Here's a sneak peek at the Toyota (TM ) Highlander Hybrid coming in June. Think of it as a dressed-down version of the Lexus RX 400h, the luxe sport-ute Toyota introduced in April. The good news is that, unlike with the Lexus, which comes with every imaginable amenity already built-in and priced to match, you'll be able to skip options you don't want, such as a moon roof or full-time four-wheel drive.
The Good Good mileage and performance in a big SUV
The Bad Don't want third row kiddie seats? Tough luck
The Bottom Line A little pricey, but fun and practical for an SUV
No matter how it's outfitted, you'll still pay $7,000 more than for a Highlander without the hybrid power train. The hybrid system commands $4,700 of the premium; the rest comes from standard equipment you have to pay extra for in conventionally powered Highlanders, such as alloy wheels and eight-way power controls on the driver's seat. Most important: standard side air bags and side curtains that protect against head injuries in rollovers, which cost $680 extra in the nonhybrid Highlander.
Outside the car, you can tell it's a hybrid by a new, chrome-trimmed grill, different headlights and taillights, and the Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive logo on the tailgate. The instrument panel uses Lexus-like electroluminescent displays. The usual tachometer is replaced by a gauge that shows watt-hours instead of RPMs, and there's a display to show whether power is flowing to or from the batteries.
The hybrid Highlander is faster than the V-6. If you're looking for V-8 kick in an SUV that sips gas more like a four-cylinder sedan, this hybrid may be for you.
By Larry Armstrong