Toyota Highlander Hybrid: Versatile But Not Flashy

The bottom line: A comfortable but not flashy SUV with the benefit of great gas mileage thanks to Toyota's hybrid power plant.

Published: 23-Oct-2005

class=leadline>Among the new breed of hybrids, the Toyota Highlander is a Toyota Highlander option that delivers on the highway and around town.

Among the new breed of hybrids, the Toyota Highlander is a versatile option that delivers on the highway and around town.
The gas part of the split-personality engine offers decent acceleration when merging onto your favorite highway. The numbers reveal 208 horsepower and 212 pound-feet of torque. That’s thanks in no small part to dual-overhead camshafts directing the work of 24 valves.

The second of the engine’s two personalities is a little more complicated on paper. It is comprised of three “generators.”

The first motor generator functions as the engine starter and provides transmission ratio control. Like the other two motor generators, this one is a permanent magnetic motor with a maximum 650 volts. The second drives the front wheels and regenerates during braking. This little number cranks out 167 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque.

The third and final motor generator handles the rear wheels, regenerates during braking, and musters 68 horsepower and 96 pound-feet of torque.

You would think that with all that fancy engineering you would have to drive on down to the Susquehanna nuclear plant once a week for a jump of juice. The truth, however, is that if you were to own this car, you would never really have to give any of it a second thought.

That is, there is nothing to plug in. That’s right, just fill up your Highlander at your local Turkey Hill, pay the price per gallon du jour, then go about your merry way secure in the knowledge that you won’t need to visit the gas station again anytime soon.

Gas mileage, however, is only one reason to take interest in the Highlander.

First off, the list of safety features is extensive enough to warrant a full paragraph. You’ll find vehicle stability with traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, driver- and front-passenger advanced front air bags, driver- and front- passenger seat-mounted side bags, roll-sensing side curtain airbags for the second row, and all sorts of anchors to help secure people young and old.

Other standard features on my tester included auto air conditioning, leather-trimmed captain’s seats with driver and front-passenger heating, a 60/40 folding second row, a fold-flat third row, a premium sound system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and eight speakers. It also included cruise control, power doors and locks, keyless entry, a power moonroof and subtle silver and burled maple wood-style trim.

A $2,000 touch screen DVD navigation system and $200 carpet and cargo mat set was also on board.

Overall, the Highlander has a comfortable interior that is laid out with the type of logical attention to gauge and control placement one has come to expect from Toyota. The touch-screen navigation system actually adds a level of complication and clutter to an otherwise well-designed dash. Nav systems in general have improved thanks to better and more detailed maps, but most people will get little use out of this expensive option unless they do a fair amount of traveling.

The seats are comfortable both up front and in the second row, although the leg room there didn’t seem to measure up to some of the Highlander’s competition. Nonetheless, two adults can easily fit back there.

The third row is less usable to the point that I forgot it was back there for most of my test time. The cargo area, in fact, seemed less than cavernous but still offered enough space for groceries and luggage in quantities more reasonable than my wife prefers.

The interior looks good and functions well, all without any unnecessary flash. The same could be said of the outside. It tends to blend into parking lots. For some, this may be a plus. But for those who wish to think of their car as a status symbol, you may not find the Highlander flashy enough.

I think the best way to sum up the Highlander before taking its power plant into consideration is to say it is a competent, well-constructed SUV that feels a tad like a family station wagon. That description, however, does not do justice to the sheer quantity of features nor does it give credit for the added safety built into the four-wheel drive configuration.

Throw in the added benefit of the hybrid engine’s improved gas mileage and you have a vehicle that starts making a lot of sense, even at an as-tested sticker price of $42,054.2006 Toyota Highlander hybrid

Model: Highlander LTD

Configuration: Special Purpose

Engine: 3.3 liter V-6 with four cams, variable valve timing and Toyota’s ‘Synergy Drive’ electric/gas hybrid engine

Fuel efficiency: 31 city, 27 highway

Base price: $39,290

As tested: $42,054

The good: Versatile and comfortable with great gas mileage

The bad: Lacks flash and the cargo area could be more generous

The bottom line: A comfortable but not flashy SUV with the benefit of great gas mileage thanks to Toyota’s hybrid power plant.


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