Since we last spoke, we've accumulated another 4,000 km or so on our long-term Toyota Highlander Hybrid, bringing the total to a tad under 16,000. That necessitated another trip to the dealership, as service is stipulated in intervals of 8,000 km.
This 16K service called for the usual oil and filter change, plus rotation of the tires, plus replacement of the in-cabin dust and pollen filter. Respective charges for the above were $34.88 and $22.88 and $49.95, for a grand total of $107.78.
Nothing of the hybrid's electrical system needed any maintenance at this time (or the last time), so we inquired when it would, and were told that it needs nothing over "ordinary" Highlanders, save for changing the inverter radiator coolant at the same time the engine coolant is changed (both are filled with "Super Long Life" coolant, which the manual says only needs replacement at 96 months or 128,000 km). By their nature all inverters, which transform direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), create heat, so no surprise that a big one, like the one on this Toyota, needs to keep cool for longevity sake.
Other than that, the only maintenance item we spotted in the owners' manual regarding hybrids was that every 12 months or 16K thou shalt, "Tighten drive shaft bolts (Highlander Hybrid)."
The service advisor added that the electric propulsion system is basically a sealed system. We guess it's like computers — if anything does break, you simply get out your pry bar, reef out the offending bit, and replace with a new part, or simply replace the complete unit.
On the road, the Highlander continues to perform flawlessly. "Those electric motors give it immediate passing power on the highway," noted one tester this month. "The big girl just picks up her skirt and goes."
The third-row seats have not been called into action that much, making us think that if you don't really need them on a regular basis, you could most likely live without them. One tester noted that it is considerably easier to use the third-row of most minivans, as they have greater side access than SUVs. But it's surprisingly well finished back there, with cup holders and HVAC controls.
Now that the cooler weather is here, one tester is not sure about one of the Hybrid's peculiarities, namely that it is programmed not to start its gas engine until the vehicle is commanded to pull away. "Hardly enough time for the thing to warm up properly in winter," says this scribe. But we must note that he grew up in the "manual choke" era, so his judgment may have been impaired by bouts of gas fume inhalation, courtesy of flooded carburetors.
Testers continue to appreciate how quicklyyou can become comfortable inside the Highlander — it's not an intimidating or complicated environment, and uses many "tried and true" controls from Toyota's parts bin. On the flip side, our testers get in and out of lots of new iron, and are starting to notice that the Highlander's doesn't have all the electronic wizardry of some of its competitors, like connections for iPods, satellite radio, navigation, and the like.
And we'll end this update on a very positive note: Fuel economy is consistently averaging around 9.2 L/100 km. Very impressive for an AWD vehicle of this size … and zipping ability.