Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid toyota car test drives hybrids
2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Touareg TDI diesel

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Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2012 Toyota Highlander

I have to admit, I’ve been struggling to find a way to write about the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Despite taking it on a road trip up to central Ontario, it’s the kind of vehicle that leaves very few distinct impressions. It is in fact, a very capable and competent vehicle for what it is. The problem lies in what it is, moreso than how it fulfill its mission.

The Toyota Highlander is a mid-size crossover SUV. Everything about it is somewhere in the middle. Neither a true truck nor a car, neither stylish nor controversial, neither small nor large—okay, perhaps it is on the large side, but Toyota still has an even bigger SUV in its stable in the monstrous Sequoia.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid toyota car test drives hybrids
2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

While you could accuse it of being extreme in its dullness, I would actually cite that as a positive quality for this vehicle, particularly in Hybrid trim, as I drove it. As sexy and trendy as manufacturers might try to make hybrids seem sometimes, people want hybrids to be efficient, and that is the main thing the Highlander does well, as a Hybrid, but also as one of the few remaining seven-seat mid-size SUVs with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder option.

That option also means that getting into the roomy and practical Highlander can be an affordable option. Pricing starts at $31,675 for a base, four-cylinder Highlander (187 hp, 186 lb-ft), with seating for seven and 290 L of cargo space, 1,200 L with the third row down and 2,700 L with all seats folded. All that while measuring 4,785 mm long with a 2,790-mm wheelbase, an entirely manageable size, about the same length as Toyota’s five-seat Venza, and shorter than seven-seat competitors like the Honda Pilot and Dodge Journey. The V6 starts for as low as $35,925, with 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque.

However, the Hybrid gives up only a small amount of that space (with second and third rows folded down, 2,660 L, the rest is maintained), the seats fold respectably flat, and the second row middle seat can be swapped out for a console with bins and cupholders. The seat or bin, whichever is not in use, slots in under the front-row centre console—clever packaging, that.

Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid toyota car test drives hybrids
Test Drive: 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid toyota car test drives hybrids
2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

The Hybrid isn’t cheap though, starting at $42,990 for our Highlander Hybrid 4WD-i, the base hybrid model, and rising to $52,450 for the Limited trim. However, not a bad deal considering you could spend about the same on a compact Volkswagen Tiguan that gets higher fuel consumption and only seats five in cramped quarters with far more limited cargo space. At that price, the Highlander’s 7.3 L/100 km was very impressive for this road trip at mostly low highway speeds, the only mid-size SUV to have bettered my 9.0 in the VW Touareg TDI. Official estimates for the Highlander Hybrid are 6.6 L/100 km in city driving, 7.3 L/100 km highway.

As is to be expected, the Highlander is a cushy, uninvolving drive. The steering is light and indifferent to what is happening at the contact patch, and it wafts along highways on a cloud of independent suspension with MacPherson gas struts front and back, soaking up bumps with the P245/65R17 on 17-inch alloys. However, while the hybrid’s batteries do not compromise cargo or interior space, they do drive the weight up to 2,105 kg (4,641 lb.), up from 1,745 kg (3,847 lb.) for the base four-cylinder, and you can feel the extra weight going over rough patches with multiple impacts as the suspension struggles to keep everything in check.
Although you feel the weight when the road is rough, the extra power of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive has no problem motivating the heaviest Highlander, thanks in no small part to the 3.5L V6 it’s paired with, making 231 hp and 215 lb-ft. Together with the electric motor, the Highlander makes 280 net hp, and likely matches or betters the gas V6’s 248 lb-ft, though combined torque numbers are unpublished.

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