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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I don’t need a three row SUV the size of a Highlander. There is a substantial price difference and the size of the Highlander can make it unwieldy in some parking situations.
What I preferred about the Highlander was more comfort and refinement. The V6 engine is smooth, and it usually has a soft, quiet ride.
However, now the Highlander Hybrid has a 4 cylinder engine similar to the RAV4 that will reduce the level of driving refinement.

Is the new 4 cylinder Highlander hybrid still much more comfortable for front seat occupants than a RAV4? Is there noticeably more sound insulation and a softer ride in the Highlander?

I would be comparing RAV4 XLE Hybrid with no packages to Highlander LE Hybrid FWD with no packages.
I would want those particular specs to get smart entry without a moonroof.

Is the RAV4 XLE Hybrid buzzy and stiff riding on imperfect roads and at highway speeds?

I know the RAV4 Prime is coming that would allow me to drive in EV mode for 90% of my driving which could be very nice, but it will only come in SE and XSE versions. That implies bigger wheels with lower profile tires and a sporty suspension that will increase road noise and harshness.

Once prices start getting much over $40K, they start becoming late model CPO Lexus RX450H competitors or even competing with the new Tesla Model Y.
 

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I would be comparing RAV4 XLE Hybrid with no packages to Highlander LE Hybrid FWD with no packages.

Do that and make your OWN decision. No one can tell YOU how comfortable or "refined" YOU will be in YOUR car.
 

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2020 Highlander Limited AWD - Magnetic Gray
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The previous responder was less than helpful, I guess they prefer nobody ask any questions or use these forums to inquire about others experience/opinions...and from a mod too, go figure.

I’m not aware of anyone that has the new hybrid Highlander yet, and the dealers near me don’t have any yet so you’ll probably have some waiting to do before hearing back on anyone’s real world opinion of the drive/comfort. We were going to buy a RAV4 hybrid but ended up with the 2020 Highlander (gas). I Definitely felt more comfortable in the front seats, It felt a little cramped in the rav4. The hybrid Highlander shouldn’t be any different in this regard. Whether or not that is worth the 5-10k premium is up to you. I know several people that had the chance to drive both the gas and hybrid highlanders said they preferred the ride of the gas version in their reviews though. Afaik the Toyota hybrid systems are disabled after 40mph so it will be running exclusively on the 4 cylinder at highway speeds...unlike, for example, Honda which I believe keeps the electric motors engaged at all speeds. If I’m wrong about this hopefully someone corrects me.

The RAV4 prime is really tempting, but by the time we need to replace our next car I suspect there will be a plethora of hybrid /electric options to choose from.

Real talk though, I wouldn’t upgrade to a Highlander just for a slightly more comfortable cabin experience and ride. You tack on several negatives just to achieve that: mpg hit, substantial price increase, third row that you probably won’t ever use it sounds like, harder to park and maneuver without the sensors found on the higher trims...I would rather spend that money to get something RAV4 sized but more luxurious (Lexus?).
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
The previous responder was less than helpful, I guess they prefer nobody ask any questions or use these forums to inquire about others experience/opinions...and from a mod too, go figure.

I’m not aware of anyone that has the new hybrid Highlander yet, and the dealers near me don’t have any yet so you’ll probably have some waiting to do before hearing back on anyone’s real world opinion of the drive/comfort. We were going to buy a RAV4 hybrid but ended up with the 2020 Highlander (gas). I Definitely felt more comfortable in the front seats, It felt a little cramped in the rav4. The hybrid Highlander shouldn’t be any different in this regard. Whether or not that is worth the 5-10k premium is up to you. I know several people that had the chance to drive both the gas and hybrid highlanders said they preferred the ride of the gas version in their reviews though. Afaik the Toyota hybrid systems are disabled after 40mph so it will be running exclusively on the 4 cylinder at highway speeds...unlike, for example, Honda which I believe keeps the electric motors engaged at all speeds. If I’m wrong about this hopefully someone corrects me.

The RAV4 prime is really tempting, but by the time we need to replace our next car I suspect there will be a plethora of hybrid /electric options to choose from.

Real talk though, I wouldn’t upgrade to a Highlander just for a slightly more comfortable cabin experience and ride. You tack on several negatives just to achieve that: mpg hit, substantial price increase, third row that you probably won’t ever use it sounds like, harder to park and maneuver without the sensors found on the higher trims...I would rather spend that money to get something RAV4 sized but more luxurious (Lexus?).
Not sure why Lexus doesn’t make a smaller version of the RX. The NX isn’t that because it doesn’t have a soft, quiet ride and is trying too hard to be sporty. They have the F Sport trim option for people who want sporty. They could have made the standard trim more luxurious.
Lincoln Corsair looks like it would be nice, but it’s too expensive for me and will likely also have massive depreciation. Maybe that would be a good CPO car in a couple years. It really surprises me that Lexus doesn’t make anything that directly competes with the compact Lincoln Corsair in ride, quietness and general comfort.
Acura RX was also ruined with the latest generation which they made sportier with a stiffer ride and replaced the previous V6 with a small turbo 4.
 

