From golf-cart mode to full throttle, the Highlander is a perfect hybrid

Size and efficiency score points for Toyota's redesigned mid-sized vehicle.

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A gas-electric SUV can make for a pointed paradox. You can imagine its operator willing the driver behind him to spot the little "hybrid" badge and silently salute: All that girth with low emissions and decent fuel economy too.

Toyota's Highlander Hybrid, redesigned for 2008, might still be considered mid-size (a crossover, even, built as it is on a Camry chassis), but it is voluminous inside. A few inches longer and wider, it's also more than 250 lbs. heavier – a 4,500-plus lb. truck with a 3.3-liter V6 that makes 270 h.p. mated to an electric-drive system. That's not a significant power boost over the 2007 model. But it's enough to make this light-steering, gentle-riding seven-passenger vehicle perform with plenty of torque and surprising agility. Four-wheel-drive is on-demand.

We scored 23 m.p.g. in mixed use (expect closer to 30 in town). Highlander Hybrid – about $38,000, optioned up – has a three-mode hybrid system. Normal and Acceleration are handled automatically. The driver can also select EV to lock in golf-cart mode under the right (slow) conditions – such as the long creep to a toll booth. There's also an Econ button that limits throttle response. Mode-shifting felt fairly seamless. Shoulder to shoulder at a stoplight with a full-size Toyota Sequoia packing an iForce V8, we felt just about as capable, and a lot more efficient.

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