The EPA estimates fuel economy of 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway with the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive, which is near the top of the segment. The Highlander Hybrid uses a 3.3L V6 in combination with three motor generators to drive the front or all four wheels. This translates to fuel economy of an impressive 32 in the city and 27 on the highway.
The Hybrid is a unique driving experience. When you come to a stop, the gas motor shuts off. Step on the gas gently and you move forward on electric power only. The quietness of this technology will astound you. Press harder on the accelerator and the gas engine comes back to life. The combination of the gas and electric motors produces excellent acceleration.
We did get have a chance to drive in some heavy rainstorms, and the all-wheel-drive handled the sloppy conditions with quiet competence. The standard five-speed automatic transmission (four-speed automatic for the four-cylinder) helped to keep the power flowing smoothly. Inside the driver sees a familiar, well designed instrument and control panel.
The Highlander is available in both two- and four-wheel drive across five trim levels: the $24,880 base, the $28,115 Sport, the $30,810 Limited, the $32,490 Hybrid, and the $34,610 Hybrid Limited. Even the base model comes every well equipped. It includes a roof rack, air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system, power windows, power doors, and power mirrors. The Sport model adds an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, an adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and seventeen-inch alloy wheels.
The Limited is the model for those folks who like the full-luxury treatment in their SUV. The air conditioning is upgraded to dual-zone automatic climate control, the passenger seat gets a four-way power adjuster, and wood grain trim adorns the dashboard. Notable options include quite a few extra value packages that differ in all five models. A third row seat is a stand alone option, as is the rear seat DVD entertainment system that includes two wireless headphones.