Highlander LTD Hybrid
Like a favorite wardrobe staple; the 2013 Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid has just the right amounts of casual chic and sturdy dependability.
By Janis Hirsch
THE BIG PICTURE
I always keep a black cashmere sweater in the back of my car. If I need to reward myself with an afternoon movie, I can throw it on to stave off the arctic microclimate of the multiplex. If I suddenly remember a meeting that I’m already late for, I can throw it over pretty much anything and look 75% better. It can warm me up on a cold morning (I live in L.A. so a cold morning is 65) or fool a maitre d’ into thinking I can afford his restaurant.
The 2013 Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid is the black cashmere sweater of SUVs. It’s tony enough to get you into the Executive Parking Lot with just a saucy wave; it’s sensible enough for you to stuff full of dogs, kids or the detritus of a day of errands; and it’s comfy-chic enough for you to be the designated driver without feeling like one.
If you want to tow something, you call pull up to 5,000 pounds, and if you want tow something 5,000 pounds off-road, your clearance is 8.1 inches. I can’t imagine what 5,000-pound thing I could possibly need badly enough to tow it off the beaten track, unless I was being forced to go camping in which case I’d be towing my house.
Maybe you’re not like me, maybe you don’t hyperventilate at the mere thought of merging onto a busy freeway. If so, this Highlander Hybrid Limited will get you from 0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds. Which is the same amount of time it takes the car behind me to start honking when I’ve started thinking about lunch (Chinese chicken salad? Anything with a side of bacon?) and stopped thinking about getting onto the freeway.
Comfort, thy name is Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid. Sure, I felt the bumps and lumps in the road but in sort of a feel-good way: the road was not the boss; I was the boss of the road.
You know how Goldilocks was cool with three choices of beds? She’d plotz in a Highlander with its 10-way Power Drive seat. And I love that the back seat can slide so that actual adults can have legroom. But slide it forward and you can reach into whatever grocery bags you put on the seat because you weren’t hungry two seconds ago when you got in the car but now if you don’t eat Right This Second you’re going to faint. If you’ve got little kids in the back, you can pick up whatever they’ve dropped and are screaming for, and if you’ve got older kids, you can easily hand them snacks or your phone or a five dollar bill, whichever will shut them up fastest.
A few other reasons why this 2013 Toyota Highlander curled my toes: I’m short but I never felt like I was driving Daddy’s Big Car. The steering wheel perfectly framed a beautiful instrument panel and there were six – 6! – cup holders in the front. I know, I know, no one needs to hydrate that much, but if you’re like me, in addition to your caffeine and your water, you’ve got one dead coffee from before Starbucks changed its logo that you keep forgetting to toss, one reusable water bottle that tastes funky, a McDonald’s McFlurry that you really wish you could bury in an unmarked grave but God, it was good and maybe there’s still some clinging to the straw … oh, and there is room for your phone!
I grudgingly accept that I have to learn how to use new smart phones and computer programs every once in a while, but if I can’t figure out a car’s instrument panel after reading the Cliff Notes version of their Users’ Guide, I’m out. I mean, sure, certain warning lights send me to the big book but basically, I need the dials and buttons to say what they mean and do what they say. And that’s another reason I flipped for this car: Simple, clean, well-spaced buttons and dials with words and symbols I could see without my reading glasses that didn’t make me feel like I was driving my Aunt Phyllis’s large print copy of “Chicken Soup For The Geriatric Soul.”
Ooooh, wait, here’s the best thing ever! You know those little sunglasses hideaways over the rear view mirror? Well, when you open the one in the Highlander, Hybrid LTD its outer shell is a MIRROR that shows you the entire back seat. Yes, yes, I know it’s called a Conversation Mirror but seriously, isn’t it perfect to surreptitiously check on what’s going on behind you? Are the teenagers making out? Have the dogs jumped out the window? Have your friends fallen asleep or are they making the “I Need Heimlich” signal? The possibilities boggle the mind.
The back seat — or middle row if you’ve flipped up the way-back positions — only seats two. I say “only” but I’m secretly pleased because the more people I have in my car, the less I actually want to be in it.
If you do need more seats, the third row does easily convert into two more seats although those passengers would either need to be children or desk lamps.
And if it’s just you and sporting goods, musical instruments or that great 4-Piece Missoni for Target Sling Sectional Set, both back rows fold flat in no time, well, flat.
Even with the most basic 2013 Toyota Highlander, there are Smart Stop Technology and Advanced Airbag Systems that includes driver, and passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbags and all-row Roll-sensing Side Curtain Airbags.
When you’re in 2013 Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid territory, you also get Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control, which is great because I’m always terrified of rolling back when I’m stopped on an incline. This V6 Hybrid isn’t just listed as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle; it’s a SUPER LOW Emission Vehicle. What’s a better rating than that, huh?
At one point in my test drive, I had the windows down and sunroof open to check for noise (what you’d expect with windows down and sunroof open) when I smelled a skunk. I closed every window and immediately punched the Recycle Air button. In the time it took for me to contemplate burning my clothes and shaving my head to get ride of the smell, the Highlander Hybrid did it for me. It went from angry animal stench to new car smell in under 9 seconds. Amazing.
None of that would have happened, may I add, if the skunk had crossed in front of me because the Highlander Hybrid LTD brakes are so good the skunk wouldn’t even have known we were there. Toyota calls it Smart Stop Technology, which I guess is better than calling it Anti-Road kill Technology, though not nearly as evocative.
I parallel parked easily — the back-up screen is tiny but maybe I’m just used to watching a TV the size of a motor home — although my u-turns (something I do with alarming regularity) weren’t as tight as in my Prius. Granted, the Highlander could eat my Prius for lunch and still have room for frozen yogurt.
I’m a big believer in the Ding Unto Others As You Would Have Them Ding Unto You amendment to the Golden Rule and the Highlander doors stayed in whatever position I opened them to: wide open, the 45 degree let-me-brush-the-crumbs-off-me-before-anyone-sees-what-a-an-animal-I-am position, and the 30 degree hold-your-breasts-suck-in-your-gut-and-pray position.
In addition to being a Designated Driver, I’m also a Designated Daughter, which means I frequently have my elderly mother riding shotgun. There are a lot of cars that require a forklift and a cattle prod to get her in and out, but the Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid would be perfect and perfectly comfortable for her too. That means a lot to me.
It’s classy without being pretentious, it’s reliable without feeling like an orthopedic shoe and it’s pretty and fun but it acts like it doesn’t know it… even though you know it does. As someone who doesn’t like SUVs, I loved this one!
Cool, comfy and fun to drive
A dashboard that was simple without being simplistic
It ain’t cheap, and I am.