Full 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review
What's New for 2010
The 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is unchanged.
We suspect a lot of folks would like to dump their old gas-guzzling SUV for a more environmentally friendly gasoline-electric hybrid, but can't quite bring themselves to give up the passenger- and cargo-schlepping capabilities their current ride provides. If that sounds like you, we think you'll like the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, as it solves this dilemma better than just about anything else on the road. With its fuel-efficient powertrain and available seven-passenger seating, the Highlander Hybrid offers current SUV owners a great way to limit their petroleum consumption without sacrificing the practicality they've become accustomed to.
At the heart of the Highlander Hybrid's appeal is a gasoline-electric hybrid power plant that delivers impressive EPA fuel economy estimates of 27 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Those numbers may fall short of the five-passenger Ford Escape Hybrid's (30 mpg city/27 mpg highway in comparable all-wheel-drive trim), but they still put the Toyota well ahead of seven-passenger hybrid SUVs like the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid (21 mpg city/22 mpg highway). As for conventional gas-powered three-row crossover SUVs like the AWD Ford Flex and Hyundai Veracruz, the Highlander's 26-mpg rating in combined driving is over 40 percent better than their 18 mpg combined. The Toyota is also quick on its feet -- the sprint to 60 mph takes just 7.5 seconds.
The Highlander Hybrid's advantages continue inside, where you'll find nearly as much cargo room as in the much larger Tahoe/Yukon hybrids. Notably, the optional third-row seat is best for kids, so if you need to carry more than five adult-sized people on a regular basis, the big GM hybrids or something like the Flex will be preferable. Still, the Highlander's third row offers an added measure of flexibility that family-minded buyers will appreciate.
Price is one potentially significant drawback. Yes, the Tahoe Hybrid and Yukon Hybrid cost more, but comparably equipped conventional Highlander models list for thousands less, and the four-cylinder version (FWD only) even gets better gas mileage on the highway. Also, the Highlander Hybrid's AWD system utilizes a separate electric motor, so it's theoretically less capable in snowy conditions than the full-fledged gasoline AWD Highlander. Still, we recommend the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It remains one of the best ways to reduce your fuel consumption without sacrificing true SUV-grade functionality.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
For 2010, the midsize Toyota Highlander Hybrid crossover SUV is offered in two trim levels: base and Limited.
The base model comes fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, a towing prep package, keyless entry/ignition, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, air-conditioning and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. A 3.5-inch multifunction display shows trip computer functions and the image from the standard back-up camera.
Spring for the Highlander Limited and you get 19-inch alloy wheels, auto-on/off headlights, foglights, a roof rack, a power liftgate with a flip-up rear window, leather upholstery, power-adjustable heated front seats, a two-person third-row seat, a rear cargo area cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass, and a stereo with a six-disc CD changer and satellite radio capability.
The options list for the base model includes the third-row seat, dual- or tri-zone automatic climate control (the latter only with the third-row seat) and a handful of other extras that are standard on the Limited. Options available only on the Limited include a voice-activated navigation system, a sunroof, a nine-speaker JBL audio system, Bluetooth and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a hybrid system consisting of a 3.3-liter V6 gasoline engine and a trio of electric motors. It all adds up to a healthy 270 horsepower, which is transferred to the pavement via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and an all-wheel drive system that uses a separate electric motor to power the rear wheels when there's a need for extra traction or acceleration.
In performance testing, the Highlander Hybrid sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is pretty quick even by conventional crossover standards. Properly equipped, the Highlander Hybrid can also tow trailers up to 3,500 pounds. This muscle is even more impressive considering its EPA fuel economy estimates of 27 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 26 mpg in combined driving. The city number is slightly higher because as a true two-mode hybrid, the Highlander can operate in electric-only mode at low speeds.
The 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side airbags, active front-seat head restraints, a driver knee airbag and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is a hill-start assist feature that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when starting off on a steep incline.
In government crash testing, the Highlander Hybrid received a perfect five stars for driver protection and four stars for front passenger protection in frontal impacts. Side-impact testing yielded five-star ratings front and back. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the conventional Highlander its top "Good" ratings in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid's powertrain gets most of the attention, its cabin deserves its fair share of praise. In addition to seating up to seven passengers, the interior features decent-quality materials and a user-friendly control layout. The 40/20/40-split second-row seat slides fore and aft and features reclining seatbacks. It also incorporates a removable center section that can be replaced with a handy center table or stowed away to permit minivan-like walk-through access to the third row.
The optional third-row seat is cramped compared to those of some larger crossovers, but it's useful for kids, and adults of short stature can squeeze back there for short trips. We wish the Highlander Hybrid's third-row seatback were split 50/50 to offer additional flexibility when carrying a mix of people and cargo, but at least it folds flat when not in use.
For hauling purposes, the Highlander Hybrid offers a maximum of 94 cubic feet of cargo room with the second- and third-row seats folded. There's a healthy 42 cubic feet of stowage behind the second-row seatbacks.
The 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid features a smooth ride and secure if uninspiring handling, as one would expect from a Camry-based crossover. Road noise is nicely suppressed, and engine noise is reduced to a barely perceptible electric hum when the gas engine shuts off. The hybrid powertrain's lively performance and seamless transition between gas and electric modes adds spice and character as well as efficiency. A driver-selectable "EV" mode can propel the vehicle for short distances at low speeds on battery power alone, and hitting the "Econ" button softens throttle response to improve fuel economy.