We took some time with the 2006 Toyota Highlander LTD Hybrid 4WD-i V-6, driving it to and from the office, winding through mountain twisties, and impressing our friends with Toyota's latest high-tech ride. We have a kind of picture-in-picture approach to this article. We're going to talk about our experiences with the Highlander Hybrid while we concurrently run an explanation of what all this hybrid stuff is about.

If you know Highlanders, then you have a good idea of what the Hybrid version looks and feels like. It's a mid-sized SUV that exudes that competent, eager-to-please demeanor that has been the hallmark of Toyota design for some time. We liked the paint color; Bluestone Metallic they call it. This being the Limited model, the interior was well appointed, with tan leather seats and a pleasing layout. The Highlander squeezes in seven passengers, with two captain's chairs in the front, a 60/40 split in the second row, and a third row with its own heating system and cupholders. Both the second and third rows recline and fold flat to maximize the Highlander's cute-ute cargo capacity.

Sitting in the driver's seat wasn't so bad for those of us who are long of leg. In fact, we would even characterize the legroom as "adequate" for the vertically endowed. Larger riders may feel like they tower over the low-lying interior, but otherwise, it's about what you would expect. Dominating the center is the LCD touchscreen through which you can control the JBL Premium AM/FM/cassette/six-disc/eight-speaker audio system, use the navigation system, access a calendar, keep tabs on our trip and fuel consumption, and more. We'll touch on this again later.

Starting the Highlander's Hybrid Synergy Drive means unlearning a lifetime of every tactile experience you ever had with an automobile. The routine went something like this: We walked up to the Highlander Hybrid after a hard day at the office. Unlocked the door. Dropped into the seat. Slid the key into the ignition and turned it. Thought about dinner. Turned the ignition again. Considered getting some work done after dinner as a way to suck up to the boss. Turned the ignition...again? Reconsidered working at home, screw the boss. Turned the ignition...again! No vibration, no exhaust note. Is something wrong with this thing?!

Nothing was wrong. Looking at the power gauge to the left of the IP, we saw that the electric motor was ready and awaiting our command. A tentative touch of the accelerator allowed us to slip quietly down the road to 25 mph on electric power only. A confident mash on the pedal led to, well, let us tell you: Driving the Highlander Hybrid is like riding an electric rocket.

The Highlander Hybrid total system cranks out 268 effective horsepower. Horsepower from the 3.3L V-6 is 208 at 5600 rpm, while torque comes out to 212 at 4400 rpm. The breakdown for the electric motors is more interesting. Horses for the one that drives the front wheels is 167 at 4500 rpm, and the motor for the rear is 68 at 4610 to 5120 rpm. Torque gets better: Try 247 lb-ft at 0-1,500 rpm and 96 lb-ft at 0-610 rpm. Like the rpm numbers? You see, an electric motor has no torque "curve." It has a horizontal line. In other words, you get 100-percent torque from the second you push the accelerator.