For many years, it was the common belief that if you wanted better fuel economy, you had to choose a smaller car. With the emphasis on fleet-efficiency in recent years, the big wins for the car companies have been in the bigger vehicles. Now, those with large families, or those who simply prefer a larger vehicle can get what they want on both fronts.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is just such a vehicle. This SUV offers the expected features such as seating for up to seven passengers, total power of 280 horsepower and 1,587 kg (3,500 lb) towing capacity. However, it also offers a combined city and highway fuel economy of 6.9 litres per 100 km (34.1 miles per US gallon). This favours quite well against the V6 version of the same vehicle at 10.9 combined litres per 100 km (21.6 miles per US gallon).
To compare, when both vehicles have consumed 50 litres of fuel, the hybrid will have travelled 725 km, while the V6 would have only travelled 459 km. Using an average distance driven per year in Canada of 18,000 km, the price difference would pay for itself in fuel costs in a little under eight years. However, this doesn't take into account a myriad of other factors including city/highway driving mix, greenhouse gas emissions, reduced need to refill the tank, reduced need to maintain the gas engine since it is not running all the time, and a tremendous reduction in engine noise.
In an effort to address both fuel economy and handling power, the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid includes a feature called 4WD-i. This is an intelligent four-wheel drive system that only engages when it is needed. The on-board computer continually monitors road-to-rubber conditions and when additional traction is required, the vehicle seamlessly slips from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive.
This isn't performed simply by connecting the back wheels to the main drive system. Instead, an additional motor kicks in to drive the rear wheels. Sensors then monitor traction to ensure a balance of power between the front and rear wheels. When the additional traction is no longer required, the secondary motor turns off, and the vehicle returns to front-wheel drive.
The interior of the 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has been smartly designed as well. A modular center console in the second row of seats allows the space to be used as a seat or as a tray/drink-holder. There is a good deal of legroom in this row of seats as well, excellent for the family with growing teenagers or for four adults out on the town.
The third row of seats does not boast the legroom of the second row. It would be better suited for children than adults. However, it can be very quickly and neatly folded flat, allowing full use of the rear cargo space.
Passenger safety is integrated throughout the vehicle. This begins with the Toyota Star Safety System, which includes stability control, traction control, Anti-lock braking, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and smart-stop technology. Building on those are multiple air-bag systems and other safety devices.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers a solid SUV, loaded with the features a family or SUV-loving individual would want. However, the excellent fuel economy puts it well ahead in its class.