We’re past the age of ugly hybrids calling attention to themselves to earn politically correct conscience points. Nowadays, automakers are presenting hybrid engines as a trim option — the same as they might offer both four cylinder and six cylinder engine choices. In other words, hybrid cars are becoming “just cars” — a choice a buyer can take or leave.
The important factor here is that hybrids are now free to be styled as attractively as any other type of automobile. The buyer is left to decide on the same features as any other vehicle — price, function, size, etc. Shoppers needn’t reach for a hybrid out of guilt.
We’ll use the 2017 Toyota Highland Hybrid as a prime example. The vehicle is well-styled and identical to any other Highland of the model year, apart from special hybrid badging. So, we’ll talk about its engine, its mileage and not about how it’s made of angel butts and will save a tree frog in Togo. That’s what I call progress.
The Highland Hybrid uses a 3.5 liter, 306 horsepower, V6 6 gas/electric hybrid engine wedded to a 288 V nickel-metal hydride battery. That allows this full size urban SUV to pull down up to 30 mpg in the city, 28 highway. That’s not the heady 50 mpg or so drivers look to pull out of a Prius, but the Highlander is a bigger vehicle enjoying a better build quality.
Comfortable and filled with the standard suite of infotainment and driver aids, this Toyota boasts a standard MSRP of about $36,000. However, once they add in all of the features most drivers want and move up the trim option tree, buyers should expect a price tag between $40,000 and a maxed out $48,000.
The drive quality is adequate. The vehicle has enough pickup for traffic situations and rides smooth enough over varied terrain. No one will mistake the Highlander’s independent suspension for a Land Rover, but you’re not paying for an LR either. You’re paying for a safe, capable city to suburb runner with enough space in the back to take a chunk of your life with you.
Within the ongoing advertising and PR materials for the Highlander Hybrid, it’s obvious Toyota aims the vehicle at the family market. The automaker doesn’t see it as a rugged SUV or a cargo carrier, but rather an urban transport for humans (big or small).
The machine will certainly fulfill that mission with a safe, comfortable ride and adequate three row seating for seven. But, it’s also acceptable for individual buyers looking for a capable, affordable SUV option that can take on some mild off-road duty when necessary. In short, it’s not as limited or as delicate as its identity might hint.