If you're a discerning "green" buyer, you probably know that the term "hybrid" doesn't always mean the same thing. So-called full hybrids that can actually be propelled from a stop on electric power alone--versus so-called mild hybrids that just shut off the gas engine when the vehicle isn't moving--are rarer still. The much-improved 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is one of these rare full hybrids, which makes it an especially good fit for urban families. The wholesale changes implemented in 2008 carry over into 2009 and help the Highlander Hybrid's gas-electric drivetrain run better while still achieving excellent mileage.
The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is virtually identical, in terms of powertrain, to the ritzy Lexus RX 400h: a 3.3-liter V-6 paired with two electric motors where the transmission would go, plus one more electric motor to drive the rear wheels. The gasoline engine is smooth and refined. When using gasoline plus electrons, the hybrid powertrain produces 270 horsepower, which gives the Highlander Hybrid quick V-8-style acceleration, even though the 2009 Highlander is a larger and heavier vehicle than the one it replaces. EPA-estimated mileage is 27 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
Members of TheCarConnection.com's team have put thousands of miles on different Toyota Highlander Hybrid models over the past several years. The model has perhaps the smoothest, most seamless power delivery of any hybrid; it has plenty of pep, and it's very hard to tell exactly when the model switches from electric-only to electric-plus-gasoline or gasoline-only.
An effective stability control system helps maintain balance and works with the sophisticated hybrid system to enhance safety and poise. However, if you drive where the snow flies, the Hybrid's traction control cannot be turned off--a problem on very slick pavement, as the vehicle will refuse to move.
This second-generation 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid (available in base and Limited trim levels) is very roomy inside and out. While Highlander used to be sized closely to the Ford Escape, it's now closer to the Ford Explorer. Inside, the increased room is put to good use, but the available third row is really for children only. A clever second-row seat can be stored out of the way for access to the third row.
For more information, you might also consult TheCarConnection.com's review of the 2009 Toyota Highlander, regarding its nonhybrid four-cylinder and V-6 models.
The Saturn Vue Green Line is another slightly smaller competitor, but its four-cylinder powertrain is far less complex than that of the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and doesn't offer nearly the high-mileage halo. However, it does cost less. The new 2009 Saturn 2-Mode Hybrid boasts a V-6 full-hybrid powertrain and should deliver outstanding performance; it may be a top pick for driving enthusiasts who want to go green. Other competitors, such as the Tahoe Hybrid, are clearly out of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid's class (in both size and luxury features), but those listed do feature full hybrid powertrains. Other vehicles to consider are new turbodiesel models from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and even Jeep.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid sticks with the same formula that has worked so well for the 2008 Highlander hybrid--a spacious, feature-laden cabin and very efficient full-hybrid powertrain that lends serious environmental credentials to anyone behind the wheel.