2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The midsize Toyota Highlander is a comfortable, reliable and versatile SUV designed for driving primarily on-road and not off. It comes with front- or all-wheel drive and with a choice of conventional four-cylinder and V6 engines, as well as gasoline/electric hybrid variants that were added for the 2006 model year. Front side and side-curtain airbags for the first and second rows are now standard. The latter includes a rollover sensor that will deploy the side-curtain airbags if it determines the vehicle is about to roll over. All versions feature redesigned headlamps.

Focuses on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Hybrid Limited. For 2007, an optional third-row seat ($540) brings occupant capacity to a total of seven. However, the third-row seat is cramped and seriously reduces cargo capacity when in use. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the only gas/electric hybrid SUV available with seating for seven; the luxury-oriented Lexus RX 400h, with which the Highlander shares platforms and components, lacks a third-row seat.

The federal government allows an income tax credit for buyers of gas/electric hybrid vehicles. For the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, this amounts to a $1,300 credit for models purchased through March 31, 2007. However, it’s scheduled to drop to $650 on April 1 and will be phased out entirely after Sept. 30. In some states, owners of hybrid vehicles like the Highlander Hybrid models enjoy certain privileges, like being able drive in carpool lanes without a full complement of riders.

Consumer Reports rates the Toyota Highlander as having much better than average reliability.

Unlike the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrid SUVs, which feature four-cylinder gasoline engines for maximum fuel economy, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid combines electric motors/generators and a self-recharging battery pack with a 3.3-liter V6 gasoline engine. It thus delivers the thrust of a V8 engine (zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds) with fuel economy that beats that of the base four-cylinder gasoline Highlander model. The electric motors afford generous low-end power for quick launches, though the transition from one power source to the other at slightly higher speeds isn’t entirely seamless. The Highlander Hybrid is rated at 32 mpg city/27 mpg highway with FWD and 31 mpg city/27 mpg highway with AWD.

Fuel economy for gas/electric hybrids is typically at its best in city driving because the electric motors work optimally at lower speeds.

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid costs about $5,000 more than similarly equipped V6 non-hybrid models. It features a continuously variable automatic transmission (which eschews traditional gears for a variable pulley system) and electric power steering, both of which improve fuel economy.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Vehicle Summary

The base Highlander has a fuel-efficient 155-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic transmission. The other available gasoline-only powertrain is a 3.3-liter 215-hp V6 mated to a five-speed automatic. The four-cylinder is rated by the EPA at 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway, while the V6 is estimated to achieve 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Highlander Sport models are new for 2007 in FWD and AWD versions. They’re dressed up with styling enhancements that include a color-keyed grille with chrome insert, fog lamps, chrome door handles, exhaust tips and license plate trim, color-keyed mudguards and five-spoke polished aluminum wheels. The AWD version includes a sport-tuned suspension for livelier handling. Inside there’s a leather-wrapped shift knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls, chrome door handles, an eight-way power driver’s seat and an AM-FM/cassette/CD audio system.

Stability control and antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution are standard across the line. As with most SUVs such as the Toyota Highlander that are based on car architecture, the AWD system lacks low-range gearing for serious off-road duty.

While the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is far from being the sleekest-looking SUV on the market, it does offer good overall performance with predictable handling and a relatively smooth ride. The vehicle’s interior is efficiently designed and offers adequate comfort in the first and second rows of seats. A third row is optional for $540, though only smaller children will find the rearmost row hospitable. As is expected in a family oriented vehicle these days, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available, albeit for a steep price: $1,770.
See Toyota Highlander Hybrid 360° tours

As with most car-based SUVs, towing is not the Highlander’s strong suit, with a 3,500-pound maximum rating when fitted with AWD and the proper equipment. However, it does much better in the safety department. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Highlander five out of five stars for frontal-crash protection and four stars for rollover resistance. It has not yet been rated for side impacts.

Did You Know …

• The Highlander debuted for the 2001 model year and has since continued relatively unchanged, save for a 2004 cosmetic freshening. Hybrid and Hybrid Limited versions were added to the line in June 2005. With the RAV-4 growing in size and adding an optional third-row seat for 2006, the Highlander will likewise become a larger vehicle when it’s redesigned for the 2008 model year. Now built on the same platform as the Camry sedan, the next generation will reportedly be based on the stretched Avalon architecture.

• The Highlander name was used to “convey images of power and ruggedness,” according to Toyota. It is built at the Toyota Motor Kyushu, Inc. plant in Kyushu, Japan.

Scribbled on August 7th 2008 in Toyota
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