2006 Highlander New Car Test Drive
A new gas-electric hybrid model has joined the Toyota Highlander line for 2006. The Highlander Hybrid uses Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive.
The Toyota Highlander is the best-selling vehicle of its type, a midsize sport-utility based on a car. Highlander's popularity is partly because it's a Toyota, which promises top-notch quality, durability and reliability. But it's also a result of its practicality and easy manner.
The Highlander is, after all, the easiest of motoring companions. Getting in and out couldn't be easier. Accommodating various combinations of people and cargo is easy. Seating for five comes standard, but the Highlander can carry up to seven passengers with the optional third-row seat. Folding the seats down reveals 80 cubic feet of cargo space.
Underway, it's smooth and quiet. Its independent suspension is set up for comfort and ride quality as a priority. The Highlander is based on the Lexus RX and offers much of what made that luxurious crossover SUV popular. In many ways, we like the Toyota better than the Lexus.
It's available with four-cylinder or V6 power, and a choice of front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. The standard Highlander with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive performs well around town and on the open highway, delivering responsive performance when merging into highway traffic. Equipped with the larger 3.3-liter V6 and all-wheel drive, the Highlander offers strong power and secure handling in nasty weather.
The new Highlander Hybrid is surprisingly powerful, more powerful than the regular V6 models. The Hybrid combines a 3.3-liter V6 with an electric motor, or two motors in the case of all-wheel-drive models. The electric motor improves acceleration, helping the Hybrid to easily keep up with big, powerful SUVs. This urge to speed comes at a major cost to fuel economy. It's estimated at just 33/28 mpg City/Highway by the EPA, and you may never see that. The real story here is emissions. The Highlander Hybrid will be classified by the government as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or SULEV. You could drive across America several times and emit fewer pollutants than someone painting a bedroom.
First introduced as a 2001 model, the Highlander was substantially revised for 2004. The 2005 models added more standard equipment. The Hybrid is new for 2006; the other models carry forward largely unchanged.
The Toyota Highlander is available in base or Limited trim, each with front-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive. A choice of three powertrains is now available: A 2.4-liter inline-4, rated at 160 horsepower, comes standard. A 3.3-liter V6 that produces 230 horsepower is optional on the base Highlander and standard on the Limited. The new Hybrid combines a 3.3-liter V6 with a high-torque electric drive motor-generator, a system called Hybrid Synergy Drive. Four-cylinder models come with a four-speed automatic transmission; V6 models get a five-speed automatic. The hybrid uses an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, or CVT.
The base four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive Highlander ($24,530) comes with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, cloth upholstery, and seating for five. The all-wheel-drive four-cylinder Highlander ($25,930) is similarly equipped as is the base front-wheel-drive Highlander V6 ($25,590). Same deal with the all-wheel-drive V6 Highlander ($27,840) except it comes standard with the third row.
Limited 2WD ($30,460) and Limited 4WD ($31,860) models come standard with the V6 and third row. The Limited also gets automatic climate control, an eight-speaker JBL sound system, eight-way power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, four-way power passenger seat, 17-inch aluminum wheels, roof rack, fog lights, rear privacy glass, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry with security system and engine immobilizer, wood-grain interior trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and other amenities.
The Highlander Hybrid is available with 2WD ($33,030) or 4WD ($34,430). The Hybrid is also available as a Limited 2WD ($37,890) or Limited 4WD ($39,290).
Leather-trimmed seating (Ivory or Ash Gray) is available for the Limited ($670) or base model ($2,255). Other options: tilt-and-slide glass sunroof ($900), in-dash six-CD changer ($595). The optional rear-seat DVD system ($1,770) includes two wireless headphones, RCA input jacks for video games, and a household-style 115-volt AC power outlet. GPS navigation ($2,200) is offered on Limited only. A Towing Package ($160) includes trailer wiring plus an upgraded radiator, transmission oil cooler, and 130-amp alternator.
Safety features start with the three-point seatbelts and headrests for all seating positions. The front seatbelts include pretensioners and force limiters. Seatbelts are your first line of defense in a crash. Wear them. The driver and passenger front airbags inflate according to collision severity, and the front-seat passenger sensor is designed to determine if there is a person in the seat as well as the person's weight category to determine whether the airbag should inflate and the correct inflation power.
Optional side-impact airbags mounted in the front seats are designed to provide torso protection, while side curtain airbags are designed to protect the heads of first- and second-row passengers in a side impact or rollover ($680). Be sure to order them. Head injuries are the primary cause of death in side impacts. The second-row seat is equipped with the LATCH system with top tether anchors for all three seating positions and lower anchors for outboard seating positions. A new low-tire-pressure warning system is standard.
The Star Safety System, standard on all models, includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and traction control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.