Having already driven hybrids like the 2010 Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z in the past, I was shocked by a number of things about the 2010 Toyota Highland Hybrid that I recently road tested for a week.
First off, this is the only hybrid with a CVT transmission that doesn’t whine and struggle 60% of the time to deliver power. In fact, most of that is down to what motivates this surprisingly quick SUV which uses its battery pack mainly as a wickedly cool turbo. Or at least I like to think so.
The 2010 Highlander Hybrid does average 27 miles per gallon city/25 highway and that is a very admirable figure for such a large 4-wheel drive SUV. The Highlander Hybrid’s gasoline motivation comes courtesy of a 3.3 liter 208 horsepower/218 lb. feet of torque V6. Wait, that doesn’t sound like much power!
Well, add in 156 kw of electric go juice from zero revs (thanks to the batteries) and you have the recipe for a red-light rocket racer. Power is immediate and linear all the way through the “rev” range and at all speeds.
The 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has no tachometer to show you what the gas engine is up to-instead it has a dial that shows you how much electrical assist you are receiving. The first time you drive this 7-passenger family SUV it is easy to be startled by the strong burst of electric power from stop lights. Usually Toyota hybrids are about being silent and fuel efficient.
We think the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid wants, quite frankly, to be a little bit bad ass. Not that you would know it from the exterior design which is akin to a nice Cardigan sweater. It doesn’t say much about you but it never does out of style. But with this SUV it’s all about what’s underneath the preppy attire.
The interior, in usual Toyota fashion, is unassailable. The plastics and leather are top notch and our test model came fully loaded with all the goodies like rear seat DVD entertainment, Bluetooth, navigation, JBL premium audio, XM, dual zone climate control, power moonroof and much, much more.
The buttons for audio volume and the climate control were comically large and easy to use. All of the minor controls were well marked and easy to find. In essence, Toyota did their usual terrific job with the interior. You may think Toyota follows a formula with its interior design but keep in mind that it is one that works very well from an ergonomic perspective.
It’s a good thing that my tester was well equipped as it stickered for $48,880 including destination fees. The base price of the Highlander Hybrid is $41,020 so be sure you really need the hybrid as base models start a bit over $25,000, admittedly with four cylinder engines.
What the 2010 Highlander Hybrid does lack, however, is any semblance of steering feel. Not only does the steering lack feel, the steering wheel seemingly lacks any resistance whatsoever. Does Toyota think Americans are so lazy they can’t even turn a steering wheel? Actually, they may have a point.
Whatever the case may be, I know from experience that Toyota can do much better with steering calibration after drive time with the 2011 Sienna SE, Land Cruiser and 4Runner. And those were all SUVs and minivans.
This kind of steering is part of the Camry recipe but it seems unnecessary to saddle the Highlander Hybrid with that characteristic. It really detracts from driver enjoyment as the suspension is well calibrated and could probably handle quicker cornering speeds. The steering is really, really, really light but it is surprisingly easy to get the Highlander Hybrid to track straight and true on the freeway without constant correction.
I had heard Toyota say that some of their gas/electric powertrains were actually “sport hybrids.” I used to laugh at the possibility, especially with hybrids equipped with a CVT auto. The only sporty hybrid that I ever thought really worked was the 2011 Honda CR-Z but only with the six-speed manual.
You know the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is well built, has a big cargo area (42.4 cubic feet behind the second row, only 10.3 cubic feet with the “best for children” third row in place) and that it will prove to be a very useful family tool over the years you own it. You know it will hold its value and that it is one of the most practical SUVs on the market today.
But what you don’t have to tell anyone is that the hybrid version of the 2010 Toyota Highlander is very fast and very fun to drive. It may just be the most fun to drive hybrid ever built. Shame about the high price, though.