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2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid ReviewThe Good
Plenty of passenger and cargo space, including third-row seating in the Limited trim, lots of cabin storage, a peppy-yet-economical hybrid powertrain, and an ergonomically sound cabin design are all hallmarks of the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.The Bad
No split-folding feature for the third-row seat, a hefty pricetag, and an overly delicate all-wheel-drive system keep the 2010 Highlander Hybrid mired in the middle of its market segment.
The CarGurus View
Though unaffected by Toyota’s recent safety recalls and production halts, the 2010 Highlander Hybrid is obviously going to suffer through association. Too bad, because this midsize crossover offers eco-friendly as well as family-friendly performance, standard features, and versatility.
At a Glance
For those with the means to go green, the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid ought to be worth a look. This five-door, five- to seven-passenger midsize crossover is available in two trims, the Base and the almost-luxurious Limited, and both are equipped with full-time all-wheel drive (AWD) and roomy, family-friendly cabins as well as 94 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded down. Additionally, third-row-equipped Highlander Limited trims come with Toyota’s standard “Center Stow” second-row seat, allowing the bench seat to be configured for three passengers with a removable center section that stows in the front console and, when removed, allows easier third-row accessibility.
Though unaffected by Toyota’s most recent gas-pedal woes, the pricey 2010 Highlander Hybrid does have one significant drawback in that its high base price will very rarely be recouped through any sort of long-term fuel savings. Though assuredly efficient, this hybrid’s claim to fame rests with its smaller environmental impact, as opposed to any significant cash savings, variable-valve timing (VVT), cylinder deactivation, and regular unleaded gas capability notwithstanding.
Confidently treading the thin line between performance and efficiency, however, the Highlander Hybrid delivers decently nimble handling, a smooth, comfortable ride, and AWD traction, while helping to restore Toyota’s reputation for family-friendly, safe, and generally reliable vehicles. The 2010 Highlander Hybrid is virtually unchanged from 2009, and its major competition remains Ford’s Flex and Escape Hybrids, and the larger but not overly capacious Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon Hybrids.
At the heart of the 2010 Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain are a 3.3-liter VVT V6 engine and a pair of battery-fed electric motors that combine to provide 270 hp at 5,600 rpm and 212 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, in addition to true two-mode hybrid performance. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) manages these ponies, while regenerative braking and the gas-powered V6 provide juice to the nickel-metal hydride battery. The Highlander Hybrid is capable of low-speed operation on electric power alone, with a 123-kilowatt electric motor dedicated to the front wheels and a 50-kilowatt rear electric motor that’s designed to provide some extra oomph to the rear wheels when additional traction and acceleration are needed. In traditional fashion, the two-mode hybrid system automatically shuts down the V6 at a stop and re-starts it on acceleration.
One review has the 2010 Highlander Hybrid galloping from 0-60 in 7.5 seconds, which is pretty impressive for a crossover of any breed, and especially so for a hybrid. Additionally, this sprightly hybrid is capable of hauling 3,500 pounds of trailer when properly equipped, and earns its stripes with an EPA-estimated 27/25 mpg efficiency rating. Variable valve timing and deceleration fuel cut-off on the V6 obviously boost the Highlander Hybrid’s efficiency properties.
Virtually all reviewers consider the 2010 Highlander Hybrid almost as powerful as its gas-powered sibling, with the CVT featuring hill-start assist and descent control that responds alertly to driving demands. Many professional reviewers do note, however, a distracting tendency for the hybrid system to surge and lag occasionally in highway driving.
Ride & Handling
With a four-wheel independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, and MacPherson struts all around, the 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid’s ride comfort and handling are noted as nearly sedan-like by most reviewers. Indeed more than one review claims this hybrid is at the top of its class for driving comfort and maneuverability. Some reviews, however, mention a pronounced lean in hard cornering, as well as a bit of lag in steering response, though the latter is common to those vehicles that, like the Highlander Hybrid, use electric power steering as opposed to a hydraulic system. With the Base Hybrid rolling on 17-inch alloy wheels and the Limited riding 19-inch alloys, bumps and road imperfections are, according to most reviews, minimized through this hybrid’s significant heft.
