HOUSTON – I’ve just returned here from a two-week visit to Southern Louisiana. I drove a Toyota Highlander Hybrid and visited Hammond, New Orleans, Gonzales, Baton Rouge and made a stop in Lafayette on the return trip.
Although I didn’t keep records, what impressed me the most about the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is that I had it for two weeks, drove to five cities, sometimes back and forth between them, and spent less than $100 on gasoline which averaged about two bucks per gallon. That’s not bad.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid had an EPA fuel efficiency rating of 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the hwy.
What's more, the Highlander is a crossover. My test vehicle had three rows of seats and it could have hauled seven people in relative comfort. But with the third row seats folded I had a carpeted flat cargo floor on which to toss my garment bag and a relatively large duffle bag.
The Highlander Hybrid rode on an all-new chassis derived from the current Camry and Avalon. It was nearly four inches longer, three inches wider, and had three inches of additional wheelbase than the Highlander it replaced.
The second row seats featured captain's chairs with armrests that could be converted to a bench seat for three passengers. A "Center Stow(TM)" seat, when not in use, is hidden in a compartment under the front center console. In its place, passengers could easily put in the Center Stow(TM) console or choose to leave the area open as a walk-through to the third row. The second row also slid forward and back 4.7 inches and it reclined.
My Limited model included multi-staged heated front seats, rear glass hatch, power rear tailgate door, AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer , nineteen-inch alloy wheels, puddle lamps on outside mirrors, fog lamps and the third-row bench seat had foldable headrests to create that flat rear cargo area.
My Toyota Highlander Hybrid was powered by a 3.3-liter V6 with four-wheel drive that delivered 270 horsepower. It also had a continuously variable transmission. This combination is the only powertrain available. It was more than adequate.
Headed around Houston on I-610 south to I-10 East to Louisiana, the Highlander Hybrid exhibited more than enough oomph to cruise comfortable at 75 mph. I-10 is a pretty straight shot of Interstate so I really didn't get the chance to see how the four-wheel-drive accentuated handling.
Still, with its electronic power steering, the Highlander Hybrid was pretty easy to drive. And it was comfortable, too. The cloth front seats provided good lumbar support. The high seating position gave me a sense of security. And though there was a whir from the CVT (transmission) when aggressively accelerating, it was a sound that most drivers could become accustom.
Overall, the Highlander Hybrid was pretty quiet. Sometimes I'd let the windows down on the Interstate and shut off the air conditioner and when I rolled them back up, it was like closing out the world.
My only complaints were that my test vehicle did not have Bluetooth which would have turned my compatible cell phone into a hands free car phone. I forgot my electrical adapter so I depended on my car adapter to keep my phone charged. It would have been nice if the 12 volt adapter would have charged the phone without the ignition being on.
Although my test vehicle was wired for satellite radio, it had not been connected. And I think the auxiliary jack for an iPod needs to be integrated. In other words, with an integrated jack you can control your iPod from the radio and it will recharge itself. This is the kind of convenience most folks expect of Toyota.
My complaints are really quibbles that I have no doubt will be corrected over time. Still, when I saw that my test vehicle was priced at $40,800, I thought the technology and versatility of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid well worth the price.