Look up ordinary in the dictionary and you’re likely to see a full-size crossover. They’re not usually sexy to look at or thrilling to drive by any stretch. Instead, they’re beacons of practicality, serving duty as conduits from schools to Costco in Suburbia. It’s an obligation the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum is meticulously designed to accommodate.
There’s several flavors of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, but for our testing purposes Toyota dropped off the top-tier Highlander Hybrid Limited complete with the Platinum package. All told, it is the most loaded and expensive version and offers a few tidbits that cannot be found on the lesser XLE and LE trims, including certain visuals like 19-inch dark wheels and integrated fog lamps that are, surprisingly, exclusive to the Platinum. The Platinum bits add some additional flare to the generally handsome, conservative exterior design of the Highlander. It’s a crossover that does not standout nor offend; it looks at home in the sea of crossovers found in shopping center parking lots, undergoing its obligations of serving as an inanimate family pet.
Those family treks in the Highlander will likely be quite satisfying for all involved. The interior of this crossover is very spacious and can seat seven in a reasonably comfortable fashion, though adults should avoid the third row seat for extended periods of time. Like the exterior, the Platinum badge adds some unique elements to the interior, such as leather-bound second row captain’s chairs that offer a folding side table. Platinum models are sport a unique beige interior color that offers faux wood accents that look a bit cheap, but are in-line with the Highlander’s $48,000 price tag.
The mission-driven development of the Highlander really shines inside. There’s cubby spaces all over, including a shelf within the dash panel that can house everything from your tablet to sunglasses; it’s also lit by blue LED accent lighting at night. A large center console can also double as a snack bar for the whole family, while there’s cupholders galore. Family announces inside the car can also be made easier thanks to a driver speak feature that amplifies the driver’s voice when enabled; screaming kids are no match for this Toyota.
Platinum models can a few creature comforts that are not found on the rest of the Highlander Hybrid lineup. A large, panoramic sunroof is standard fare, which goes a long way in making the large interior feel more spacious and less cave-like. A bird’s eye-view camera system is also standard, but the display is a bit low-resolution by today’s standard. Platinum owners can also stay comfortable with heated and ventilated front seats, while the older kids get second row heated seats as well.
What isn’t unique about the Highlander Hybrid Platinum is its powertrain. Like the rest of the Highlander Hybrid lineup, our tester was equipped with Toyota’s well-known 3.5-liter V-6, but it is supplemented by an electric motor that rests at both axles, meaning this crossover comes standard with all-wheel-drive. The combined powertrain yields an impressive 306 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque; figures that are impressive looking on paper and enough to send the Highlander from zero to 60 mph in about seven seconds.
The impressive specs do not translate well into an impressive drive. Despite having a drivetrain with an electric motor at both axles, the Highlander consistently exhibits torque steer as if it is pulled only by the front wheels. Assumably, there is a lag in the hybrid system triggering the rear electric motor that is causing this; it’s a trade off Toyota is making in favor of fuel economy improvements. Nonetheless, it is an annoyance for any driver who wishes to tap into the Highlander’s respectable power figure.
While off-the-line performance is wonky, the power delivery throughout the power band is fairly consistent for a hybrid. Toyota has excelled at making the transitions from pure electric, to hybrid, to gas-only very smooth in this vehicle. Passengers will rarely ever notice when the hybrid brains are switching power types. The driver will notice the regenerative braking system in the Highlander though. Like most hybrid models, the brake pedal feel is weird; the pedal feel is mushy and often makes the driver feel unconfident in the Highlander’s stopping ability.
Overall, piloting the Highlander Hybrid is a no-fuss experience. Going back to the fact this vehicle has been meticulously engineered for one purpose: hauling people and stuff, it checks all the right boxes. The torque steer and odd brake feel are minor hindrances for buyers in this segment, albeit issues that do not need to exist.
From a fuel economy perspective, the EPA rates the Highlander Hybrid at 29 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. These respectable figures somewhat translate to reality, but not consistently. Driving in urban traffic, the hybrid system consistently kept the engine off to the point that 29 mpg is readily achievable. However, on a 120 mile trek at speeds above 70 mph, our tester returned 25.8 mpg average.
Our mini road trip in the tester also surfaced a few other quirks about the Highlander that are worth noting. Like every Toyota, this one features Toyota Entune infotainment system. The system offers quite a few capabilities, such as the use of third party apps. However, the interface is clunky and is attached to a resistive touchscreen (versus capacitive like your smartphone) that’s of an awkwardly low resolution display that’s not visible in direct sunlight. The touchscreen is flanked by capacitive touch buttons that offer no haptic feedback and do not work consistently.
Toyota has also omitted a hands-free liftgate from the Highlander, making solo grocery store runs a bit more difficult than they need to be in today’s world.
Assuming lacking the ability to wave your leg to open the liftgate isn’t a deal-breaker, the Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum (just “Platinum” isn’t enough) is a worthy large crossover for consideration. During our tenure with it, the phrase “what it does, it does well” was said consistently. It’s mission-built and that shows through the execution. There’s just a few omissions and quirks that damper this crossover from being a total ace.