Toyota launched the Highlander hybrid back on June 15, 2005 as a 2006 model to much fanfare. Then in February 2007 at the auto show in Chicago, they announced that the all-new Highlander and Highlander hybrid would arrive bigger and better, sometime in June (August for the hybrid) – as a 2008 model… This has to be one of the shortest model runs in history (the hybrid version, not the Highlander model). Unfortunately, the all-new hybrid wasn’t available at the time I wanted to test the hybrid version of the Highlander, but it did give me the perfect opportunity to test the “old” one just before the new one arrives in a few weeks.
But one big advantage happened to come along at this point in time: our usual jaunt into Quebec to cover the Champ Car race. Last year we had the 2007 Toyota Highlander Limited transport us and all our gear to the race in Montreal, but this year we were off to Mont-Tremblant. I loved the Highlander so much I thought I’d try the journey this time in the hybrid version for comparison purposes. For a complete review of the Highlander Limited you can read my review HERE
Visually there is nothing to distinguish the hybrid from the regular gasoline counterparts other than the hybrid badges on the fenders and rear door. However in and around pedestrians, it’s a different matter, because it’s so quiet no one hears you when approaching from behind. The horn in the Highlander is so loud – a good thing in most cases – that using it in a crowd of people would cause several heart attacks! (Too bad there wasn’t a beeper or very quiet horn available to gently warn people to get out the way).
That aside, I was somewhat disappointed when we picked up the hybrid only to discover it was a base model with cloth seats and no SatNav system. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers I guess. As a bonus, this version was green instead of the usual gold and silver-coloured vehicles that are the norm out there.
My next surprise was the steering wheel. I was expecting a leather-wrapped wheel with at the very minimum audio controls on it, but alas no. It was a generic steering wheel from the Toyota Corolla parts-bin. It was tilt adjustable, but not telescopic. The next surprise was a somewhat uncomfortable seat with no lumbar adjustment. Truth be told, the seat ended up being very comfortable for our trip – once I’d rolled up a hand towel placed it where the lumbar area should have been. Still, for this price I was expecting so much more. The hybrid costs a considerable amount more than the regular Limited model we had last year and its equipment level is more in line with a Matrix.
The audio system is quite good but not anything to get excited about. The dials for the volume and station tuning are a nice size, making it very easy to adjust it at a glance. As with the last Highlander, it has a cassette player as well as a 6-disc in dash AM/FM unit that does not play MP3 CD’s.
The Highlander Hybrid’s V6 is based on the same engine in the conventional Highlander, but with significant revisions to promote smooth integration with the hybrid system. In making the transition to a hybrid system, the power steering pump and air conditioning are driven by the electric motors, while the starter functions are incorporated into the electric generator. This is so the power steering pump and air conditioning will continue to function when the gas engine shuts off – a fuel-saving benefit of the hybrid system, especially when the vehicle is stopped or being driven slowly. A 288-volt DC nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery sits neatly under the middle seat is boosted and inverted to 650V AC. This results in longer periods of electric-mode-only driving.
Haven driven other hybrids in the past, my biggest complaint was that the A/C could be used only with the gasoline engine, and the electric motor switched over to the gasoline engine too soon. It appears Toyota have solved both of these problems with the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain
The Highlander Hybrid is a “full hybrid,” meaning that it is capable of operating in separate gasoline or electric modes, as well as one that combines power from both. The Highlander Hybrid is powered by a new version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain, specifically developed to meet the demands of an intermediate SUV. HSD features an Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) as well as on-demand electronic 4-wheel-drive with intelligence (4WD-i). The 3.3-litre V6 works seamlessly with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator developing a peak system output equivalent to 268 horsepower. I did a couple of runs to 60 mph to try and beat Toyota’s claim of a 0 – 60 mph time of 7.3 seconds. Surprisingly I got very close. Considering my times were not under ideal conditions, I got times of 6.75!!! to 7.75 seconds – the latter with the A/C on full-blast! That’s very impressive for any SUV, never mind a hybrid.
Toyota claim that fuel consumption is “half that of conventionally-powered SUVs at 7.7 L/100 km /30.5 mpg City, 8.3 L/100 km / 28.3 mpg Highway and 7.8 L/100 km/30.2 mpg combined.” That sounded like another challenge for me to beat. With a round-trip of 2,213kms there were plenty of opportunities to test out the fuel consumption. For the entire week, it worked out to be a very respectable 9.25 L/100 km /25.4 mpg when you consider that virtually all of the driving was done at highway speeds of over 120km/h (75 mph) and the constantly changing elevation of the Laurentian Mountains. Even using a lead-foot to shoot in, out and around moving speed bumps on the freeway, I still got a very good 10.0 L/100 kms /23.5 mpg.
