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Thread: 2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid

    The Highlander hybrid is an amazing marvel of technology. Like the much smaller Prius hybrid sedan, it is capable of running entirely on battery power at lower speeds - in addition to automatically turning off its gas engine when you're stopped at a light or idling in traffic.


    Potentially significant fuel savings: about 9 mpg better in city type driving - where hybrids are most efficient - compared with a non-hybrid Highlander (27 mpg vs. 18 mpg). On the highway - where hybrids are least efficient - the mileage advantage narrows to 25 mpg vs. 24 mpg for the non-hybrid Highlander.

    The question is: Is it enough of an improvement to justify the hybrid Highlander's considerably higher sticker price?


    The Highlander hybrid is physically identical to the standard Highlander, which is a mid-sized crossover SUV with room for seven passengers when equipped with the available third row seat.

    It differs functionally from the regular Highlander in that it comes standard with all-wheel-drive (regular Highlanders can be ordered with just FWD) and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) instead of a conventional automatic - in addition to its hybrid gas-electric drivetrain.

    Its MSRP - $34,200 to start; $40,500 for the top-of-the-line Limited - is also several notches above the base price of the non-hybrid Highlander, which begins at $27,500 and runs to $34,350 for a Limited with AWD.


    Toyota re-did the Highlander for the '08 model year, so no major changes to report.


    The hybrid Highlander is propelled by a 3.3 liter V-6 augmented by three electric motors and a nickel metal hydride battery pack. The total output of this combination is 270 horsepower - exactly the same rated output as the 3.5 liter V-6 used in the non-hybrid Highlander.

    The system features fuel shutoff on deceleration as well a regenerative braking to transform the potential energy of the vehicle's momentum into electricity to help recharge the battery pack. There is an "economy" mode - and full electric "EV" mode for low speed driving.

    It's as state of the art as it gets in a current production hybrid.

    Like most hybrids, the Highlander hybrid comes with a standard Continuously Variable Transmission to maximize the fuel economy potential. CVTs are fully automatic transmissions but don't have fixed forward gears to shift up and down through. Instead, there's a single "continuous" forward gear that is constantly varied to make the most efficient use of the available power. The downside is that CVTs can be noisy compared with regular automatics - but in the Highlander, Toyota has done a very good job of making the CVT both smooth and quiet.

    Acceleration is excellent - and tells you all about Toyota's different design approach with this particular hybrid. While the Prius is built to maximize economy (and as a result, is more than a little on the doggy side) the Highlander hybrid is designed to make owning an SUV bearable in terms of gas mileage - without killing performance.

    It can nail 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds - quick even by sporty car standards and outstanding for a pretty beefy SUV. Especially a pretty beefy hybrid SUV.

    Fuel economy, as mentioned earlier, is decent - for a vehicle of this size and performance capability: 27 mpgs in city-type driving, 25 on the highway.


    SUVs as a class handle better now than many cars did as recently as the 1980s; crossover SUVs - which are based on modern car platforms even though they may look like they're descended from trucks - do even better. Anyone who can recall what it was like to drive something like a '70s-era Bronco (or even an '80s-era Bronco II) at 75 mph knows a modern SUV feels far more secure and stable at 90 mph.

    And is.

    As for the Highlander hybrid, what's important to know is that it feels almost exactly like the regular Highlander. Unlike the Prius - which has skinny little low rolling resistance tires - the Highlander hybrid offers P245/55-19 Open Country tires on 19-inch rims. Even the base version of the hybrid comes with 17-inch rims and 60 series tires. Part of this is the nature of the beast; a heavy vehicle needs tires that can handle the load safely. But the meaty rolling stock - especially the 19 inch rims on the Limited - is more evidence that Toyota didn't put fuel economy uber alles when designing the Highlander hybrid.

    Though the hybrid Highlander is much heavier than the non-hybrid version (4,508 lbs. vs. 3,979 lbs.) the weight difference is not apparent during cornering - at least, not until you push it beyond all reason. Toyota has done a commendable job of spreading out the bulk of the batteries and motors - and adjusting the suspension - so that the hybrid Highlander doesn't lurch oafishly in a corner. Nor does the stability/traction control system come on constantly - as happens in a couple of other SUVs I have tested recently.

    It's easy to steer and park (aided by the standard back-up camera) and not intimidating or unwieldy - as more than a couple of mid-large SUVs out there can be. It drives a lot like a big wagon.

    Which, of course, is basically what it is.


    The Highlander hybrid looks just like the regular Highlander; unlike the Prius, it doesn't make a big deal about being a hybrid. There are "hybrid" badges - but these are discrete and the bodywork is otherwise identical to the standard Highlander.

    Though technically "mid-size," the Highlander verges on being full-size in terms of interior space and its passenger carrying ability. The available third row (standard in Limited versions) is not a ridiculous talking point that's only usable by small (and limber) children. Though definitely Coach Class, adults can sit back there - and the second row seats are Business Class all the way.

