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How to Get 40mpg in 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: a Test Drive

Learn tips and techniques to help you get very strong gas mileage in your new 2020 Highlander Hybrid.


I recently had the opportunity to review and test one of Toyota’s newest and most talked about models – the 2020 Highlander Hybrid. In fact, I took an LE trim level for a 20-mile trip to see just what it was capable of.

The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to simulate the types of driving most people will encounter during daily and weekend travel. I tested suspension along winding country roads. Figured out, I think, the best ways to get great fuel efficiency in city subdivisions and neighborhood streets. And, of course, traveled the highway at cruising speeds to learn how Highlander Hybrid accelerates and handles itself at 70mph+ speeds.

2020 Highlander Hybrid vs gasoline models

Typically I am used to driving a Toyota Highlander that produces 295 horsepower with its traditional 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is matched with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is true with all gasoline-powered trim levels. The obvious wonder is how its Hybrid counterpart drives with less power.

A 2020 Highlander Hybrid LE is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and 2 electric motors. This is a system that has been perfected over time and one that is more compact, lighter and more efficient than its preceding generation Highlander. An electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission completes this powertrain team.

With lower horsepower production than its gasoline-only counterpart, people may be hesitant to buy a 2020 Highlander Hybrid due to questions about how it may get up to cruising speeds or accelerate up hills. However, during my test drive I was pleasantly surprised. This midsize Hybrid SUV met my expectations in passing vehicles when needed going from 0 to highway speeds, and also traveling up steeper slopes and hills.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE interior current energy monitor

I found minimal road and wind noise even at higher speeds. Rumors were that this new fourth-generation Highlander was built quieter with less interior noise. Nice to see for myself these stories appear to be quite accurate.

But what about gas mileage?

Tips for better MPG with 2020 Highlander Hybrid

First off, I filmed and uploaded a test drive video on my “Toyotajeff” YouTube channel so you can see from my perspective how 2020 Highlander Hybrid LE drives and what types of gas mileage it gets in real life. I hope you find this helpful as part of your research.

One of the most beneficial changes this year was giving customers the opportunity to purchase either a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive 2020 Highlander Hybrid. I drove FWD for my review.

VIDEO: See my impressions of how Highlander Hybrid drives in my video review.

If you purchase AWD, expect to see posted fuel efficiency of 35mpg combined, while FWD offers posted 36mpg combined numbers. Since ratings are similar for both options, you can make the best choice for you and your family based on whether you need additional traction or if you want the best gas mileage possible.

I purposely tried to switch up driving styles during my test drive. As we all know, driving tendencies have a tremendous impact on how you do at the pump. It seems obvious to say, but I’ll say it anyway. If you are a faster driver with more of a lead foot, you will get worse mpg than a normal, slower and more conservative driver. It is what it is.

Here are some suggestions for getting optimal mpg in your 2020 Highlander Hybrid. (You may also enjoy a previous Torque News story I wrote on how to get optimal Prius gas mileage).

Try to coast as much as you can. This may mean letting off on the gas pedal sooner before you slow down to a red light or stop sign. The more you have your foot off the accelerator the less gasoline you will use.

Also, try not to “beat anyone off the line” when the traffic light turns green. Speed up as slowly as you can until you get to your cruising speed.

Utilize ECO and EV modes when you can. ECO mode takes a little off your throttle and HVAC systems which, in turn translates into better fuel efficiency. It is recommended mostly for city driving conditions and speeds, but feel free to try it on the highway as well to see how you do.

EV mode is electric-only and can be used at slower speeds under 25mph. While only working for up to one-half mile, it is perfect for when you are slowed for construction or an accident. I used it in mall parking lots and subdivision streets with tremendously positive results. You will see your miles per gallon monitor read 99.9mpg while in EV mode, and that may encourage you to try this more often. It may just save you money.

