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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Apr 13, 2008

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

INTO THE HIGHLANDS WITH A HIGHLANDER HYBRID By Doug Stokes THE PROLOGUE: We've been invited to take part in the annual Southern Yosemite Automotive Film Festival in Oakhurst. As it turns out, my "shooter" (a big time automotive reviewer term for photographer) who also happens to be my understanding wife, does not want to board our 14-year old Cocker "puppy" Norman because he's both deaf and blind (but as happy as ever). So I sorta say, "Let's take him with us, it'll be fun." And that's where this slick Toyota hybrid comes in. It looked the perfect vehicle for a 300-mile trip from the Eastern San Gabriel Valley to the foothills just this side of Yosemite. And it has great room out back for Norman's traveling cage. Turns out that it was too. So we'll tell you a little about the machine and then add a bit of a epilogue about the event (and why you should plan on attending next year).

THE REVIEW: First, we must bite a pretty darn substantial bullet and lay the sticker price on you (are you ready?) Okay: $49,602.00. You are correct sir and madam, only a scant three hundred and ninety-eight semolians short of 50K. Breathe into the paper bag, slowly, slowly ... Okay. Of course that price includes $685.00 in delivery and handling fees and is the upper line Limited model, which has every blooming add-on feature that anyone could have ever envisioned being hung on a vehicle of this size. What does this terrific Toyota NOT have, you ask? Sweet nothing! I would happily reply. The oddest thing on the window sticker (besides that near 50K number on the sticker) is that the City and Highway EPA estimated mileage figures seem to have been crossed up, it predicts 27 City and 25 Highway. And, for the first time in my 20 years plus of car reviewing, the figures are spot-on! This trip was 602 miles round trip and we averaged (hill, dale, city, open highway, the grapevine, et al) 25.4 miles per gallon. Where the sticker is screwed up is that the fuel cost estimate was based on $2.80 a gallon regular when the lowest we paid was $3.59 per. This is a statement vehicle, and a strong one at that. Its owner is paying 20 percent more than a similarly-equipped V6 motor only version and getting about 20 percent better city (stop-and-go) fuel mileage in the bargain. On the open highway, the distance per gallon is a close to a push, with a gas engine only machine slightly the better of the two, which is most likely due to the weight penalty that the hybrid carries of a second motor and all the batteries needed to power it.

But "hybrid" makes a statement in a world where newspapers are failing because of the Internet (which, of course, they relentlessly point their readers toward on every other page). And if that statement blows your kilt up, go for it sport. Just two words of advice there: LEASE IT. In general use, however, the Toyota Highlander is a stellar performer, with grace and style that garner us far and away THE most compliments (from neighbors and strangers alike) of any SUV of our recent drivership. The styling is classic Toyota, nothing flashy, nothing out of place, good proportions for the task, a look that says: "We are not only sensible, but comfortable with ourselves." Like certain "newfangled" features it took me just about the whole week of driving to even remember to look down at the dash displayed rear view TV when backing up. I never consciously decided to trust it fully (although it clearly works). There are not enough gigabytes on this server to list all of the features that made the $8,652 difference between the $39,950 "base" price and our sticker number (above) so a trip over to and punching all the buttons in sight on the "Build Your Own Highlander" section of that site is suggested.

Of course the machine is "keyless" (of course they want us to call it Smart). If you haven't yet, you will. More and more vehicles, for better or worse, are coming with what I call proximity keys, as in: you get in the proximity of the car and it unlocks itself. I've encountered personal problems with them (not on this machine) and I think I need to reserve judgment for a while, right now a push button remote is pretty much the end-all and be-all of my desire. I react to them like those ersatz stone-age islanders in the Abbott and Costello movies reliably reacted to a cigarette lighter ... Ohwooooooooo! There's also a nice built-in tow hitch, Blue Tooth, individually heated front seats, a talking Nav System (with GPS), a voice-command sound system with every possibility, and an air bag in every conceivable location, I understand. At first I thought that the steering was a bit too light, I even wrote down "vague" in my road notes, but, like the stock car guys say, "It came to me." On the other hand the binders (er ... brakes) are lovely, positive, powerful, and well up to the task. "A MOMENT": In a otherwise wonderfully un-spectacular week of driving with this one, we had what racing drivers used to call "A Moment" just on the way to drop the car back to its home at Toyota HQ in Torrance. At the transition from the 91 freeway (West) to the 110 freeway (South), the split for the 405 comes up rather fast and waaaaaay over there on the right. I make a practice of being on the far right side of the transition but still am always wary of this dysfunctional section of the superslab. Good on me.