    Drop the second and third row and the Highlander has 94 cubic feet of cargo capacity; with just the third row down (or absent) you still have 42.3 cubic feet. Since there are very few other mid-sized hybrid SUVs/crossovers currently available, the Highlander offers more space/versatility than smaller hybrid SUVs like the Ford Escape and Saturn VUE - and better mileage potential than similar in size non-hybrid crossovers like the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia.

    Max towing capacity is 3,500 lbs.

    AWD is standard in the Highlander hybrid but it is a different system than used in the regular Highlander. There is no center differential and none of the gas engine's power is ever used to power the rear wheels. Instead, the rear wheels are powered exclusively by one of the three onboard electric motors. This is an important point to keep in mind if you are looking for a vehicle with superior poor weather/snow driving capability. The hybrid Highlander's AWD system is set up primarily for fuel economy, not off-roading or snow day driving. If you need that kind of capability, the non-hybrid version with "real" AWD might be the better choice.


    Toyota's rep for bulletproof quality has taken some hits lately - in part due to a large recall that involved an oil-related issue with some V-6 engines. However, Toyota's record with hybrids is pretty much unassailable. The Prius has been on the road more than 10 years now and proved to be as reliable as an old VW Bug. They just go and go and go and go. Since the technology used in the Highlander hybrid is similar - and built by the same people - it's a safe bet that it will prove just as durable and problem-free.

    All Highlander hybrids come standard with three row side/curtain air bags, a knee air bag for the driver, traction and stability control, ABS and a back-up camera with LCD display in the center stack.


    The first thing you notice - after you notice the absence of any engine noise when stopped at a light or put-putting around at low speeds - is the turbine-like pull that comes on hard when you decide to pass someone. Part of this sensation of thrust is due to the high-torque output of the Highlander hybrid's electric motors. In addition to the gas engine's 212 ft.-lbs (at 3,600 rpm) the electric motors add 247 ft.-lbs at 0 rpm. That means instant grunt that comes on as soon as you punch it. This is the chief draw of electric motors - aside from their potential fuel economy and emissions benefits.

    Mileage-wise, it's a mixed bag, however.

    Mixed - depending on where you live - and how you plan to use your Highander. Where I live (rural, mountainous) and how I drive (high-speed) the hybrid (any hybrid) makes about as much sense as a bikini in Antarctica.

    It's just not the right scene.

    Hybrids are optimized to deliver their best efficiency at lower speeds; ideally, no speeds at all. The longer the gas engine stays off (as when stuck in a traffic jam) the better your mileage will be. If you can gimp along at under 25 mph, you can run in EV (electric only) mode much more often. That, too, will boost your MPGs. If the road is flat, you can coast - and the computer can shut down the gas engine yet again every time you do. If that is the type of driving you do mostly - or at least, more than half the time - the Highlander hybrid can be a godsend.

    It lets you have your SUV cake and decent gas mileage, too.

    But then there's the other side of the coin. That 27 mpg in city-type driving looks pretty doggone good - and is pretty doggone good. But the hybrid's 25 mpg highway rating is just 1 measly mpg better than the non-hybid Highlander. And if the type of driving you do is closer to "highway" than "city," don't expect your hybrid Highlander to do much better at the pump than the regular hybrid.

    Just expect it to cost a lot more.

    I was tanking up like a WWII-era battleship under full steam. The gas gauge went down every time I climbed the mountain. The only time I ran in EV mode was going up and down my gravel driveway. Where I live, there is no traffic - and just one light in the entire county. You drive slow only when you want to - not because you have to.

    So the Highlander hybrid's brilliant technology was wasted on me - because I don't drive the way a hybrid needs to be driven for such a vehicle to make any sense at all.


    There is a $6,000 difference between the price of a hybrid Highlander Limited and a regular (non-hybrid) Highlander Limited. That is no small change - even at $4 per.

    Think carefully - and realistically - about the kind of driving you do before you decide to buy one. The hybrid Highlander is neat. But it's not for everyone.

  2. #2
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    Feb 2007

    Re: 2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid

    This article has been posted on the main site with pictures:

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    Sunshine Coast, QLD, Australia

    Re: 2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid

    The fat bottomed mums will feel even better driving their fat bottomed kids to and from school..... knowing they are safe in a large car, but saving the planet with their hybrid.
    I wonder why there is no solar panel on the roof to help recharge the batteries.
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  4. #4
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Jul 2006
    The Land of The Edentulites

    Re: 2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid

    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1
    The fat bottomed mums will feel even better driving their fat bottomed kids to and from school..... knowing they are safe in a large car, but savign the planet with their hybrid.
    I winder why there is no solar panel on the roof to help recharge the batteries.
    Hilarious! 8)

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