Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE 2017
Over the River and Through the Tahoe Woods
By Kathy Chin Leong

The excursion to Lake Tahoe was an easy jaunt, and the four hours to get there flew by like two while driving this year’s 7-seat Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE. This $41,000 SUV was a dream ride as I drove this V-6 beauty from start to finish along various types of terrain.  It has a solid feel, and as an SUV, it drove more like a mini-van with a conservative demeanor.  It does not have the jauntiness of other SUVs I have driven, and this one seems exceptionally long.

At 192.5 inches, the all-wheel-drive Highlander version is even longer than the Dodge Caravan.  So here with three rows, and the last row being a smaller flip up seat, I found the car extremely roomy.  The back trunk features enough room to fit about four sets of golf clubs or eight bags of groceries. It is large enough to carry four suitcases and then some. For those strapped in the second row, this can be a great ride. There are accessible plugs, door cup holders, and a big, flip down, middle console with dual cup holders too.  I tried out the third row, and it was not as comfy as Row Two, but getting in and out was relatively simple. You can easily move up the second seat on rails, and climb into Row Three.

Cool Features & Safety
It is a lot of car to drive, and this one came with plenty of perks: moon roof, five USB ports, a Blu-ray DVD flip down player, second row side shades, dual seat warmers/coolers, and a generous 20 gallon gas tank.  The average fuel economy on the vehicle is 28 miles per gallon, and it takes unleaded gas.So to take this one on the road was an opportunity to see how it would fare uphill and downhill. The get-up-and-go acceleration was not as quick as I would have liked.  It was steady and sure, but could have been more nimble.The drive was a breeze and the leather seats were a luxury bar none. And the comfort was top notch in the way the seats with back support helped out considerably for the long ride with just one break.

Safety on the car is rated high. It gets five stars from overall vehicle score. And it also gets five stars for frontal crash safety.  This particular version featured the pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, and 8 airbags.   There are also tether straps for the kids' carseats and seatbelts.

High points go for the front seat styling. You get plenty of storage space in the front center cabinet between the two seats with enough depth for a laptop and more if needed. Like in previous models there is a nifty wide narrow shelf on the front to hold your cell and a myriad of other trinkets.  Nice curves and lines make for easy eye candy yes, but the ergonomic styling makes everything intuitive so you know what buttons to press for the GPs, for the gear handle, and so on.

Wish List
On my Honda Accord, I have a camera for the right side when I signal for a turn, and that spoiled me, so I wish that was on this vehicle as well.  And another aspect of this car is that when the DVD player is flipped down, it blocks the rear view mirror from seeing through so I do not recommend using the DVD player when the car is in motion.

Bottom line
When evaluating this car, compare it to others in the price range, and look at SUVs and other vans.  Kids will love it if you buy this with the $1,800 BluRay player, and the five USB ports will keep them gaming for hours. They may not want to get out of the car when you arrive to your destination. While you won’t be drag racing up Highway 101, you can feel assured you will be in for a comfortable and solid ride with excellent design features that will make the ride seem to go faster for all.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid XLE 2017
Price: $41,330
Seats: 7 passengers

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