Safe Trip to Galveston in Toyota Highlander Hybrid

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Tony Maples Photography


We planned our annual fall visit to Galveston months before taking our September 13 road trip, so being greeted by a hurricane wasn’t part of our original plan. When we learned Tropical Storm Nicholas might churn into a Cat. 1 hurricane, my husband and I still decided to leave for the Gulf Coast that Monday. After all, friends who live on the island claim they only leave for a Cat. 2 or higher.

We were driving a 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum L4 all-wheel-drive SUV, which seemed sturdy enough to handle wind gusts or high water from a storm. After making the drive through Houston in record time, we congratulated ourselves on arriving early to our West Beach condo. We’d brought groceries and supplies with us, so we decided to stay inside for a soup and sandwich supper. It was raining pretty hard by then, and the wind had begun to howl louder than before.

Power Outages After Nicholas

galveston willie g's harborview day after Nicholas

Photo: Galveston Harbor photo by Holt

Listening to news reports from local channels, we learned that Nicholas was expected to make landfall in the early morning hours. Not far from our condo… and he was now a Category 1 hurricane. The first night of our vacation turned into a very long, sleepless night, with howling winds and rain attempting to batter down the sliding glass doors to our fourth floor apartment.

Fortunately, sleep was the only thing we lost during our first (and hopefully last) hurricane. Our power stayed off for a few hours, but was restored by morning. My husband hurried down to check on the Highlander early Tuesday, and was happy to find it unscathed by the storm.

We drove down to the seawall that morning and found most other places hadn’t been as lucky; some stores and restaurants didn’t have power restored for several days after the hurricane. Searching for a place to have lunch, we drove over to the Galveston Harbor. We spotted our friend, the GM for Fisherman’s Wharf, out helping pick up debris. He said his power was still off, and the only restaurant on the harbor with power was Willie G’s.

Delicious Lunch at Willie G’s

Safe trip to Galveston in Toyota highlander

Photo: Grilled Shrimp Plate photo by Holt

We had a delightful lunch at Willie G’s, and fantastic service since there weren’t many other customers. Apparently no one realized they were open since most other places on the island were closed.

The Highlander proved to be the perfect vehicle for our trip, with the added bonus of terrific fuel economy. We didn’t have to stop for gas until we were halfway home at the end of our week-long vacation. The 2021 Highlander Hybrid combines a high-efficiency 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. This results in 243 HP and an estimated 35 combined MPG.

Highlander Hybrid’s small battery pack is installed under the rear seats, so it doesn’t take up any cargo or passenger space. We had all the benefits of a hybrid powertrain without sacrificing cargo room for our luggage. Platinum grades are distinguished by a black grille with chrome-colored trim, and high output LED fog lights. The Platinum grade also features silver-colored painted front bumper and rear fascia, and a unique 20-inch wheel.

Highlander Hybrid AWD Modes

Safe trip to Galveston in Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Photo: Toyota

Driving modes for the Highlander Hybrid include Normal, ECO, and Sport, with an EV mode that allows the best of both worlds—using electric only while driving at low speeds or short distances. The 2021 model’s AWD employs a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed. Like the hybrid powertrain itself, the AWD works transparently.

Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect brought even greater agility to our Highlander Platinum. Using the Multi-Terrain Select control dial helps maximize traction in inclement weather or road conditions. Mud & Sand mode works well for beach driving while Rock & Dirt mode optimizes AWD traction for trails. Other handy driver tools included hill start assist control, and rear driveline disconnect to help reserve fuel when AWD isn’t needed, like on a straight highway.

Our Highlander Platinum was attired in a paint coat called Blizzard Pearl. It featured a plush cabin with soft padded surfaces, perforated leather trim, and handcrafted stitching, plus a high tech dash featuring easily operated multimedia controls. Ambient LED lighting adds to the elegant interior on the top-of-the-line Platinum trim. The center console features Qi wireless charging, five USB charging ports, and lots of storage spaces.

Quiet Cabin

2021_Toyota_Highlander_Platinum_AWD cabin

Photo: Highlander cabin courtesy Toyota

Sound dampening and soundproofing materials throughout the Highlander Platinum help minimize noise, and acoustic glass on the front side windows also helps reduce outside noise. A JBL premium audio system is standard on the Platinum Highlander. Platinum grade comes standard with Captain’s Chair second row with seating for seven. Its large rear doors provide easy access, while versatile seat folding makes it easy to enter the third row.

Highlander offers 16.0 cu. ft. of carrying space behind the third row, but since there were only two of us, we folded the 60/40 split fold-flat third-row seatbacks up, opening cargo space to 48.4 cu. ft. The versatile cargo area makes the most of its additional length with side surfaces and pockets shaped for maximum space usage.

Toyota Safety Connect

Safe trip to Galveston in Toyota Highlander

Photo: Toyota

All Highlanders are equipped with Toyota Safety Connect, and the Platinum edition offers dynamic navigation on its 12.3 inch multimedia screen. The 2021 Highlander is equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 (TSS 2.5+). Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and Rear Cross Traffic Braking (RCTB). The standard backup camera features projected path, while the backup camera features dynamic gridlines. A Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan, standard on Platinum, provides a live rotating 360-degree view around the vehicle.

The MSRP for the 2021 Highlander Hybrid Platinum we drove was $50,315 plus an additional $425 charge for the special paint color. We would be happy to drive that lovely SUV on all our future trips, but next time we’ll make sure to heed the weather reports.