It’s pretty simple to boil
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
Back in 2004,
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
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
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,
2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The electrical portion of the hybrid system consists of three 650-volt "Motor Generators" and a sealed nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack stowed under the rear seat. The first of the motor generators is front-mounted and acts as the engine starter and as an engine-driven generator. The second is also mounted up front and drives the front wheels through the CVT along with acting as a generator during regenerative braking. Finally (in the four-wheel drive Highlander Hybrid and the RX400h) the third motor is rear-mounted where it powers the rear wheels and generates current during braking. In fact that electric motor is the only power the rear wheels get, giving the RX400h (and the 4WD Highlander) an unusual all-wheel-drive system and saving again on parasitic drivetrain losses. A computer determines just how much torque should be pumping through which wheels and at which time.
Put all the engines together and Lexus says there's a total of 268 hp aboard — fully 38 more than what motivates the RX330 (or Highlander V-6). However at 4365 lb, the RX400h weighs in 300 lb heavier than the RX330, so that's a mitigating factor on performance.
At 4070 lb in two-wheel drive form and 4245 lb in all-wheel drive, the Highlander is slightly lighter than its Lexus brother. So theoretically at least, this should be the world’s quickest hybrid SUV when it goes on sale in June. Of course if you’re buying your hybrid SUV as a drag racer, well, that’s sort of perverse.
the The hybrid's electric motors add gobs of torque throughout the
drivetrain's operating range and that means better initial acceleration and
consistent urge toward terminal velocity. It's also tremendously smooth and
quiet — maybe even a bit smoother and quieter than the very smooth and very
quiet RX330 and Highlander — at virtually all
2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
But it doesn't feel like a conventional drivetrain. At low speeds the RX400h or Highlander Hybrid will creep along silently tugged along by its front electric motor and when the throttle is mashed the engine spins to its torque peak and just stays there as the CVT does its infinitely variable work. When the Highlander Hybrid is running on just the electric motors, it’s virtually silent. When the V-6 is contributing, it’s only slightly less than that. Some drivers may never grow acclimated to the CVT’s operation, but otherwise this is simply the best drivetrain for around-town use ever put into a crossover SUV.
Since the Highlander SUV comes equipped
Because the Highlander gained a third-row
seat with its mid-cycle 2004 updating, the Hybrid version is the first hybrid
with seats enough for seven. The Highlander's third-row seat isn't a place
anyone bigger than a four year-old would want to spend a lot of time. Leg room
is a dead heat between the Pilot and Highlander at 30.2 inches, but the Honda
The Highlander interior design is otherwise comfortable and contemporary looking. The “Optitron-illuminated” instrumentation is contained within three circles in front of the driver, with the ventilation, entertainment and navigation systems conventionally mounted in the center stack. The speedometer is still the center and most prominent instrument, with a power production gauge to the left (expressed in kilowatts) and the fuel and temperature gauges to the right. A diagram of power usage similar to that on the Prius shares the navigation screen. The seats have flat bottoms but better shaped backs and there are more airbags aboard this Highlander than there were aboard the Hindenburg.
2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
On the outside, what distinguishes the
Hybrid from regular old Highlanders are its own unique chrome-tinged grille, new
front bumper, and LED taillights. The wheels are unique 17-inchers insides
P225/65R-17 all-season radials. Sheetmetal boxes don't come much more
squarely cut than the Highlander's, and that doesn't change
for 2004 with
the Hybrid version.
A full-range hybrid
Unlike the RX400h that comes only one way, there are four different Highlander Hybrids with both base and Limited versions coming in two- or four-wheel drive. The base Highlander Hybrid is a bit better equipped than the regular base Highlander (which is, after all, available pretty well stripped and has a four-cylinder engine), while the Limited includes virtually everything you’d expect in a Lexus.
That range means that prices for a Highlander Hybrid start at just $33,030 for a two-wheel-drive base machine. That’s pretty dang cheap compared to the RX400h, and this SUV carries all that luxury liner’s politically correct street cred along with the extra advantage of not being offensive to your PETA-member friends by eschewing leather upholstery. The Limited packs in the leather and starts at $37,890. Throw fiscal caution to the wind and the Hybrid Limited with 4WD is $39,290. That’s still a bargain compared to the RX400h… though not cheap.
Hybrid isn't going to inspire
much passion among its buyers, but it will coddle every one of them in comfort
through years — nay, decades — of reasonable transportation duty. The extra
power is nice, and the third-row seat will keep a few buyers from scurrying over
to the Honda store, but this is fundamentally the same vehicle as it was before
the hybrid drivetrain was installed and that's plenty
But as with the RX400h, compared to the normally aspirated version of the Highlander, the Highlander Hybrid isn’t that much better. Sure the unlikely-to-occur-in-real-life EPA mileage ratings are impressive (33 city/28 highway for the 4x2 and 31 city/27 highway for the 4x4), but the most expensive regular 2005 Highlander — the V-6 Limited 4x4 — is only $31,380. And the cheapest 2005 Highlander — the four-cylinder 4x2 — is just $24,080. So there’s a mighty premium being asked for the hybrid and there’s no reasonable way to make the math work so that the fuel savings pay the difference. That’s particularly so if you try and account for the eventual replacement of the Hybrid’s batteries.
So to buy
an RX400h a Highlander
Hybrid a buyer must conclude that there's something beyond mere economics at
work in the decision; that this machine's good intentions and excellent
execution are worth telling all the neighbors about. But it also makes one
hungry for the next step in
Base price: $33,030
Engine: 3.3-liter V-6, two electric motors
Drivetrain: Continuously variable automatic transmission, electronic all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 185.4 x 71.9 x 68.3 in
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Curb weight: 4070 lb
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, cruise control, CD player, keyless entry
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles basic; five years/60,000 miles powertrain
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