An unassuming dashboard
In the cabin, the Highlander Hybrid lacks a number of technology features found in the more expensive Lexus. Toyota has provided a simple keyless remote but not the SmartAccess entry and starting system, which allows the key and the remote to remain in a pocket or a purse. Bluetooth connectivity is also missing, along with HID headlamps. The navigation option in our test vehicle offered voice-route guidance and was easy to operate. Navigation shares the center LCD screen with Toyota's power-flow animation, also seen in the Prius.
A perfectly competent eight-speaker JBL audio system with an in-dash CD changer and steering-wheel controls is standard in the Limited. It's also available in the base model, though it costs a breathtaking $1,770 because it's bundled with a moon roof, fog lights, and a rear spoiler. There's no provision in the current Highlander audio mix for portable music players or MP3 recordings--an oversight that the company should correct.
The big front seats are supportive, heated, and power adjustable. With fore and aft adjustment, the middle-row seating provides some comfort for moderate distances, while the third row of seating is best for small children or corporal punishment. All are leather upholstered in Limited models and covered in a quality cloth in the base edition.
Power at a discount
For technology consumers, there's a lot to like under the Highlander Hybrid's hood. Toyota's full hybrid system allows the gas engine, the electric motor, or both to power the SUV. The Highlander's gas engine is a powerful 3.3-liter V6, detuned just a bit for clean emissions, mated to a 123-kilowatt electric motor. In four-wheel-drive models, an additional 50-kilowatt electric motor powers the rear wheels when needed. Both electric motors become generators when the throttle is lifted or the brakes are applied.