Had the chance to get some good miles in this vehicle when shuttling between the Chicago auto show and SEMA spring expo in Indianapolis. It didn't look that far on the map, but then again the map didn't show the monster snow, sleet, and rainstorms between the two big cities, either.

The smaller V-6 gives the midsize SUV plenty of power to keep up with other players on the highway and also provides a cool "econ" button that changes the mapping to the computer so the vehicle shifts and responds more softly to throttle input--the idea being it will eliminate the wasteful harsh starts and stops in the city or aggressive accelerations on the highway.

To its credit, Toyota has figured out that people who want hybrids like playing the mpg game with their vehicles. And having a separate button to stretch the Highlander's abilities is a clever way to allow drivers to interact. Likewise, there's an "EV" button that gives the electric motors more priority when driving below 30 mpg; it essentially delays the gas engine from kicking in. When driving around town, it didn't take long to get used to the gentle takeoffs and gradual accelerations. After a while, you just give yourself more time. I didn't get much city traffic time but did get enough to have the vehicle stay in electric mode with the heater running full blast and the rear electric motor kicking in and out to provide occasional rear-wheel traction in downtown Chicago after a snowstorm. On highway 65, between Chicago and Indianapolis, we averaged about 23.7 mpg doing 70 mph. Our average for the full tour (around Chicago to Indianapolis and back) gave us a computer-recorded 23.5 mpg. Of course, if we had had more lower-speed city driving, that number would've gone up. In the end, even with all the luxuries, $50K is a lot of money for good technology and a comfortable ride.

Still, with the fuel savings paying for itself somewhere in the next eight to 10 years over the life of the vehicle, you could make a financial argument as long as you plan to keep it for that long time.

What's Hot: With the V-6 primary motor, the electric powerplant feels like a mini supercharger when you put your foot in it. Interior packaging is exceptional--a lot of storage cubbies, glovebox space, and door-panel sleeves. Would suggest spending the cash for the nav system (not cheap at $2655) because it's just about the best out there.

What's Not: Not crazy about the new exterior design--still a bit ho-hum. Don't look for huge mpg improvements, just moderate. Almost the priciest vehicle in its class because of the high-tech system (essentially a carryover from last model), and Toyota knows people will pay it.

Bottom Line: If you want the most technology with the fewest noticeable compromises, the Highlander leads the (relatively small) class.

Like this? Try These: Lexus RX 400h, Ford Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner Hybrid; or for non-hybrids: Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Murano, Honda Pilot (all are much cheaper but don't offer hybrid powertrains).


Specs
Base price; as tested $40,635; $48,163
DrivetrainFront engine, AWD
Engine3.3L/209-hp/212-lb-ft DOHC V-6 plus 167-hp fr & 68-hp rr elec motors
TransmissionCVT
Curb weight4641 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase109.8 in
Length x width x height188.4 x 75.2 x 69.3 in
0-60 mph8.1 sec (mfr)
Quarter mile16.0 sec @ 88.5 mph (est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ27/25 mpg
CO2 emissions0.74 lb/mile