What I think
By Melissa Spiering
Performance-mod hybrids? My ideas about hybrids could be changing. I live on the philosophy that I can't drive a stock vehicle. People that know me know I'm a tuner and I'm always on the move for my next project. In the past I would never give a hybrid the time of day -- perhaps due to my lack of knowledge of tuning a hybrid. But after spending some time behind the wheel of Highlander Turbo-Hybrid, I am seeing performance and hybrids in a new light.
My daily commute to the office ranges from 95 to 105 miles depending on the freeways I choose to travel. Half the time it's free sailing with speeds up around 70-75 mph, and the second half of my journey tends to live up to L.A. traffic's reputation as a parking lot. The Hybrid Synergy system works no different than the stock version -- it just has some extra kick from the turbo when you need it to really move. I averaged 28-31 mpg daily, which falls in the EPA range 33 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway on the stock 3.3-liter V-6.
Based on my experience behind the wheel, I felt the turbo suffered from a long wait of turbo-lag. When full throttle is engaged, the turbo spools loudly and it sounds like a powerful diesel truck (it gave me goose bumps). It moves once the turbo lag dissipates and the boost kicks in. The Highlander handled well as a hybrid and as a performance vehicle. I recently spent some time behind the newly redesigned 2008 Highlander on our 2008 SUOTY testing. I wasn't hugely impressed with the comfortable new look of the interior or the performance handling. I prefer the 2005-2006 styling over the new generation of Highlanders just because of this one turbo hybrid. But if Toyota wants to build me a 2008 Highlander turbo-hybrid, I'd be more than willing to give that a run on my long commutes to work. Who knows, I might like it.
With any aftermarket tinkering, there will always be hiccups on paving a new path of performance. I'm glad to see a major manufacturer like Toyota opening the doors of performance opportunity as natural resources, government, and the need to save the world one carb at a time as the auto industry is changing.
And who said you can't have it green and have performance, too?
(Toyota just proved them wrong).