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New car reviews

2006 Toyota Highlander hybrid

By Lou Ann Hammond, Thu, 3 Feb 2005 08:00:00 PDT

Phoenix, AZ - Nowadays, you talk about hybrids and green and you think environmental. Green is still cash to me. The old, "In God we trust, all others pay cash" green. The green you get to keep, called discretionary income, not the green you have to pay just to exist. Just because one spends more money at the onset of the purchase, does not mean in the long run that it will be more expensive. The Toyota Highlander hybrid may be more expensive than it's counterpart, but the pros of buying a hybrid outweigh the cons and Toyota is sweetening the pot even further. Let's take a look.

In the beginning of hybrid genealogy the vehicle was about being different. Futuristic in design to say, I am not just another little car with a 4-banger in it that will save you gas. This was new, advanced technology that would give you the power of a 6-cylinder with the gas savings of a 4-cylinder. Five years ago the technology was futuristic. Today it is not. Today the cars are no longer futuristic looking, today they are functional. Five years ago the hybrid cars were touted as getting 50-60 mpg. Today, 25 percent better than their gas counterpart is good enough for the general public as long as they have the functionality they need in a car. Enter the Highlander.

Hybrids are all about being first. The Ford Escape was the first SUV, but it only carried five. The Lexus RX 400h was the first luxury hybrid SUV. The Toyota Highlander hybrid is the first 7-passenger hybrid SUV. Born from a modified version of the 1998 Lexus RX 300 the 2006 Toyota Highlander also relied heavily on the 2004 Highlander and even borrowed a variation from the Prius's Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) powertrain.

Obviously, the HSD in the Highlander is going to be a beefed up version compared to the Prius. The larger battery and faster spinning electric motor are going to have to compensate for all those kids and their junk - er, I mean, necessities. Without the HSD, the 2006 3.3-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 gasoline Highlander gets 230 horsepower and 242 lb.-ft of torque. Add the HSD and that little motor mouse amps up to 268 horsepower and a 7.3 seconds on a 0-60 instant thrust.

To save even more fuel Toyota employs the continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a planetary gear unit for gear reduction. The electronic all-wheel-drive (AWD-i) control system allows all four wheels to be used for regenerative braking, meaning the battery will never need to be plugged in.

The Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and Electronic Throttle Control systems (ETC) provide a smooth integration with the hybrid system. which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA).

Toyota has integrated their safety system into an all-new Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA). VDIM anticipates loss of vehicle control in virtually any direction and makes corrections while allowing higher dynamic capability.

Prices for the gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Toyota Highlander sport wagon will start at $33,595, including destination charges. The price for the two-wheel-drive hybrid version is $6,840 more than the standard V-6 gasoline version with three rows of seats.

The all-wheel-drive 2006 Highlander Hybrid will have a sticker price of $34,995, including freight. That is $6,840 more than the awd gasoline version.

As with all hybrids, one gets better fuel efficiency in city driving than on the highway. The Highlander Hybrid 4x2 carries an estimated EPA fuel efficiency rating of 33 mpg in city driving, 28 mpg on the highway. The estimated EPA city/highway fuel efficiency rating for 4WD-i models is 31/27 with a combined rating of 29 mpg. In addition, Highlander Hybrid will be rated as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV).

One of the most stringent emissions ratings in the industry, SULEV-rated vehicles emit nearly 70 percent fewer smog-forming emissions than conventionally-powered SUV's. The V-6 is touted as having fuel economy ratings similar to a 4-cylinder compact car and is capable of going almost 600 miles on one tank. Standard towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.

Highlander Hybrid provides an impressive array of standard safety technology including driver and front passenger advanced front airbags. Front-seat mounted side airbags include first and second row roll-sensing side curtain airbags.

Additional safety features include height-adjustable headrests and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and belt-force limiters in the front seats. Second- and third-row seats also incorporate height-adjustable headrests and three-point seatbelts in all seating positions.

Even though the hybrids of today are supposed to look like their gas counterparts each Manufacturer just has to make the hybrid styling just oh-so different. The exterior styling is accentuated with the addition of a new chrome accented front grille, a new front bumper with a wide intake, rear LED tail lamps and chrome license plate garnish. The interior styling adds optitron illuminated gauges featuring a multi-information display.

Driving impressions for the Highlander hybrid were remarkably unremarkable. No knowing glances, no thumbs-up for being green. Just the quietness of an engine at rest, waiting to deliver through the smooth deliveration of throttle modulation, which is sort of the same thing as throttle-by-wire, not one of my favorites. I've never liked the lag from the time you put the pedal to the metal till the gas gets it going.

$6,800 bucks is a bit of money to ask for someone to hand over to get only 7 mpg more (which is about what the Hummer gets in total) than the gas equivalent. If you're a commuter in a state that allows hybrids to go in the carpool lane for free with only one person it's worth its weight in gold.

Take $2,000 off your federal taxes for the hybrid deduction. Take another $300ish off for savings per year on gas still leaves you paying over $4,000 extra. You will need to commute for over 5 years in the carpool lane to break even.

However, the world starts saving immediately. Every gallon of gas not burned is 2 pounds of carbon dioxide not made. Each year you will save the world over 300 pounds of carbon dioxide. For that, we thank you.

The Highlander Hybrid will begin arriving in Toyota dealerships in June 2005. 22,000 hybrids are expected to be sold in 2006, saving over 2,300,000 gallons of gas. If all 2006 Highlanders were 2006 Highlander hybrids we could save over 13,000,000 gallons of gas in one year. Come on Toyota - stop playing around.

 

 


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