The Highlander is a perfect-sized SUV, and seats 5 people in comfort. The hybrid also offers an optional 3rd-row seat which increases the seating capacity to seven. The rear seating splits 60/40 and is almost limousine-like, with an adjustable seat back to make the rear passengers more comfortable as well as the rear seat slides forward and back to allow even more legroom – or more rear cargo room. The entry/exit height is perfect and the large opening doors make it very easy to get in and out. Folding the rear seats to increase cargo room is simple and quick. Once folded the seats remain flat and the cargo area increased to a cavernous 80.6 cu ft.
On the highway, the Highlander hybrid is perfectly smooth and silent while cruising at 130-145 km/h (80-90 mph). Nasty road imperfections and patches were never passed through to the passengers. The ECVT transmission worked flawlessly and really came to the fore while traversing rough unpaved roads that were rutted from heavy rains that had washed a lot of the surface away. There was always an abundance of torque available for the times that the mud-covered roads got slippery and loose. Climbing very steep hills on back roads was fain-free and my confidence in the Highlander grew every day we were driving through the mountains and hills.
I thought the suspension was a little on the soft-side until I had to put my emergency maneuvers into action as a very large piece of plastic was kicked up by the vehicle in front of me. Without any warning I had to swerve to avoid a piece of plastic about the same size as the hood on the Highlander as it came flying through the air. What could have been a very dangerous situation turned into a non-event with the quick steering and stable feeling of the Highlander, as I had to quickly swerve right and then left while traveling at 130 km/h (80 mph). What could so easily have been a roll-over situation in a less stable vehicle just proves how important it is to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.
I liked the Highlander hybrid, but I loved the regular one better because of its content-to-value ratio. To get the same content it’s approximately another $9,000 and that puts the Highlander hybrid into the big-bucks territory. It’s a great SUV, the cargo capacity is very good and it’s very comfortable for all passengers. The permanent all-wheel drive is a nice safety feature. It does everything well, so I can’t fault this vehicle. Toyota’s are renowned for being bullet-proof and you should have years of pain-free driving.
For more information on hybrid vehicles, check out my article: “Hybrid Vehicles – How Do They Work And Should I Buy One?” as well as the government rebate websites. The U.S. Government is offering Energy Tax Credits for Hybrids from $250 – $3,400 and the Canadian Government is currently offering an ecoAUTO Rebate Program ranging from $1,000 – $2,000. For more information on these programs visit: USA: Here or Canada: Here
The warranty is a comprehensive Bumper-To-Bumper 3 years/60,000 miles [60,000 kms] that includes a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside Assistance is unlimited for three years.
The hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for 8 years/160,000 km.
Highlander Hybrid also comes with 7-day/24-hour roadside assistance for 36 months.
Towing capacity is a maximum of 3,500 lbs
Pricing for the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited:
As tested & Base price: $33,890 [$44,850 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $645 [$1,390 Cdn]
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Highlander hybrid is listed at City: 7.7 L/100 km / 30.5 mpg and Highway: 8.3 L/100 km / 28.3 mpg
I averaged 9.25 L/100 kms / 25.4 mpg in mostly highway driving @ 120+ km/h or 75+ mph
Toyota’s usual outstanding quality fit and finish
Very good gas mileage for this size/type of vehicle
The hybrid motor is under the hood, so it doesn’t take up valuable cargo space
Too close to being a bare-boned SUV
No telescopic steering or audio controls on the wheel
No Dual-zone climate control
A bit pricy
Back Seat Driver Test: 10 out of 10
Passengers found it quite easy to get in and out. Once inside it was extremely comfortable and with the tilting seat back there’s plenty of space.
Dodge Durango hybrid, Ford Escape hybrid, Jeep Cherokee Diesel, Mazda Tribute hybrid
By The Numbers…
Powertrain: 3.3-litre V6 plus 288-volt DC nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery; Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain; ECVT Transmission; 4WD-i
Horsepower: Engine: 215 @ 5,600 rpm – equal to 268 total
Torque: Engine: 222 @ 3,600 plus 96 lb/ft @ zero – 1,500 rpm using hybrid motor
0-60 mph: 7.75 seconds with the A/C on full-blast
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
7 – Special Features (Moonroof/SatNav/Dual Zone Climate Control etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
7 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
7 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy
141 Total / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland