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2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
This is the Hot Version

by Keith Burton

Everyone knows by now that hybrid vehicles are the “in” thing. That they are typically the gas mileage leaders and are very advanced technically. So it came as a bit of surprise that when we got into the driver’s seat of the new 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, that it was fast. More on this later

Toyota is acknowledged as the automotive leader in hybrid technology. The company has a whole stable of hybrid vehicles, including the Prius and Camry sedans, the Highlander and several Lexus models including the RX 350h midsize SUV.

The 2008 Highlander is all new this year. It is bigger, more refined and more comfortable in all its versions. All 2008 Highlanders come with a V6 engine. The standard version is a 3.5 liter producing 270 horsepower, this is 55 horsepower more than the previous version. The Highlander hybrid gets a high-torque 3.3 liter V6 that with the hybrid Synergy hybrid drive, also produces a combine gas/electric 270 horsepower. The V6 model is a pleasure to drive and is quick to accelerate, but the surprise is that the hybrid version is faster. That is thanks to the fact that the torque on the hybrid is significantly better than that of the standard V6.

The non hybrid Highlander’s torque peak is 248 ft. lbs., which gives the vehicle a snappy launch and plenty of pull on the highway. But as mentioned earlier, the hybrid is the fast version. At all speeds, the “right now” torque of the hybrid’s electric motors combine to make the hybrid version feel and perform with real verve. The gas engine’s torque peak is only 209 lbs.ft. The electric motors (there are two) produce 247 lbs.ft. of  torque for the front motor, and 96 lbs.ft. from the rear electric motor. Now, we don’t want to get you as confused as we were when Toyota explained this, but the total electric torque increase is not the same as just adding the total torque figures of the all the motors together. In fact, we never could get an exact figure for the total torque of the hybrid drive from Toyota, other than it was “more than the standard gas version.”

Regardless, the performance made the hybrid faster to launch, faster to accelerate on the highway and when in passing vehicles on the road. All of this while delivering a slight increase in fuel mileage. We saw around 22 mpg with spirited driving, while the standard version didn’t do better than around 17 mpg. Okay, these were not the best these vehicles can do and we only had them for a short time, but they were real world figures and you might do better. The EPA rates the Highlander Hybrid at 27 city, 25 highway.

The Highlander is a considered a mid size SUV and has grown a bit for 2008. The vehicle is a true Crossover vehicle as it is derived from the chassis of the Camry sedan. As a result, you get a vehicle that is more car-like in driving characteristics than truck-like. That means the handling is more precise and the ride smoother than a typical truck-based SUV.

All 2008 Highlanders come very well equipped with plenty of safety and handling improvements. You also get a third row seat, which is not available in Toyota’s RAV 4. Still, consider the 3rd seat just for children as this is not a large vehicle.

As with all Toyota SUVs for the last three years, the Highlander gets the company’s STAR safety system, which features anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and advanced vehicle stability control, with electronic power steering. By the way, the stability control is new for 2008.

You also get standard a total of seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and roll-sensing side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats.

Styling is still very conservative for SUVs. The new Highlander clearly picks up on the boxy look of its predecessor but with an updated look. While some people might want a little more bling in their SUV, Toyota knows its customers well and sees the 2008 model as just right.

There are three versions, mostly equipment level difference available, base, sport and Limited. The Hybrid version gets most of the sport model’s upgrades and can be outfitted with the Limited equipment. All sport and Limited models get a back up camera that is not tied to a navigation system display as standard equipment.

Steering is very good, even with its electric power steering system. The effort is a bit light, but feel is good and the Highlander tracks well on the road without needing a lot of corrections. Wind noise is subdued, however road noise does intrude into the cabin, but it is not distracting. We did note a higher level of road noise coming from the rear area of the Highlander, which may have been the result of the vehicles we reviewed not being production versions. But be sure to sit in the back seat to see if the noise is still there in the production versions.

Overall, the 2008 Highlanders, both hybrid and gas-only versions, should be good sellers for Toyota. They are bigger, drive better, and are better looking than earlier models and just the right size for most families.

Prices range for the Highlander Hybrid from $33,700 for the base model, to $39,700 for a well-equipped Limited version.

