With the 2009 Highlander Hybrid, Toyota has taken the versatility of a sport utility vehicle and added the fuel-saving benefits of its successful hybrid powertrain.
Little visually separates the Highlander Hybrid from its conventionally powered counterpart, save for the chrome "Hybrid" logos affixed to various quarter panels and the rear hatch. We drove the Hybrid Limited model that came standard with 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, silver painted roof rails, and a power closing rear hatch.
The hybrid equation starts with a 209 horsepower 3.3-liter V6, coupled with an electric motor and generator system. Together they produce 270 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission routes power to the front wheels at all times, while an electric motor engages the rear wheels when added traction is needed.
The Hybrid system is equipped with an "ECON" mode that limits acceleration, and an "EV" mode that will run the Highlander Hybrid purely on electric power for short distances at low speed.
Fuel economy for the Highlander Hybrid is 27 miles per gallon city, up significantly from 17 city on the non-hybrid 4 wheel drive Highlander. Highway mileage improvement is marginal at 25 miles per gallon highway, up from 23 on the standard Highlander.
Inside, our Limited model came with leather seating, a 40/20/40 split/fold middle row with swappable center console, rear seat climate controls, heated front seats, an 8-way power driver's seat and 4-way power front passenger's seat. A fold-a-way third row is standard on the Limited, and optional on the base model Hybrid. Seating capacity is 8 passengers with the 3rd row, and 5 without it.
Our test model also came with a navigation system that includes an integrated hybrid display and backup camera.
Standard safety features on the Highlander Hybrid include 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, vehicle stability control, traction control, side impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones, and a fully array of front and side impact airbags.
Initial base MSRP for the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is $34,700. The price of a fully loaded Limited model will top out at around $52,000. The Highlander Hybrid is backed by a 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
With a hybrid system that makes a big difference in city driving, 3 rows of comfortable seating and the security of four wheel drive, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid makes for a capable and fuel efficient family hauler.