Strengths and weaknesses:
- Dad liked the capable suburban SUV
- Mom liked good room and heated seats
- Kids liked the view outside (one did)
- Dad and mom disliked third-row seats
- Kids disliked going for a drive (one did)
Lightening the family burden
The Toyota Highlander is one of those odd duck vehicles.
It’s aimed straight in the face of those who hate the minivan, hate the stigma of the SUV, but still need to cart around the kids and their friends. Add in that Highlander also comes in a Hybrid model, and you could quickly feel like you are becoming a tree-hugging hippie.
Well, maybe not that far.
The Highlander Hybrid takes what already is a good SUV and adds in Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system that straps one electric motor to the front wheels and one to the rear wheels. The combination is to provide better fuel economy, while reducing vehicle emissions.
The entire system works together well, with the gas engine doing most of the grunt work and the electric motors kicking in for added acceleration or maintaining a steady cruising speed.
The trouble I found was that there weren’t many stretches where I could keep the momentum going. Stop and go traffic wreaks havoc with fuel economy in a hybrid, as well. Highways are much better, but you don’t use the electric motor all that much when you’re cruising at 100 K.
While the Highlander Hybrid gets decent gas mileage, I never got close to NRCan’s 7.4 city rating no matter how light I was on the throttle.
As a people mover, the Highlander will give a family of four more than enough room to travel, wiggle or whatever. Front seat passengers have good room for their legs, arms and bodies, plus with four cup holders available you can have a double-double, a bottle of water and a Red Bull all within reach. That leaves one left for the iPod — can’t leave home without that.
Second-row passengers have ample leg room and good butt room as well, but adding a third person can involve a bit of work, especially if all three people are adults.
The Limited Highlander Hybrid comes with third-row seating, but forget about putting any adults back there — unless you don’t like them much — and forcing teens to sit there will only give them something else to complain about.
My two kids had no issues in their second-row perches and had a great view out the windows — great for the one kid who loves driving around, bad for the kid who can’t recognize the surroundings and figures we’re lost.
Not to worry, the Highlander Hybrid comes equipped with a DVD based navigation system, so we’ll never get lost — the screen also doubles as a backup camera monitor. It’s of little consolation to my daughter.
Entertaining the kids is a nine speaker, JBL audio system with AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA capability and an auxiliary jack. Not that entertaining for kids? Wait until you try to sing along with your latest RockBand tracks.
The tester’s cabin was covered in black and light grey textures including the seats trimmed in leather. To break up all that grey is some bright gold wood accents. Nothing says ‘green’ like a tree in your car.
Heated power front seats are standard in the Limited, with and eight-way power function for the driver and four-way for the passenger.
Next to a regular Highlander Limited, there isn’t much different over the Hybrid version beside the electric motors. But if you’re looking to make a dent in saving the environment, you’ll feel good about the lowered emissions and not the gas consumption.