The first half of my test drive allowed me to achieve up to 67mpg along city and country roads. I was thrilled to say the least.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE interior energy monitor mpg

I was purposely more aggressive during the second half of my drive. I suggest keeping your highway speeds at about 75mph or lower to maximize your fuel ratings. Also, take advantage of dynamic radar cruise control. I found while in this mode, my current mpg actually increased on the highway.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE interior multi-information display mpg

All in all, I ended my 20-mile drive at an average of 38.3mpg. This is more than Toyota’s listed 36mpg combined rating, so I hit my goal. As Rob Schneider would say, “You can DO it.”

Time for your thoughts on 2020 Highlander Hybrid

There are times when all of us drive slower, when we drive more aggressively, when we speed and when we stay under the posted speed limit. In short, we mix up our driving styles. This is how I reviewed and tested the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE.

I was pleased with acceleration, with minimal outside noise and with its smooth suspension. But, I was most excited about the mpg.

What do you think about 2020 Highlander? Will you be more interested in the Hybrid or the gasoline-only versions?

Do you have any tips and suggestions for getting optimal mpg?

Thanks for reading everyone. See you next story when I tell the story of a man trading in his 1999 Toyota Tacoma with 500k miles for a brand new 2020 Tacoma Limited. You've got to see this.

SEE ANOTHER HYBRID: What do you think of this 2020 Highlander Hybrid Limited in my comprehensive video review? Please Subscribe to Torque News YouTube channel for current automotive analysis and Toyota information.

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DeanMcManis (not verified)    March 19, 2020 - 2:45PM

Even averaging 35MPG in a relatively big SUV is excellent. And to Toyota’s credit the jump in price to the hybrid model is now only $1400, where it used to be over $10k more, for only a 3-4 MPG improvement. Still, I am hoping for a Hylander Prime, plug in hybrid model to come out. I think that the RAV4 Prime is going to be a huge hit, offering almost 40 miles of EV only driving as well as great gas mileage.

Renee (not verified)    August 18, 2020 - 12:32PM

I am on my first tank of gas in the Highlander Hybrid 2020 Limited AWD. I am so disappointed as its averaging 26mpg . I drive so slowly and cautiously, almost all in eco mode. Im going to test again on the next tank, but I am shocked to be getting 25% less efficiency than advertised.

sean Lavelle (not verified)    March 28, 2021 - 1:24AM

In reply to by Renee (not verified)

Make sure you break it in properly with some fast driving also, after you have a few hundred miles on it you should see big improvement . too slow and cautious and you will gum up the motor. 2021 HyHi AWD now averaging 36 mpg

carol knapp (not verified)    September 11, 2020 - 9:44AM

Something is wrong. My first trip (local driving only) was 39 mpg. Long distance trip (400 miles) was 41.

Will K (not verified)    September 30, 2020 - 9:53PM

I'm getting close 32.6mpg on the first tank. But I attribute this to living in a hilly area in the Pacific Northwest, where I am climbing several hills on my daily commute (~16 miles round trip). Can't wait to take a road trip and test the long distance mileage. Thanks for the review and highlighting some features the manual doesn't really give a good description of how to use in our daily driving.

jack d (not verified)    October 27, 2020 - 9:53PM

I'm 1200 miles with this 2020 AWD Highlander hybrid- the first tank was 40mpg mixed driving, second tank (mostly highway) 42mpg.

I was shocked and delighted. DTE indicator is way off which seems to be a bug.

rich E (not verified)    January 5, 2021 - 12:41PM

I am having a similar result as Renee! Pretty disappointed, I'm trying to be super fuel efficient, very light throttle, Eco mode only, using EV everywhere when under 25 mph, driving a good mix of side streets and freeway. Averaging around 28mpg. Stock 20" wheels aired up to 38psi. 2021 AWD platinum Hybrid.

Criag Barney (not verified)    January 13, 2021 - 6:08PM

In reply to by rich E (not verified)

I'm having the same issue. 3 tanks now that I have numbers for and the best was just over 32 mpg. If it keeps it up I'm taking it in. When I test drove one, the temporary mpg numbers were 40 and over.

Renee (not verified)    January 14, 2021 - 10:28AM

In reply to by rich E (not verified)

So, my update since my first post in August is that nothing has changed. I average 26mpg. Im guessing since I do very short trips, its highly effecting my mpg. I almost exclusively drive 5min trips in town. Im not happy with this, but I suppose if you have longer drives, this car will be good for you. This car also feels like such a strain to accelerate from stops, the 4cylinder feels very different from the 2019 model 6 cylinder.

