2011 Highlander Hybrid New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV that's smooth and quiet underway, with a versatile cabin that seats seven.
For 2011, Highlander features a number of changes. All 2011 Highlander models get a fresh look with a new hood, fenders, grille and front fascia, plus tweaked taillamps. The Hybrid has its own grille. Highlander models come better equipped for 2011, though prices have gone up, also. Standard on all 2011 Toyota models is Smart Stop Technology, which automatically reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously under certain driving conditions. 2011 Highlander SE and Limited models come with Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio, and a USB port, and a rearview camera is available for base models.
Highlander comes with a choice of powerplants. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/25 mpg City/Highway. It's matched with a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive.
The 3.5-liter V6 is extremely smooth and delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Also smooth is its 5-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample punch for passing. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway; Highlander AWD all-wheel drive models are rated slightly lower at 17/22 mpg, which is about what we got in the AWD V6 we drove, including a 300-mile freeway run.
The 2011 Highlander Hybrid makes a big advance with more power and better fuel mileage, along with an upgraded audio and technology package. The gas/electric powertrain uses three electric motors and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). For 2011, its gasoline engine grows from 3.3 liters to 3.5 liters, boosting total horsepower from 270 to 280 hp, while its EPA-rated fuel mileage improves to 28 City and 28 Highway from 27/25 mpg. We found it difficult to achieve that during our winter test drive using power accessories full blast.
The Highlander is a crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck, while feeling nice and big like a truck SUV. It's based on the platform of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan.
Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a comfortable ride, while being a pleasant way to carry a group of people, with generous space for passengers and cargo. A versatile cabin adds to its attractiveness as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is good for children and capable of carrying adults. Getting in and out of the first two rows is easy, and Toyota provides both a walk-through and a fold-and-slide-forward second-row seat to ease access to the third row.
The 2011 Toyota Highlander offers a choice of three powertrains, three trim levels and front or all-wheel drive. The base Highlander comes with the 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine ($27,390) or a 3.5-liter V6 ($28,545). Highlander SE comes with either the four-cylinder ($31,995) or 3.5-liter V6 ($33,150). Highlander Limited ($34,895) comes standard with the V6. All of these models are front-wheel drive.
The all-wheel-drive models all have the 3.5-liter V6, and are available in base ($29,995), SE ($34,600), and Limited ($36,345) trim. Highlander Hybrid models come standard with all-wheel drive and are available in base ($37,290) and Limited ($42,945) trim only.
Highlander comes standard with cloth upholstery; 40/20/40 second-row seat with a removable center section that can be stowed under the first-row center console; 50/50 third-row seating with climate control; AM/FM/CD with six speakers and MP3/WMA playback; air conditioning, power windows, door locks, folding mirrors and remote keyless entry; cruise control; variable intermittent wipers front and rear; rear defogger; rear spoiler; tilt/telescope steering wheel; two front and one cargo-area 12-volt power outlets; and 245/65R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Hybrid models come with keyless entry and starting, and a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen that includes a rear backup camera, a clock, tire-pressure display, air conditioning readout, and outside temperature and trip computer information, in addition to all the hybrid-related features.
Highlander SE adds leather seats with heat for the front row, tri-zone automatic climate control, power tilt/slide moonroof, 6CD changer, Homelink universal transceiver, heated outside mirrors, daytime running lights, and a tow package.
Highlander Limited models upgrade with a 10-way power driver's seat, four-way power front passenger's seat, Smart Entry, fog lamps, a multi-function display, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and display controls, lighted vanity mirrors, visor extenders, second-row reading lights, opening glass in the rear hatch, a rear tonneau cover, and a lever in the cargo area to fold the second-row seats. The Limited models are distinguished with more chrome and bright trim than other models, and bold 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels wearing 245/55R19 tires. Hybrid Limited models come with the same features as the Limited.
Options include a power tilt/slide moonroof, a multi-information display, power-adjustable driver's seat, rear air conditioning , tow package, cold weather package consisting of a windshield-wiper de-icer grid and heated outside mirrors, and power liftgate. Higher-level models offer a JBL audio system with nine speakers and a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link, with or without navigation ($2,625), and rear DVD entertainment ($1,780).
Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags for thorax protection, head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three seating rows, a driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes, traction control, antiskid control, and hill-start assist. Downhill assist control is standard on AWD models.