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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
All-wheel drive standard across the line
Switch between electric and gas power is seamless
The Highlander delivered controlled progress
As long as you approach driving the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with the right expectations, it is a very practical people-mover. It does not, however, offer an exhilarating driving experience by any stretch of the imagination.
The full-hybrid Toyota 2009 Highlander Hybrid "combines two electric motors/generators (one at each axle) and a self-recharging battery pack with a 3.3-liter V-6 gasoline engine," according to ForbesAutos. Thanks to its 270-horsepower combined engine output, Car and Driver says that this 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is quick, but "an extremely quiet, capable kind of quick, rather than the stirring, invigorating kind." Edmunds clocks the Toyota Highlander Hybrid accelerating "to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which is fairly quick for a seven-passenger midsize SUV." MyRide.com adds that "you probably won't be able to do a burnout or donuts with the Highlander Hybrid," and the "gasoline engine gets thrashy at higher rpms." On the positive side, however, many reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree with MyRide.com reviewers when they report that "the switch between electric and gasoline power is seamless and almost unnoticeable unless you're gazing at the power display."
ForbesAutos states that all 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid models come equipped with "a continuously variable automatic transmission," and Cars.com adds that "the Hybrid comes only with four-wheel drive." Most of the CVTs on the market today are derided by the press, but MyRide.com is pleased to find "the CVT works well in this application, changing 'gears' more like a regular transmission." Another feature of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid's drivetrain is that "the driver can activate an EV mode, in which the Highlander Hybrid will operate for a greater period of time solely under electric power in certain conditions; similarly, an ECON mode smoothes out throttle response to limit excessive acceleration," according to ForbesAutos.
When looking at a hybrid vehicle, the ultimate question is what fuel economy improvement it offers over its conventional counterparts. In the case of the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the difference is prominent, especially in the city. The EPA estimates that the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid will get 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, compared to 17 mpg city and 23 highway for a standard 4WD Toyota Highlander.
The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid gets the job done when it comes to fuel economy and ride quality, but in terms of driving excitement, it is near the bottom of the class. Car and Driver reviewers complain that the Toyota Highlander Hybrid needs "more communication from the electric power steering," and MyRide.com seconds that, finding "the steering is numb and on the ponderous side." Car and Driver does, however, commend the Highlander Hybrid for its "quiet and smooth" ride. Stopping the larger-than-before Toyota Highlander are four-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes that Cars.com says are plagued by "spongy response, but the brakes clamp down hard when needed."
The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid trades excitement for efficiency, which it offers in spades.