Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Engine TypeDOHC 24-valve V-6
Acceleration7.3s (0-60 mph)
Top Speed114 mph
DrivelineAll Wheel Drive
L x W x H188.4 x 75.2 x 69.3
2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid , a modest face lift better distinguishes the Highlander’s hybrid calling, while a larger V-6 engine offers the tandem benefits of more fossil-fueled grunt and improved fuel-economy estimates
The substitution of Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6 for the previous 3.3-liter is the most noteworthy change for 2011, bringing the Highlander hybrid up to spec with the Lexus RX450h. With 231 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque (versus the RX’s 245 hp and 234 lb-ft,) the V-6 is joined at the front axle by a 167-hp electric motor. A 68-hp motor at the rear axle provides on-demand all-wheel traction, with both motors sourcing juice from a nickel-metal hydride battery. Combined output is 280 hp, 10 more than the regular Highlander’s 3.5-liter V-6, but 15 fewer than the RX450h’s total.
As in the RX hybrid, a continuously variable transmission transfers power to the wheels while also removing any enjoyment from the driving experience. It’s sluggish and causes the engine to drone under acceleration. Although city/highway fuel-economy ratings of 28/28 mpg are up from last year’s 27/25 figures, we managed 22 mpg over nearly 800 miles of mixed driving—a mere 1 mpg better than the last Highlander V-6 we tested—making us think that upping the battery capacity would have been a better strategy than switching to the larger V-6. (We managed 25 mpg in a similarly rated, all-wheel-drive RX450h.)
Also new for 2011 are a revised grille and front bumper unique to the hybrid, as well as blue-tinted lenses for the projector-beam headlights and body-color rocker panels with chrome accents. As a result, the hybrid has cleaner lines than the standard Highlander’s, as well as a slight visual return on your investment, although it remains stealthy enough to get lost in the Whole Foods parking lot.