Poor Highway Mileage With the New Toyota Highlander?

A reader named Sam recently contacted me with a question about the poor highway mileage that he’s been getting with his new Highlander. He wrote:

“I purchased a 2015 Highlander AWD XLE two weeks ago and am looking for some gas-saving tips. The advertised mileage is supposed to be 18/24 (city/hwy) but I’ve been seeing 17 mpg on the highway. Are there any manual configurations that we can adjust to improve mileage, or anything like that? Other than this, I like the car. It’s drives smoothly, and there is no noise inside.”

Sam is correct that the rated mileage for an AWD Highlander is 18/24, with the FWD version doing slightly better at 19/25. So what’s the deal with him getting 17 mpg on the highway? That’s ca. 30% below the official rating!

Ways to improve mileage?

For starters, I don’t know of any manual adjustments that can be made, other than to your driving style. Jackrabbit starts and hard stops are the enemy of good gas mileage. But we’re talking about highway driving here, so that’s probably not it…

Another possible consideration would be the engine break-in period, which lasts for 600 or so miles. But even if mileage improves after that, I wouldn’t expect the break-in period to be the source of such a major mpg hit.

Or maybe the tires? I can’t see OEM tires, even a crappy set, knocking 30% off the highway mileage, but what about air pressure? Here again, low air pressure shouldn’t have that big of an effect unless the tires are wildly under-inflated. But it’s worth checking

Is he carrying around a ton of junk in the cargo area? I’m not sure, but the less weight you’re hauling around, the better your mileage will be. Here again, I can’t imagine any normal level of trunk junk having such a big effect.

So… I’m not really sure what to tell Sam.

Personal experience…

With our FWD XLE, I usually see real-world performance that is within 1-2 mpg of the official EPA ratings. We get upwards of 24 mpg for pure highway driving (when steadily cruising in the 70-75 mph range) and somewhere in the 17-18 mpg range for pure city driving.

In reality, we drive on a mix of city streets, rural roads, and highways. The end result? On a typical tank, we’ll get somewhere in the 19-21 mpg range. Sometimes better, almost never worse. And the difference between the initial miles and those that occurred after the break-in period was negligible.

Given the above, something definitely seems amiss. If I were Sam, I’d head to the service department and discuss the problem with them. Hopefully, they’ll take his concerns seriously and help troubleshoot the problem vs. glad-handing him while they rushing him out the door.

What about you? Have you had problems with lower-than-expected mileage? If so, what have you done about it? And even if you haven’t, do you have any suggestions for Sam?

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Performance & Specifications
31 comments… add one
  • Jeff Burrows Oct 27, 2014

    Sam needs to get to the Toyota dealer. I have a new 2015 XLE AWD, and on the highway, I get 22.5-23mpg. I’d be alarmed if I were only getting 17, I was getting close to that on my 2004 Sequoia!

    • Michael Oct 27, 2014

      Yup, I completely agree. Something’s definitely wrong if he’s only getting 17 mpg on the highway.

  • AI Oct 28, 2014

    Yup, something wrong with those numbers.

    Averaging 27-28 on the Highway and 21-22 City with my FWD LE+.

  • PK Oct 28, 2014

    First day I took home the 2015 LE 3.5 AWD I got 24-25 doing 60. Since then I have added a hitch and looks like I have dropped to ~23-24 highway. Make sure you are calculating MPG based on miles driven / gallons used and then compare to computer MPG. Wind plays a huge roll in MPG do you have roof rack, driving with window down, or live in the plains? Your numbers still seam low also try purchasing fuel from another location and see if MPG improves. Gas with ethanol is less efficient and will lower MPG on the gas cap I believe it says no more than 15% ethanol is recommend.

  • Andy Shapiro Oct 31, 2014

    PK: Why would adding a hitch reduce your gas milage? I would think that the hitch is not blocking any airflow from under the car?? I am thinking of adding the OEM hitch shortly after my 2015 arrives (sometime in November!)

