Hybrid, meet horsepower. Simply put by Barry Kendall, sales consultant for Liberty Toyota in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this four-door, seven-passenger sport-utility vehicle, “...gives you V-8 power with four-cylinder gas mileage.”
I recently drove the Limited model, which Liberty Toyota, 5595-97 N. Academy Blvd., provided. The experience was enough to calm any misgivings anyone might have about hybrid vehicles.
“This vehicle gives you V-8 power with four-cylinder gas mileage,” says Barry Kendall, sales consultant for Liberty Toyota.
Even so, he says, “Many people are afraid of hybrid vehicles.”
To be honest, this is not the low-horsepower, traffic clogger that I’ve heard hybrid skeptics complain about. The Highlander Hybrid’s electric motors regenerate when the SUV decelerates or brakes, so there’s no need to plug it in to recharge, like original hybrids. And Toyota has achieved a commendable power band by enabling maximum torque of the electric motors.
That makes the Highlander Hybrid a fun vehicle to drive.
“Toyota wants you to not even notice that this vehicle is a hybrid,” Kendall says. “As with all of their vehicles, Toyota wants you to feel at home piloting their vehicles.”
The automaker seems to have succeeded in achieving that goal. The first electric motor works with the gasoline V-6 to drive the front wheels and regenerates the battery during braking. All-wheel-drive models get a second electric motor that can turn the rear wheels when extra power or traction is needed and also charges the battery.
The gasoline engine assists the electrical motors as needed, according to acceleration. From initial acceleration to low speeds, the electric motors provide the power. The switch between the gasoline engine and the electric motors is so smooth that the driver doesn’t even notice.
The on-demand fourdrive mode is designed to assist where traction is needed, but is not equipped for off-road adventures.
The Limited 4x4 is equipped with a standard 3.3-liter, V-6, 268-horsepower, hybrid engine that tallies 28 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, which is good for an SUV. With today’s fuel costs rising higher and higher, it’s appealing to want to fight back at the pumps while contributing to the environment.
The interior of the Highlander Hybrid is basically identical to that of its gasolinepowered counterpart. But if you take a closer look at the hybrid’s dashboard, you’ll notice that the tachometer is replaced by a power meter, which shows the combined output of the gasoline engine and the two electric motors in kilowatt-hours.
And a central video screen includes an informative color display that charts the power flow to and from the engine, electric motors, battery and fuel consumption. The same screen doubles as a display for the optional navigation system.
The traditional gasoline engine Toyota Highlander debuted in 2001 as one of the first attempts to combine the ruggedness of a four-wheel drive and the road feel of a family car. Toyota made a number of changes for 2004 that improved the versatility and overall desirability of the Highlander’s package. Major changes included a new 230-horsepower, 3.3-liter V-6 and a rear DVD entertainment system and side-curtain airbags for the first and second rows. Options such as a third-row seat that folds into the cargo floor were also added. All of these features are now offered on the 2006 hybrid model.
Like the standard Highlander, the hybrid is offered in base and Limited trim levels. The Limited test vehicle featured leather upholstery, wood-grain trim and automatic climate control.
The eight-way adjustable captains chairs allow the driver and front passenger to feel secure and snug in any driving conditions. Contributing to the seating amenities are the optional seat heaters.
The first- and second-row seating provide adequate room for most family members. A booming six-speaker CD stereo, a total of 10 cup holders and seating for seven make the Highlander Hybrid a natural for today’s growing family. I found the third-row seating access tricky to navigate, however, due to the fact that the second-row seats don’t include a flipfold mechanism found on most seven-passenger vehicles.
Front-seat side airbags and first- and second-row head curtain airbags are standard on all Highlander Hybrids. Also standard are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, ABS with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, traction control and stability control.
These safety systems are part of Toyota’s new integrated all safety the system vehicle’ that s ” coordinates features safety to assure maximum accident avoidance capability and protection should an accident occur.
Toyota designed the Prius to showcase its exceptional gas mileage. The Highlander was designed to prove that a hybrid could provide impressive horsepower.
The hybrid component warranty coverage on the Highlander is eight years or 100,000 miles, which makes me think that Toyota is confident in the longevity of this hybrid system.
Hybrid technology has come a long way in the last 10 years, and Toyota has been a front runner with its designs. The Highlander Hybrid is proof that a gas-efficient vehicle can throw you back in the seat and put a smile on your face.