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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid long-term introduction: Fuel-sippin' 3-row joins us for a year

Let's see how Toyota's gasoline-electric family-hauler fares over the long haul.

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That color is called Moon Dust, and it's a $425 option.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The new Toyota Highlander made quite a first impression, quickly leaping its way up toward the top of the increasingly popular three-row SUV class. It's also one of the only vehicles in its segment that's available with a hybrid powertrain, and that seems like the most compelling option to us at Roadshow.

That's why we've decided to add a 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to our long-term test fleet, to put this luxurious people-mover to the test over the course of 12 months. It'll haul all our gear and go on many a road trip, and we're curious to explore all of its many features as it moves around the country to various Roadshow staffers.

How we spec'd it

The Highlander's gasoline-electric option is available across a number of trim levels, pairing a two-motor hybrid system with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Total system output is rated at a just-average 243 horsepower, and in its most efficient, front-wheel-drive guise, the EPA says the Highlander Hybrid should return 36 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg highway and 36 mpg combined.

We opted to go for the fully loaded Platinum model with all-wheel drive, which reduces those fuel economy figures to 35 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. Still, those numbers represent quite an improvement over the V6-powered Highlander with AWD, which is rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.

Choosing the Platinum model means we get the full smorgasbord of bells and whistles. There's leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row captain's chairs, LED headlights, 20-inch wheels, a hands-free liftgate and a whole lot more. There's also a huge roster of driver-assistance features, including blind-spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams, road sign information and so on.

Infotainment duties are handled by Toyota's Entune tech, housed on a 12.3-inch touchscreen on the dashboard. The interface is a little busy for our tastes, especially with the rows of hard buttons for the climate control underneath, but happily, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard as is a wireless charging pad in the center console.

The least-expensive Highlander Hybrid starts at $39,320 including $1,120 for destination, but the Platinum AWD comes in at the top, at $51,320. Our tester's Moon Dust exterior color adds $425 and carpeted floor mats are an extra $318, bringing our final, as-tested price to $52,063. That's a lot of money for a three-row SUV, but considering how many features and technologies are packed into this Highlander -- not to mention just how nice it is inside -- the price seems fair.

This Toyota has Lexus levels of interior quality.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Initial impressions

Our Highlander Hybrid arrived in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago with just 60 miles on its odometer, so we're still very much in the break-in/honeymoon period. So far, the Highlander has been nothing but pleasant, with a soft but composed ride quality and smooth powertrain operation. The interior is quiet and nicely appointed, and there's no shortage of convenience features. But it's not perfect.

"There are a couple of issues with the interior that make it less than ideal for my wife and I," news and features editor Kyle Hyatt writes. "I'm 6-feet, 4-inches tall, and she's 6-feet, 1-inch, and both of us find the passenger seat lacking in range of adjustment. It doesn't get as low as we'd like it to, nor does it go back far enough to compensate for that lack of lowness. The design of the lower part of the dash means there will be little room to move our feet around or on longer drives."

For what it's worth, even at just 5-feet, 8-inches tall, I'm having similar problems as the Hyatts with the front passenger seat. Every time I get in the Highlander, I try to move it down, only to find that it won't let me.

As tested, our Highlander Hybrid costs $52,063 including destination.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Otherwise, our gripes are minor. The edges of the knobs for volume and tuning feel oddly sharp against our fingers, and the gasoline engine sounds really rough when it fires up. Those things aside, the Highlander has so far proved to be a great companion for running errands around Los Angeles. We especially like the top-down, 360-degree camera, which is super helpful for parking, especially since sight lines out of the Highlander aren't exactly great.

There's a lot more in store for our 2020 Highlander Hybrid, so stay tuned for more updates from other Roadshow staffers throughout the year.

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers