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  • 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD Limited

    Posted on May 25th, 2008 ninarussin

    Toyota’s green crossover vehicle is ideal for active families
    By Nina Russin

    2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

    2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

    Last year, Toyota rolled out the second-generation Highlander, including a model that utilizes the same hybrid synergy drive technology as the Prius. Average fuel economy for the hybrid is 26 miles-per-gallon, as opposed to twenty for the gas powered Highlander.

    The hybrid powertrain uses three electric motors: one which starts the engine, and one on each axle. The motors boost the gas engine’s net horsepower from 209 to 270. A nickel metal hydride battery provides power to the electric motors.

    The new Highlander shares chassis components with the Camry and Avalon sedans. It’s longer and wider than the car it replaces, with an inch of additional ground clearance for better handling off-road.

    The test car is the Limited grade: one of two available trim levels on the hybrid. Permanent four-wheel drive enhances off-road traction. A hill start assist feature prevents the car from sliding backwards when the driver accelerates from a stop on a steep grade.

    Three rows of seating accommodate up to seven passengers. Third-row seats fold flat and second-row seats flip out of the way to create a long cargo floor that easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.

    Green technology without compromise

    The Highlander is a true hybrid: it runs solely on the electric motors when power demands are low. But unlike pure electric cars, the Highlander hybrid never needs recharging. It recharges on the go using heat energy from the car’s brakes.

    An energy meter on the instrument panel indicates power boost from the electric motors, as well as regenerative charging. On the left side of the meter, a hybrid system indicator consists of two modes: “normal” and “acceleration.” Keeping the needle within the indicator strips in either mode helps the driver to maximize fuel economy.

    Like the Prius, the Highlander has an electronic air conditioning compressor. Whereas mechanical compressors are driven off the engine, this one can operate independently. Having sweated it out in other hybrids when the engine shuts off at traffic lights, the electronic compressor is a feature I can’t say enough good things about.

    Seamless performance

    The nicest thing about Toyota’s hybrid technology is that it’s invisible to the driver. Both Highlander hybrid grades come with keyless entry and start. A start button on the instrument panel replaces a conventional ignition switch. Depending on its power needs, the Highlander will either start on electric power, or if necessary, turn on the gasoline engine.

    Once in drive, a continuously variable automatic transmission eliminates shift shock. Acceleration is exceptional, since the electric motors develop maximum torque at extremely low speeds. The Highlander doesn’t have low gears as a traditional transmission would. Instead a “B” setting applies additional braking to slow the car down on hills.

    Hybrid components make the car a little nose-heavy: something that’s most noticeable going downhill. Buyers can opt to add downhill descent control, which uses the engine and brakes to automatically maintain a preset speed. I’d recommend it for anyone planning to take the car on serious off-road trails.

    Steering is precise, with plenty of assist at low speeds and a good on-center feel on the highway.  Engineers did a good job of adjusting the four-wheel independent suspension for the large battery pack in back. The car feels quite balanced, and corners flat. The Limited grade comes with standard nineteen-inch wheels. Four-wheel disc brakes product firm, linear braking.

    Permanent four-wheel drive gives the Highlander plenty of traction on moderate off-road trails. The longer wheelbase and additional length on the new model make it less maneuverable through tight turns. I was able to snake my way through some winding single track, but it was hard to keep creosote bushes to the sides from scratching the clear coat.

    Versatile interior has two paths to the third row

    A new second-row seat design eases access and egress from the third row. A removable center seat stows behind the front center console. Being able to climb between the captains chairs saves third row passengers the inconvenience of lumbering over large wheel wells to either side.

    Additional interior space on the new model gives all three rows of passengers adequate leg, hip and headroom. Both first and second row seats move fore and aft, so taller passengers can ride comfortably. A conversation mirror that flips down from the overhead console allows parents up front to keep an eye on their children. Both first and second-row passengers get overhead reading lamps.

    A ten-way power driver’s seat and tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to have good forward visibility, and maintain a safe distance from the front airbags. Both front seats come with standard seat heaters on the limited grade.

    Two twelve- volt power points in front and one in the cargo area recharge electronic devices. Ten cupholders and bottle holders in all four doors accommodate enough beverages for thirsty passengers. There are plenty of bins and cubbies for storing small items around the first two rows.

    Folding the second and third row seats flat is an easy operation. Standard roof rails on the limited grade allow owners to stash large cargo up top as well. The Highlander hybrid tows up 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV standard.

    All cars come with a standard rearview backup system. The test car has the optional navigation system ($2655), including an upgraded JBL sound system that’s prewired for satellite radio and is Bluetooth compatible. Given its cost, I’d recommend against the option unless the buyer wants the audio upgrade. There are less expensive aftermarket GPS products that serve the same function.

    Other options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1780), automatic front dual zone climate control ($375), rear seat climate control system ($375), power moonroof ($850), carpeted mats ($275), and a VIP security system ($359). Of these, the enhanced climate control features are worthwhile for drivers who travel with more than two passengers. For parents with small children, the rear seat entertainment system is worth its weight in gold.

    Standard safety

    The Highlander hybrid comes standard with antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags, and a driver’s knee airbag. Toyota’s vehicle dynamics integrated management system uses vehicle stability control and traction control to limit wheel slippage or spin on wet or uneven roads. Other standard safety features include front-row active headrests, daytime running lamps, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

    In addition to Toyota’s three year comprehensive warranty, all hybrid components are covered by an eight year/100,000 mile protection plan.

    Likes: A green car that offers exceptional ride and handling, good fuel economy and meets super low emissions vehicle standards. The Highlander hybrid is an excellent choice for active families who need the versatility of a crossover vehicle with some off-road capability.

    Dislikes: Thick C pillars and large wheel arches limit egress from the second-row seats. A car that costs $40,000 should include carpeted floor mats as standard equipment.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Toyota
    Model: Highlander Hybrid Limited 4WD
    Year: 2008
    Base price: $39,950
    As tested: $47,714
    Horsepower: 209 Hp @ 5600 rpm
    Torque: 212 lbs.-ft @ 3600 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: Standard
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Off-road: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Fuel economy: 27/25 mpg city/highway
    Comments: A price increase that took effect May 1 raises the hybrid’s base price by $500. Base price does not include a $685 delivery charge.

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