The Toyota Highlander is a midsize crossover SUV produced by the Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota. In its domestic market of Japan, as well as in Australia, the Highlander is instead called the Toyota Kluger (due to a conflict with a rival automaker’s vehicle). Toyota announced the Highlander at the New York Auto Show in April of 2000. The Highlander became available for sale in Japan in 2001 and in North America at the beginning of 2001. The Highlander is built on a platform shared by the Toyota Camry sedan, which made it the first car-based midsize SUV or crossover vehicle. It came standard with a five-passenger seating configuration; a seven-seat option became available in 2004. Front-wheel-drive was standard, but an all-wheel-drive option was available.
The Toyota Highlander went on for a few years with a traditional gasoline engine; the Highlander Hybrid wasn’t revealed until 2004. Toyota introduced the Highlander Hybrid at the North American International Auto Show that year, and the vehicle became available in the summer of 2005 as a 2006 model year option. Like the rest of Toyota’s gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle lineup, the Highlander Hybrid uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system. In the case of the Highlander Hybrid, the technology paired a 3.3-liter V6 engine to an electric motor for a net power yield of 270 horsepower. Power-saving measures were taken, such as upgrading the air conditioning compressor, water pump and power steering pump to electric units, rather than belt-driven ones, and using a modified alternator more suited to the task. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid was the first seven-passenger hybrid vehicle offered to the North American market. The Highlander Hybrid was visually similar to the gasoline version of the Toyota Highlander, but it bore badges that marked the difference. The Highlander Hybrid was also differentiated by an exclusive wheel design. The front-wheel-drive version of the Highlander Hybrid earned EPA ratings of 28 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway. Fuel economy for the all-wheel-drive version suffered only slightly, yielding ratings of 27 city and 25 highway. The all-wheel-drive Highlander Hybrid had a tow capacity of 3500 pounds.
At the Chicago Auto Show in 2007, Toyota introduced the second generation of the Highlander, including the Highlander Hybrid. The Highlander Hybrid was dropped for the Japanese market and there were no plans to release it for the Australian market, but went on sale in the United States in September of 2007. The revised Highlander models offered a new smart key system, leather and heated seats, a touch-screen navigation system, and a backup camera. For the 2011 model year, both the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid received some exterior updates, mostly on the front end. The lower-end front-wheel-drive option was dropped for the Highlander Hybrid and all-wheel-drive became standard equipment. The drivetrain featured the same 3.3-liter V6 as before. Fuel economy ratings remained the same as the previous generation of the Highlander Hybrid, edging out the Lexus RX 400H, which is mechanically closely related to the Highlander Hybrid as a result of Toyota’s ownership of Lexus. For 2011, the Highlander Hybrid received a new 3.5-liter V6 engine, which netted a 10 horsepower increase as well as across-the-board fuel economy ratings of 28 miles per gallon.
At the 2013 New York International Auto Show, Toyota introduced the third generation of the Highlander and the Highlander Hybrid. The new Highlander features a longer and wider footprint and updated styling. The Highlander Hybrid, still exclusively available as an all-wheel-drive vehicle, will feature a 3.5-liter V6 and a continuously variable transmission. The third generation Highlander and Highlander Hybrid are expected to become available in early 2014.