by Scott Corlett
Hybrid SUV buyers have stolen the title “limeys” from the British. These buyers are green enough to want to a hybrid vehicle, but not so green that they’re ready (or maybe able) to give up driving SUVs, hence their environmental creds are more a lime green than a deep, Ralph-Laureny green.
Among the hybrid SUVs, the fully redesigned Toyota Highlander Hybrid is certainly the brightest lime of the bunch. And you would expect nothing less of a vehicle from Toyota, whose hybrid Prius sedan is synonymous with eco-friendliness to most Americans. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers all the utility of a midsize SUV, but with the fuel economy of a midsize sedan.
Toyota claims a combined mileage of 26 mpg for the Highlander Hybrid (compared to 19 mpg for the non-hybrid model). A variable combination of a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and three electric motors (one each for the front wheels, transmission, and rear wheels) accomplish this fuel-sipping feat. New for 2008, the Highlander Hybrid also lets you maximize fuel efficiency with: 1) an “EV” mode that keeps the drivetrain electric-only at low speeds for as long as the batteries allow (not very long in my experience); and 2) an “ECON” mode that smoothes acceleration to dampen surges in fuel consumption.
But SUVs really are about utility, and in this area, Toyota hews to the maxim if some is good, more is better. To this end, for 2008, the Highlander’s interior space was increased by 10 percent. Two, second-row armchairs allow easy access to optional, third-row seating. With the third row absent or folded flat, the rear cargo area is fit for a pack of large dogs or the fruits of an IKEA visit. Also fold down the second row and you can squeeze in that loveseat for you and your new beau.
Befitting the futuristic drivetrain, a slew of high-tech options are available for the Highlander Hybrid. You can choose a voice-activated Bluetooth navigation system, satellite radio, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones and a 9-inch LCD screen. Less gee-whiz, but no less comforting are the Highlander Hybrid’s standard amenities, such as all-wheel-drive; a rear-seat air conditioning system; and a full armament of airbags, including front, front-side, three-row curtain, and driver’s knee bags.
During a recent test drive, the Highlander Hybrid drove well for an SUV of its size. The Highlander’s hybrid system is whisper quiet, and the frequent engine cutoffs and restarts during city driving, which provide much of a hybrid’s fuel savings, are barely noticeable. Like most SUVs, the Highlander excels at straight-line highway cruising, with body roll apparent during corning and other tight maneuvers.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a great SUV that happens to get pretty darn good mileage. So if you’re not ready to quit the command-position seating and hauling abilities of an SUV, but you want to go easier on the environment, the Highlander Hybrid is just the right shade of green for you, my limey friend.
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- 2009 Toyota Highlander
- From 27/25 mpg | MSRP from $34,700
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