    • PK Nov 3, 2014

      Not sure, maybe the additional 150lbs ? I only saw a small decrease in MPG.
      It only takes about an hour to self install hitch. I recommend checking out http://www.carid.com I went with the CURT hitch and wiring just under $200.

  • Mark Nov 4, 2014

    I also have a low mileage on my 2014 Highlander limited. The first few tank of gas only got around 17 mpg (70 %highway/30%city). I took to the dealer. They did a quick computer check-up and said “nothing is wrong”. The consultant said “the MPG will improve after 2-3000 miles. Now it has over 2000 miles and it has slightly improved to 18.5 mpg, after I checked the tire pressure (only 30psi) and inflated it to 37psi. I don’t know if it is tile pressure or mileage.
    Interesting reader can find similar situation on web site: http://www.fuelly.com/car/toyota/highlander/2014?engineconfig_id=13138&bodystyleconfig_id=&submodel_id=

  • Pequan Nov 5, 2014

    I bought new lawnmower last summer, and was disappointed, that it uses much more gas than my old one did. Fortunately, after few hours it appears improved. Never noticed anything like that on any of the new cars I had. In the beginning, we all tend to drive our new cars gentle, they are as economical as they will ever get from their first mile on. EPA fuel estimates are off, often by as much as 6 MPG, which brings us to about reality – what we observe with our mileages. Average MPG display on dash is not accurate. I bet that many people posting high gas mileage do not calculate it properly. I divide miles driven by gallons used. On our 2015 XLE AWD, running premium gas, in few short weeks we have seen: 13.7 or 13.8 – all around “town”, stop and go, usually trips shorter than 10 miles, including two times when my wife forgot to turn off the engine with the smart key, and left it idling for about one hour. 14.14 around town. About 15 MPG with some stretch on highway, and one 75 mile each way highway trip, with not too much traffic delays delivered whooping 20.5 ! The Highlander is just as heavy as a minivan, no wonder it does not have stellar gas mileage.

  • Lan Nov 6, 2014

    Hi, I’ve had my HL for 3 weeks now, and have off the top of my head over 600 miles. Previously I had filled up at a half tank, tonight was my first full fill up. My light came on on my way home from school (about 19 miles away) and I’d say the needle was just under 1/8 of a tank.
    When I filled up I only needed 16.42 gallons, but my range said 5 miles. I know the HL has a 19.2 gallon tank, so based on my fill up I should have had 2.78 gallons of gas left, but then why do I not have more than 5 miles left for my range?

    I did calculate my average mpg at 18.66 (306.5 miles/16.42 gal). Upon fill up, it looks like my gas gauge is a little to the right of Full, but I’m gonna double check in the am when its light out.

    • Pequan Nov 7, 2014

      Trust your Odometer and Spedometer more, even though they are not 100% acurate. Your range is displayed as a rough estimate, which depends on many factors. Two drivers may get very different results. I noticed once, when I floored one of my cars to pass a truck, couple seconds later my range was stripped of “few”. One a minute or so of nice and easy driving later, one or two miles were given back to me. I would not take that “range” estimate to the dot.

    • John Buijs Oct 15, 2016

      Language that’s a safety feature.I did the same thing down to 0 and filled with 16gal.30 to 50 mile extra is so you don’t run out and do harm,i.e.n,timing to your engine.We are taking a road trip and I’m gonna try premium to see what we get.

  • hutch Dec 18, 2014

    I’ve had my 2015 Highlander Limited since Sep 1 and have over 12,000 miles on it, mostly highway. In the first 5,000 miles, I had 27-28 mpg on the highway (using the on board computer) at 70-75 mph. it dropped to 24-25 mpg. Recently, over 10,000 I’ve noticed 26-27 at 80 mph (southbound on I-65…keeping up with traffic…honest). Any thoughts?

