Behind the Wheel

Toyota Highlander vs. Highlander Hybrid: Choosing between them comes down to 2 things

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is a formidable SUV.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is one of the best three-row unibody SUVs you can buy, if not the best. With few changes in the pipelune, the 2021 is likely to be the same. Toyota has sweetened the Highlander by offering a hybrid variant again in this generation, this time with a price just a smidge over the asking price for the traditional Highlander. Which is better? Several hundred miles behind the wheel of both gave the answer.

You see, there are three big differentiators between the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, if we set aside the engineering discussions. The first is the weight. Not only is the Highlander Hybrid heavier (thanks, battery), it feels more substantial than the Highlander. Unlike the Lexus LX 570 or a loaded dump truck where the car's weight hinders its performance, the electrified powertrain in the Highlander Hybrid offers enough oomph to overcome its extra load.

2020 Toyota Highlander The 2020 Toyota Highlander is friendlier for modern families than the last version. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Get behind the wheel of the traditional Highlander and its available 3.5-liter V6, and it almost feels lighter than it should, even with all-wheel drive. This isn't to say it seems lightweighted or chintzy. There's just a notable difference. Both stopped adequately and were able to hold their own in inclement weather - for the Highlander, that was a long drive in a blizzard with what amounted to eight inches of freshly fallen snow while the Highlander Hybrid handled a week's worth of rain in 24 hours like a champ.

The power supply for both was more than adequate. The V6 in the Highlander gets 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. Toyota has given the Highlander Hybrid a 2.4-liter power plant that pairs with hybrid components to achieve 243 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. With the electrified powertrain, the Highlander Hybrid is more spry but the Highlander doesn't fall far behind.

Here's the big difference - the Highlander (with AWD) gets 23 mpg combined while the Highlander Hybrid (with AWD) achieves 35 mpg combined according to EPA estimates.

They're also similar in the faults department. The Highlander's windscreen quickly fogged up when the snow began to fall, allowing no better than 50 percent visibility in the best of times. Despite a wide variety of trial and error regarding air conditioning, venting, heat, riding with the windows down, only having one passenger in the front, the screen was perpetually foggy whenever the temperature was below 35 degrees. The fog would be enough to drive me away from the Highlander, or, at the very least, expect a trip to the dealership for a fix at some point.

2020 Toyota Highlander The 2020 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid are nearly identical inside. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The windscreen of the Highlander Hybrid had issues as well. When tested earlier in the model year, it allowed the whine of passing air to permeate the cabin when accelerating. Sure, two vehicles isn't a pattern that should raise suspicion, it is enough to be noted.

With interiors and exteriors that are nearly identical - yes, that includes cargo space - the dilemma between Highlander and Highlander Hybrid comes down to fuel economy and price.

Toyota prices the 2020 Highlander to start at $31,830 and it goes up to $47,510, plus applicable taxes and fees. The 2020 Highlander Hybrid has a starting MSRP of $37,520 and tops out at $49,180. If you're comfortable spending over $40,000 on your new three-row SUV, you can't go wrong with the Highlander Hybrid. If you're constrained by budgetary concerns, getting a Highlander in a lower trim level won't make you feel like you're missing out too much, but you will pay for fuel fill ups more often.

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Toyota's ready to make a big announcement.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation2

Auto Shanghai has another surprise in store. Toyota will debut an electrified vehicle next week and ahead of that moment, the company has leaked teaser photos and video featuring the model on its social media channels.

One of the posts, available on Twitter and Instagram, showcases the vehicle and a series of conceptual, perhaps inspirational, related items. A light shines as a reflection in an eye. A design on paper leads to a math equation. A laser, perhaps a plasma cutter, is focused on an object. Watch the see the rest.


It passes by quickly, but in there is the shape of a crossover. We've captured the moment in a still photo below so you can take a longer look. From the body design quickly shown here, the SUV is shaped more like the Toyota Venza than the Toyota RAV4. The key here is the rear side window, which is more triangular, like the Venza, than the squared-off RAV4''s.

202 The shape of the vehicle is similar to the Toyota Venza.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation

2022 Toyota Venza EV

The face of the vehicle, shown in another social media post (this time on Instagram) and at the top of this article, shows a pared back vehicle face. The height of the vehicle confirms that it's in fact a crossover body style.

We do know that Subaru and Toyota have been working on an electric SUV for a while. While Subaru is likely calling the vehicle "Evoltis" there's some indication that Toyota may be reviving the "Celica" name for the EV. Batteries, after all, are made up of cells.

As of right now, we have to take the wait-and-see approach. One thing's for sure. We'll know more next week.

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Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads.

Photo courtesy of Nuro

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Nuro Domino's delivery vehicle

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

You can find out which self-driving vehicles are being tested in your neck of the woods by clicking here.


This article first appeared on AutomotiveMap's sister site InnovationMap.

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