Are you yearning for balance in your automotive life? Do you, like me, want it all? Abundant power and good mileage, driving fun and environmental righteousness. If so, take a look at the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV, which is rated #1 in a “muscle per gallon” index prepared by U.S. News & World Report.
Since my wife and I are on a waiting list to buy the 4-wheel-drive version of this car, I was pleased to see that the Highlander beat out the $65,000 Chevrolet Corvette (#2) and the $453,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (#3), each of which boasts ferocious horsepower but gets piddling mileage.
This is one of the reasons why we’ve come to look more fondly at the Highlander Hybrid SUV. Back in July I opined, “Toyota Highlander Hybrid not so green.” It bugged me that the 4-wheel-drive version got only 31 city/27 hwy while our much-beloved 2004 Toyota Prius is rated 60/51 and reliably gives us 45 mpg in real world driving.
Toyota could have hybridized the four cylinder gasoline Highlander and come up with a car more akin to the Ford Escape Hybrid, which gets about 10% better mileage according to the EPA. We considered the Escape, but the fit, finish, and, yes, fun of the Highlander caused us to buy Japanese.
Zero to 60 in 7.3 seconds and nearly zero emissions. I like it.
If you’re thinking of getting a hybrid, be sure to check out GreenHybrid.com’s “Real Hybrid Mileage Database.” As is well-known, you can’t trust the EPA mileage estimates for either hybrid or regular cars.
In the mixed driving we do in our Prius we’re getting about 10% below the 51 mpg estimate for highway driving. Similarly, the average actual mileage reported by Highlander Hybrid buyers is 26 mpg, which is in the neighborhood of 10% under the EPA highway estimate (taking into account that the 2-wheel-drive version is supposed to get several miles a gallon more than the 4-wheel-drive version).
Right now it’s tough to make a purely financial case for buying a hybrid SUV, especially if you don’t drive a lot. We only put about 10,000 miles a year on our Volvo XC wagon, the car that the Highlander Hybrid will replace. With gas at $3 a gallon, we may never save enough money via the car’s hybrid technology to pay for the approximately $4,500 Toyota is charging for it.
However, the estimated $2,200 federal tax credit for buying a Highlander 4wd that goes into effect in 2006 will ease the financial pain. (To be sure you’ll get the credit, you need to buy a hybrid as early in the year as possible, as I explained in this post.)
In the end, our decision to buy another hybrid came down to putting the money we’d earmarked for a new car where our collective environmental mouth was. Laurel and I both talk a good Green game, but we don’t always play it like we should. For example, I’m semi-ashamed to admit that we still haven’t signed up with PGE for “green power,” in large part because I’m still so ticked at Enron.
A salesman at Capitol Toyota recognized what sells the Highlander Hybrid. He admitted that buyers aren’t getting the car for purely rational reasons. “They want to make a statement,” he said. “They believe in what the car stands for.”
Indeed, we do. Taking a stand against global warming and for America’s energy independence is worth a few thousand dollars to us. Plus, the fun I’ll have driving around in an 268 horsepower SUV with one engine and three (count ‘em, three) electric motors will help make me forget how much the car cost us.