Fully redesigned for 2020, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a comfortable, easy-to-drive three-row SUV. One of its most significant changes is under the hood: The SUV has a new four-cylinder hybrid powertrain that gets considerably better EPA-estimated gas mileage than the V-6 hybrid setup in its predecessor. The all-wheel-drive 2020 Highlander Hybrid is rated 35 mpg combined, which is 6 mpg better than the 2019 Highlander Hybrid.
Pricing is up for both the 2020 Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, but the hybrid’s price premium has decreased even though it’s considerably more efficient; the AWD 2020 Highlander Hybrid LE is $1,400 more expensive than a 2020 Highlander LE, but the difference was $2,180 for 2019 models.
Related: 2020 Toyota Highlander Review: More in Some Ways, Not in Others
One of the important things to consider when weighing whether a gas or hybrid version of a certain car is right for you is how long it’ll take to make back in fuel savings any hybrid price premium. Current gas prices can significantly impact the equation, but even with average gas prices significantly lower now than they were just a few months ago, it doesn’t take long to make up the Highlander Hybrid’s extra cost.
For our payback-time analysis, we decided to compare the least expensive, similarly equipped AWD versions of the SUV that you can buy. The regular Highlander comes in a base L trim level, but the least expensive Highlander Hybrid is the next-level-up LE trim. The regular Highlander comes in LE form, too, and apart from the different drivetrains, the two SUVs have similar features. The AWD 2020 Highlander LE starts at $39,520 (prices include a $1,120 destination charge), while the 2020 Highlander Hybrid LE starts at $40,920; see their specs compared.
At around $1.90 a gallon, the current national average for regular gas isn’t doing the Highlander Hybrid’s payback time any favors, but even at this relatively low price for fuel, the payback time is still just 3.3 years. Bumping the average price for a gallon to $2.85 — which is where it stood a year ago — lowers the payback time to 2.2 years. These calculations are based on each SUV’s combined mpg estimates — 35 mpg for the Highlander Hybrid and 23 mpg for the Highlander — and driving 15,000 miles a year.
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It might be a surprise, but besides the Highlander, there aren’t a lot of mainstream three-row SUVs that come in hybrid form. The redesigned 2020 Ford Explorer offers a hybrid drivetrain, but the hybrid’s $53,525 starting price is considerably more than the Highlander Hybrid’s, and it gets significantly worse gas mileage (28 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive). If ultimate efficiency for not much extra money is paramount in your three-row SUV search, the 2020 Highlander Hybrid is worth a look.
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