Despite its weight and size, the Highlander Hybrid, with standard four-wheel disc brakes, provides sure, smooth braking ability with little pedal play and confidence-inspiring stopping power. Overall, reviewers rate this hybrid a joy to drive, with its center-mounted, mechanical, limited-slip differential providing seamless AWD performance. It ought to be stressed, however, that the Hybrid’s AWD system is not designed for any sort of serious off-road operation.
Cabin & Comfort
Described by most reviewers as stylish, spacious, family-friendly, and storage-laden, the 2010 Highlander Hybrid presents, as well, a veritable cornucopia of standard cabin amenities. The five-passenger Base Hybrid, for instance, features a roof rack, trailer wiring harness, cloth front bucket seats, split-folding second-row seats, remote power door locks, power windows, and heated outside mirrors, cruise control, telescoping tilt-wheel steering, front and overhead consoles, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, keyless ignition, rearview camera system, air conditioning, alloy and simulated wood dash, console, and door trim, and an MP3-capable single-CD player with six speakers. The seven-passenger Limited, meanwhile, verges on luxurious, with a rear spoiler, power rear liftgate, auxiliary transmission cooling, leather upholstery, heated, power-adjustable front seats, third-row seating, a universal remote garage door opener, a 6-CD changer, and hands-free phone pre-wiring all standard.
Options for the Hybrid Base include many of the Limited's standard features, like the 19-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable driver’s seat, power liftgate, and 6-CD audio system. A power moonroof, DVD navigation, JBL premium audio components, rear-seat DVD entertainment, automatic rear-seat climate control, and Bluetooth telecommunications technology are all optional with the Hybrid Limited trim.
Though a few reviewers complain of some less-than-opulent interior trim materials, the consensus is that the Highlander Hybrid offers adequate head- and legroom in its first and second rows, as well as numerous cabin cubbies, pockets, nooks, and crannies for small-item storage. Seating is described as comfortable and supportive, though the Limited’s third row can be a challenge for adults over long distances. Ergonomically, large, easy-to-read gauges and well-placed controls are the norm in the Hybrid, though most reviewers claim the available navigation system does disturb efficient operation of many audio controls.
Always safety-conscious, Toyota equips the 2010 Highlander Hybrid with standard four-wheel disc ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency braking assist, traction and stability control, dual front side-mounted airbags, front, rear, and, in the Limited, third-row head airbags, driver’s knee airbag, active front headrests, and a post-collision safety system. The Hybrid Limited trim additionally features standard front fog/driving lights and daytime running lights, while a remote anti-theft alarm is optional for both the Base and Limited trims.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards the Highlander Hybrid five stars for driver’s side front impact protection, four stars for front passenger protection, five stars for driver and passenger side-impact protection, and four stars for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards its highest rating of “good” for the Hybrid’s front and side impact protection.
What Owners Think
Obviously, fuel efficiency ranks highest on the list of owner kudos for the 2009/2010 Highlander Hybrid. This does not mean, however, that the Hybrid is flawless in this regard, with more than a few owners complaining that they get considerably less mileage than advertised. Less-than-roomy third-row seating in the Limited as well as the often-confounding navigation/audio intermixing also contribute to owner frustration. Finally, an excessive whine from the hybrid system is noted by owners as problematic, as are some side and rear visibility issues caused by extra wide roof pillars and rear-seat headrests, a few cheap-looking cabin trim pieces, lack of cargo space behind the Limited’s third row, and, of course, the Highlander Hybrid’s high-end pricetag.
Positives, however, abound with this well-conceived crossover, with competent handling and ride comfort, ordinarily conservative fuel numbers, flexible second-row seating configurations, and spacious passenger accommodations topping the list of owner superlatives. Except for the DVD navigation set-up, the Highlander Hybrid’s plethora of standard creature comforts, as well as its spiffy styling, both exterior and interior, and its green-tinged image also gain plaudits from owners.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.