(Contributing Editor: Peter Stamatis)

MISSION DIFFICULT.

 

Your Mission, Should you Choose to Accept it, is to procure a volume brand personal vehicle to transport 7 occupants, yourself included, with minimal gear, to an outdoor youth soccer tournament.

Parking is in a grassy area adjacent the fields  The challenge will be to avoid becoming mired in mud and to use the least petroleum possible.

If you fail at your mission there will be heck to pay with the kids, spouse and in-laws. This message cannot self destruct because it’s stored in a virtual cloud server.

Family minivan? None have any more ground clearance than a car. Only one is offered in all-wheel drive, and consumes as much gas as a V-8 powered sports car. The only gas-electric hybrid family minivan is front-wheel drive.

To succeed at this Mission, currently there is but one option: the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD-i.

 

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WHAT: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD-i Limited Platinum 3 Row, full-sized hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.

Standard Power: 3498 cc Atkinson cycle, dual VVT-i DOHC 24V V-6 cylinder gasoline engine: 231 hp/ 215 lb-ft; 228 kW (306 hp) net hybrid

parallel to:  1 x 650V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor, front wheels: 123 kW, 1 x 650V; 1 x 650V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor, rear wheels : 50 kW, 1 x 650V; synchronous AC Hybrid Starter Generator: 8 kW

Continuously Variable Transaxle, planetary gearset coupled, rear electromagnetic differential; 100:0 – 50:50 torque split

electric supply battery: Ni-MH, 288V, 45 kW

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Built on the XU50 variant of K-platform which also underpins Lexus RX450h;

An outpatient cryosurgical mole removal brings a full length trapezoid tri-to-bi horizontal bar grille: It’s less polarizing than Lexus’ spindle rage; Mid-fascia develops high cheek-bone T-corners; Wrap-around headlamp housings thin out;

It’s a dramatic steep belt-line rise from the hood front to the liftgate mid-section; An oversized rear roof spoiler could be a circus tent; Similarly rising lower door cheat-line creasing creates a Coke bottle fuselage effect;

WHY: Youth soccer fields are muddy and gas prices are on the rise again

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late Late Fall 2017

WHERE: Toyota new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Princeton, Indiana, U.S.A.

WHERE TO: dual traction electric motor all-wheel drive, e-varies front/ rear traction from nominal 100/0% to maximum 50/50%, ABS torque vectoring; -1 No Off-Road or torque split lock modes; 8″-inches clearance = Inclement weather beater & dirt road, light mud treader;

HOW ROADWORTHY: Despite 8% HP > 2015 Highlander Hybrid this CUV still weighs nearly 5000 pounds; Off the line, casual throttle response is expectedly meek; Highway passing is digestable, but the un-stepped CVT feels a half step behind; Slam the accelerator to the floorboard and the reply is part apathy.

Such a stiff body structure sits upon a numb, but highly relaxed chassis; Abrupt throttle produces rear squat, while rapid directional change will be met by over-steer; Steering reacts casually, filtering out the road surface; Brake pedal travel is long-ish; Cross wind buffeting is well buffered;  What road, wind and powertrain noise?

HOW FAR: 27 combined miles per gallon = 23% > Highlander 3.5 V-6 AWD Ltd.;

EV Mode  ≈ < 2 miles, @ < 25 mph,  @ very light throttle.

HOW BIG/ LITTLE: 7 Occupant seating = 2+2+3 owing to 2nd Row Captains’ chairs option; Row 3 = in a pinch, will pinch > smaller adults;  LE & XL trims carry 8 with 2nd Row 60/40% split bench configuration; +1 No sacrifice in cargo space to non-hybrid Highlander;

Cargo Volume = 1% > Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot; 4% > Nissan Pathfinder; 12% > Kia Sorento; Mazda CX-9; 14% < Volkswagen Atlas; 15% < Chevrolet Traverse.

HOW USEFUL: +1 Middle dash storage shelf; Sliding 2nd Row seat cushions; Flat folding 2nd Row tilting seatbacks; Flat folding 50/50% split 3rd Row tilting seatbacks w/ twin release straps; Folding 2nd Row between seat tray; +1 Deep center armrest w/ split roll-top; +1 Accomdating cockpit wireless device shelving w/ cable management; +1 View over sloping hood; -1 Rear backlight & over shoulder blindspots; -1 Distant reach to glove box; -1 No remote cargo bay 2nd or 3rd row seatback fold releases; -1 Tow Rating: 3500 lbs.

HOW SAFE: 12 airbags; IIHS Top Safety Pick; Rear camera; STANDARD Toyota SafetySense P = Pedestrian detection braking; Forward collision avoidance braking; Lane Departure Warning, Keep Assist; Partial adaptive cruise control, Automatic High Beams;   LIMITED trim: Blind spot & Rear Cross-traffic warning, sonar front & rear park assist;  PLATINUM PKG: 360° Bird’s Eye View perimeter scan.

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: Perforated Leather seating – heated Rows 1 + 2, cooled Row 1; Wide seat cushions Power 8-way driver’s seat, w/ 2 position memory, 4-way front pax Heated Leather steering wheel with spoke integrated redundant controls;  Keyless entry, ignition; Full express power windows x 4; 2nd Row window sunshades; +1 Wide center armrest; +1 Generous steering wheel reach adjustment; -1 Minimal seat torso support, flat cushions; -1 Tall liftgate lift-height;

Cool Gizmo(s): Long mid-dashboard chestnut finished shelf w/ cable management; Bird’s Eye Camera Perimeter Scan; Panoramic moon roof w/ power shade; Soothing blue foot well & door panel ambient lighting;

Details Done Right: Contrasting chestnut simulated leather soft-material dash & door panel inserts; Fine pebbled soft and hard plastics; Contrasting 3rd Row/ cargo pillar/ upper plastic trim; Rigid ABS load floor panel;

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Faint simulated open-pore wood grain appliques; -1 Embossed stitching on steering wheel boss, dash cover & armrest;

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 8″ capacitive touch LCD 3-pane infotainment screen flanked by large soft-touch button switches; Adaptive voice command hands-free communications; GPS HDD Navigation Entune wireless device apps: Pandora, Slacker, I-Heart, Destination search, Facebook, Open Table, Movie Tickets, Doppler weather, Traffic Updates, Sports, Fuel Prices, Stock values;  Sirius XM (90 day complimentary subscription); Boomy 825 W, 12- speaker JBL streaming audio, CD, HD-Radio; Siri Eyes; USB x 3, 12V x 3, 120V AC x 1.

HOW MUCH: $49,309 = 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD-i Limited Platinum

WHAT’S MISSING: More stepped CVT action & quicker steering; Auto-hold; Sport driving mode; Tachometer; More genuine stitching, Denser pile carpeting;

ANY COMPETITION: NONE The Nissan Pathfinder hybrid was discontinued after 2015. The new 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, while sporting a 3rd Row, is a mid-size crossover with -20 cu. ft cargo space.