Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review
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Driving a Toyota Highlander Hybrid takes some getting used to. All the controls work the same as in any other Highlander, but the sounds which emanate and the feel are unique. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has some notable differences. After turning the ignition on (by twisting the key), "READY" lights up on the dashboard. Driving away, the Highlander Hybrid's computer automatically starts and stops the gas engine as needed. The Highlander can run on pure battery power at low speeds such as in stop and go traffic. In instances like these, fuel economy gets better, which is the exact opposite of conventional vehicles.
Power delivery is nearly instant, and performance levels are within some of the best available in the crossover SUV segment, Hybrid or otherwise. The Highlander Hybrid's powertrain is identical to that developed for the Lexus RX 400h. The dual-cam V6 is modified to utilize an electric air conditioning compressor and power steering pump instead of conventional belt driven ones. This modified V6 alone produces 208 HP and 212 lb-ft of torque. Coupled to the V6 is an electric motor that turns the front wheels making the equivalent of 167 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive (AWD) Highlander Hybrid's, have a third electric motor aboard to drive the rear wheels if and when the Hybrid Synergy Drive detects slippage in the front wheels. It can respond to conditions by electronically distributing power from front to rear, reducing power to the front as the rear traction motor is turned on. That third motor generates 50 kW, or 68 HP and 98 lb-ft of torque. The sum of all these powertrains is the equivalent of 268 HP. Supplying electricity to run the motors is a direct-current nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery, stored beneath the second-row seat. The electric motor(s) can act as generators to capture the kinetic energy of heat from braking. It can then be transformed into electricity when returned to the battery for recharge.
Interestingly, Toyota comments the Highlander Hybrid is "not an off-road vehicle," but more of a soft-roading, people hauler of sorts. This second motor is used for full-throttle acceleration duties front wheel drive and all wheel drive models. A higher-voltage battery pack beneath the second-row seats powers all of the electric Hybrid devices such as the water pump, air-conditioning compressor, and power steering (all being electrically driven on this vehicle), to be able to run these components when the gasoline engine (selectively) shuts down. The braking system's software allows virtually imperceptable transitions from regenerative braking to friction stopping.
EPA mileage figures of 33 city/28 highway for the front wheel drive Highlander Hybrid and 31/27 for the AWD are good, if not impressive, given this vehicles curb weight. The Highlander Hybrid can tow up to 3,500 lbs when properly equipped.
See also the main fact sheet for the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
- Powerful acceleration
- Nicely proportioned body design
- Outstanding performance in snow and rain
- Overall handling is like a car (excellent)
- 3rd row seating only fit for toddlers or people of smaller stature
- No real off-road capability
- Limited trim is priced at a level similar to marketplace offerings from more premium brands.
- Front seat-mounted side airbags (SRS)
- Driver's and front passenger's advanced airbag system (SRS) with crash-severity sensors
- Front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags
- Driver's knee airbag
- Star Safety System with (VDIM)
- ABS with Brake Assist
- Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
- Reinforced Body
- Three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners seatbelts for all seats
- Lower Anchors, tether anchors for children (LATCH) in 2nd row seat
- Daytime Running Lights
- Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
- Traction Control (TRAC)
- Theft-Deterrent System with engine immobilizer
- LED taillights
Reliability and Maintenance
The Toyota warranty covers Basic: 36 months/36,000 miles (all components other than normal wear and maintenance items), Powertrain: 60 months/60,000 miles (engine, transmission/transaxle, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, seatbelts and airbags), and Rust-Through: 60 months/unlimited miles (corrosion perforation of sheet metal).
Interior and Comforts
The Highlander Hybrid's cockpit differs little from other Highlanders, with two major exceptions: The tachometer is replaced by a power meter, which shows the combined output of the engine and electric motors in kilowatt-hours. And a central video screen (only as an add-on or in the Limited edition) includes a nifty color display that graphs your fuel economy and displays the power flow to and from the engine, motors and battery. (The same screen doubles as a display for the optional navigation system). That aside, it's typical Highlander fare; comfortable seats, great visibility and faultless ergonomics. The back seat got a thumbs up from both adults and kids. It boasts a flat floor and seats that slide fore-and-aft; they offer adequate legroom even when all the way forward. But watch what you put on the floor -- just below the seats are the vents for the hybrid's battery pack which must not be blocked.
The one pockmark on an otherwise flawless complexion is a third-row seat that supposedly allows the Highlander to seat seven. Seven what? The alleged "seat" eats up nearly all the luggage space and is uninhabitable by anything that weighs more than 25 lbs. and has a spine. Climbing back there requires nerves of steel and bones of Jell-O. Forget it - the Highlander is a five-seater, period.
Unique styling attributes to the Highlander Hybrid are resultant of the different powertrain. A revamped grille and fascia have larger air intake vents and round foglamps to address the Hybrid's need for more cooling capacity. Light-emitting diode (LED) tailight assemblies have replaced the normally aspirated Highlander's conventional ones. These high-visibility lights promote increased safety and look better while doing so. 17-inch alloy wheels mount on 225/65R17 tires to help meet the increased traction requirements.
Highlander Hybrid has a fairly long wheelbase and a squatty stance. The body styling is more attractive than its more expensive corporate sibling Lexus RX 400h, with a more squared-off roofline and nicely proportioned fender arches. The outside design allows a more people-friendly interior, also affording a third row seat. The Lexus RX400h can't match this item, as its silhouette is too smooshed down in the rear quarter.
Styles and Options
- Fabric-trimmed interior
- Silver interior trim pieces
- Tilt steering wheel
- Power tilt-and-slide sunroof with one-touch open/close and sliding sunshade
- Remote keyless entry
- Hybrid Optitron IP gauges with kW power meter
- Roof rack with rails
- Air Conditioning with clean air filter
- Deluxe AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system with 6 speakers
- HomeLink® Universal Transceiver
- Leather trimmed interior w/power adjustable driver and front passenger heated seats
- Burled maple wood grain simulated wood trim
- JBL® 8-speaker Premium Audio System with in-dash, single-feed, six-disc CD changer
- Leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
- Leather trimmed shift lever with chrome stalk
- Automatic on/off headlamps
- Integrated foglamps
- Anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer
- Premium JBL® Navigation System/8-speaker Premium Audio System with in-dash, single-feed, six-disc CD changer - $2,000
- Rear-seat DVD entertainment system with rear-seat audio and two wireless headphones (includes 115V power outlet and RCA jacks)
- All-weather floor mats
- Car cover
- Cargo mat
- Cargo net
- Front-end mask
- Tow-hitch receiver
- Wheel locks
- Wireless headphones