I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – you don’t really know if you love a car until you’ve lived with a car for a bit.
Hours and miles are the best way to know just how good the machine to which you entrust your life and your family’s lives really is. Five minutes in a test-drive around the block with a salesperson at your side doesn’t cut it. And even the typical car reviewer week around town isn’t the same as getting out on the open road for an extended period of time.
My wife, Rhonda, and I take our annual big camping trip in late September. This time it was nine days, with the ultimate destination being Telluride, Colo., and the folks at Toyota Motors North America and their prep and delivery partners at DriveShop were nice enough to provide a two-week loan of the 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum All-Wheel Drive.
The Highlander is a veteran of the Toyota lineup – a handsome, capable, three-row SUV. And the Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD is the top of the line.
The hybrid part is a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine paired with an electric motor. Onboard computers decide when to use one, when to use the other and when to blend power from both for the most efficient use of fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimate for the 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is 29 mpg city/27 highway. The gasoline version gets 21 mpg city/27 highway, so it’s in around-town driving that the hybrid truly pays off.
The journey from Northern California to Colorado is more than 1,000 miles, depending on which way you go, so there were overnight stops along the way. One of the earliest was Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. The trip also included two nights at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and three in Ouray, not far from Telluride.
That meant our camping gear had to come out of and go into the Highlander a few times.
And that’s where the Highlander’s space utilization really shone.
We folded down the third-row seat and kept the tent, camp chairs, air mattress, inverter, air compressor, firewood and backpacks in that area, while the second row became our pantry, carrying dry goods, a cooler for food and another for water. Things we wanted to keep handy (books, maps, on-the-road snacks, jackets and shoes) went in the floor wells behind the front seats. That left a spacious, well-equipped interior for us to enjoy as the hours and miles rolled by on the way to our destination.
The altitude in Telluride is no joke at 8,750 feet. For comparison, South Lake Tahoe is at 6,237 feet. On the way there, we went over Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,017 feet.
The Highlander handled it all without a stumble. And even given two people, camping gear and some challenging roads and altitudes, we still saw 25.7 mpg for the trip. That’s close to the EPA estimate of 27, which assumes much less strenuous circumstances.
The 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid starts as low as $37,520 in two-wheel-drive form, but our top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Limited Platinum model starts at $46,830, coming, as it does, with an exhaustive list of standard equipment.
In fact, the only extra-cost option on our tester was a set of carpeted floor mats and a rear cargo mat ($264). So with $1,045 delivery processing and handling fee, the bottom line wound up at $49,939. And after nine days and close to 3,000 miles on the road, I can say it is worth every penny. In a lot of vehicles, this would have been an ordeal. The 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum made it a breeze.
Mike Hagerty has been writing about cars since 1997 and is vice-president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (waj.org). Read more of his reviews on his website (tirekicker.blogspot.com) and follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/mikehagertycars) and Facebook (facebook.com/mikehagertywritesaboutcars). He is also the co-anchor of the KFBK Afternoon News (93.1 FM/1530 AM) in Sacramento.