With its smaller-than-average size, the V6-powered 2022 Toyota Highlander is a bit of niche choice among three-row SUVs. Although its limited third-row and cargo dimensions have been perfectly agreeable for Highlander buyers for multiple vehicle generations, the fact remains that the same amount of money can buy an SUV with an appreciably more spacious interior. Why wouldn't you get one those?
The 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a totally different story, however, for one extremely good reason: it gets 35 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. That's an enormous advantage over a segment, including the V6-powered Highlander, with a fuel economy range of 21-23 mpg combined. You could easily save at least $500 every year and dump less CO2 into the atmosphere while you're at it. When you consider that the only other hybrid three-row SUV is the even-smaller Kia Sorento, the Highlander's size deficiency all of a sudden is less of an issue. It's a trade-off versus a straight-up con. It also makes the Highlander Hybrid one of our top-recommended three-row SUVs.
The Highlander Hybrid gains a new Bronze Edition, pictured below, which adds bronze-colored wheels, sill plates, seat trim, floor mats and badging. It is equipped comparably to an XLE, a trim that gains height/tilt adjustment to its previous six-way-only power passenger seat.
Admittedly, the picture above is indicative of the higher XLE, Limited and Platinum trims – the lower L and LE are rather dour and monochromatic affairs. Yet, even those have above-average interior quality, and since those pricey trims tend to be popular, it's worth extolling their virtues a bit. The earthy two-tone color schemes are distinctive, warm and generally inviting. The silver trim that wraps around the control binnacle like a fork is textured to make it look richer and more like actual metal. The wood trim on the dash and center console, be it real or not, is subtle and tasteful. The padded SofTex vinyl that covers much of the dash, doors and center console is pleasant to touch, while the real leather on the seats is buttery soft. All the switchgear is pleasant to touch and operate.
Standard on most trim levels is an 8-inch touchscreen interface, which is mounted high within easy reach and sight. We like that it's one of the easier systems to use, especially its audio controls, but those seeking a quicker, more modern interface will find one in basically anything not named Honda. The available 10.25-inch unit is largely similar in terms of its basic and operation, but gains functionality by adopting a widescreen orientation.
The Highlander is smaller than most of its competitors on the outside, which makes it slightly more manageable to maneuver and park. Perhaps there's a greater chance of it fitting inside your garage. We're only talking a few inches, though, as the Highlander is still an awfully big vehicle.
Not surprisingly, though, it also has one of the segment's smallest interiors. It's more akin to Kia's Sorento than the bigger Telluride, for instance. There's just a bit less headroom everywhere, but it's the third row that's noticeably much smaller than those of competitors. Even the Honda Pilot, which has comparable exterior dimensions, can fit average-sized adults in its third row. So too can the larger Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade and Subaru Ascent among others. The Highlander is more like Kia's smaller Sorento with a rearmost row that's really a kid-only zone. Even then, they will be less comfortable and possibly a bit claustrophobic back there.
At least the second row offers plenty of space (a bench is standard but you can opt for captain's chairs) and the sliding seats are mounted at a height that allows adults and teens to be comfortable for hours on end. Comfort is excellent up front, too, as the driver seat offers abundant adjustability and easy reaches to the steering wheel and infotainment controls.
Cargo space was expanded with the new model, which can be seen in 2.2 extra cubic feet behind the raised third row. Still, as our luggage tests of the Highlander and its competitors have shown, Toyota still offers less space when all the seats are raised. There's less when they're lowered too, but that isn't as much of an issue since you're basically dealing with varying degrees of enormous.
Here's where the Highlander is a big winner. We'll start off with the version we recommend: the Highlander Hybrid. It uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with electric motors that produce a net output of 243 horsepower. That isn't much for the segment, but then no three-row crossover comes close to its fuel economy: 36 mpg combined with front-wheel drive or 35 mpg with optional all-wheel drive (it uses a second electric motor at the rear axle). Those numbers equate to saving $550 per year according to the EPA when comparing the V6 Highlander AWD with the Hybrid AWD. You'd enjoy similar savings compared to other three-row SUVs as well.
As for that V6, it's a 3.5-liter unit that produces 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. That's one of the greatest outputs in the segment, and considering the Highlander weighs less than many competitors, expect strong acceleration. An eight-speed automatic and front-wheel drive are standard. There are two all-wheel-drive systems available: a basic one that sends power to the rear wheels when extra traction is needed, and a more advanced system for the XSE, Limited and Platinum that can also differ the amount of power between the left and right rear wheels to further enhance traction (AKA torque vectoring). Fuel economy differs by trim level and drivetrain, but they're all between 20-21 mpg city, 27-29 mpg highway and 23-24 mpg combined.
This is by far the best Highlander to drive yet, and is also one of the most composed vehicles in the segment. It doesn't feel that big behind the wheel, and the chassis and steering work nicely in concert with each other to create a driving experience that feels consistent regardless of whether you're driving the kids to school, on a long highway trip or find yourself on a winding mountain road. It's not an athlete like a Mazda CX-9, and we doubt the new Highlander XSE will turn up the dial that much either, but in comparison to other family haulers, the Highlander nicely balances ride comfort and reassuring handling. There's a Sport mode you can select, but the changes to the steering, throttle and transmission are difficult to detect.
The base V6 is strong, smooth and has a nice snarl when pushed. We're also happy that Toyota got rid of the old Highlander's hopelessly mushy and unresponsive throttle pedal. This one works as it should, as does the notably firm, reassuring brake pedal. That said, we like the Highlander Hybrid better. It feels quicker off the line and is smoother at around-town speeds, even if getting up to highway speed is noisier and takes longer. You get the same above-average ride and handling and, of course, unbeatable fuel economy for a modest price premium that could easily be paid off within three years of gas savings.
We review the excellent new widescreen infotainment system in this article and video.
In this review and video, we discuss in detail the Highlander's attractive and well-made interior.
The Highlander gained more space behind its third row for the latest generation, but remains one of the smallest in the segment. We put that space to the test. Note that this was one of the earlier luggage tests we've done with much of the rest of the segment tested thereafter. You can find all Luggage Tests here.
Our first driving impressions of both the V6 Highlander and the Highlander Hybrid, including more information about what's new, its engineering and design.
Pricing starts at $36,420 for the base V6-powered Highlander L, including the $1,215 destination charge. Highlander Hybrid pricing starts at $40,070, but its base trim is the LE. All-wheel drive is a $1,600 option on every trim.
Even the base Highlander L comes standard with alloy wheels, a full complement of safety tech (see Safety section), adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, rear privacy glass, proximity entry and push-button start, three-zone climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, cloth upholstery, five USB ports (three front, two middle), Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker sound system. The LE, which serves as the base Hybrid trim, has a few key upgrades including a power liftgate, leather-wrapped steering wheel and blind-spot monitoring, but choosing it isn't a must.
Besides slathering on extra equipment, there are some key differences to be aware of in regards to the upper trim levels. The XSE (pictured below) is only available with the V6 engine, has sportier suspension and steering tuning, plus different styling and interior color options. It also offers the more advanced torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system, which is also optional on the Limited and Platinum. Finally, the new-for-2022 Bronze Edition adds a variety of bronze-colored accents to what is otherwise a Highlander Hybrid XLE.
You can find a full breakdown of features, specs and local pricing for the 2022 Toyota Highlander here and for the 2022 Highlander Hybrid here. All prices below include the $1,215 destination charge and are for front-wheel-drive models. All-wheel drive is uniformly a $1,600 option.
Hybrid LE: $40,070
Hybrid XLE: $43,070
Hybrid Bronze Edition: $45,095
Hybrid Limited: $47,025
Hybrid Platinum: $50,225
Every 2022 Toyota Highlander includes standard forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control with steering assistance. All but the base L trim includes blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning. The Limited and Platinum get reverse automatic emergency braking.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Highlander a Top Safety Pick+ for its best-possible crash protection and crash prevention scores. Its headlight ratings varied depending on trim level and its LATCH anchors received a rating of "Good" for ease of use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Highlander five out of five stars for overall crash protection, along with a four-star frontal rating and five-star side rating.