Specifications:

DRIVETRAIN

Layout 4WD-i models equipped with front and rear electric drive motors

Transaxle/Transmission Type Electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with planetary gear unit for gear reduction and power splitting; electronic all-wheel drive control system

Designation – Front/Rear

P310/Q211

Differential Ratio – Front/Rear

SUSPENSION

3.542/6.860

Body/Frame Unitized steel

Front MacPherson strut, coil springs

Rear Dual-link MacPherson strut, coil springs

BRAKES

Type

Electronically Controlled Brake system (ECB) with regenerative control and incorporating Anti-Lock

Brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and Vehicle Dynamics

Integrated Management system (VDIM)

Brake Rotors -Front – type / diameter Ventilated Disc/ 12.9 inches

-Rear – type / diameter Solid Disc / 12.2 inches

Anti-Lock Braking System 4 channel, 4 sensor

STEERING

Type Electronic Power Steering (EPS): Rack and pinion with electronic power assist

Overall Ratio 15.6:1

Turns, Lock to Lock 3.1 turns

Turning Circle 39.0 feet

TIRES AND WHEELS

Wheel size 7.5 X 17 inches aluminum alloy (standard on Base model)

7.5 x 19 inches aluminum alloy (standard on Limited model)

Type and Material Aluminum alloy

Tire Size P245/65R17 (standard on Base) P245/55R19 (standard on Limited)

Tire Type All-season steel-belted radial

Spare Full-size

EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS (inches)

Wheelbase 109.8

Overall Length 188.4

Overall Width 75.2

Overall Height

68.1 (without std. roof rails)

69.3 (with std. roof rails)

Tread Width (front/rear) 64.0/64.0

Minimum Ground Clearance 7.3

INTERIOR DIMENSIONS (inches)

Headroom (front/middle/rear) Front (without moonroof) 40.6 39.7 (with Moonroof)

Middle (without moonroof) 39.8 39.8 (with Moonroof)

Third row (without moonroof) 36.3 36.3 (with Moonroof)

Legroom (front/middle/rear) 43.2/38.4/29.9

Shoulder Room (front/middle/rear) 59.7/59.5/55.0

Hip Room (front/middle/rear) 56.7/56.3/42.3

EPA Cargo Volume (cubic feet) Behind 1st row 94.1

Behind 2nd row 42.3

Behind 3rd row 10.3

EPA Interior Volume 155.7 cubic feet

Passenger Volume (cubic feet) 145.4

EPA Class Mid-size SUV

EPA ESTIMATED FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combine mpg – 2008 EPA Rating)

Actual mileage may vary 27/25/26

COEFFICIENT OF DRAG 0.34SPECIFICATIONSRID PRELIM I NARY

VEHICLE MASS and TOWING (lbs.)

Curb Weight Base: 4,508

Limited: 4,641

GVWR Base: 5,935

Limited: 6,000

Payload Base: 1,642

Limited: 1,509

Maximum Towing Weight 3,500 pounds

Maximum Tongue Weight 350 pounds

ANGLE OF APPROACH/DEPARTURE

29/24 degrees

SAFETY FEATURES 

STAR SAFETY SYSTEM with Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) which

integrates Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake-force

Distribution (EBD) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control (TRAC)

Driver and front passenger advanced airbags with occupant classification sensor

Driver and front passenger seat- mounted side airbags, three row roll-sensing side curtain airbags.

Driver’s knee airbag

Three-point seatbelts for all seating positions; Emergency Locking Retractors (ELR) on driver’s

belt; Automatic/Emergency Locking Retractors (ALR/ELR) on all passenger seatbelts; three-point

front seatbelts with adjustable shoulder anchors

Driver and front passenger active head rests

Child seat top (ISOFIX CRS) tether anchor brackets located behind the 2nd row for all seating

positions

Child seat lower (ISOFIX CRS) anchor brackets located in the lower portion of the 2nd row seat

backs in outboard seating positions

Pretensioners and force limiters on driver and front passenger seatbelts

Head impact protection structure (A & B pillar trim panel)

Direct type Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Side impact door beams

BASIC LIMITED WARRANTY COVERAGE

3-year/36,000-mile Comprehensive

5 year/60,000-mile Powertrain

5 year/unlimited mile Corrosion Perforation

8-year/100,000-mile Hybrid Componentry

 

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