  • Kevin Jan 18, 2015

    I have a 2014 LE Plus AWD, no roof rack. Yesterday I traveled a round trip of about 100 miles with a full tank of gas and one passenger. On the strictly freeway portion of the trip traveling at 65 MPH, I averaged 30 MPG for both legs. I had the cruise control the whole time and my tires are inflated to 36 PSI when warm (which should be close to 35 when cold).

  • Kevin Feb 19, 2015

    My new 2015 HL XLE AWD is averaging 13.6 and I am not happy. That is combo driving with little stop and go. I will be calling the dealer.

  • Darla Mar 6, 2015

    Just bought 2015 XLE and do 75% city/25% highway — only getting 17.2. I attribute the lower mileage to using my remote start. I have noticed when I don’t use remote start, my range and average mileage improves.

    • Michael Mar 6, 2015

      Makes sense. When it’s idling, it’s burning gas but not going anywhere. Thus, depending on how long you let it warm up, you’re averaging in a whole lot of 0 mpg.

  • litesong Apr 2, 2015

    Pump your tires over the recommended by 3psi or so, accelerate slower than others, & use 100% ethanol-free gasoline(E0). 87 octane E0 is 87 octane(duh). However, 87 octane 10% ethanol blends are NOT 87 octane. First, the ethanol is 114 octane, which is NOT the right octane for 87 octane gasoline vehicles. Second, the remaining 90% of true gasoline molecules, to balance the 114 octane ethanol, MUST BE 84 octane. See, very little of 87 octane 10% ethanol blend molecules are 87 octane, which is what is needed for 87 octane gasoline engines. Furthermore, ethanol engine engineers are good, & design high 114 octane, high compression ratio(16:1) ethanol engines to burn 100% ethanol efficiently. Now, gasoline engine engineers are also good, designing low 87 octane, low compression ratio(9:1 to 12:1) gasoline engines to efficiently burn E0. However, 10% ethanol blends, used(not burned efficiently) in 87 octane gasoline engines, loses(as in my four 87 octane gasoline engines) 8%, 8%, 7% & 5% mpg, compared to E0.

  • Vincent Jun 7, 2015

    I have my 2015 LEplus for about three month and it is little over 1500 miles. I have about 7 fill ups. I got only about 12.2 miles/gal city miles. I called dealer and being told that will improve after break-in period. However, I am very concerned about my engine economy. Not very happy about it now.

  • Ying Jul 21, 2015

    I have a 2015 XLE FWD highlander and initially I was like everyone else, only getting 10-12mpg city and maybe 14-16mpg on highway. The owners manual also tells you how to break in the engine within its first 600-1000 miles but not excessively speeding and doing a mix of highway and city driving. Mine now has 3700 miles on the odometer and I’m seeing 20/21mpg for city driving and 23/24 for highway. I’ve only had mine since march 2015. It’s July now.

  • John Jul 29, 2015

    I have a 2015 Hylander XLE AWD V6. The mileage reading is stuck on 19.9. How do you reset that setting? Doesn’t matter whether city or highway driving. The 19.9 reading hasn’t changed in over a month.

  • Tamara Sep 4, 2015

    I have had my 2015 highlander limited since October of last year. I also only average15-17 highway miles. I took to dealer and was told although can be up to 24 mpg, that is only an estimate. I have never gotten more than average 320 to a tank. This is with me driving strictly highway at speed of 75 per Texas highway steady cruise…no stop and go or fast acceleration or hard stops. At last fill up, I put 19 gallons in which means I was basically dry so the “reserve tank” was used. With fill up by “range” per dash was now only 300 when every previous fill up it gave 320. This is the worst car…worse than my Ram 1500. Needless to say the highlander will be traded as soon as I find different one.

  • Ann Feb 6, 2016

    We purchased our 2015 Highlander AWD in May 2015, and initially was getting the expected 18/24 mpg. Now, starting at 9 months and approx 8,000 miles, car started reading 12 mpg- going down to as low as 8 mpg. Took it into dealer, and they ran diagnostics on it and concluded that it was getting 20+ mpg. They instructed us to reset the display, which we did but there has not been an improvement. We will be returning to dealer. Display continues to show around 10-12mpg for city driving. This is unacceptable.

