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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid long-term update: Soft roading and snow driving

Our Highlander Hybrid has no trouble getting dirty and handling the elements.

2020 Toyota Highlander hybrid Moab
This hybrid SUV is surprisingly rugged.
Lyn Woodward

Our long-term Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a road trip champ, even if the engine can be a bit noisy. That's why it was the perfect companion for my annual holiday trip to Moab, Utah, where I'd get to put its all-wheel-drive system to the test.

No, I didn't take the Highlander over Hell's Revenge like I did in a 2020 Toyota Tacoma -- this is, after all, a three-row family crossover. But the Highlander Hybrid does have a Trail mode that changes the throttle and transmission parameters to give you more control at slower speeds. Trail mode also alters the all-wheel-drive system to send more torque to the rear axle, and the traction control is a bit more aggressive about transferring power to the wheels that have the most grip.

If you have a weekend cabin up a 10-mile dirt road that might get washed out every now and then, the Highlander Hybrid probably isn't for you. The standard Highlander, however, has a multiterrain select system with Mud/Sand and Rock/Dirt modes, so it should fare a bit better. Still, on a five-mile dirt run up to Moab's Seven Mile Rim trail, the Highlander Hybrid totally held its own. The Toyota's 8 inches of ground clearance and 18.1-degree approach angle made it easy to get up and over some obstacles, and the Highlander's soft suspension kept the SUV smooth and comfortable on rocky roads. The all-wheel-drive system is pretty great when pushed, too. Even while driving quickly, the Highlander never once broke loose on a gravel road.

The Highlander Hybrid doesn't have any kind of Snow mode, yet this Toyota had no trouble slogging through the slushy stuff. The variable AWD system worked seamlessly, though I'd want a proper set of winter tires if snow driving was going to be a regular occurrence. Remember, all-season tires are a jack of all trades but a master of none, perfectly adequate most of the time but hardly excelling during extremes. Still, for the occasional snowfall, the Highlander's Bridgestone Alenza Sport tires aren't too bad.

Thanks to the cold temperatures, the Highlander's tires lost some air pressure, with the monitoring system showing 29 psi in all four tires, compared to the recommended 36 psi Toyota puts on the door jamb. This isn't anything unusual; cars do this all the time. But weirdly, the tire pressure monitoring system only lit up a warning light for one tire, despite all four reading 29 psi. At least the TPMS automatically reset itself when temperatures warmed up and pressure returned to normal.

Cold, wintry weather is no problem for this Toyota.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Great as the Highlander is on long drives, we're still having trouble achieving its EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 35 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. Over the course of 2,315 miles I only averaged 28.6 mpg. Sure, there were some uphill sections, but plenty of downhill, too. Other editors have noticed poor fuel economy, and after 8,000 miles of testing, our fuel log is only showing an average of 29 mpg.

That aside, we're still loving the Highlander's comfortable nature, as well as its robust suite of driving aids and no-nonsense smartphone integration. As a daily driver, the Highlander continues to impress.

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers