2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: brief drive of updated three-row SUV

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The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid remains the only three-row hybrid crossover utility vehicle sold in the U.S. today.

And for the 2017 model year, it's gotten some mild updates. a power increase, and a critical feature for family vehicles: a total of five USB ports.

We had a chance to spend half an hour in a new 2017 Highlander Hybrid during last month's trip to Ojai, California, to drive Toyota's new 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to be offered in 4 trim levels

The Highlander Hybrid remains a large, heavy, and relatively capacious family vehicle.

While its 3.5-liter V-6 engine has a power boost from 280 horsepower last year to 306 hp this year, its EPA fuel-economy ratings are also incrementally higher.

The base Highlander Hybrid LE is now rated at 30 mpg city, 28 highway, for a combined rating of 29 mpg, 1 mpg higher than last year.

2017 Toyota Highlander

2017 Toyota Highlander

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The three upper trim levels—XLE, Limited, and Limited Platinum—get a 28-mpg combined rating, the same as last year, with individual ratings of 29 mpg city, 27 highway.

Addition to the upper trim levels is another change for 2017, one we'd previously covered.

A final change is minimal in the extreme: Toyota no longer puts the "Hybrid Synergy Drive" badge on the big SUV. It just says "Hybrid" now.

ALSO READ: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: Gas Mileage Review (Jun 2014)

All 2017 Highlanders, hybrid and otherwise, get what Toyota calls a "more aggressive" front end—although given the bulk of the vehicle to start with, it's likely to loom in your rear-view mirror no matter how meek or aggressive it may look.

The Platinum trim level has more differentiation, per customer requests, including unique 19-inch dark-chrome wheels, wood interior trim, and a birdseye camera view.

Oh, and the Platinum trim also gets a "puddle lamp" under the driver's door handle that projects "Highlander" onto the ground as you approach it.

2017 Toyota Highlander

2017 Toyota Highlander

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While conventionally powered Highlanders can get an eight-passenger option, the hybrid stays with seven seats and all-wheel drive as standard features.

Most important for families is likely to be the set of active-safety features—known by the dreadful name of TSS-P—that's now standard on every Highlander Hybrid.

They include adaptive cruise control, collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams.

CHECK OUT: Toyota hybrid battery replacement cost guide (2016 update)

That's now standard equipment on much of Toyota's 2017 lineup, the sign of an aggressive move to add safety features that have proven popular with buyers.

During our drive through the scenic hills of Ojai, we were reminded that this is what's called a "mid-cycle update," not an all-new vehicle.

Some features we remembered from our gas-mileage test of a 2014 Highlander Hybrid, others simply compared to other large crossovers we've driven.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, test drive, Ojai, California, Sep 2016

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, test drive, Ojai, California, Sep 2016

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Specifically:

  • The Highlander suspension is a little wobbly on center, a compromise between ride comfort and keeping the big vehicle planted on the road
  • It's nowhere near the driver's car that the Mazda CX-9 is (though with a far less capacious third row, we'd add), though it's better than the flaccid Nissan Pathfinder
  • The manual steering-column adjustment and pendant parking brake continue to feel downmarket
  • The wood trim in our Limited Platinum just felt cheesy
  • We observed a recorded 25.9 mpg on the display over a hilly 48.3-mile trip, and an instantaneous reading of 31 mpg at 75-mph highway speeds

All that said, the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a fine vehicle for those families who need third-row seating and want more fuel efficiency.

The one caveat we suggest keeping in mind is that both anecdotal stories and aggregated data suggest the hybrid SUV will achieve something below its rated gas mileage in real-world use.

Toyota provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person drive report.

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