The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is very pleasant. That's not faint praise.
The mid-size sports utility is one of those fairly rare vehicles that you get in and it's easy to drive right off the bat. The HiHy is even fun to drive, with decent acceleration and handling.
Some vehicles require a lot of attention from the driver--and rewards them for it. The HiHy handles every day motoring nicely. It's accommodating, taking the work out of driving.
The Highlander feels light and lively with a solid ride that doesn't conceal the bumps. Lean on tight curves is well controlled and moderate. It goes where pointed and is very predictable.
Our tested four-wheel drive Highlander Hybrid came with a vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management setup that is designed to anticipate tire slippage for a skid, slide or wheel spin and helps make corrections unobtrusively. It makes wheelies difficult.
The HiHy gets a lot of help going up and down, as well. Hill-start prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards from a stop while going up a steep hill.
Downhill assist control helps control speed downhill when engine braking isn't enough. Today's cars coast better than ever (less "rolling resistance") to improve fuel economy and this helps counter downhill acceleration. It's also a help in descending steep off-road grades.
So the hybrid gets 27 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the road. Hybrids do better in traffic because the electric motor is used more. Toyota goes a step further by permitting an electric mode only for stop-and-go situations.
The Highlander Hybrid doesn't take a back seat on acceleration. The 0-60 mph is a brisk 6.9 seconds. The 3.3L V-6 of 212 horsepower is aided and abetted by the electric motor here.
The continuously variable transmission is like the old Buick Dynaflow--smooth with no lurching gear changes.
The driving position is, as usual, Toyota terrific. Drivers sit high with most of the hood in view. There's a lot of legroom--some 43 inches or two inches more than most. Two inches doesn't seem like much but it's huge when it comes to legroom.
Seats are bolstered but not too bolstered. There's also plenty of room for passengers. A swing-down convex mirror doubles as a sunglass holder and a back seat passenger spyhole--like in minivans.
The four spoke steering wheel offers handholds on the spokes. There are audio controls there, too. Radio and other knobs are large so they can be operated even with gloves on. A modest-sized display shows the status of the hybrid and doubles as a backup camera monitor.
All this comes at a competitive price point for mid-size sports utility vehicles--$33,700 base and $35,229 as tested.
| Toyota Highlander Hybrid
•Engine: 3.3L V-6
•Dimensions: 109.8" wheelbase; 188.4" length.
•Base price: $33,700/tested $35,229.
•Fuel economy: 27/25 mpg