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The middle row seatbelts optional on the Flex inflate when a collision is detected, helping to spread crash forces over a much larger area of the body and limiting head and neck movement. This can help prevent spinal and internal injuries. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer inflatable seatbelts.
Compared to metal, the Flex’s plastic fuel tank can withstand harder, more intrusive impacts without leaking; this decreases the possibility of fire. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a metal gas tank.
Both the Flex and the Highlander Hybrid have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, height-adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, rearview cameras, available collision warning systems, blind spot warning systems and rear cross-path warning.
There are over 2 times as many Ford dealers as there are Toyota dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Flex’s warranty.
J.D. Power and Associates’ 2018 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Ford vehicles are better in initial quality than Toyota vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Ford fifth in initial quality, above the industry average. With 15 more problems per 100 vehicles, Toyota is ranked 17th, below the industry average.
The Flex Limited’s optional 3.5 turbo V6 produces 59 more horsepower (365 vs. 306) than the Highlander Hybrid’s 3.5 DOHC V6 hybrid.
The Flex has 1.4 gallons more fuel capacity than the Highlander Hybrid (18.6 vs. 17.2 gallons), for longer range between fill-ups.
The Flex has a standard cap-less fueling system. The fuel filler is automatically opened when the fuel nozzle is inserted and automatically closed when it’s removed. This eliminates the need to unscrew and replace the cap and it reduces fuel evaporation, which causes pollution. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a cap-less fueling system.
The Flex’s standard front and rear disc brakes are vented to help dissipate heat for shorter stops with less fading. The rear discs on the Highlander Hybrid are solid, not vented.
The Flex stops shorter than the Highlander Hybrid:
70 to 0 MPH
Car and Driver
60 to 0 MPH (Wet)
For better traction, the Flex’s optional tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Highlander Hybrid (255/45R20 vs. 245/55R19).
The Flex’s optional tires provide better handling because they have a lower 45 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Highlander Hybrid Limited/Platinum’s 55 series tires.
For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Flex offers optional 20-inch wheels. The Highlander Hybrid’s largest wheels are only 19-inches.
The Flex has standard front and rear gas-charged shocks for better control over choppy roads. The Highlander Hybrid’s suspension doesn’t offer gas-charged shocks.
The Flex has vehicle speed sensitive variable-assist power steering, for low-effort parking, better control at highway speeds and during hard cornering, and a better feel of the road. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer variable-assist power steering.
The Flex’s drift compensation steering can automatically compensate for road conditions which would cause the vehicle to drift from side to side, helping the driver to keep the vehicle straight more easily. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer drift compensation steering.
For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Flex’s wheelbase is 8.1 inches longer than on the Highlander Hybrid (117.9 inches vs. 109.8 inches).
For better handling and stability, the track (width between the wheels) on the Flex is 1 inch wider in the front and 1.2 inches wider in the rear than on the Highlander Hybrid.
The Flex Limited AWD handles at .81 G’s, while the Highlander Hybrid Limited pulls only .77 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.
The Ford Flex may be more efficient, handle and accelerate better because it weighs about 150 to 400 pounds less than the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
The Flex has 10.9 cubic feet more passenger volume than the Highlander Hybrid (155.8 vs. 144.9).
The Flex has 1.1 inches more front headroom, .6 inches more rear headroom, 5.9 inches more rear legroom, 2.8 inches more third row headroom and 6.6 inches more third row legroom than the Highlander Hybrid.
Flexibility is maximized at the game, campground or a drive-in theatre in the Flex Limited when its optional tailgating rear seats are deployed, allowing people to sit facing out of the liftgate. (Do not use while vehicle is in motion.) The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer tailgating seats.
The Flex’s cargo area provides more volume than the Highlander Hybrid.
Behind Third Seat
20 cubic feet
13.8 cubic feet
Third Seat Folded
43.2 cubic feet
42.3 cubic feet
The Flex has a standard third row seat which folds flat into the floor. This completely clears a very large cargo area quickly. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer seats that fold into the floor.
Pressing a switch automatically lowers the Flex’s second and third row seats, to make changing between passengers and cargo easier. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer automatic folding seats.
Maximum trailer towing in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is limited to 3500 pounds. The Flex offers up to a 4500 lbs. towing capacity.
The Flex uses gas struts to support the hood for easier service access. The Highlander Hybrid uses a prop rod to support its heavy hood. It takes two hands to open the hood and set the prop rod, the prop rod gets in the way during maintenance and service, and the prop rod could be knocked out, causing the heavy hood to fall on the person maintaining or servicing the car.
The Flex offers a remote vehicle starting system, so the vehicle can be started from inside the driver's house. This allows the driver to comfortably warm up the engine before going out to the vehicle. The climate system will also automatically heat or cool the interior. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a remote starting system.
The Flex (except SE)’s optional easy entry system glides the driver’s seat back when the door is unlocked or the ignition is switched off, making it easier for the driver to get in and out. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an easy entry system.
The power windows standard on both the Flex and the Highlander Hybrid have locks to prevent small children from operating them. When the lock on the Flex is engaged the driver can still operate all of the windows, for instance to close one opened by a child. The Highlander Hybrid prevents the driver from operating the other windows just as it does the other passengers.
In case you lock your keys in your vehicle, or don’t have them with you, you can let yourself in using the Flex’s exterior PIN entry system. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an exterior PIN entry system.
The Flex SE/SEL’s standard speed-sensitive wipers speed up when the vehicle does, so that the driver doesn’t have to continually adjust the speed of the wipers. The Highlander Hybrid’s standard manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.
The Flex Limited’s optional Active Park Assist can parallel park or back into a parking spot by itself, with the driver only controlling speed with the brake pedal. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer an automated parking system.
The Flex is available in both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations. The Highlander Hybrid doesn’t offer a two-wheel drive configuration.
Insurance will cost less for the Flex owner. The Complete Car Cost Guide estimates that insurance for the Flex will cost $45 to $1385 less than the Highlander Hybrid over a five-year period.
The Flex was chosen as one of Automobile Magazine’s “All Stars” for 2 of the last 11 years. The Highlander Hybrid has never been an “All Star.”
© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.
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