2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Photo
Quick Take
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It’s pretty simple to boil Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid down to this: It’s the Lexus RX400h’s drivetrain under Toyota’s unpretentious crossover sheetmetal. Not only is that reduction simple, it’s pretty much accurate too. So I’ve driven the Highlander before… and I’ve driven the RX400h before… maybe I can review this vehicle by mashing together the two reviews I’ve written before and throwing in a few tweaks.

Text from my Highlander review is in italics. Text from my RX400h review is in bold. New text is in plain type.

SUV Outside, Camry Inside

Toyota's Highlander just can't seem to take itself too seriously. This is a car-based SUV that's sorely lacking in the pretentiousness department. In fact, as we've said, it almost lacks enough pretenses to qualify as a crossover SUV at all. In its heart, the Highlander knows that it's really a Camry wagon.

Back in 2004, Toyotahas tweaked many of the Highlander's details, added their instantly ubiquitous 3.3-liter V-6 engine to the menu, and bolted in a third-row seat. But they still haven't given didn’t give it an attitude, and that's just fine.

Now Toyota has seriously upped the Highlander’s profile by stuffing in the same “

Hybrid Synergy Drive
” system that’s also used in Lexus’ RX400h.

While the RX400h's and Highlander’s hybrid system carries the same "Hybrid Synergy Drive" name as that in Toyota's Prius, it's not just the Prius' motors and battery pack wedged into the RX or Highlander. In fact the RX400h's and Highlander’s system is in some ways more advanced than its hybrid cousin.

As a "full hybrid" the RX400h and Highlander is are capable of running solely on its their electric motors, solely on its their 3.3-liter V-6, or with the electric and internal combustion systems working in tandem. The DOHC, 24-valve V-6 is the same basic 3MZ-FE engine installed in the RX330 (and the ES330, Toyota Sienna, Solara, Highlander, and some Camrys) without an alternator and with the power steering pump, water pump, and A/C compressor removed to be driven electrically. Despite that reduction in parasitic drag, revised calibration of the VVT-i variable valve timing and electronic throttle limit engine output to 208 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 212 pound-feet of peak torque at 4400 rpm compared to the RX330's and regular Highlander V-6’s 230 hp at 5600 rpm and 242 lb-ft at 3600 rpm. The lower output, claims Lexus, is "to promote smooth integration with hybrid system" which includes a unique electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of the five-speed automatic transaxle to which the 3.3-liter is leashed in all its other U.S. applications.

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