HOWEVER ... Another driver, understandably confused by the road, decided to change lanes by stomping on the brakes and twisting the tiller hard, getting their SUV waaaaaaay out of shape. I asked my soft-riding, heavy Toyota to do some very quick avoidance and the Highlander responded neatly. I didn't even have time to be surprised at how well the machine responded. Interestingly enough, I really don't think that I "adjusted" anything in my physical reaction to the incident, by which I mean that I didn't think, "Oh SHOOT, this is a tall, heavy SUV and I better not tip the sumbitch over by really crunching the steering!" The machine behaved admirably and I had one more (however unplanned) facet of my drive review to tell. So we inadvertently tested the Star Safety System stability control and were (as Road & Track once loved to say:) "Suitably impressed". HYBRIDS ON THE OPEN HIGHWAY: Hybrids, cool as they are, (and especially not heavily-equipped 4WD ones), are not particularly "environmental" out on the open road. A fact the California Air Resources Board has taken into account of late by shutting off the supply of those little yellow HOV lane stickers to any more hybrid vehicles. The net effect of that move being to pump up the asking price of a used vehicle with sticker by $2,000 (or more) over the identical non-stickered machine. (Unfortunately I'm not allowed to tell you here that any competent copy shop can make you a dead-nuts duplicate of one of those stickers for a couple of bucks in under 10 minutes flat.) So, we loved the vehicle for all its creature comforts and handling ease, but wonder if the extra money for that hybrid feelgood "halo" that we wore for a week was really worth it. YOUR CALL THERE.

Doug Stokes photo THE EVENT: As advertised, the reason for the trip North was the 2nd Annual Southern Yosemite Automotive Film Festival, friend Dave Wolin's wonderfully wacky idea to stop people on their way to Yosemite for longer than a cup of coffee or a splash of gas on their way through town. Wolin, an old pro in the automotive promotion/racing business, had this wild hare (hair) idea of combining movies about cars and stuff, with food, drink, mountain air, and great good fellowship, all of which flowed liberally from Thursday eve until Sunday morn. Oakhurst, if you slow down in your mad rush to get a picture of mother and the kids in front of Half-Dome, or those falls, is a lovely little city with nice people, quaint shops, great food, and now ... A DAMN AUTOMOTIVE FILM FESTIVAL. When you can have the directors of two iconic car films like "The Speed Merchants" and "The Sound of Speed" not only introduce their films, but hang around all weekend to BS with, when you can have luscious gourmet-quality food served right in the same hall where you just saw such films, when you can bid on and buy all sorts of autographed automotive treasures, and when you can attend a small-but-spectacular car show right out on the rolling front lawn of those same grounds, right in the crystal-clear green, glorious foothills just outside of one of the great wonders of nature ... Hey. who's getting hurt here?

Doug Stokes photo I'm going to list the special guests and only tell you about one, and I'm going to simply list all the others. There are (alphabetically): Tony Adamowicz, Toly Arutunoff, Howden Ganley, Eric Haga, Doug Hooper, Davey Jordan, George Keck, Bruce Kessler, Michael Keyser, Jim Law, and Scooter Patrick, eleven men who are all racing heroes. If you get 10 out 11, give yourself a pat on the back, because you know (or remember) more than most about some of the most golden of the golden day of racing (Here's a hint: one of that stellar group of guys drove in F1 for four years). They were our guests, our friends, our buddies for the whole weekend. And us fans, well, we were fans, but fans elbow-to-elbow with heroes. Oh yes, the guy who I'll tell you about is Doug Mangnon. He's the dude who's putting together a museum dedicated to the memory of Riverside International Raceway. Cool guy, cool idea contact him at "all of the above", myself, Dave Wolin, and a couple of a folks at the gathering all raced there, and all miss the place terribly. I was going to say that Wolin is still recuperating from this year's fest, but that would be a damn lie. He actually left the informal Sunday (not on the schedule) breakfast to do some work on the next one. I'll be there, that's for sure ... And if any of those name above stirred anything in your gearbox ... Hey, you're invited too!

Doug Stokes photo SUMMARY JUDGMENT The Highlander is a wonderful crossover SUV. However, we'll let the jury decide on whether the extra cost for the hybrid model is worth your while. As for the Southern Yosemite Automotive Film Festival, be there next year! For more information about Toyota products, go to

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: Highlander Hybrid Limited Price as tested: $49,602 Engines: 3.3-liter DOHC 16-valve internal combustion engine V6 and 2 650V electric motors (full hybrid) Horsepower: 209 @ 5600 rpm (ICE) 167 @4500 rpm (front electric motor) 68 @ 4610 rpm (rear electric motor) Torque: 212 pound-feet @ 3600 rpm (ICE) 247 @ 0-1500 rpm (front electric motor) 96 @ 0-610 rpm (rear electric motor) 2008 EPA estimated fuel economy: 27 city / 25 highway / 26 combined Drive configuration: All-wheel drive Transmission: Continuously variable automatic Suspension: Front - MacPherson strut, coil springs Rear - Dual-link MacPherson strut, coil springs Brakes: Front - ventilated 12.9-inch disc Rear - Solid 12.2-inch disc Tires and wheels: P245/55R19 all-season tires 7.5 x 19 inch aluminum alloy Dimensions: Length - 188.4 inches Width - 75.2 inches Height - 69.3 inches Curb weight - 4641 pounds

Doug Stokes photo

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