Friday, February 08, 2008

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review

In August, I picked up a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Our other car is a Toyota Corolla, which we'll replace with a Prius as soon as we can.

Since we travel to Tahoe (we are big skiers) and camp a lot, we like to have a 4WD vehicle with plenty of space for ourselves, our gear, and Qanuk the collie.

How does the Highlander stack up for a hybrid?

Frankly, I give it a C-. Why?

1. The mileage is highly unsatisfactory

It's nice to average 26+ miles per gallon in an SUV, but Toyota could have done better in a bunch of ways:
  • First, why is the vehicle offered only in a 6-cylinder engine? All that power is nice, but I just don't need it. I'd have been fine with a 4 cylinder that gets 30+ miles per gallon. In fact, given that I'm buying a hybrid because I want best best mileage I can get in this type of vehicle, I'd have much preferred a 4 cylinder!
  • Second, given that people who buy hybrids are interested in, let's think hard about it...MILEAGE, why is the vehicle in 4WD full time?! It would be much better if I could get 30+ miles per gallon by keeping the vehicle in 2WD the 75+% of the time that this would be fine.
  • Why do you literally need to learn how to drive a hybrid -- which takes time and experimentation -- to keep the car in electric mode? There's gotta be a better way to make a car like this. It's just ridiculous that it takes the foot sensitivity of a ballerina to keep the car in electric mode. Press on the gas just a little too much, and you're out of electric mode. Just a tad of an uphill, and the vehicle is out of electric mode. How many people are really going to take the time to actually learn the right way to drive a hybrid to take full advantage of the electric engine? I doubt very many.

2. The gear options stink - car is difficult to control going down steep hills

I'm used to driving stick and using the gears to keep the vehicle under control in bad weather, going downhill, etc. Even when driving automatic vehicles, most still have a few gears that help you keep the vehicle under control, for example, when driving down the steep, winding Interstate 80 out of the Sierras on a snowy evening.

Needless to say, I find the gear options of my Highlander Hybrid - either "D" (Drive) or "B" (Engine Breaking - barely more resistance than D) extremely unsatisfactory. Surely Toyota can either offer their hybrids in stick, or at least give us a few gear choices - maybe a 1, 2, and 3 like in the RAV4.

3. Why doesn't it have low-range?
Now I rarely need low range, but as an ecologist who does field work in remote locations, sometimes it comes in VERY handy. I sure wish a hybrid with low range was available!

Conclusion - My Next Car Will Be A...
Frankly, I just know Toyota can do better than this Highlander Hybrid that I'm just not very satisfied with. I know, for example, that their diesel 4WD vehicles can get 30+ miles per gallon, but are for some inane reason not available in the U.S. yet. If I could get my hands on, for example, a Hilux diesel that I could run on straight vegetable oil from my local sushi restaurant, I'd be happy as a kid in a candystore. Make that a hybrid diesel - now we're talkin 35-40+ miles per gallon! Upgrade that to a PLUG-IN HYBRID DIESEL Toyota Hilux? Now I'd buy that in less time than Joba Chamberlain's fastball takes to hit Jorge Posada's glove!

Come on Toyota - please give us the quality 4WD hybrid that we know you can! (I even put covers on all the seats in my Highlander so that as soon as something better comes out, I can trade it right in!)

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