterior color, a hue once exclusive to Toyota’s TRD models.
Unlike most of its competitors, the Highlander Hybrid veers on the smaller end of the spectrum, giving it a tidier footprint. However, it’s best to treat it as a 5+3 or 4+3 because the third row barely fits kids on short trips. Minimal cargo space with all seats up means you’ll keep that down most of the time to give you space for your stuff. At least Toyota ensured the car has plenty of nifty storage areas. The handy in-dash shelves give you a place for your smartphones and small items like wallets.
Bronze Edition models get lots of interesting interior touches. These include seat inserts with triangular patterns, bronze side sills, bronze contrast stitching, special floor mats, and a bronze stripe on the first two rows. This livens up the interior with a nice splash of color contrasting the two-tone black and gray upholstery. Together with lots of soft-touch plastics and padding, you get a pleasant yet stylish and utilitarian cabin. Despite that, the Highlander Hybrid needs a little more sound deadening due to excessive wind noise on the highway.
The 2022 Highlander lineup retains the older Entune 3.0 interface. This system shows its age with grainy graphics. The Bronze Edition uses an 8.0-inch touchscreen and more physical controls. Although it’s simple and free of submenus, its slow responses make it slightly distracting to use. The base six-speaker audio system leaves a lot to be desired because it tends to get muddled at low volumes. Thankfully, Toyota addressed this for the 2023 model year with its fantastic new UI finding its way into the Highlander lineup. Audiophiles need to opt for a trim that offers the 11-speaker JBL unit, which sounds good and provides great cabin coverage.
Every Highlander Hybrid gets the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ suite of driver assistance features. This redeems the multimedia shortcomings with fantastic safety systems. Components like lane centering do a fantastic job keeping you tracking straight and helping you navigate turns on the highway. Adaptive cruise control’s distancing component proactively reacts to the flow of traffic and will slow the car down if someone cuts you off. Additionally, it detects turns ahead and reduces your speed so you can complete it safely. The suite also helps you execute evasive maneuvers.
2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: Smooth Sailing
Toyota’s hybrids rank among the smoothest and it’s no different in the Highlander. It couples a 2.5-liter I-4 to one or two electric drive motors, a nickel-metal-hydride battery, and a planetary gear set. Don’t let the 243-hp combined output fool you because the system offers generous amounts of usable power. As a result, it moves without any fuss and delivers its output in a smooth, linear fashion. The use of an e-AWD system, on the other hand, means the Highlander Hybrid drives like it’s FWD in most situations. When you need more traction, the rear electric drive motor comes into the picture. However, the bias remains due to the front wheels getting more power.
Among three-row SUVs, the Highlander Hybrid is among the best on the road. It offers great handling for its size and accurate steering, making it easy to maneuver the car in tight spaces. Good body control means the SUV won’t flop all over the place on a winding road or during emergency maneuvers. Complementing the Highlander’s surefootedness is its comfortable ride. Regardless of the wheel size, it does a great job isolating the cabin from road imperfections and harsh impacts. Best of all, the Highlander always stays confident and stable even when subjected to the worst types of pavement.
World Class Efficiency
The Highlander Hybrid ranks among the most efficient three-row SUVs. EPA-rated at 36/35/35 mpg city/highway/combined for FWD models or 35 mpg across the board with AWD (35/34/35 mpg for the Limited and Platinum grades), it sips fuel. During my week, I averaged 43 mpg and only used half the tank to go over 300 miles. This easily allows the SUV to travel over 600 miles, making it a great choice for long road trips.
Beating the official EPA ratings is a cinch. In addition to seamless transitions between regenerative and mechanical braking, having two electric drive motors provides extra energy recuperation. This allows the gas engine to remain off for long durations, increasing efficiency and enabling you to coast longer. Furthermore, it enables the car to rely on its electric drive motors more often even for highway driving.
The Lead Remains (For the Moment)
For some time, if you wanted a hybrid powertrain in a three-row SUV, you only had the Highlander Hybrid. With the Kia Sorento Hybrid and Ford Explorer Hybrid in the mix, you now have more choices. Both competitors bring a lot to the table and give the pioneer a run for its money. Starting at $41,195, the Highlander Hybrid splits the difference between the Kia and Ford. This Bronze Edition test car costs just over $47,000, which is on the higher end despite the mid-level equipment. I’d suggest a lower trim or going all-in on a Limited or Platinum grade, both of which cost over $50,000.
Toyota was the only hybrid among three-row SUVs for decades. The Highlander Hybrid continues to shine with its buttery smooth powertrain and balance between comfort and stability. Does it remain the one to beat? To a certain extent, yes. Its powertrain operates the smoothest and matches the Kia Sorento Hybrid in efficiency. Unfortunately, it also has several quibbles that keep it from being more practical and it can get pricy. While not the strongest value, you’re buying a proven vehicle with years over the competition.