Hybrid Closure: Buying a Second Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Somewhere in New York City is a cab driver whose name I never caught who is partly responsible for helping me make this decision. He gave me a ride from LaGuardia into the City in his 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and we spent 35 minutes comparing notes on all the hybrid vehicles we knew. He loved his cab, which already had upwards of 100K miles on it. It started me thinking: I had been concentrating on buying an economical third vehicle, something like a Prius or Civic Hybrid. But was keeping my pristine, under-20K-miles, 2004 Toyota Tundra DoubleCab pickup truck the responsible thing to do? It didn’t even take me a New York minute to consider that question. The answer was: No.

So, if I didn’t have a pickup truck, what vehicle would I need to handle my weekend woodworking and landscaping projects while at the same time allowing me to ferry around kids to soccer games, etc.? Despite having excellent second row seating, the Toyota Tundra DoubleCab is no fun to park or zip around town in. Since my wife bought her 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid last August, I’d taken to using her car on the weekends — when I could get it.

Sitting there on the L.I.E. in the back of this guy’s Highlander Hybrid cab, the answer crystallized in my mind. I have hitch attachments that extend the relatively short cargo area behind the first row of the Highlander (and ply wood won’t lie flat, but it’s not like I usually buy more than four sheets a time). I have a cargo platform (2 feet by 5 feet) that slips into the hitch receiver, giving me a lot more storage space. I’ve also used it to ferry my snow blower and gas grill for servicing. I have a bike rack hitch attachment. The Highlander has a decent roof rack and a fairly long roof line. Most of all, I don’t need to haul big things very often. To be honest, the truck has spent more time ferrying Christmas trees than serious payloads. If I really need a pickup, I can always rent one. In the era of $4 gas, a pickup truck that’s not a full-time work truck is not just a luxury, it’s just plain irresponsible for my needs.

So with that as the lead in, I decided several weeks ago to buy a used 2006 or 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid — the same vehicle my wife owns. I’d already done all the research when we bought her car. It’s the best designed, most fuel-efficient people mover to be had. Owning one for nearly a year hasn’t changed my opinion on that score one jot. There are still 2008 Highlander Hybrids around, but I’m not fond of the newer model, especially because it’s quite a bit more expensive.

In the end, I fell into a lucky deal — a used 2007 model with only 4,000 miles on it that was literally owned by a little old lady who rarely drove it. It’s exactly like my wife Cyndy’s except for color and DVD navigation option. Cyndy doesn’t care for DVD navigation because of a strong preference for analog dials and an absence of glitzy graphics while she’s driving. Even the interior color of my new vehicle is the same as hers. All I had to do was have the dealer add the tow hitch. The Highlander is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, but what I’m interested in is the 350-pound tongue weight for various attachments that lack wheels.

Won’t his and her Highlanders be kinda cute? Isn’t the Highlander a plain and drab Camry derivative? Yes and yes. But it’s the right vehicle for my needs. The hybrid technology will add 10-15 mpg over what I’ve been getting with the truck, plus it’s a lot more enjoyable to zip around in, park, and do all the things that parents with young kids do. And the Highlander will be an adequate vehicle for most of my home-improvement projects.

I take delivery tomorrow.

12 Responses to “Hybrid Closure: Buying a Second Toyota Highlander Hybrid”

  1. toshiro Says:

    What’s with you guys in the states? You are just crazy about your SUVs…
    Think of the environment, and all the other people that don’t drive SUVs. They’ll get smashed in a collision with your monster car.
    Jeeezzz…

  2. Scot Says:

    My monster car? The Highlander Hybrid I bought gets 25-30mpg both around town and on the highway. It’s based on the Camry platform. It’s no longer than a Camry — and the smaller previous generation Camry. By U.S. standards, this is not a big car at all. Be careful in the assumptions you make about cultural differences.

    By the way, the 2008 RAV4 sold in the U.S. is about the same size as the 2007 Highlander I purchased. In the town I live in, Chevy Suburbans are far more prevalent than small-to-mid-size cross-over SUVs.

    So, bottom line: I’m more threatened than threatening when it comes to a possible accident.

    If you want to beat me up about something, if you read what I’ve written closely you’ll find that I traded in a 2004 Toyota Tundra DoubleCab pickup truck, which is nearly a full-size pickup truck by U.S. standards (in other words: Huge).

    But to give you the sense of the market here, the day I drove home my new Highlander, I got a phone call from a guy who was test driving my truck. The dealership had tacked on $5000 to what they paid me, and he told me he was going to buy it. I asked him whether it was going to be a work truck, and he said no, he just wanted it for an around-town vehicle and to tow snowmobiles, etc.

    Things are different here. Yes, the U.S. is behind most of the rest of the world in this area. But be careful to make judgments about what’s happening here without coming here and living here for a while to see what it’s about.

    I don’t know what part of the world you’re in, but the U.S. is huge, it’s like the opposite of Japan and many European countries. We do not claim to be perfect. But drive a mile in our cars and on our highways before you judge.

    — Scot

  3. fung0 Says:

    Did you say 25-30 mpg?!?!? Holy crap, dude… time to wake up and rethink your place in the cosmos. The oil is GONE, the environment is very close to TOTAL COLLAPSE, and you’re still making excuses about how “huge” the US is. And we’re actually supposed to be *impressed* that you traded in something even more obscenely wasteful for your latest gas-guzzling toy? Grow up.

    Now, MAYBE if you were getting excited about switching to all-electric cars, that might be interesting. And if you were switching to BICYCLES for the family, that might actually be admirable. But don’t expect the world to give you a big sloppy kiss for straining all the way up to “25-30 mpg.” That ship sailed while you were watching American Idol.

    Oh, but it’s okay, because this monster is “not a big car at all”… “by US standards!” Talk about adding insult to injury. Guess what, Scot: there’s a lot more to this planet than the US, and most of it is pretty tired of hearing about “US standards.” What makes it even worse is that you probably consider yourself a real global citizen. Dude… you haven’t even landed on Planet Earth yet, let alone applied for citizenship.

  4. JesseBee Says:

    fung0 …. I really don’t understand why people like Scot bother allowing comments on their Blog posts. Doesn’t seem worth the hassle to read comments that are so out right abusive. I don’t know where you live or who you are fung0 but I’ll tell you a little about myself. I have lived more of my life outside the US than I have here in my native America. I have much interest in alternative fuels and for that reason am reading this blog entry. For many of those years away from my nation of birth I lived in a South American country that is a leader in alternative fuels.

    Scot went to great pains to write an educated reply to toshiro in an effort to help him consider a point of view which he may not of previously considered. Although I am all for alternative fuels, the sooner the better, I don’t feel that any of us have the obligation to “Save the World” for Mr. fung0 nor for anyone else. If you feel that you are called to “Save the World”, try using a little bit of educated discourse instead of lambasting those that don’t meet your high levels of social and energetic consciousness. Lead by example instead of anonymously spewing your negativity.

    Scot is taking steps in the right direction one day he may even reach your elevated level of oneness with the Cosmos. Trying helping those you feel haven’t reach your level of holiness instead of beating them down.

    If you are a true Global Citizen, please consider acting more responsible when it comes to expressing your opinions. We are only going to reach the goal if we can work together and atitudes like yours don’t make that eventuality easier, on the contrary it makes that goal harder to reach.

  5. fung0 Says:

    I’m very pleased to see that my comments got *someone* worked up. Even though your response, JesseBee, has added remarkably little to the debate.

    “Abusive?” I was strongly critical, and I’m so glad you caught that. But I used no foul language, no personal epithets. If my post struck you as “abusive,” you should probably consider canceling your Internet connection right now, Mr/Ms JesseBee.

    You say that Scot’s has taken “steps in the right direction.” Pardon me for suggesting that these steps are so tiny as to be deserving of no respect whatsoever. In fact, my response was prompted by exactly this underlying (and typically American) assumption that a tiny step is always more than sufficient. Scot pleads that we must use a US cultural context to judge him — but it is exactly that context that is at fault. If you stand back and look at it from the global point of view, what you see is just another obliviously wealthy American, reveling in insanely low gas prices, continuing to flaunt a juvenile and out-moded love affair with the automobile. This is the “attitude” that’s offensive, in today’s world.

    Actually crowing about “25-30mpg” strikes me as particularly amazing. This being exactly the sort of gas mileage that was achieved back in the 1980s, before everyone (Scot apparently included) enthusiastically evaded rational mileage standards in order to embrace the SUV. To actually defend the purchase of a new monster truck in 2008 based on “25-30mpg” indicates a sort of blissful double-think that demands comment.

    If my politely pointing out this larger point of view makes anyone feel “beat down,” maybe it’s because the truth hurts. On this blog, I presume I’m addressing intelligent readers. Must I talk down to you? Or may I call a spade a spade? The party’s over, folks. We’ve reached the limits of our almost-free petro-fuel supply, and the limits of our all-too-fragile ecosystem. In those circumstances, bragging about one’s latest over-priced, environment-destroying toy is no longer amusing. It’s more like rude and scary. And it’s soon going to be seen as socially unacceptable. I’m just sticking my neck out to offer a very restrained early heads-up, because in a world where the US continues to deny, deny, deny environmental issues, these things really can’t wait.

    As for “saving the world,” I never asked you to, but I’m nonetheless very sorry to hear you feel no “obligation.” I can understand your not wanting to save it for me… but “nor for *anyone* else?” Puts you in a rather bad position to be criticizing my “attitude,” don’t you think?

    And, finally, as to my “leading by example”… How could you presume to know whether I do or don’t? You seem to be departing from known facts here — not usually a good way to conduct “educated discourse.”

  6. fung0 Says:

    One minor addendum, and then I’m out…

    In case my comments seemed unduly harsh (rather than, say, brutally forthright), I’d like to mention that I’m a recovering internal-combustion addict myself. In my case it was motorcycles. It hurts to say it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve owned my last bike. If there’s another motorized vehicle in my future, it’s going to be electric, or solar, or something else we don’t even know about yet. But for now it’s public transport, or a bicycle, or shank’s mare.

    I suppose this might fall under the heading of “leading by example,” but I don’t think of it that way. More like an experiment that I feel “obligated” to volunteer for. The first step in curing an addiction is admitting you have a problem…

    “The future’s here, we are it, we are on our own.” – Robert Hunter.

  7. Scot Says:

    fung0, your focus is on you, not the world. Apparently, you don’t have kids and live in a world where they and their friends need to be ferried around. Apparently you used to ride your motorcycle around 12 months a year, and don’t have to contend with snow measured in feet not inches. Apparently you live in Arizona or somewhere similarly sunny where solar power might someday work. (There are no fully solar-powered vehicles in commercial production in the U.S. right now. Toyota is considering adding solar power to some of its vehicles purely to run the darn air conditioner.) Apparently you live in the alternative universe where plug-in electric vehicles are also already in mass production. JesseBee is right, you are not helping. You’re simply being arrogant about your beliefs and choices. We probably share a concern, but not the same point of view about what most people can do to address the problem. Not everyone is in a position to make your choices. If you’re 17, I can understand that point of view. But I’m guessing you’re not.

    I’m not crowing about 25-30 mpg. In fact, I reported my decision somewhat sheepishly. I wanted to buy a Toyota Prius, the most fuel efficient vehicle currently sold in the U.S. And yes, my lifestyle got in the way. I have three kids and needed something larger. My wife didn’t want such a small vehicle — because of precisely the reason that toshiro talked about, the notion of what would happen if the kids were in the car and we got into an accident. Given all those Suburbans and pick-ups we have around here, it’s something you have to think about.

    I am not claiming to be doing my part to reduce my carbon footprint. To be honest, I’m not a big believer in that aspect of the message of Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” The part I’m doing is, like the movie and like thousands of other bloggers out there, using my meager little podium to raise consciousness. The oil issue is so large that we can’t really change it at the grass roots level by using less. What’s important is we get the word out — and especially, that we press industry, government, and academia to work hard on alternatives. Every little bit helps, yes. And so watching your carbon footprint is a good thing. But your time would be better spent calling or writing your congressman and attempting to raise consciousness in any way you can. And positive energy, not caustic criticism, is a much more constructive way to do that. United we stand, divided we fall. It may sound like a cliche, but there’s a reason why cliches exist: They’re usually supremely true.

    I don’t claim to be perfect, but I’d suggest that you not look askance at whatever anyone can do to help in this very significant challenge we all face. I take heart in remembering how the U.S. reacted to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the way it turned around industry to enter the war. The way the entire country pulled together. It’s the closest thing in the last century to what we’re facing now. But I’m afraid this is a much, much more profound challenge. We’re going to need to join hands around the globe to face it down. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’re also going to need some sort of catastrophic global tragedy before we’re galvanized to meet the challenge. It’s at least possible that we may not have long to wait there, and I hope we’re not too late to effect the change that’s needed.