  • Perry Apr 9, 2016

    I just bought my 2016 Highlander 2 weeks ago and we are seeing only 17 avg mpg, I am very conscious of driving technique and this seems very low to me also. Does the computer give accurate info for the highlander. My first tank I went 270 miles and used 15.99 gallons this is only 16.88 mpg. I was trying to drive conservatively and this is all i got. This was on the gas from the dealer (free tank). But since filling with Shell still seems to be about 17. Gonna give it a lil longer but think I am taking it in also if continues.

  • Stephen Jun 18, 2016

    Poor milage when towing. My first trip pulling our 3,500 lb RV I only got 10 mpg. up and down hills I5 oregon. Went on same trip a second time , made sure tires inflated, average speed 55-60, try to stay at 55 and improved to 11.5. normally get 22 mpg when not towing. Normal ?

  • Chad Jul 26, 2016

    I purchased a 2016 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum less than 3 months ago. I use this for work and have over 8400 miles on it already. The average MPG for city and highway is 26.6. I have reset the computer after a month and got 26.6 MPG.

  • Steve Sep 1, 2016

    1. 0 reason to put premium fuel in this motor.

    2. 10mpg/gallon while towing is very normal.

    3. Weather(excessive heat or cold) can have a pretty big impact on MPG, so can wind.

  • Autumn Sep 3, 2016

    We just purchased a 2016 Highlander limited platinum. For the past month I have been tracking our gas mileage. We live in a city so the speed we go is rarely over 35 mph. We have been getting bt 10-12 mpg. We get closer to 10 when the car is in D only but if I use the triptronic I can get around 12-13 mpg. We did get around 24-25 driving on the HWY using the cruise. This horrible has mileage was totally unexpected out of this car. Any advice on thing others have done to get better mileage.

  • mike Sep 14, 2016

    Me too. We just got our 2016 Toyota HighLander XLE AWD two weeks ago, and now i have close to 600 miles on it, also wondering why i am only getting 13.4 -15.4 city. At first couple of hundred it was stuck at 13.2 mpg but when i press the reset button it changes from 0 then every time you gain miles computer seems to calculate the distance and the way you drove that’s when i saw my mpg fluctuate. Anybody here decode this or this is normal? Another thing i noticed on HL, 2k rpm seems too low to accelerate, i need to rev up pass 2k rpm to reach 40 mph before next light. Am i doing it wrong? Is it normal for this vehicle especially i have the AWD ? I came from driving 3rd gen 4runner and MB E350, any 2cents?

  • Joe W Feb 15, 2017

    I bought a 2017 Toyota Highlander Limited and am getting between 13.5 to 15 MPG. They advertise 21/27. I contacted the dealer 3 times about this and they told me I have to reach 5000 miles before seeing true gas mileage. It’s now at over 2000 and I have seen no change. After reading the last few comments on here I am seeing that I am not alone. Time to contact Toyota about this!

  • Tim Mar 5, 2017

    Bought my 2016 Highlander xle awd last December.Initially the reading was 14.2 mpg, now it has around 1500 miles on it and the reading says 15.2 mpg. I contacted the dealer last week, they told me that since it rubs on winter gasoline (which avoids freezing of pipes), it will reduce the gas mileage. He recommended to wait until the vehicle reaches 2500 miles for the engine to break in and the weather to get warm (around May).

  • Dan Aug 6, 2017

    I have a 2013 Highlander with 64,000 miles and a 2006 suburban with 184,000 miles. I get 22.8 mpg with the highlander and 20.4 mpg with the suburban driving the same roads. I see no reason a suburban with at least 2,000 more pounds of weight should get nearly the same mileage as the highlander. Toyota has let the consumer down big time. They live on their reputation for durability but could vastly improve their efficiency rating’s. I would not buy another Highlander unless they address the poor mileage problem.

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