Mid-size 3-row seat SUV with the fuel economy of a compact car
Hybrid vehicles are among some of the most popular and appealing cars for buyers looking to save money at the pump and help the environment at the same time. Today I am going to look at the Toyota Highlander Limited Hybrid. This SUV uses Toyota hybrid tech to get fuel economy you don't normally see out of a larger SUV.
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There are bigger SUVs on the market today, but the Highlander Limited Hybrid sits in a nice spot somewhere between the full size Suburban offerings and the smaller SUVs like the Ford Edge. The Highlander Limited Hybrid I tested was loaded out with just about everything you can get on the vehicle and carried a sticker well into the mid $40,000 range. The Highlander Limited Hybrid had three rows of seating with a rear row that you could fold down for more cargo space when not needed. Gaining entry to those third row seats is better left to kids and adults who are into gymnastics.
My five-year-old daughter even found the squeeze between the second row seats and the side of the SUV to be a tight fit when the second row seats were all the way forward. Deploying those third row seats was a bit of a challenge as well. Unlike the Sienna van, I wrote about earlier in the week, the seats on the Highlander Limited Hybrid are manual. I had to fiddle with them a bit to figure out how to set them up.
Inside the car the interior is a bit more bland than what I am used to seeing in Ford products. The materials inside the Highlander Limited Hybrid are nice and well made; the design just wasn't as appealing to my eyes as the interiors in the new Ford offerings I have been driving lately. Aesthetics is very subjective though and you might find the inside to be fantastic looking.
The car uses nice leathers and has decent design with pale wood grain trim all around. The gauges of the vehicle are normal except where you typically find a tach you have a charge gauge. The gauge moves like a tach but shows how much power the battery is putting in or taking out as you drive. The car uses regenerative brakes to help recharge the battery and the battery charges while you are driving as well. The center multifunction screen shows you all sorts of details about the vehicle and its battery pack as you drive. The navigation screen is low resolution, but the maps are accurate and complete.
This was the first hybrid vehicle I have ever driven and it took some serious getting used to. The first time I started the car up I thought that something was wrong since the motor didn’t start when I turned the key. The Highlander Limited Hybrid starts in EV mode and the gasoline engine only kicks in when you reach a certain speed. That means at start up it feels a bit like you didn't start the engine when you put the car in reverse or drive. The car does move though. My wife did the same thing thinking she wasn't starting the Highlander correctly when it was time to leave the first time.
Once you get the car rolling the gasoline motor stays off until you reach a specific speed and then it will kick on. The gas engine will fire up if you push the throttle as well. Once you are rolling each time you come to a full stop for a few seconds the motor will typically turn itself off if there is enough power in the battery packs. The start and stop function is seamless and only introduces a bit of lag to the throttle.
The Highlander Limited Hybrid is a larger SUV and you can certainly feel its heft with body roll in the corners. The car does ride very well though with a nice soft suspension that glides over bumps and only minimal wind noise. The performance of the car is soft when on economy mode and gets much more sporty when you turn economy mode off.
My test vehicle had a V6 engine with enough oomph to get you out in traffic and pass when you need to. This isn't the most powerful SUV I have been behind the wheel of, but it has ample power. When you really punch it, the car uses the electric motor to supplement the gas engine for improved performance. The Highlander Limited Hybrid is not meant to be driven off road. Cool car worth checking out if you need a larger vehicle with space for people and cargo, but you want to be green and save at the pumps. I was able to see 30mpg in mixed city and highway driving despite my heavy right foot.
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