Auto Review: Toyota’s eco-friendly SUV

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Fri., Sep. 27, 2013
2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid - Contributed Photo

There are many vehicles out there that try to be all things to as many potential owners as possible, and when you consider the substantial investment one must make in a family car, it makes sense to build a highly versatile machine. But as with so many products out there, a lot of forces are at odds with each other – such as having plenty of room for your passengers and cargo and the true all-weather capability only All-Wheel Drive can provide, yet also seeking decent fuel economy. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid manages to satisfy all these requirements, and does it with a very reliable, quick and comfortable crossover SUV platform. In many ways, this vehicle may be the best family vehicle on the road, with seating for up to seven with a standard third-row seat.

The Highlander Hybrid rides on a 109.8-inch wheelbase and comes in two trim levels, and Intelligent 4WD is standard. The Hybrid Synergy powertrain consists of a 3.5-liter V6 gas engine along with a high-torque electric motor (powered by nickel metal hydride batteries recharged by the vehicle) for a total output of 280 horsepower. This drives the front wheels, and the rear wheels are powered by their own separate electric motor that activates when conditions mandate additional traction. The transmission is a Continuously Variable unit, and ultimately the Highlander Hybrid sprinted to 60 mph in an average of 7.7 seconds (quite spritely for such a substantial vehicle). As with all Toyota hybrids, the vehicle is propelled by the engine on its own, or with assistance from the electric motor, or the motor motivates the Highlander exclusively, especially at lower speeds. Suspension rates are tuned such that they deliver a smooth ride while also providing excellent control during aggressive cornering. Despite the tallish architecture, this Eco SUV never feels top-heavy, and braking is on a par with most midsized sedans.

Inside, there’s room and comfort, especially in the first two rows, with our Limited version adding leather seating to the equation for even more tranquility. The driver’s instrument pod is comprehensive, with a 6.1-inch central display screen for Toyota’s Entune infotainment system – including Navigation functions and a back-up camera. The second-row captain’s chairs offer more opulence and a flat floor means excellent foot room. The third row has a rather high floor, but is otherwise tolerable, and the seats fold flat into the floor 50/50 style to increase cargo room. Even with the third row in use, there’s 10 cubic feet of space, and with these seats stowed, this grows to 42.3 cubic feet. With the second row folded as well, there’s a whopping 94 cubic feet available. The fit and finish on this unit reminded me of Toyota’s upscale Lexus division, as excellent materials and workmanship create a first-class environment.

The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited is EPA rated 28 MPG (both city and highway) and we observed a fine 28.9 MPG in a week of mixed driving. With options, our sticker came to $47,573.

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