Staff opinions on the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Toyota has bet its farm on hybrid technology, and though the Prius is the poster child of electrified-gasoline propulsion, the system shows up all over the place in its lineup. Case in point: the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited. With a V-6 engine and hybrid powertrain, this is the most expensive version of the Highlander you can buy, and also the most powerful and fuel efficient V-6 version.
Hybrid technology continues to evolve in Toyota’s cars, and the Highlander Hybrid – I’m just going to call it the Hylander from here on out – boasts a couple of interesting features. First is an EV mode, which powers the car solely on electricity as long as you don’t go too fast or give it too much throttle. It works very well; I was able to cruise for a solid two miles on pure electricity in heavy traffic before I had to break the spell and give it more gas. The second is an “ECON” mode, which ostensibly gears the engine more toward saving fuel. I though that was the whole point of a hybrid powertrain in the first place, but whatever, there it is.
But the Hylander is a mixed bag. The brakes are still touchy, but we’ve come to expect that to a certain extent in hybrids. The thing that struck me as peculiar was the touchy throttle. Yes, the Hylander likes to go, and even a slight tickle of the gas pedal made this big beast leap forward. If you think all hybrids are pokey lane cloggers, a quick spin around the block in the Hylander should change your mind.
These abrupt throttle responses get annoying fast. Even at a steady cruise, the Hylander didn’t maintain a steady speed; it would speed up and slow down slightly, making me adjust my foot angle. However, there’s a workaround: Push the ECON button. Weirdly, this smoothed things out. The throttle was less responsive, but more linear, and full-throttle power felt unaffected. The difference was dramatic: I could hold my foot steady in ECON mode, and then shut it off and the Hylander would start to accelerate. One other thing: If I’m going to lay out $48,000 and change for a car – any car – I’d resent having to fiddle with buttons to smooth out power delivery.
Anyhow, what kind of mileage did all this button pushing and gas pedal aerobics get me? Well, the Highlander Sport we had in a few weeks ago got 17.2 mpg from its non-hybrid V-6. So far in the Hybrid, I was getting 21.2. Whether we get close to the EPA estimated 28 mpg remains to be seen, but compared to the usual mid-teens we see in crossovers and SUVS, that’s good for this big 7-passenger family hauler.