The hybrid SUV has proven to maintain all of the power and utility of the traditional SUV, while also providing previously unheard of fuel economy and greatly reduced emissions. Toyota and Lexus are both offering 2006 hybrid SUV models, which were put through 1,000 mile road tests under all conditions for the following comparison.
2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The Highlander Hybrid SUV is a seven-passenger vehicle that doesn't sacrifice comfort for fuel economy. The hybrid model is just like the gas Highlander. It handles just as well, has a simple cabin design, and maintains the same 81 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The difference is that it achieves much greater fuel economy while being more powerful. Yes, you may go back and read that again. The hybrid version of the Highlander is actually MORE powerful than the gas model.
Toyota used the same 3.3 liter V6 in the hybrid SUV that it uses in the gas Highlander. They recalibrated it and added three electric motors. One of the electric motors is used for starting the internal combustion engine and also recharging the 288-volt battery pack. One works with the gas engine to drive the front wheels. And the other adds
additional power to the rear wheels when extra traction or power is needed (the third electric motor is not used on front-wheel drive models).
Don't let the silence fool you when starting the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV. The gas engine won't kick in until you hit 25 mph or you turn on the air conditioning.
The hybrid Highlander is not lacking for power. In fact, the hybrid model boasts a whopping 268 horsepower compared to the gas model's 230. Acceleration is responsive at any speed with the electric motors handling the low-end pull, and the gas engine hitting its stride in midrange. The Highlander Hybrid went from zero to 60 in 7.2 seconds in track testing, making it one of the fastest SUVs (hybrid or internal combustion) in its price range.
During testing the Highlander Hybrid SUV only attained a 23 mpg average fuel economy. This was a bit disappointing, especially since Toyota claims 31 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, but in the 7-8 passenger SUV class it really doesn't get much better than that. Hybrids perform much better in terms of fuel economy at low speeds because this is where they use more electricity than gas. While stuck in traffic the Highlander got about 30 mpg.
The 2006 Highlander Hybrid comes with more standard features than the gas model. The model tested came standard with leather and side airbags. But even after adjusting for the extras, you can expect to pay about $3,000 more for the hybrid over the conventional model. One incentive to buy the hybrid model is you can take a $2,000 tax credit if you buy in 2005. However in 2006 the federal tax incentive drops to $500.
The 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV is the only hybrid that seats seven passengers.
- 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2006 Lexus RX 400h
The Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUV is essentially the best-selling RX 330 with a hybrid drivetrain installed. And the wait list for the hybrid model was so long that Lexus was forced to set up a communication system specifically for keeping customers updated on the vehicle's progress. Due to the early buzz created by the RX 400h, Lexus is now planning hybrid versions of the GS and LS sedans.
The RX 400h hybrid SUV uses the same drivetrain as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and is rated for fuel economy at 31 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. The Lexus is available in all-wheel drive only.
The RX 400h is 100 pounds heavier than the Highlander, but equaled the Toyota's zero to 60 time at 7.2 seconds. In the quarter mile the Lexus slightly outperformed the Toyota hybrid SUV at 15.3 seconds.
Like the Highlander, the Lexus RX 400h has more power than it's gas counterpart. Even at 300 pounds heavier than the RX 300, the 400h felt considerably faster, even when easily ascending steep highway grades. The RX 400h has a tighter suspension than the Highlander Hybrid, as well as 18-inch tires, which made for better handling and an exciting drive.
The Lexus delivered a disappointing 22 mpg average, with the best tank at 24 mpg. Despite those numbers, compare it with the gas RX 300 which when tested only averaged 16 mpg.
There is a marked increase in engine noise with the RX 400h when under hard acceleration. More so than with the RX 330. There was a similar problem with the Toyota, but the difference seemed greater in the Lexus.
The Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUV has a sticker of $11,000 more than the base RX 330, but it comes with just about every possible feature. If you add all of those features to the RX 330, the difference is only about $3,000 which is comparable to the difference in the Toyota models.