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Highlander hybrid hip enough for the downtown set

It seems quite the contradiction — the hybrid SUV.

It seems quite the contradiction — the hybrid SUV.


Hybrids — in general — are the darlings of the urban “greenie,” along with cloth grocery bags, fair trade lattes and David Suzuki documentaries.


SUVs on the other hand are the flagships of suburban excess. When they’re not taking the lone executive on his or her daily two-hour commute, these gas guzzlers are loaded up with kids’ soccer teams or schlepping mass quantities of boxes and cans from the local Costco.


Can these two interests co-exist?


I’d say ‘Yes’ as many of the former eventually have kids and move out to the ’burbs. And besides, not all of us who have shunned downtown living hate the environment.


Still, there aren’t many hybrid SUVs on the market. Among them are the behemoth Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids, the compact Ford Escape hybrid, the premium Lexus RX 450h (starting at just under $60K) and the even pricier (and less green) BMW ActiveHybrid X6, priced at just under $100K.


The Highlander Hybrid, starting at $43,025, is comparatively well priced, and for a mid-sized SUV, is surprisingly roomy and can realistically accommodate up to seven passengers.


Some have criticized its styling, calling it slab-sided and plain. I like its uncluttered sheet metal. And when decked out in Limited trim — as was my tester for the week — with its big 19-inch alloys and roof-mounted spoiler, the Highlander looks quite upscale.


Like all Highlanders, it is powered by 3.3-litre DOHC, 24-Valve V6, working with high-torque electric motors front and rear. Combined, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive delivers 270 hp across a broad power band and up to 212 lb/ft of torque. This is mated to a continuously variable transmission.


Despite its size, the Highlander launches quickly and enjoys a strong, linear flow of power. This hybrid is no wimp, but quickly loses the fuel-saving benefits of its green powerplant when you mash the pedal.


The Highlander Hybrid is less about compromise and more about delivering the benefits you’d expect from an SUV — with few of the downsides. And it shouldn’t attract the scorn of your chardonnay-sipping downtown friends, who may even invite you to their own big-box shopping adventure.

 
 
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