2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 29, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers the same room and amenities that the nonhybrid Highlander does, only with better fuel economy and the badge of honor that comes with driving something that's trying to be green.

The hybrid experts at TheCarConnection.com examined the latest road tests on the new 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid to write this consensus review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and have added more details and driving impressions where relevant. This review also compares the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

If you're into the whole green revolution, then you know that in 2008 hybrid vehicles are still pretty rare. "Full" hybrids that can actually be driven on pure battery power alone--versus "mild" hybrids that just shut off the gas engine when the vehicle isn't moving--are rarer still. The much-improved 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is one of these rarer full hybrids, and the wholesale changes implemented in 2008 make its gas-electric drivetrain run better while still achieving excellent mileage.

Members of TheCarConnection.com's team put thousands of miles on different 2007 and 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid models over the past two years. The newer Highlander Hybrid has come a long way toward improving everyday drivability. For the Highlander Hybrid, 2008 is the year that Toyota delivers virtually seamless power delivery. Regardless of how you drive, there are virtually no transitional wavers in power delivery as the hybrid powertrain switches from electric-only to electric-plus-gasoline or gasoline-only.

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The gas/electric powertrain in the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is identical to the one found in the ritzy Lexus RX 400h: a 3.3-liter V-6 paired with two electric motors where the transmission would go, plus one more electric motor to drive the rear wheels. The gasoline engine is smooth and refined. When using gasoline plus electrons, the hybrid powertrain produces 270 horsepower, which gives the Highlander Hybrid quick V-8 style acceleration, even though the 2008 Highlander is a larger and heavier vehicle than the one it replaces. EPA-estimated mileage is 27 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.

Supporting this new powertrain are host of electronic safety devices, including an effective stability control system that in our testing made the Highlander Hybrid almost impossible to spin out. However, if you drive where the snow flies, the Hybrid's traction control cannot be turned off, a problem on very slick pavement, as the vehicle will refuse to move.

The second-generation 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid (available in base and Limited trim levels) is bigger inside and out than the SUV it replaces. While Highlander used to be sized closely to the Ford Escape, it's now closer to the Ford Explorer. Inside, the increased room is put to good use, but the available third row is really for children only. A clever second-row seat can be stored out of the way for access to the third row.

For more information, you can also read TheCarConnection.com's review of the 2008 Toyota Highlander.

Another smaller competitor is the Saturn Vue Green Line, but its four-cylinder powertrain is far less complex than that of the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and doesn't offer nearly the mileage increase. However, it does cost less. When the 2009 Saturn 2-Mode Hybrid arrives, it will boast a V-6 full hybrid package that should deliver outstanding performance in its Opel-based platform. This may be a top pick for driving enthusiasts who want to go green. Other competitors are clearly out of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid's class (in both size and luxury features), but those listed do feature full hybrid powertrains.

A bigger question to ask before which hybrid to buy is whether the hybrid powertrain is worth the price difference. The answer depends on how much driving you do annually, how long you plan to keep the vehicle, and ultimately, what the per-gallon cost of gas will be over that time period. Maybe you'll save some green; then again, maybe not. Do the math.

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