2024 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Nightshade

The Highlander Hybrid represents good value in the three-row SUV segment, but do yourself a favour and check out the Grand Highlander first
The Highlander Hybrid represents good value in the three-row SUV segment, but do yourself a favour and check out the Grand Highlander first

by Imran Salam | June 12, 2024


We classify the 2024 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Nightshade as an NPC-mobile around these parts. What does that mean, you ask? Well, in the context of video games, an NPC is a non-playable character; someone or something that you don’t control and isn’t integral to the storyline or mission. Think pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto or traffic in Need For Speed. This doesn’t mean they’re totally useless, they just aren’t attention-seeking, simply going about their business and blending into the background.

Much like this Highlander. Finished in a cement-like grey — Toyota literally calls this colour “Cement” — the Nightshade package adds gloss black 18-inch wheels, plus matching door handles, grille trim, a roof spoiler, and emblems to a relatively sedate-looking exterior. You can tell the Highlander is getting long in the tooth, especially compared to newer Toyota crossovers and SUVs adopting boxier and more aggressive styling, like the Grand Highlander and Land Cruiser. The rest of the Highlander is pretty standard fare, with the proportions you’d expect from a three-row crossover, but I’ll give it points for having some pretty prominent character lines. I especially liked the crease running down the lower portion of the body, then sweeping up over the wheels. The Sienna does this, too, to even greater effect.

Let me be clear: the Highlander doesn’t look bad, it just blends in like an NPC. It’s what you’d see in the background of a movie scene, or being driven around by an NPC. The paint job, which I tend to like on sports cars, detracts from the Highlander’s look especially compared to some of the more vibrant colours Toyota offers. I’d also leave the Nightshade option box unchecked; the brightwork makes the regular Highlander look a little more premium, plus I’ve had enough of the blackout packages from almost every other manufacturer.

The Highlander’s interior shows its age, too. It does use Toyota’s latest infotainment software, but the eight-inch display is small by today’s standards and pales in comparison to the Grand Highlander. But the plus side is that there’s plenty of physical switchgear, and it’s all intuitive. The interior feels solid and put-together quite well, with nary a rattle or squeak to speak of. The Highlander Nightshade uses analog gauges, which I don’t entirely mind, but do feel a bit old in a modern hybrid.

There’s adequate space in the first two rows, but it falls short once you get to the third row. They’re clearly designed for not-yet-fully-formed humans, but luckily, climbing back there isn’t an issue with the second-row captain’s chairs that easily fold out of the way. As with most three-row crossovers, a baby stroller only fits upright in the trunk area. It’s a bit of a nuisance in the Highlander because it bangs against the back glass going over large bumps, or topples over when you open the tailgate, but this issue isn’t exclusive to the Highlander. I kept the third row folded all the time so I could lay the stroller flat and have storage space to spare.

Powered by Toyota’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the all-wheel-drive Highlander pumps out a combined 243 horsepower at 6,000 RPM. It’s adequate, but although Toyota doesn’t publish a combined torque figure, the gas engine on its own manages only 175 pound-feet of torque at a relatively high 4,400 RPM. Against more contemporary rivals, the Highlander falls short on usable power. It feels like you constantly need to floor it, something the Highlander Hybrid discourages by letting you know you aren’t in the “Eco” part of the power gauge, which stands in place of a typical RPM counter. And I’m not losing perspective here; I know this minivan-in-disguise isn’t made for the dragstrip, but the Grand Highlander spoils you with hybrid fuel economy and a meaty midrange, making merging and passing on the highway a non-issue.

The Highlander’s hybrid powertrain doesn’t make the most pleasant noises when you wring it out, either, but I’ve noted similar moaning-and-groaning from the Mazda CX-90 PHEV, so it isn’t alone here. But around town, the noise won’t bother most since it’s relatively silent at normal speeds — and then there’s the fuel economy. Upon picking it up, the Highlander showed almost 800 kilometres of range on a full tank, and I barely got through half a tank in my week with it. I averaged 6.4 L/100 kilometres over a fairly even mix of city and highway driving, along with some lead-footedness.

The softly spring Highlander makes no sporting intentions, but it’ll keep you and your family relaxed, even over long hauls. The suspension soaks up bumps quite well, yet despite the lack of sporting intent, provides a surprising level of grip and doesn’t immediately understeer should you push it. Ride quality is perfectly suited to the Highlander, but on the other hand, the steering isn’t ideal. Even by NPC-mobile standards, the Highlander is devoid of feedback and feels overly boosted. It’s not alone, as I had similar complaints with the Subaru Ascent, but the VW Atlas and CX-90 are better in this regard.

Looking at the Highlander Hybrid in a vacuum, it’s a perfectly fine vehicle. It’s comfortable, great on gas, and while the third-row isn’t exactly roomy, it’s fine in a pinch. But when you look at Toyota’s recent hybrid efforts — be it the Prius, Camry, Grand Highlander, and many more — it’s hard to not feel like the Highlander is last year’s product. Even the unexpectedly attractive and far-more-practical Sienna is a better buy, if you can get over the fact that it’s a minivan. For this Highlander’s $54,220 as-tested price tag, it’s good value in the three-row SUV space, but if it were my money, I’d spend a bit extra and go for the more attractive, more powerful, and more modern CX-90 PHEV.

But even with all that being said, there’s a reason the Highlander has such a lengthy waitlist despite its age. People want their family haulers to be as “NPC” as possible. They want reliability and consistency in going about its business without making a big fuss about it. Here, the 2024 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Nightshade fits the bill — but at least take a look at the Grand Highlander first before you pull the trigger.


Vehicle Specs
Three-row hybrid crossover
Engine Size
2.5L inline four-cylinder hybrid
Horsepower (at RPM)
243 hp (net)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Imran Salam

Staff Writer

Imran is a true enthusiast who you'll find at shows, local meets, Sunday drives or the track. He appreciates the variety the car industry has to offer, having owned over a dozen cars from different manufacturers. Imran is grateful to own one of his childhood poster cars and enjoys inspiring the next generation. When Imran is not behind wheel he is found playing basketball or spending time with family.

Current Toys: '13 Boxster S 6MT, '24 Integra Type S, '08 328xi