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Toyota takes the high (lander) road

Toyota launches the new generation of its Highlander Hybrid SUV at the Chicago Auto Show.

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Toyota used the Chicago Auto Show to launch the new generation of its Highlander Hybrid SUV. The new 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is bigger than the previous generation and is based on the Camry and Avalon platform. Although the new Highlander Hybrid's engine remains the same, Toyota engineers refined the hybrid system and tuned the engine to increase horsepower by 55, up to a net 270 horsepower for the engine and electric motors combined. But that increase hasn't changed the fuel economy, with the Toyota claiming to have kept the Highlander at 31 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid nav screen

Cabin electronics get an interesting makeover as well. First, the car offers the trifecta of cabin tech: navigation, premium stereo system, and Bluetooth cell phone integration. It also has a smart key and a standard back-up camera. Examining the pictures Toyota released today, the interior looks almost as luxurious as a Lexus, Toyota's upscale brand. The six-disc changer--a part of the nine-speaker JBL audio system--plays MP3 and WMA CDs. But there's no CD slot in the center stack, leading us to believe the navigation screen flips down. In the press release pictures, a smaller, secondary LCD at the top of the stack can show climate control information. We assume the back-up camera and other information would be displayed in the smaller screen when the navigation option isn't present. And we like to see carmakers adding standard LCDs, as these screens can show a wide array of information with more detail than a radio display.

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid steering wheel

The steering wheel on the new Highlander Hybrid also looks convenient, with large buttons on both lateral spokes for audio and climate control. Phone and voice command buttons also sit on the lower spokes. According to Toyota's press release, the middle-row seats can either be a bench or two captain's chairs, as a small seat can be folded out to fit between the two chairs. We find this arrangement a particularly smart approach to making a flexible, comfortable interior.

From this launch, the 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid looks like it continues Toyota's recent run of excellent design, value, and quality. We expect to get one of these cars in this summer for a full review on CNET Car Tech.