2006 Toyota Highlander Turbo-Hybrid Sport by Borg-Warner
A touch of Green with a powerful kick
By Melissa Spiering
Photography by the author
Meet the world's first turbo-hybrid. Yup, that's what I said -- turbo-hybrid. Borg-Warner Turbo & Emissions Systems takes Toyota's popular first-gen hybrid SUV to the next level of performance only to prove that hybrids do have a place amongst the tuners.
As more and more hybrids make their debuts at auto shows, the aftermarket and performance groups are starting to feel that times are changing in the auto industry. There will all ways be a need for aftermarket parts for those who love to tune and customize their vehicles, but being green and bigger mpg gains are being pushed by politicians and by the needs of consumers. This provided Borg-Warner and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. with the biggest stepping stone to dethrone any ideas that performance and hybrids can't be mixed.
The 2005 Highlander Hybrid was the first seven-passenger hybrid SUV in the automotive industry. It quickly won the hearts of consumers and became the best-selling hybrid SUV with sales just under its sedan sister, the Prius. This also made Toyota the first manufacturer to offer a hybrid powertrain in passenger car and SUV markets.
Borg-Warner took the stock 3.3-liter V-6 gas-electric engine with 268 peak combined horsepower and custom-fitted an AirWerks K24.2 hybrid turbocharger that featured a Forged-billet compressor wheel, a Ni-Resist turbine housing with an Inconel 713 turbine wheel, and a fabricated air-to-air intercooler with a fully functional hood scoop built and installed by Bill Smulo at G2 Graphic Services. An open-boxed cold-intake and Turbonetics Raptor Blow-off Valve amplify the turbo spooling at open throttle, making it sound as if it were a diesel truck. As a result, the hybrid turbocharger boosts nearly 25-percent more power and nets this hybrid's musclecar-like performance to 320 horsepower. Zero to 60 jumps from 7.3 to 6.9 seconds and pushes this lightweight slugger into the low 15s on the quarter mile.
The power of this hybrid is advertised all over the exterior of this SUV with a custom two-tone black and blue paint scheme that's broken up by thin line of marbleized paint. "TURBO-HYBRID" is written down the side of the doors and the "Hybrid Synergy system" emblems have been removed and replaced with painted replicas that create a clean and smooth rear hatch. Front and rear spoilers, side rocker panels, and a custom billet grill designed by Lund International, Inc. dress the Highlander up. To finish off the Highlanders Sporty look, a set of unique 18-inch KMC Alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 P235/55R18 tires have been added. Without actually looking inside the interior, one might miss the panoramic and slider sunroofs that were also added to the roof of the SUV.
The interior isn't as bright as the exterior, but it's still packed with tons of entertainment goodness. The seats and door panels are wrapped in velvety soft gray leather and gray marble-looking dash trim is sprinkled throughout the cabin. I counted eight cupholders located around the second-row seating and four for the third row, which also sport the marble trim. The dash features end-to-end chrome that's nice to look at, but could be bothersome on sunny days. JBL set up the sound system that features nine speakers with a 560-watt amp. Two color LCD cameras have been added to the rear hatch. One is set to display from the factory navigation as a rearview backup camera and the second is placed on the interior of the rear hatch as a way to watch behind you as you load up your vehicle at the grocery store --almost like the concaved mirrors at an ATM, so you can watch your back. Second- and third-row passengers can be entertained by four nine-inch LCD headrest screens with the option to play two different movies at the same time. And if that isn't enough to keep you happy on the road, the highlander has XM Radio and an iPod interface for all your music listening needs.
What I think
By Melissa Spiering
Performance-mod hybrids? My ideas about hybrids could be changing. I live on the philosophy that I can't drive a stock vehicle. People that know me know I'm a tuner and I'm always on the move for my next project. In the past I would never give a hybrid the time of day -- perhaps due to my lack of knowledge of tuning a hybrid. But after spending some time behind the wheel of Highlander Turbo-Hybrid, I am seeing performance and hybrids in a new light.
My daily commute to the office ranges from 95 to 105 miles depending on the freeways I choose to travel. Half the time it's free sailing with speeds up around 70-75 mph, and the second half of my journey tends to live up to L.A. traffic's reputation as a parking lot. The Hybrid Synergy system works no different than the stock version -- it just has some extra kick from the turbo when you need it to really move. I averaged 28-31 mpg daily, which falls in the EPA range 33 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway on the stock 3.3-liter V-6.
Based on my experience behind the wheel, I felt the turbo suffered from a long wait of turbo-lag. When full throttle is engaged, the turbo spools loudly and it sounds like a powerful diesel truck (it gave me goose bumps). It moves once the turbo lag dissipates and the boost kicks in. The Highlander handled well as a hybrid and as a performance vehicle. I recently spent some time behind the newly redesigned 2008 Highlander on our 2008 SUOTY testing. I wasn't hugely impressed with the comfortable new look of the interior or the performance handling. I prefer the 2005-2006 styling over the new generation of Highlanders just because of this one turbo hybrid. But if Toyota wants to build me a 2008 Highlander turbo-hybrid, I'd be more than willing to give that a run on my long commutes to work. Who knows, I might like it.
With any aftermarket tinkering, there will always be hiccups on paving a new path of performance. I'm glad to see a major manufacturer like Toyota opening the doors of performance opportunity as natural resources, government, and the need to save the world one carb at a time as the auto industry is changing.
And who said you can't have it green and have performance, too?
(Toyota just proved them wrong).