Math Problem: The 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum

2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum front 3/4 view
2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum.
The saying goes that it takes money to make money.  In some cases, it also takes money to save money.  And perhaps the best illustration of that is the 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum
2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum.
Yes, we are talking the top of the top-of-the-line of Toyota Highlanders, but the numbers are sobering. The base price for our test vehicle was $49,990.  With only two options (carpeted floor mats and a cargo mat for $225 and running boards for $599) and $885 delivery processing and handling fee, the as-tested price came to $51,699.

On its own, $51,699 is substantial money.  But the value equation is severely challenged when you bring in some other numbers.  For example, that a base-level Highlander LE begins at $29,665 and has an EPA fuel economy estimate of 20 city/25 highway to the Hybrid's 27 city/28 highway.  It would take a very long time for the extra 7 miles per gallon in the city and 3 miles per gallon on the highway to eat up the $20,335 difference at the gas pump.

Interior view of 2015 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum
2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum interior.
A lot of that price difference comes in the difference between base trim and Limited Premium trim (which includes an exhaustive list of standard features so long that we will leave it to Toyota---click here), so let's compare apples to apples.

Opt instead for a gasoline-powered Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum and your amenities are the same.  The base price becomes $43,465 and with the step up from the LE's four-cylinder engine to a 3.5-liter V6, the EPA fuel economy estimates dip, but surprisingly little, to 19 city/25 highway. You read that right.  The switch from the four to the six costs a single mile per gallon in the city while the highway mileage remains the same, which suggests that the 185 horsepower four spends a lot of energy simply moving the Highlander LE's not-inconsiderable 4,134 pounds. The 270 horsepower propels the Limited's even greater weight (4,861 pounds) with less effort, so consumption remains roughly equal.

Now the question becomes gasoline versus hybrid.  And according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Hybrid Cost Calculator, the difference in fuel economy between the two is small enough that it would take 11.6 years for you to make back the extra cost of the hybrid in fuel savings.  Break-even would come in the fall of 2026. Yes, there are other factors, like slightly lower emissions from the hybrid, but for the most part, a hybrid purchase is made on the basis of gas savings.

The universe of three-row crossover hybrids is small (made up of the Highlander Hybrid and the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, which is similarly value-equation challenged).  Within it, there is not a better choice than the Highlander Hybrid, but unless you're committed to a hybrid on philosophical grounds that transcend your personal finances, it simply makes more sense to go with the gasoline version.

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