Prince Edward Highlander - The Wrapup
SPRINGBROOK, P.E.I. – The concept of a hybrid crossover seems perfect for the modern family vacation vehicle. Crossovers offer the all-wheel-drive practicality of sports-utility-vehicles. Being car-based, though, they drive nicer, weigh less, and tend to be more space and fuel efficient than SUVs.
Now throw in the promise of even better fuel economy with the only three-row mid-size crossover gasoline-electric hybrid on the market, as in the refreshed-for-2011 Highlander Hybrid 4WDi on loan from Toyota Canada for our two-week Prince Edward Island vacation, and you potentially have the perfect family vacation set of wheels.
We picked up the Highlander Hybrid (base price $42,850, loaded $51,650) right after our flight into the provincial capital city Charlottetown airport touched down. Immediately, we encountered a compromise any SUV-mimicking crossover suffers compared to a more capacious minivan. For our family’s summer holiday, we’ve rent a house in rural Springbrook, P.E.I., just east of tourist infested Cavendish on the Island’s north shore.Last year, we managed to get our four-person crew, luggage (including a hard case for my golf clubs) and the first few vacation days of grocery and liquor supplies crammed into our borrowed 2011 Toyota Sienna. But the less space efficient Highlander forced us to drop off our belongings, and then go get our supplies.
You can only drive so far in P.E.I. before things start getting wet. From its westernmost tip clear across to the eastern end of the Island, by road it only takes about the same time as if you were driving from Toronto to Ottawa. So instead of huge daily mileages, we tend to pile our lot into the car and daytrip to) the beach, if the weather is passable; b) grab the rain gear and go for a hike, play golf, or visit relatives.
Kind of like an “away stay-cation”.
Over the course of this year’s two-week holiday, we managed to average over 150 km per day in the Toyota. And during those klicks, we discovered the Highlander’s interior to be one of its strongest attributes. While the pair of third-row seats are better suited for children than full-sized humans, the roomy second-row is the preferred place to be: plenty of room all around, and great sight lines to see the rolling Island scenery pass by.
However, know that Toyota’s gimmicky second-row middle-seat solution means two passengers will be happier than three. The middle throne is essentially a large armrest that stays down the majority of the time to provide some storage space for the two outboard passengers in their much comfier captain chairs. Another interior beef: This generation of Highlander has been around since the fall of 2006. It shows in that the USB/AUX plug-ins seems like afterthoughts. If the autobox is in P, it’s near impossible to attach an iPod connection without pulling the gearstick back towards in D.
Our longest single round-trip was to the northwestern shores at North Cape, about 240 km. To get there, we drove one of P.E.I.’s few major thoroughfares, Highway 2, primarily a two-lane, 90 km/h speed limit route, allowing for some rare passing opportunities in the Toyota. For a “hybrid”, the Highlander combined gas and electric motors (each driving either the front or rear axles when required) deliver descent power. With the move to the larger 3.5-litre gas V6 from the last model’s 3.3L unit, the Toyota now sports 280 hp. That’s less juice than all comparably-priced gas V6 rivals. But the relatively lighter Toyota can scoot from zero to 100 km/h in about 7.5 seconds—about two seconds faster than Lexus’s so-called sporty hybrid, the CT200h.
When not being pressed, the Highlander’s drivetrain is silky smooth and eerily quiet. But when said passing maneuvres are requested, the interior gets noisy. Fast.Blame the continuously variable transmission. Like every other CVT I’ve tested, it likes to get to maximum revs (i.e. maximum noise) as quickly as possible.
I had no aspirations of the Highlander Hybrid as a sports sedan. And neither should you. With typically Toyota light steering and non-stop understeer, but with a relatively quiet and smooth ride (you still get too much side-to-side head toss over less-than-perfect pavement) the Highlander is a “passenger-first” proposition. Yet for a car costing north of $40k, how much would a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a more supportive driver’s seat add to Toyota’s bottom line?
Considerate the above the price you pay for the Highlander Hybrid’s relatively excellent 8.3L/100 km fuel consumption average we experienced. All totaled, I drove the Highlander 2,138 km over 14 days, filling it four times, using 177.53 litres of regular fuel that cost on average $1.28 per litre, for a total of $226.73. But in regards to long-term costs, the cost savings may not come as easy.
While you’ll save on fuel costs over a gas-only crossover, like every other hybrid (and diesel) vehicle, you’ll also pay more upfront. In the Highlander Hybrid’s case, its base price is $7,100 more than an Highlander V6 AWD, $9,851 more than a Ford Explorer V6 AWD. No doubt, you’ll have to drive more than 2,000 km and own the Toyota longer than two weeks to get your money back.
The 2011 Highlander Hybrid didn’t end up as the LeBlanc family’s “perfect” family vacation vehicle. To make it so, I’d like see the Toyota eschew its SUV-wannbe tall riding height and driving characteristics. Open up some more length behind its second-row of seats for my golf clubs. Maybe even add a nicer-feeling steering wheel and descent front seats.
And heck, while I’m asking, price it like the gas-only model.
Total kms: 2,138
Av. L/100 km: 8.3