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2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

We've barely finished shaking hands, and we're already impressed with a certain silver Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the newest member of our long-term fleet. For one thing, its timing is impeccable. It suddenly appeared at our offices when gasoline suddenly appeared over the dollar-per-litre mark.

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We've barely finished shaking hands, and we're already impressed with a certain silver Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the newest member of our long-term fleet. For one thing, its timing is impeccable. It suddenly appeared at our offices when gasoline suddenly appeared over the dollar-per-litre mark.

The Highlander is a full hybrid, meaning it is capable of operating in separate gasoline or electric modes, as well as one that combines power from both. The model features the 3.3-litre V6 of the conventional Highlander, plus three motor-generators; each has a specific function and each does double duty as both drive motor and generator.

This Hybrid also uses Toyota's first application of a new "reactive" all-wheel-drive system called 4WD-i. In normal conditions, the vehicle will be in front-wheel drive, but when additional traction is required, the system automatically tells one of the electric motors to power the rear wheels. It also has CVT automatic transmission.

As with other hybrid systems, there is regenerative braking and systems to shut down the gas engine when the vehicle is stopped in traffic or at a light (permitting all the lights, HVAC, audio system, etc., to run off batter power).

So there's lots going on underneath that very conventional exterior, and we're thrilled that we will be able to spend some quality time with the technology. Transport Canada rates the Hybrid's city/highway fuel efficiency at a very un-SUV-like 7.5/8.1 L/100 km. You can bet we'll keep tabs on the fuel consumption, or lack thereof, but as of this writing, it hasn't even used a full tank yet.

With so little seat time, the novelty of watching the special display screen on the instrument panel hasn't worn off yet. It shows you which power and/or charging system is in use, and owing to how often the system switches, it's constantly changing.

Base MSRP for a Highlander Hybrid is $44,205, but our tester is the top-shelf Limited model ($53,145), which has a long list of additional features, including a third-row of seats.

We'll check out every single bit of this intriguing vehicle over the next several months.


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