By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

The Toyota Prius — for all its efficiency and gee-whiz gadgetry — is a two-bedroom condo kind of car. Not all families can live in a two-bedroom condo. Some families need room for mom and dad and Timmy and Sara and Ariel and Malcolm and Vic and grandma. Oh, and the dog.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid transports the family and gets better gas mileage for its class.

For those families, Toyota offers the Highlander Hybrid. Yes, it’s a big honking sports utility vehicle, but it is a full hybrid SUV that runs on electric drive at low speeds, on gasoline and electric drive in traffic, and on gasoline alone at highway speeds. While the Highlander’s fuel consumption isn’t so miserly you’ll forget where the gas station is, you’ll be hard pressed to find something in the class that has better fuel economy.

The 2010 Highlander Hybrid – which offers four-wheel drive, by the way – gets 26 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving, according to EPA fuel economy estimates.  We got 24.3 mpg in a week of driving with the air conditioner running full blast to counter the Arizona heat of early July.

The EPA estimate for the Highlander Hybrid are 4 mpg better than its conventional, two-wheel drive counter part and 5 mpg better than the EPA estimate for the 2010 GMC Yukon 1500 Hybrid with four-wheel drive.

The Highlander’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system uses a 3.3-liter V-6 engine mated with three electric motors. The system generates 270 horsepower – enough to get the 4,600+ pounds from 0-60 mph in about 8 seconds. The handling is competent – not crisp, but not mushy – and the ride is smooth, comfortable and quiet.

The Highlander Hybrid gets five stars for driver protection and side-impact protection, and four stars for front passenger protection. Safety features include stability control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.

The interior is comfortable, but lacks the clever interior features found in many SUVs, crossovers and mini-vans. The second-row Center Stow™ console with two cup holders is stashed under the front center console and, frankly, is a bit of a pain to install, take out and store. Dollars to doughnuts says most families will install it, and then never remove it, or never put in the backseat in the first place. Gaining access to the kids-only third row requires two hands and some muscle compared to the easy-access of GM crossovers such as the Buick Enclave.

But there is a lot of room in the second row and the seats are adjustable. The rear also has dedicated air conditioning controls. The back seat isn’t a bad place to sit.

And the Highlander is a fine family-hauler that gets the most out of a barrel of oil.

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