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2020 Highlander Hybrid
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I drive a Highlander and am intrigued by the RAV4 Prime and it's performance but don't think the smaller passenger space will do for me, especially, the difference in the shoulder room and 2nd row legroom.I would be willing to wait for a Highlander Prime - perhaps next year - but my current daily driving average is closer to 100 miles, right now, so a plug-in really wouldn't be optimal, even if they manage 30+ miles of EV range. I also don't know how long I will have access to overnight plug-in, say, if I move to into a rental situation in the next 5 years.

There will be plenty of new driving impressions of the 2020 Highlander Hybrid from YouTubers like this one as they are just now showing up at dealerships. What I hear is that they do notice slower acceleration but not enough to be problematic. There is the usual EV improvement in torque from a standstill. In this video they are using a decent handheld mic setup so you can actually hear the 4 cylinder drone at highway speeds. I feel I will get used to whatever engine sound it makes.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a zippy yet fuel-efficient hybrid system that hustles the SUV around town confidently. It rides smoothly on rough pavement, but it feels a bit cumbersome around turns, a common criticism of three-row SUVs.

  • "Compared to the gas-only Highlander, the Hybrid … feels quicker off the line and smoother at around-town speeds. The electric power helps give it that immediate, satisfying start. The electronically controlled CVT keeps the revs where they need to be without any artificial steps to mimic a normal automatic. … The engine works a little harder as you climb to higher speeds, but it never feels pokey like some hybrids." -- Autoblog
  • "Because on the road, the 2020 Highlander Hybrid feels responsive and plenty powerful, up to a point. Around town, the 2.5-liter I-4-based powertrain and its CVT are always there to provide the response you need, though it does feel like it runs out of juice toward the end of a highway onramp. Everywhere else, though, the Highlander gets the job done." -- Motor Trend
  • "The 20 percent or so of Highlander buyers that Toyota expects to opt for the hybrid are probably going to like it. The on-road behavior is similar to the V-6's, and the CVT is decently responsive and tuned to keep the inline-four from droning excessively under hard acceleration." -- Car and Driver

I'm not sure it's clear that acceleration above 40 MPH is using the ICE-only. With the planetary gear system that Toyota uses, there is often electric power that is generated by one motor/generator that is directly used to power the second one. I don't really understand it but the Flash model on this page illustrates the interaction among the two motor/generators and the ICE

 

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Discussion Starter #6
I didn’t hear the engine drone at highway speeds in the video. I heard the engine drone when they accelerated to highway speed with the pedal to the floor. That shouldn’t be necessary on a regular basis.
If they are just cruising along at highway speeds, I did hear much noise in the videos.
 

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No, "previous responder" knows too well that there are no two people same. Even worse, there are no two same people in aspects of driving/riding comfort.
"Previous responder", actually, cares about others. And, from life long experience, knows that only a long term drive, preferably - day long - in a considered vehicle, clarifies, it it will be comfortable or not.
Nothing is worse than to go online, ask a bunch of strangers how do THEY feel in a given vehicle, then go buy a car, based on 10 min test drive with sales guy yakking into your ear all the time, just to find that when stuck in slow traffic for 2 hours, seat kills circulation or left leg goes numb.
This is why I am firm - riding comfort needs to be determined by potential buyer only, as no one else can match same anatomy, circulation, sitting position, even how you hold steering wheel. As all those factors - and many more - play their role.
As an example, I had rental Mazda that I had to return after 45 min in it, as my legs went numb due to seat design. While, it is a very popular model bought by millions around the globe. So I know - no Mazda for me.
 

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2004 highlander v6
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we thought highlander too big for garage, bought a rav4 hybrid. solid quiet wont tow a boat tho.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Since the new Toyota Venza is coming and expected to be basically a shorter, two-row Highlander, it may be worth waiting for.
Maybe it will have thee same engine choices as the Highlander and be Toyota‘s alternative to the Honda Passport.
The Venza may potentially be the perfect vehicle for someone looking for something with a more comfortable and quieter ride than a RAV4 without being as long and bulky as a Highlander with a 3rd row you don’t plan on ever using.
 
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