Monday, August 20, 2007

Full Review: 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Toyota has engineered a larger, more powerful 2008 Highlander Hybrid. And its complex personalities understand the value of working together, each system quietly supporting the other instead of proclaiming its gas or green individuality.

Toyota has engineered a larger, more powerful 2008 Highlander Hybrid. And its complex personalities understand the value of working together, each system quietly supporting the other instead of proclaiming its gas or green individuality. The result is a seven-passenger midsize hybrid SUV that's more refined and functional than its predecessor and one that Toyota hopes will appeal to a broader range of eco-minded consumers, whether they're celery-colored or forest green.

Toyota has worked really hard to improve a vehicle that was already pretty good. Since its introduction in 2001, the Highlander has sold about 800,000 vehicles. And though the Hybrid has only been around since 2005 when it was launched as a 2006 model, it's built up a following as well. Last year alone it sold 31,000 units, which is pretty good for a Hybrid.

For 2008, the Highlander moves away from a rugged visage to one that's more couture and upscale.

There will be five trim levels for the 2008 Highlander. The gasoline Highlander has a base model and then uplevel Sport and Limited models. The Higlander Hybrid has a base model and a Limited model. The gasoline version will come both with both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive options (4WD), whereas the Hybrid drops the two-wheel-drive (2WD) option for 2008.

Particularly appreciated feature is the rear camera, which is standard in all but the base gasoline model. And the best thing is you don't need a pricey navigation system to get it. If you don't have the navigation screen, the rear view picture appears in the information screen in the center of the dash.

The Hybrid has several features that distinguish it from the gasoline model in addition to the Hybrid Synergy Drive badging on the rear and side panels. The Hybrid will have blue meter gauges (instead of the red on the gasoline model), hybrid-specific grille and wheels and a birch wood grain for interior accents.

There are also a few unique technologies included on the Hybrid, which will help you save even more at the fuel pump. The first is the Hybrid System Indicator. This feature helps educate drivers on how to accelerate efficiently. As you press the accelerator, little bars show up on the gauge. They key is to drive in the three or less range to achieve maximum efficiency.

Another fuel efficient feature is the EV Mode. Under appropriate operating conditions (properly charged battery, warmed-up engine, etc.), this will allow the driver to stay in the electric-only motor longer in low speeds. In EV mode, the Highlander Hybrid can go about 25 mph for 3 miles without the gasoline engine. If you are in a situation when you need immediate and quick acceleration, however, EV Mode will automatically shut down and the gasoline engine will switch on without any hesitation.

The last technology is one that helps lead foots. ECON Mode effects throttle response. So if you are typically heavy on the accelerator, this will slow down and smooth out the electronic throttle control program. In other words, it helps prevent drivers from gunning it.

Under the new 2008 standards, EPA estimates that the Hybrid will get 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. This is 10 mpg better in the city than the regular gasoline models will receive. With the above technologies, Toyota estimates that fuel economy should be even better.

Developed from the latest Camry chassis, the wheelbase of the all-wheel-drive Highlander Hybrid has grown 3 inches, while its overall length has increased by nearly 4 inches and its width by 3 inches. There are three rows of seats in the new Highlander and 145.4 cubic feet of passenger volume. At 4,508 pounds, the new SUV is 263 pounds heavier than the outgoing model, and our base-level Highlander Hybrid test car with optional 19-inch alloy wheels tipped the scales even further at 4,670 pounds.

To help manage the Highlander Hybrid's new heft, Toyota has upgraded its 3.3-liter V6 engine and refined its high-torque electric-drive motor generators to produce 270 cumulative horsepower, just a fraction up on the former combination's 268 hp. Even with such a small increase, the heavier SUV with its continuously variable transmission doesn't feel sluggish. Its 7.5-second acceleration to 60 mph is just three-tenths slower than the lighter 2007 model, and its quarter-mile of 15.6 seconds at 91.8 mph is nearly identical to the old Highlander's best run.
Toyota is the leader in hybrid technology, and each one of their vehicles seems to be better than the next. That's certainly true of this new Highlander Hybrid.

Pricing hasn't been released for the 2008 Hybrids.

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