W.l. strohmeyer (not verified)    January 26, 2022 - 4:00PM

In reply to by rich E (not verified)

Ii have a 21 4cyl hybrid. Highlander ,since Dec. 2020. I have 16000 miles on it. From the start li was always over 35.went to fla. 2 days after I bought it,drove it around. City metro for 3 months,it never got below 40. Went to orlando,Orlando, into condo,it read 46.8,drove it back to ft.myers,had 28 .miles of gas left and 25 miles to go. I pulled into station with 624 miles on that tank...yes took pictures of all that and called dealer. I'm so thrilled with this suv..6 months later we went to Arizona. And was always 39 to 42,but went up to grand canyon and for 30 miles in hills got 51.6.mpg. I wonder if they will get better if a plug in...

Rich E (not verified)    January 19, 2021 - 11:59AM

A strange improvement in my mgp - I had a lift kit installed and as a part of that they have to do an alignment. My individual trips are now typically in the 35 mpg range and without trying too hard to be efficient, just driving lightly. It is also winter here with temps in the 20's-30's. I've read that cold weather reduces an EV battery efficiency by up to 30 percent. So, I'm hoping for even better in the summer. I don't know if you guys are also in cold environments, or somewhere in the south, but I'd be interested to find out if warmer climate owners are getting better MPG vs cold. Renee, I have noticed that the first part of my trips are always terrible gas milage like less than 20, it seems like the battery loses charge if it sits over night or for a few days and takes a few miles to warm up and build back a charge which then helps greatly with the fuel efficiency. I think you are right that the HiHy is not designed to be efficient on trips that short. What tire pressure are you all running? i'm wondering if there is a correlation between better mileage and higher pressures. Also, I'm trusting the computer on these numbers. Are you guys doing the actual math using the fuel pump and mileage? Has anyone compared the manual fuel mileage of a tank vs what the computer comes up with?

Hand Calculate (not verified)    February 24, 2021 - 4:32AM

A more accurate method to determine MPG is to calculate it at the pump. The formula is (Miles driven ÷ Gallons needed to refill tank).

So the next time you fill up, reset the trip computer to zero. Then when it’s time to refuel, divide the miles shown on the trip computer with the number of gallons you just filled. That is your true MPG.

Try to use the same pump at the same gas station for even more accurate results.

Renee (not verified)    February 24, 2021 - 8:19AM

In reply to by Hand Calculate (not verified)

Ive always calculated mpg at the tank, because Ive never had a car before this that told me MPG. Just to clarify- when I do longer trips around town (15-20min) my MPG improves for that trip, however its never enough to really improve my overall MPG for that tank. Since 90% of my driving is 5min trips in town where I get 20MPG, that’s close to what I get for the tank. My most recent was 23mpg for the tank. Basically, short trips are killer. Also, Rich- it is winter here, so Im sire its a bit more taxing. At this point it is what it is for me- perhaps Ill be able to get a bigger car like this thats totally electric in the future.

Daniel Hageman (not verified)    March 2, 2021 - 7:56AM

5 fill-ups for 69.36 gallons. MPG ave 29.24
Yes, it has been cold but I surely hope this improves! I run ECO primarily. 99% in the green eco range. Coast to stop lights/signs. Drive the speed limit 80% of the time, never more than 5 over.
2021 AWD Hybrid Highlander

sean lavelle (not verified)    March 28, 2021 - 1:17AM

One thing that helps MPG in cold weather is to leave the heat off in stop and go driving, otherwise HyHi will keep the ICE running to generate heat. I have 15 min drive: 1st 3 min is to the highway, stop go, I leave the heat off. when I get on the hi way I turn heat on full blast since the i.c.e has to run anyway, about 7 mins to town, then I turn heat off again for 5 mins of stop go driving so the i.c.e stays off except to accelerate. If I leave the cabin heat on in town, it seems the i.c.e continues to run longer while sitting at stop lights. ( I do use the heated seats however)