    More than likely, there’s nothing I can write to reach you, fung0. You seem angry and frustrated by how little everyone is doing. I can understand that. I feel the same way. But there are few enough people who share this concern. Let’s not attack each other. Let’s work to solve the problem. Whether my car gets 37 mpg or 27 mpg doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things. It’s at least a lot better than my previous 17 mpg. What matters is that we find another way to power vehicles and generate electricity as quickly as possible.

    We have an election coming up in the U.S. Reach out to find out what candidates in your area say they will do on the climate change and energy issues. Be informed, and communicate your concerns to all those running for office or already elected.

  8. Nutcup Says:

    Scott, I don’t think an arrogant single man who can bicycle or take public transportation for all his traveling understands the reality of a family person, or one who needs a vehicle for his business. Maybe he lives in New York City?

    I plan to trade my Saturn Vue in on a Highlander Hybrid because of the reasons you mentioned, and some more selfish ones. They are more comfortable! I really liked your review.

    My Vue averages 24 mpg, which isn’t bad these days, but it’s not very comfortable, and it’s noisy inside at highway speeds. Not to mention that it is smaller than the Highlander, and the only way I can get a sheet of plywood in it is over my head – I have to scrunch down and it’s not a very safe way to travel. (tried it once)

    fung0 – grow up. What do you offer to teach us?

  9. Scot Says:

    Hey, thanks. FYI, about the Highlander Hybrid, the 2008 model is significantly different than the one I bought. It is a nice vehicle but it’s quite a bit larger and heavier. I purposely bought a lightly used one to get the older model that’s lighter.

    The latest issue of Consumer Reports does a cost analysis of several hybrid models, including the 2008 Highlander Hybrid. CR estimates that that model gets 24 mpg, and they basically say after 5 years you will be under water by $1,250 on the added cost for the vehicle as compared to the savings on gasoline. They put the purchase price at $43,835 for a 2008 Highlander Hybrid, and that matches the least expensive model (everything but DVD navigation, I believe) I noticed on dealer lots in my area. In buying the 2007 model, I believe I’m saving more on gas (averaging around 26-27 mpg around town) plus I paid quite a bit less for it. Toyota raised its prices with the 2008 model year by about $5,000.

    Even if you buy this vehicle, I’ll understand why. it is a very nice car with decent mileage and a ton of utility. Most minivans, for example, get around 19-20 mpg, and that’s on the highway. With the crossover-based Highlander, you can move as many people as the average minivan. It’s an economical choice, for not much more than top of the line minivans. Last time I priced out the Honda Odyssey, the model I wanted (near top of the line) was about $38K, and that was three years ago.

    The CR story actually suggests that the Toyota Camry Hybrid is the best value among hybrids, saving more after 5 years than even the Prius. (I’m not quite sure how they figured that, but I think it involves comparing each car to the nearest comparable model without hybrid tech — a somewhat faulty methodology in the Prius’s case.) The Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid came in second, by the way. But I agree, the Highlander is far more refined. The CR info is from the October 2008 issue, page 41.

    — Scot

  10. zarlon Says:

    Scot,

    I was involved in an accident with my Prius that got totalled. I was surprised that the passenger compartment did not show any damage except for the air bags that had gone off but the front end was a total mess with no hope of being brought back from the dead. Some dumb fool did a u-turn from the opposing traffic into my side of traffic an I tboned right into him. He was driving one of those monster 4 door chevy trucks. I immediately went back and bought another one. I hit him in the center of his side. I bounced off and the Prius slowly rolled onto the shoulder and creamed a fairly new planted tree. The worst part was the seat belt injuries I suffered. I was very impressed with how the structural design worked to minimize my injuries. Brave Toyato.

  11. zarlon Says:

    I immediately went back and bought another Prius. The above statement might miss lead you.

  12. Scot Says:

    Glad you were OK, Zarlon. It’s good to know that the Prius is protective. I’ll let my wife know because I’d really like to get a Prius someday — but she’s worried about it being “dinky.” (You start thinking this way when you have kids. I helped her buy her first new car and it was a Geo Prizm — i.e., a Toyota Corolla in GM guise. We even drove it cross country in ’94.)

    I rented a 2008 Prius recently and was very impressed with the gas mileage, ride, engine-braking, and other aspects. I can’t wait to see the new model, either. In the U.S., it’s the most fuel-efficient car. One of the coolest things about the Prius is the sealed radiator compartment that stays warm overnight during the winter. So when you start it up in the morning, it can begin cabin warming without having to run the gas engine — saving gas. I’m not aware of any other hybrid vehicle that has that feature.

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