2010 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid
Base price: $25,855 – $41,220
As tested: $29,599
MPG: 20 city/27 highway (2.7L, 4 cylinder, non-hybrid)
- Hybrid and non-hybrid offerings
- Excellent utility, looks good
- Three row seating, available second-row captains chairs
- Approaches luxury pricing with options
- Very small third row seat
- Not a true four-wheel drive
By Rebecca Antioco
Practical Highlander is offered in hybrid and non-hybrid versions
(This review was written about the 2008 Toyota Highlander. Since little of substance has changed it has been updated to include model years 2009 and 2010)
With gas prices in 2009 averaging $2.31, almost a $1 less per gallon than 2008, the math work for a hybrid Highlander — priced an additional $10,000 over the base non-hybrid gas only model — becomes difficult if not impossible.
While offering respectable fuel economy, 27/25 city/highway, the base hybrid Highlander ($34,900) and the Limited hybrid model ($41,220) are not inexpensive. Non-hybrid Highlanders are offered in base, sport and Limited models, with a price starting at $25,855 for the base front-wheel-drive 4-cylinder to a high of $34,670 for the all-wheel-drive Highlander Limited.
Highlander is practical, powerful and appealing but becomes pricey when you start looking at hybrids and/or adding options to the base price. Both hybrid and non-hybrid models are identical other than the engine and transmission setups.
The hybrid models are powered by an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission and a 208-horsepower V-6 engine plus three electric motors (one to start the vehicle, two to drive it), the overall yield is 270 horsepower. Technically, the Highlander Hybrid is a four-wheel drive vehicle, with the rear-mounted 68-horsepower electric motor providing power to the rear wheels when extra traction is needed. However, the V-6 never powers the rear wheels and, unlike its gasoline-powered all-wheel-drive counterpart, this vehicle is not meant for off-road driving.
Base models seat five, and are well-equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights, power accessories, a back-up camera, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, MP3 auxiliary input and wood-grain trim. Upgrade to the Limited and you’ll get seating for seven, with the second row having the unique and convenient “center stow” feature that turns the bench into captain’s chairs, affording walk-through access to the third row. The Limited also adds 19-inch wheels, power driver’s seat, six-disc in-dash CD changer and a power liftgate. Three option packages are available. Option A ($2860) adds rear climate control, power moonroof, and an upgraded nine-speaker JBL sound system, Bluetooth capability and six-disc CD changer; Option B ($4885) adds to that voice-activated DVD navigation system; move up to Option C ($6665) and you’ll also get a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with nine-inch screen and two wireless headphones.
Completely redesigned for the 2008 model year, Highlander looks less truck-like, with cleaner lines and less bulge lending a more contemporary look than the previous generation. It also increases in size, growing three inches in wheelbase, four inches in length and three in width. This translates into more interior room, which has been used to increase the amount of space between rows of seats. As a result, the third row in the Limited can accommodate more than just small children comfortably, if only for short stretches.
Changes for 2009 were minor with a new 2.7-liter 187 hp four-cylinder engine in the non-hybrid base model, which is unusual in a midsize crossover. The new engine is mated to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. The larger V6 engine is a 3.5-liter that generates 270 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. There are no significant changes to any of the Highlander offerings for the 2010 model year.
Inside, special attention has been paid to seating, particularly for the driver. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, and the driver’s seat adjusts eight ways, ten in the Limited. As a result, drivers of any size can easily find a comfortable driving position.
For 2010 we tested the base 2.7-liter non-hybrid model with two-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is offered on both the Sport and Limited models.
Storage space is ample; with all rows of seats folded, there is 94 cubic feet. With the second row up, there’s just over 42 cubic feet and even with the third row in place, there’s enough room (10 cubic feet) for your golf clubs, the kids’ gear or the bounty from a trip to the grocery store.
On the road, despite its large size, the Highlander is comfortable and handles capably. It’s not sporty by any means, but offers good acceleration off the line and excellent ride quality typical of Toyota vehicles.
For the efficiency minded, Highlander Hybrid offers two fuel-saving modes. The first, EV, operates the vehicle solely in electric mode. This mode only works at very low speeds and for a limited distance, such as in stop-and-go traffic. The second, and perhaps more practical mode, ECON, is a throttle-control program that limits excessive acceleration, thereby improving fuel economy. Even without one of these modes in play, you can monitor your own driving habits and fuel-efficiency via the energy monitor on the control panel.
Safety equipment includes seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring system, active headrests for the driver and front passenger and a standard rear back-up camera. In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Highlander Hybrid received the highest rating of five stars in side impacts and for driver protection in frontal impacts. It received the second-highest four stars for passenger protection in frontal crashes. It has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the comparable gasoline-powered Highlander received the highest rating “Good” in both front and side impact tests.
As the most fuel-efficient seven-passenger vehicle available, Highlander is an excellent choice for environmentally minded families who need the size, but not the poor fuel economy of traditional SUVs.