In the past decade the hybrid segment has been primarily dominated by small models like the Toyota Prius, but what if you need a bit more room? At some point over the last decade almost every major automaker has released a hybrid vehicle with a sedan or hatchback body style, but hybrid SUVs have remained scarce. Toyota offers a hybrid version of its midsize Highlander SUV, but now the manufacturer is also introducing an all-new 2014 Highlander Hybrid. But does its hybrid powertrain warrant the higher sticker price? Read on to find out…
The 2014 Toyota Highlander is now the third generation of Toyota’s midsize SUVs. Toyota offers a four cylinder, V6 and hybrid powertrain for buyers to choose from. Although many of its competitors offer four-cylinder and six-cylinder options, the Highlander is one of only a handful of SUVs that can be selected with a more fuel efficient hybrid system. Besides the Lexus RX, which shares the Highlander’s hybrid system, the only other midsize SUVs that offer a hybrid setup are the Nissan Pathfinder/ Infiniti QX60 models.
The 2014 Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5L V6 and three electric motors that generate a total 280 horsepower. This means that the Highlander Hybrid is the most powerful version of the Highlander with 10 more horsepower than the standard V6 and 95 more horsepower than the base four cylinder. Even with the most horsepower on tap, the Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel efficient with a fuel economy rating of 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Compared to the all-wheel-drive Highlander V6, the Highlander Hybrid gets nine more mpg in the city and four more mpg on the highway.
Based on those initial specs, the differences between the Highlander Hybrid and Highlander V6 models do seem significant, but does that make the Highlander Hybrid the better choice? Toyota has decided to discontinue the base Highlander Hybrid, so if you want one, you will have to be willing to pay at least $47,300 for the Highlander Hybrid limited model. Compared to the Highlander V6 limited with all-wheel-drive, the Highlander Hybrid has a $6,000 premium, but is it worth it?
This was a question that I continued to ask myself during my time with the Highlander Hybrid. I even questioned several Toyota execs about Toyota’s decision to discontinue the base Highlander Hybrid, but they responded by stating that in the past buyers have only bought the higher trim levels of the Highlander Hybrid, so Toyota is simply responding to the market. Only time will tell if hybrid buyers are willing to pay almost $50k for a hybrid SUV. Nissan meanwhile is pricing their Pathfinder Hybrid much lower at just over $35k, although higher trim levels also reach into the $40k range.
At the end of the day would I recommend the Highlander Hybrid over the four cylinder or V6 equipped models? The 2014 Highlander Hybrid drives almost identical to the Highlander V6 model and at most times you probably won’t even notice the difference, unless you are traveling at lower speeds in EV mode. Nine mpg more in the city is a substantial increase over the V6 model, but with eight passengers on board it remains to be seen how well the Highlander Hybrid will do in the real world. At the end of the day I just couldn’t find the value with the Highlander Hybrid, since I couldn’t imagine a family being willing to pay $50k for it. Unfortunately, Toyota also doesn’t feel that many buyers will actually buy the Highlander Hybrid; in fact, their execs expect less than five percent of Highlander buyers will choose the hybrid version.
If you still want a hybrid family vehicle, Toyota does offer the Prius V, which is bigger than the standard Prius, but if you need even more room, you will probably find a better value in the V6 and four cylinder equipped Highlander models. Both the four cylinder and V6 Highlander are rated at 25 mpg on the highway with front-wheel-drive and the pricing is much lower with the Highlander four cylinder with starting prices of $29,215.