When it comes to the SUV vehicle class, there aren't too many fuel-friendly models from which to choose. In fact, for the non-luxury mid-size SUV class, there's only one model that tops more than 25 mpg combined. That model is the 2010 Toyota Highlander.
At first glance, the 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway may make the Highlander Hybrid an attractive option for you. However, take a look at the near $35,000 base MSRP, and you're liable to get sticker shock. While the Highlander Hybrid is certainly an elegant and comfortable vehicle, it teeters dangerously close to falling into the luxury SUV price range.
However, don't count the 2010 Highlander Hybrid out just yet, because it offers something no other non-luxury hybrid vehicle provides: seating for up to seven. As such, if you're in need of a 7-seater land boat that can haul you and the starting squad of the peewee basketball team to the school gym, then the Highlander may still prove an attractive option.
Look past the dollar signs, and you'll certainly find plenty to like about the Highlander Hybrid. The interior is exceptionally roomy and well-appointed, offering a comfortable and quiet place to spend your daily commute. With the rear seats down, the Highlander offers ample storage space that maxes out at 94.1 cubic feet. Driving performance is similarly pleasing, with smooth cornering, a cloud-like suspension and good acceleration.
Safety performance is excellent for an SUV as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the hybrid a perfect 5-star rating for the majority of crash test categories. Standard safety features are plentiful, and include enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, electronic-brake force distribution, hill assist control, brake assist, three-row side curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag.
Of course, it should be pointed out that all of this can be had on the traditional gas-version of the Toyota Highlander for about $9,000 less ($25,855 MSRP). And if you're thinking that you'll make up the price difference in fuel savings, think again. The gas-engine Highlander earns 22 mpg combined, meaning it would take a heck of a lot of driving to make up the difference in starting price.
Taking this difference in price tags into account, the Highlander Hybrid only makes sense from an eco-conscious standpoint. Of course, if you've got the extra money to put towards helping the environment, and you need a 7-seater vehicle, then the Toyota Highlander Hybrid will satisfy your needs on all fronts.
If you're willing to compromise, however, you might consider going with a compact hybrid SUV. For those who can get by with a five-passenger capacity, the Ford Escape Hybrid offers better mpgs for less money (32 mpg combined at less than $30,000). The Escape Hybrid's corporate cousins - the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute Hybrid - are also worth a look.
If you can make do without a hybrid engine, then the regular Toyota Highlander is likely to please. For even less money, you can earn better fuel efficiency with the Mazda CX-7. The Toyota Venza may also serve as a worthy alternative to the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.