Consumer Reports and Hybrid Cars

Lean Green Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Consumer Reports doesn’t have it quite right yet when it comes to hybrid cars. I own a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited (4WD). Three months ago Consumer Reports rated it the overall best buy among all SUVs. It was even rated above the Lexus Hybrid which is practically the same vehicle but costs about $12,000 more than the Highlander Limited. The September 2007 issue included this specific model in a handful of cars that are expected to last over 200,000 miles. Note that all the models listed were Japanese. An earlier issue stated that owners would be disappointed by the Toyota’s overall gas mileage which they quoted at 22mpg. They also touted their gas mileage estimates as much more accurate than the Department of Energy’s estimates.

I’ve never gotten less than 22.8mpg on a tankful of gas and nearly always do better than that. On a 1500 mile round trip recently the figures were 28mpg going and 29mpg on the return trip. The air conditioner was running the entire time and I generally drove close to five mph above the posted speed limit as did nearly everyone else. On the 12-hour trip coming home I encountered gridlock at both ends and was stuck in traffic for nearly two hours. Whenever possible I engaged cruise control but made no special effort to be economical besides that. My drive was on the East Coast so there wasn’t any mountain driving involved.

Consumer Reports has a good record and is very respectable but their estimated economy figures for cars needs a lot of work. It’s probably only an snapshot taken over a limited distance and range of conditions. They don’t take real world owner reports into account. I hope they improve their accuracy soon. It would be a shame if people were put off from buying larger hybrids whose extra space they might need due to inaccurate published data.

For this model –and possibly many others– the US Department of Energy’s predicted mileage figures are more accurate than the one published in Consumer Reports.

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