Having a new Toyota hybrid presented us with the opportunity for a quick trip to southern Utah and a little known Utah State Park called the Freemont Indian State Park. This little gem is located on I-70 between Richfield and the I-15 junction.

We thought it seemed like a great idea to get a real-life handle on how the new Highlander Hybrid would do on a short road trip that would include both backroads and freeways, along with city driving.

This year, Toyota has reimagined the Highlander from the ground up with a new fourth-generation design. Coming to the market just three years after the ever popular Rav4, when the Highlander was introduced it was an instant success in the mid-sized SUV field. Most of the success came from the fact that it was different, and drove more like a sedan than other SUVs of the time that were basically trucks with a larger body on frame configuration.

Our test ride, coming with the hybrid configuration, made our adventure even that much more intriguing. Past experience with Toyota hybrids had proved they would get even better mileage around town than what we could achieve out on the open road. We have also always found that we would do better in the mpg department than what the EPA had put on the window sticker.

So with all that in mind, we took off on our Saturday drive into central Utah to enjoy all that smaller Fremont Indian State Park had to offer. We were excited to get in some awesome driving and great hiking, and most of all getting out of the house for a daylong adventure with a new Highlander hybrid.

Our trip took us down through Sanpete County on the old Highway 89, then on down through Sevier County. With the included standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the drive was made almost autonomous as we set the radar cruise control and lane tracing assist. With all this up and running, the Highlander kept itself centered in the lane and at a present distance behind the vehicle in front of us.

When we got to Salina, Utah, we decided to fill the tank, even though it really didn’t need it. But with a pump price of only $1.14 per gallon, it was almost necessary just to go back to 1981 pricing, and almost made us feel like we were back in high school again.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the state park and checked in at the visitor’s center where we received a map showing where all the great trails and petroglyphs were located. Most of all the trails were moderate and led to some really great rock art!

We also took the opportunity to go on one of the longer hikes that took us up on top of the northern cliff wall that included some great vistas of the canyon and northward, well worth the time and effort to get to the top.

Also included with the Safety Sense were pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, high bean assist and a very cool road sign assist function. The latter allowed us to always know what the speed limit was no matter where we were on our journey. With most of that journey consisting of back roads, this was a great addition to help us keep the drive within the law, a standard addition that gets Toyota a huge kudos from us.

With the new design came a new look for the Highlander with the designers adding a large amount of masculinity to the exterior. We liked it as it gave the highlander a more athletic look. The past design lent itself to more of a mom car, whereas this new look would make dad just as confidant behind the wheel.

Inside, the designers have added all kinds of luxurious touches, including an all-new 12.3-inch multimedia display. The large display took front and center in the middle of the console. With the new size, it allowed for the screen to be split into multiple sections, allowing us to use the navigation, radio and keep tabs on our phones through Apple CarPlay, all at once.

The Highlander is also Amazon Alexa compatible, and after hooked up through our home network we could start it remotely or add a destination simply by telling Alexa or downloading our commands to the Toyota.

Inside, the SUV was clad in a very fine brown leather. After over eight hours on the road, we found the seating surfaces to be extremely comfortable. Both were heated and cooled, along with the second-row seating also being heated. The entire look seemed way more Lexus-like than what we would have expected from a middle-of-the-market three-row SUV!

The new hybrid setup comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two small electric motors that add up to a very nice 243 total system horsepower, along with a 36 combined miles per gallon. This number is up 24% over the previous Highlander hybrid that produced only 29 mpg. That is quite an accomplishment for the engineers.

So how did we do after a week with the newly designed SUV and over 500 miles of all kinds of driving? Well, we actually did better than the EPA would have suggested, coming in at 37.5 mpg, not too bad considering a lot of our mileage was on the freeway or backway here in Utah, as we headed home on I-15 after our day of visiting the Freemont Indian park.

Bottom line is that the new Toyota Highlander is sure to excite anyone who takes it for a ride, and what a great way to go green and get fantastic mileage while still looking great. Dads and moms alike will enjoy all that the new SUV has to offer as the Highlander grows up in today’s market.

Base price: $50,200

Price as driven: $52,512

Craig and Deanne Conover have been test-driving vehicles for over eight years and have had the opportunity to drive many makes and models. They receive a new car each week for a weeklong test drive and adventure. They both love having the unique opportunity of trying out new cars. They reside in Springville, Utah.