2015 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

"Getting the best of both worlds isn’t easy, but this Toyota offering is a great example of functionality, looks, and smart technology."

The world’s first hybrid SUV

If anyone knows the hybrid market, it’s certainly Toyota. Plenty of innovation has come from them when it comes to hybrid technology—the Prius series of vehicles is a testament to that. Rounding out their lineup is the Camry and my recent road tester, the Highlander SUV, the world’s first hybrid SUV.

I’ve driven hybrids before and have had good experiences; my time in the Highlander keeps that record going.

While a fellow like me wouldn’t be in their demographic, I can certainly appreciate what the Highlander can offer for families: it has lots of space (seats up to eight), it has interactive technology, and it’s fuel-efficient—it’s a large and smart package.

Hybrids are meant to offer the best of both worlds: the power of a gasoline engine coupled with an eco-smart battery. With 280 horsepower propelling it, the Highlander’s ride was smooth and precise… well, as precise as can be for a big SUV. Now that’s not a shot at it at all—you just have to consider that it’s a larger vehicle and with that comes more weight and a lowered rate of precision in steering.

Besides, who buys an SUV for its steering, anyway? They’re meant to be used as stylish and functional people movers, for trips to the airport or to the cottage (note that it can tow up to 3,500 pounds), for road trips, and for being the guy/gal that everyone calls on moving day.

As I’m sure you already know, when you accelerate hard to and from a stop, you’re throwing money out the tailpipe. I wanted to maximize fuel efficiency, so I challenged myself to use the battery as much as possible, and with loads of information on the dashboard, the Highlander clearly indicates when the battery is being used at 100 percent. The absence of motor noise helps, too.

A 3.5-litre V6 engine Hybrid Synergy Drive motor powers this mighty vehicle on its 19-inch wheels, but what stood out to me was the quality of the audio system: this six-speaker system produced clear highs and solid lows. It sounded great.

The technology portion featured a premium navigation system, an SMS- and email-to-speech system, and an advanced voice recognition system, among many others.

Between saving money on gas, readjusting my right foot’s motor skills and driving a large SUV that feels like a smaller SUV, my time in the Highlander Hybrid was enjoyable. Getting the best of both worlds isn’t easy, but this Toyota offering is a great example of functionality, looks, and smart technology, built by a company with a solid reputation and starting around the mid-$40,000s. If you drive it properly, you’ll have some cash left over to have your cake and eat it too.

Heck, you might even have enough for a second piece.

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