Toyota Highlander hybrid. Photo: Toyota

This week I'm driving the 2020 Toyota Highlander hybrid, a stylish family hauler that also gets great gas mileage — perfect for a summer road trip.

The big picture: While there are plenty of three-row SUV models on the market, only two — the Highlander and the Ford Explorer — are available with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain.

  • While the Explorer is more powerful and better for towing, the Highlander gets much better fuel economy, notes Car and Driver in a head-to-head comparison.

What's new: The Highlander gets a more efficient hybrid system that relies on a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine (instead of the previous V6) and two electric motors.

  • Horsepower falls 20% from the previous version, but you get a 24% improvement in fuel economy (up to 36 mpg) — good for nearly 600 miles between fill-ups.
  • Toyota's bet is that families will prefer that efficiency, and be more than satisfied with the hybrid's 243 hp.

My thought bubble: They're right. For everyday driving, the Highlander hybrid is responsive with plenty of power when needed.

  • As long as you're not towing a boat or trailer, you don't need the extra horsepower.

Yes, but: The Highlander's 4-cylinder engine is rather noisy on acceleration, unpleasant for a hybrid especially.

  • And the truth is, with a lighter foot, you can keep the engine from working so hard while improving your mileage too.
  • I averaged about 30 mpg, well below the EPA's 36-mpg estimate, but still quite good for a vehicle this size.

As with most Toyotas, important safety features are standard.

  • Toyota's Safety Sense 2.o package includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and technologies that help you stay in your lane.

The bottom line: The Toyota Highlander hybrid will help you stay safe and save on fuel.

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President Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images

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