If you have been following our video reviews, you know we have already featured the Toyota Highlander. But this is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and it’s full of enough technology to make it worth its own review. This is Toyota’s second generation of both the Highlander model and the available hybrid engine. Along with the Prius and the Camry Hybrid, this makes up Toyota’s gas-electric group. The new Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.3-liter double overhead hybrid engine, which produces 209 horsepower. This advanced Hybrid Synergy Drive System has the fuel economy of up to 27 MPG city, and 25 MPG highway. It comes standard with four-wheel drive, equipped with intelligence drive. Just like the gasoline powered Highlander, the hybrid is available with the choice of a Base or Limited trim. The price for the 2008 Highlander Hybrid starts at $33,700.
This Highlander takes advantage of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. This is the same technology used in the Prius and Camry hybrid. In the Highlander, this system incorporates a 3.3-liter V6 engine with an electrical system made up of a motor, generator and battery pack. One electric motor functions as a starter-generator, which starts the gasoline engine and re-charges the Highlander’s nickel metal hydride battery pack. The other engines work on propulsion and work as generators during braking. This system is matted to an electrically controlled continuously automatic transmission, which directs the power to all four 17-inch wheels in cooperation with an intelligent four-wheel drive system. The interesting thing is that this hybrid engine model goes from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds. That’s an improvement of 1.3 seconds from the gasoline-only Highlander.
If driven frugally, the Highlander Hybrid can is rated to achieve 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway (regenerative braking makes it more fuel efficient in the city.) That’s an improvement of 17 and 23 mpg for the standard model with the 3.5-liter V6.
One of the main drawbacks to the hybrid system is that 1500 lbs of towing capacity is lost over the standard model. This will not be much of a problem if towing is kept under 3500 lbs.
Our Highlander Hybrid is considered an all wheel drive vehicle. The gasoline engine is used to drive the front wheels. The electric motor engages the rear wheels only when extra traction or torque is needed. The four-wheel drive on the Hybrid model differs significantly from the four-wheel drive system you would find on the gasoline powered Highlander.
The Highlander is a little like an undercover car, in that there are very few giveaways that this is different from the regular Highlanders. The only true giveaway that this car is different are hybrid decals, placed on the side, just above the wheel base. The most noticeable detail that is the grille. Compared to the other trims this grille is chrome, and has three rows of vertically placed bars. Overall, the hood, bumper, headlights and integrated fog lights are the same features you would find the other 2008 Highlanders trims.
Compared to the first generation, the look is sleeker and more modern. The hood is rounder, the headlights give a cat-eyed shape, and a shapelier bumper. The Hybrid is equipped with standard 17-inch wheels. These is a noticeable difference between these and the 19-inch wheels we had on the previously tested Highlander, but we need to upgrade to the Limited package to have those available.
On the interior the hybrid base trim is very similar to the gasoline powered base trim. There is a little less luxury than the Limited model, but there is no sacrifice in quality. The dashboard has two tones, and flows flush with the center console.
On the top of the center console is a small screen which displays the rear view camera. For this hybrid model this screen also displays the hybrid battery monitor, which tells you what power source the hybrid is using at the moment. It also gives a constant fuel economy readout, which if you’re trying to be frugal, will prove invaluable.
Bellow the screen is a standard audio system. The buttons on the audio system is rather large and have a feel of quality. The temperature control buttons are the same as you would find on the other trims.
The buttons that are important to mention on this center console is EV and economy buttons. The EV button allows the vehicle to operate in electric-only mode at speeds of up to 25 miles-per-hour for nearly three miles. The Economy button is used to limit the throttle response. The combination of the EV and Economy button, with the hybrid system indicator gauge, will help you achieve maximum fuel economy.
Just like the other trims, the instrument cluster of the hybrid is separated into three compartments. The only difference is that the hybrid system indicator as taken the place of the tachometer. This gauge consists of two automatic modes, “normal” and “acceleration”. The display for the normal mode shows three white LED dashes along the outer edge of the power meter. If you keep the needle of the power meter within the three white dashes of normal mode, a constant level of speed is maintained, which helps to achieve maximum fuel economy. When the gas pedal is pushed, the Hybrid System Indicator automatically switches to acceleration mode, and then the power meter needle must remain within five white dashes to optimize the amount of fuel being used at that moment
The seats are cloth covered in the hybrid base trim. Five passenger seating is standard on this trim level. If you prefer third row seats and leather, the Limited hybrid trim might be a good choice as both are standard. Overall, the best part about the interior of the hybrid base model is its features. It has convenient features that allow the driver to have the power to choose saving gas or more power.
One of the first things to notice in the drive is the continuously variable transmission (CVT). This means there are no actual gears to run through and the car will just continue revving. Although it may feel odd at first, it is a great way to gain fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
The technology in this car means that there are a few things that you need to get accustomed to for better fuel economy and power usage. For example, because the electric motors will recharge themselves during braking, it gives the pedal a slightly heavier feel. Also the Highlander Hybrid will remain as a front-wheel drive car until more power is needed, and this will give the rear wheels a tendency to “kick in”. It’s not a bad feeling, just one that takes getting used to.
For driving around town, the car can be switched into EV mode, allowing this Toyota to be a purely electric car. Under normal driving conditions, this would usually disable itself at anything over 10mph.
The overall feeling is a competent SUV with a little extra boost always on tap.
In conclusion, the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers more without taking away too much. There is more available power, more miles per gallon, and more ways to impress your friend with the added gizmos of the hybrid system. The biggest thing that is given up from the regular Highlander model is some towing capacity. So now you don’t have to give up your SUV to be a little more environmentally friendly.