Latest Reader Question: Buy a Hybrid? (May 5, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply:

James asks: I’m considering a used Highlander and want to know if the special with electric/gas engine is worth the extra? What are the sweet spots, 2-4 yrs old, 10-30k miles?

My reply: I’m assuming you’re thinking about a hybrid Highlander. I personally would not buy one. Not because it’s a “bad” vehicle. But because the hybrid’s fuel efficiency advantage vs. the non-hybrid is only about 7 MPG overall. On the highway, they each get almost the same mileage (27 for the hybrid, 26 for the non-hybrid). In city driving, the hybrid rates 29 vs. 20 for the non-hybrid, but unless most of your driving is “city” driving, your average mileage with the hybrid will be about 7 (and maybe less) better than the non-hybrid.

The problem with the hybrid Highlander is that it’s not really a hybrid. Not in the way a Prius is.

What I mean is that the hybrid Highlander (like most hybrids) is an ex post facto hybrid. An existing vehicle that was not designed to be a hybrid was converted to a hybrid drivetrain. And the first problem with that is weight – which is a problem for fuel economy, which is the whole point of owning a hybrid. Or at least, the economic justification for buying one.

A related problem is the battery/motor. In a converted hybrid, there is often less room available for these components, so smaller/less powerful components are used.

What you end up with is mediocre efficiency for all that trouble.

A purpose-built hybrid such as the Prius was designed around its hybrid powertrain. Every piece of that car was designed to optimize the efficiency of  the hybrid layout. It is light and has a comparatively large battery pack/motor – and so the result is a very fuel efficient vehicle.

To sum up, I think you’d be better off shopping for a regular, non-hybrid Highlander. I’d look for one around 4-5 years old, with around 60,000 miles on it. That’s hardly broken in for these things!

. . .

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  1. Not here nor there but an aside to the hybrid conversation.

    My best friend bought a new Camry hybrid in 2012. It was what his late wife wanted so what he still has.

    I gotta tell you I wouldn’t buy a hybrid but that car’s always amazed me with its acceleration. .

    Today he got into a race from a stoplight with a Dodge Hemi pickup

    He said it was a draw to 100 mph.

    He was at a disadvantage since that Camry roasts the tires up to about 40mph. I was amazed when he bought and it was a stoplight racer….but the motor goes all out as does the engine. Makes it a damn quick car

    The rub now comes that after the 20 second foot to the floor the batteries were all in. 6 years old. he ain’t surprised.


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