Full 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review
What's New for 2007
A less-expensive model joins the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid lineup.
As revolutionary as early hybrid cars were, not everyone could take advantage of this technology because of their space and seating capacity constraints. That's where the Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes in. Introduced last year, it is the first and only seven-passenger (with optional third-row seat) hybrid vehicle, allowing family-oriented buyers to make an environmental statement when they pull up in the elementary school carpool circle. In truth, though, the cramped third-row seat is only minimally useful. Although the Highlander Hybrid has an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 33 mpg, the point of driving this hybrid SUV is not necessarily the promise of stellar fuel economy. Rather, Toyota is hoping buyers will see the performance angle as well, as the Highlander pairs a healthy V6 gas engine with a couple of electric motors to deliver extremely quick acceleration for the midsize SUV class.
In creating the hybrid Highlander, Toyota started with the regular Highlander's optional 3.3-liter V6, recalibrated it for duty in a hybrid (it makes less horsepower in this application) and installed two electric motors (three on all-wheel-drive models). One of the motors is responsible for starting the gas engine and recharging the 288-volt battery pack. Another teams up with the V6 to drive the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission of sorts that Toyota calls a "power-split device." This simplified CVT provides the ease of a conventional automatic transmission, but there are no gears to shift, drive belts, torque converter or clutch. The third motor, present only on all-wheel-drive models, can power the rear wheels when extra acceleration or traction is needed, or help recharge the battery pack. Since the gas V6 never provides power to the rear wheels of AWD Highlander Hybrids, however, it's not a true all-wheel-drive setup. Buyers who need a serious snow vehicle should stick with the regular Highlander.
Driving a 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a lot like driving a regular V6 Highlander -- it's just a lot quicker. Still, the lack of conventional shift points can take some adjustment, as can the gas engine's tendency to rev at a consistently high rpm -- also a function of the hybrid drivetrain. Ride quality is as smooth as ever, but with the extra weight of the hybrid system, handling is even less athletic than it is on the regular Highlander (already notable for its modest limits).
Still, compared to the other non-premium hybrid SUVs that are available, the Ford Escape Hybrid and Saturn Vue Green Line, the Highlander Hybrid is much quicker and more refined. Unfortunately, it's also more expensive, and the Escape, which uses a Toyota-designed hybrid system, gets better fuel economy. Neither can match the Highlander's interior room, but if space is what you need, you may be better off with a traditional gasoline SUV like the Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9: Your mileage will be lower, but the initial cost will be less. That's not to say a 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid purchase won't make you happy, but potential buyers should be aware that hybrid SUV ownership isn't likely to be the most cost-effective option for family transportation.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The midsize Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV is offered in base and Limited trim levels. Both are available in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. Five-passenger seating is standard on both, but an optional third-row seat increases capacity to seven. The base model is nicely equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, a windshield wiper de-icer, air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo, a power driver seat, cruise control and full power accessories. The Highlander Hybrid Limited adds heated front seats, automatic climate control, an upgraded eight-speaker JBL sound system with an in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and wood-grain interior trim.
Options on both models include a sunroof and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Leather upholstery and a navigation system are exclusive options for the Limited.
Powertrains and Performance
The hybrid drivetrain in the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid consists of a gasoline 3.3-liter V6 rated for 208 hp and two electric motors (three on AWD models). One of the motors is responsible for starting the gas engine and recharging the 288-volt battery pack. The second motor joins forces with the V6 to drive the front wheels via a simplified continuously variable transmission. All-wheel-drive Highlander Hybrids get a third motor that provides power to the rear wheels when extra acceleration or traction is needed. Cumulative output for this hybrid drivetrain is 268 horsepower. Acceleration is swift for an SUV in this price range -- we've timed an AWD Highlander Hybrid at 7.2 seconds for the 0-60-mph run.
Fuel economy ratings for the Toyota Highlander Hybrid are 33 mpg city/28 mpg highway on front-drive (2WD) models and 31/27 on AWD models. Towing is possible in the Highlander Hybrid, as it can pull up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped, but off-roading is not recommended.
Front-seat side airbags and first- and second-row side curtain airbags are standard on all Highlander Hybrids. Also standard are antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction control and stability control. The regular Highlander's crash test ratings apply to the Hybrid model. In NHTSA crash testing, the Toyota Highlander scored five stars (out of a possible five) for frontal-impact protection. In side-impact tests, it again received five stars for both front and rear passengers. In frontal offset crash testing administered by the IIHS, the Toyota earned a "Good" rating (the best possible).
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is identical to that of the gasoline-only version, which means that it has a slightly dated look but features high-quality materials and solid ergonomics. Comfortable seating in the first- and second-rows and a total of 10 cupholders make the Highlander Hybrid a natural for family transportation, but newer competitors in the midsize crossover SUV class offer roomier second-row accommodations. Additionally, the second-row seat's lack of a flip-and-fold mechanism makes the third row difficult to access. Maximum cargo capacity is 80.6 cubic feet, just as in the regular Highlander.
First-time Highlander Hybrid drivers may experience a split-second of doubt when they twist the key in the ignition and hear nothing, as the SUV starts out in all-electric mode. Ease into the accelerator and you'll hear only the peaceful hum of an electric motor until you hit about 25 mph or blast the A/C. Acceleration is excellent at any speed, and the hybrid Highlander feels particularly swift in merging and passing situations. The lack of conventional shift points can take a little getting used to, though. Additionally, the gasoline V6 tends to be noisier in the hybrid version than it is in the regular Highlander, as the efficiency-oriented CVT often sends it soaring to high rpm during heavy acceleration. The added weight of the hybrid system gives the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid a somewhat cumbersome feel around tight turns. It's still easy to maneuver in the city, though, and as smooth as they come on the highway.