Toyota Chooses Power Over Fuel Economy For New Highlander Hybrid

Toyota has released details about its forthcoming 2011 Highlander hybrid SUV, which will receive a major revamping for the first time since 2008. And while there will be a host of new options and features both inside and out, it’s the Highlander’s new engine and fuel economy numbers that deserve the most attention.

Next year’s Highlander hybrid will be outfitted with a brand new 3.5-liter V6 engine, replacing the the 3.3-liter, 270-horsepower engine of its predecessors. The increase in power boosts this year’s model to 280 horsepower—ten more than what’s available in the the conventional V6 model. But where in the past Toyota has opted to pair its hybrid system with a slightly less powerful engine for maximum efficiency, this year’s version of the SUV will provide improvements in both power and fuel economy.

The new Highlander hybrid is rated for an EPA-estimated 28 mpg in both city and highway driving conditions. That amounts to a 1-mpg uptick in city mileage and a 3-mpg improvement on the highway, compared to the 27/25 ratings for the 2010 model.

So why did Toyota sacrifice added efficiency for of a little extra horsepower? Reviews of the 2010 Highlander hybrid’s performance were generally very positive, and as the only mid-size hybrid SUV on the market, the only competitors for the vehicle were the sister offerings from Ford and Mercury—which didn’t offer seating for seven, but were cheaper and provided nearly 20 percent more MPGs than the Highlander.

Though we can only speculate as to the reasoning behind the new 3.5-liter engine, one would think that the increased efficiency provided by this year’s hybrid powertrain could have been configured to match the 270 horsepower of its conventional counterpart and provide even more MPGs—had again been attached to a 3.3-liter engine.

Toyota’s decision may have been in response to recently slowing hybrid sales, with the carmaker opting to put its gas-electric SUV up against its conventional peers instead of just trying to win the hybrid SUV market. This year’s Highlander will give customers power that’s on par with most other V6-powered SUVs but fuel economy that’s in a league of its own for its mid-size class. Whether or not this strategy turns around sales numbers for the vehicle—which have fallen 46 percent over last year—remains to be seen.


  • Dave 2

    This is why we need the government to rapidly increase mileage standards. This is ridiculous. Toyota gives lip-service to the environment but keeps playing the horsepower race.

  • GreenRepublican

    Right on, Dave.

    SUVs could readily be achieving 35 mpg, full-size sedans 40 mpg, and other cars 50 mpg, right now. Upgrade to lithium batteries, as Toyota, Ford, et al. are doing in the next 2 years, and the numbers may be a bit higher than that.

    Let’s get serious about slashing tailpipe emissions — which are spewing poisons into our lungs, right in our faces as we walk along a city street — and ending oil imports. This pathetic Highlander 27 mpg won’t get us there. The Ford Escape still seems to be the hybrid SUV to get.

  • Charles

    Dear Green Republican;

    I have a question for you. The people I know that would qualify as Green Republicans want better MPGs for two major reasons. First is for the defense of the country (the ending oil imports part of your post). The second is to prevent/mitigate damage from global warming. From your post it seems you may rate both reasons the same. Am I making a correct assumption?

    BTW, as a Green Democrat, I fully agree with your post.

  • isaac

    Maybe Toyota figures they will save more overall gas this way since they can sell way more of the cars configured like this and they can if they configure them for 40 miles per gallon.

    What good does it do for the environment if Toyota produces a 40 MPG Highlander but the result is that everyone buys the 20 MPG non hybrid instead.

    For a car to help the environment people have to actually buy them. Unless you want to live in communist Russia that means they have to actually want them and see value in them.

  • DannyB

    I don’t see this as ridiculous at all. Toyota has made the hybrid version of a popular vehicle more fuel efficient while also increasing the appeal of the vehicle relative to the less efficient non-hybrid competition. The headline to this article almost misled me to think that Toyota had gone the way of BMW by producing a hybrid that delivers massive power with little regard for fuel efficiency. I’m glad to have read the article to get the real story.

  • sri

    Toyota is just playing it safe and trying to cover all bases. After all, as a company, sales numbers are their primary concern. Anyone who wants the best MPG in this class will have to buy the highlander anyway till something better comes up. This way they can get other customers whose concern is not only the MPG.

  • Anonymous

    Toyota, I’m disappointed – you are the only car company where I really would have expected more. I thought you have a true commitment to make the most fuel efficient cars. Come on, you can do better than the others – shows us that you are the leader for environmental friendlier cars, at least give me the option to choose if I want ‘gas wasting power hybrid’ or a true gas saving hybrid. I understand that there are many people out there that don’t get it and want the most power for the bang and don’t care about efficiency, but for those people no hybrid needs to be build, they anyway won’t buy it. This type of hybrid just gives the false sense of being environmental friendly, but ….

  • Yegor

    For some reason Toyota does not want to make a reasonable Highlander hybrid and does not want to sell it. If you go to Toyota website and try to build a Highlander you will see: ICE Highlander price is $28,000, Highlander Hybrid a whooping $46,000. Hybrid is only available in Limited expensive trim and with a mandatory $2,600 options package (how can you call it an option when it is mandatory?). Hybrid is available in 4WD only, 2WD is not available. Almost the same story was with previous year model. It looks like a Hybrid premium usually is around $8,000, for some reason Toyota decided to make it $18,000 for Highlander. :(

  • Elliot

    Yegor,

    You are mistaken, the THH is available in base and limited. Base is not cheap and will run you around 38k msrp, but its not limited (and base THH comes with many bells and whistles).

    I own a 2008 THH and love it. I wish it got better gas mileage, but it is still a significant improvement over non-hybrid similar vehicles. Plus, it gave me an opp to buy a vehicle that could fit 2 car seats and 3-4 adults comfortably in 3 rows without getting a behemoth. Its not perfect, but I really like it.

    As for the 2010 version, I’m torn. I don’t have all the sales figures in front of me (obviously), but its clear that Toyota is trying to make this a player against other upscale SUV competitors (hybrid and non-hybrid). The problem in my mind is that the hybrid is very pricey and im not sure the mpg difference is enough to really attract lots of buyers. I don’t know about others, but my THH has power to burn when I need it. The few times I’ve really had to stomp on the pedal it felt like a sports car (acceleration, NOT handling).

    I think they would be better served by either 1) lowering the entry price point to attract some of those who want a hybrid minivan but have no options or 2) hit the upscale market with current model that gets over 30mpg.

    Just a thought.

  • Yegor

    Elliot,

    Go to Toyota website and try to “Build Your Toyota” – Highlander is available in Limited trim only with a mandatory $2,600 options package to a total price of $46,000 before taxes.

  • Bruce

    I find it a bit ironic that the general population blames the car makers or the government for the lack of new vehciles with high gas milage. At the end of the day it is the consumer that fixes the marketplace. The reality is that currently hybrid technology is more expensive than conventional combustion tech and therefore it is down to the consumer to decide where to spend their money. I think current events indicate the people claim they want better milage but their buying behavior indicates they want something else (more power, better styling, more room etc.) When will we face the fact that poor gas milage, poor energy efficiency and high energy consumption is caused by OUR bad choices not Toyota’s!

  • Shines

    Yegor – I tried Autotrader to see what I could find. Several dealerships offer Highlander Hybrids for under $39k. Not cheap but this is the only non 2mode hybrid that offers towing. The Highlander does it with 3 electric motors on board (part of the reason for the high price). And even with the towing capability the fuel economy at 28 mpg is significantly better than the 2mode alternatives…

  • phillyphil

    Except you can’t fit 6 or 7 people in an Escape and you can in the Highlander. If Ford would the Flex a hybrid, it would be sweet.

  • tapra1

    The increase in power boosts this year’s model to 280 horsepower—ten more than what’s available in the the conventional V6 model. Surface News

  • sukhwinderfoss

    I hear a lot about how expensive the batteries for these plug-in auto’s are. All you have to do is look at the history of any emerging technology and you’ll see that initial cost means nothing. As these products become more popular, we as a human race, will find ways to make the technology more economically viable, but There are other benefits of plug-in hybrids that don’t seem to get much publicity. In the electrical power engineering community there is a lot of talk about the “smart grid,” which has to do with changes needed to the power distribution system to support expected renewable technologies like wind and solar power.

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