Recent Drive: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
In marrying combined fuel economy numbers in the mid-twenties with three rows of seats, ample cargo space and towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, the Highlander Hybrid is without peer. For buyers who need the room but want to spend less at the pump or manage their environmental footprint, the Highlander Hybrid deserves an automatic entry near the top of the shopping list. It also earned a spot on KBB's list of Top 10 Green Cars for 2008.
Fortunately, it also drives well. The Highlander Hybrid is so much like the standard Highlander that only a few clues give away what's happening under the hood. When the start button is pushed, it seems like nothing happens, but in fact the hybrid system has been engaged and the Highlander Hybrid is ready to move. Driving the Highlander Hybrid is very similar to driving the gas-powered version, offering a comfortable, controlled ride with light steering. It takes some getting used to the automatic engine cutoff at stoplights and the unique braking feel (due to the battery-charging regenerative braking system) but we found the system to be much more refined than that in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids.
Starting at just under $35,000, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid costs about $5,000 more than the standard Highlander. That's about $10,000 less than the new Chrysler Aspen Hybrid and about $15,000 less than the Tahoe/Yukon Hybrid, all of which are much larger SUVs. It may take hundreds of fill-ups to recoup the initial investment premium, but for those who want to have their cake and eat it to, the Highlander Hybrid offers all the convenience of the standard Highlander but with added efficiency.