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October 29, 2013

Highlander Hybrid is roomy, powerful

(Continued)

The limited model Highlander Hybrid I tested for a week included every creature comfort available, minus a rear-seat entertainment system.

In city and interstate driving, the Highlander performed flawlessly, delivering a quiet and comfortable ride. The back-and-forth between electric motors and gas engines was so seamless. I found that regenerative braking does take some getting used to, but pedal feel improves with use.

Perforated leather seats - with lumbar support and eight-way power adjustments - are comfortable and ideal for long trips.

My only complaint was with its navigation system. Unlike earlier Highlanders, this unit seemed to lack frequency of audio prompts and driving directions, and the screen is smaller. It looks like a cheap imitation of a standalone navi system you'd buy in a big box store.

The voice is harsh. Little warning is given with upcoming turns, and some audio directions are inaccurate. All of this seems surprising from Toyota, known for its quality.

Similarly equipped SUVs include the higher priced Volkswagen Touareg hybrid and the Lexus RX 450 hybrid, each seating just five.

If there is a downside to all the luxury and economy onboard the Highlander Hybrid, it would be price. Even with long-term payback on fuel, it would be a while before the up-front investment pays off.

Still, the Highlander Hybrid is a lot of car for the money, and it costs less than the aforementioned Suburban and $10,000 less than the Chevy's flex-fuel model.

Len Ingrassia is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at editor@ptd.net

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