The Toyota Highlander is the best-selling vehicle of its type, a midsize sport-utility based on a car. Highlander’s popularity is partly because it’s a Toyota, which promises top-notch quality, durability and reliability. But it’s also a result of its practicality and easy manner.
The new Toyota Highlander Hybrid is surprisingly powerful, more powerful than the regular V6 models. The Hybrid combines a 3.3-liter V6 with an electric motor, or two motors in the case of all-wheel-drive models. The electric motor improves acceleration, helping the Hybrid to easily keep up with big, powerful SUVs. This urge to speed comes at a major cost to fuel economy. It’s estimated at just 33/28 mpg City/Highway by the EPA, and you may never see that. The real story here is emissions. The Highlander Hybrid will be classified by the government as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or SULEV. You could drive across America several times and emit fewer pollutants than someone painting a bedroom.
A new gas-electric hybrid model has joined the Toyota Highlander line for 2006. The Highlander Hybrid uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive.
Hybrid Synergy Drive
The Highlander Hybrid is powered by a new version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. Toyota’s way ahead in hybrid technology and it’s a powerful, efficient powertrain. It is eerily quiet during full electric drive as you creep around town. But stand on the go pedal and, when the gas engine and electric motor(s) combine forces in full synergy mode, it provides the force and feel of a turbocharged engine. Passing power is astonishing thanks to the combined torque of the powerplants and the rubber-band elasticity of the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. Just push hard and go, go, go. The transmission offers a standard Drive mode, in which the engine is allowed to freewheel when coasting downhill or in other off-throttle conditions, and a B mode, which uses engine compression to help slow the Highlander on downgrades and at other times when the brakes need extra help. The Hybrid comes with a few quirky noises from the electric motor and CVT. The owner’s manual is quick to call attention to these whines and thunks, cautioning drivers that they’re entirely normal with that powertrain.
The Highlander Hybrid is available with 2WD ($33,030) or 4WD ($34,430). The Hybrid is also available as a Limited 2WD ($37,890) or Limited 4WD ($39,290).