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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
one of the best fuel economy [sic] in its class
Car and Driver
offers a useful compromise of performance and fuel economy
the Highlander delivered controlled progress
The 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid may not deliver driving excitement, but it does provide good fuel economy, according to reviews from across the Web as well as TheCarConnection.com’s own experiences in the new hybrid.
To put it bluntly, the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is “not fun to drive. At all,” AutoWeek observes. Car and Driver is in agreement: It’s “about as exciting to turn and stop as it is to look at. Which is to say not very.”
Part of the problem is the Hybrid’s weight gain. Compared to the last-generation vehicle from Toyota, 2008’s new Highlander Hybrid gained as much as 450 pounds, and combined with duller electric power steering, its reflexes are slower.
Cars.com describes the Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain as a 3.3-liter V-6 coupled to batteries, electric motors, a continuously variably transmission, and a version of four-wheel drive. “The hybrid has an EV mode that allows it to travel at slow speeds for about 5 miles on battery power alone, according to Toyota,” they note. Edmunds clocks the performance of the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid as capable of accelerating “to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is fairly quick for a seven-passenger midsize SUV. Because the Highlander Hybrid makes greater use of electric propulsion at low speeds, its city mileage rating (27 mpg) is better than its highway figure (25 mpg).”
Most of the time, the Highlander Hybrid uses a blend of gas and electric power. ConsumerGuide notes that the Highlander Hybrid also can operate in battery-only mode for short distances. In addition, the vehicle has an Econ mode that regulates the throttle in order to maximize fuel economy. The drawback here is that "the gas-electric powertrain is prone to subtle but annoying surging and bogging in cruising conditions," while the "Econ mode severely limits throttle response from a stop to help save fuel."
Popular Mechanics warns that the Highlander Hybrid is "not an all-out off-road performer," despite the fact that it is an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Edmunds explains that the Toyota 2008 Highlander Hybrid gets power to the rear wheels from electric motors, so technically, it is a four-wheel-drive vehicle. “This setup differs significantly from the 4WD/all-wheel-drive system on the regular Highlander,” they add. “There's no center differential and the V6 engine never provides power to the rear wheels. The upshot is that buyers shopping for a serious snow vehicle may not find the hybrid Highlander robust enough to meet their needs.”
At Toyota, 2008’s Highlander Hybrid is well mannered on the road, but not exciting. “The electronic power steering requires less effort and there's less feedback from the front tires as you're bending the Highlander through the curves,” Edmunds says. “In this case, soft translates to comfortable, not overly spongy, so that's not a bad thing.” CNet says the Highlander Hybrid “felt top-heavy and exhibited a lot of body roll.”
Most drivers will be satisfied with the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid's overall performance, despite its soft handling.