The 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has been restyled and made more powerful as part of a comprehensive freshening of the Toyota Highlander line, last fully redesigned for the 2008 model year.

Along with more prosaic gasoline-powered Highlanders, the front-end styling has been updated. The hood and headlights have been reshaped, and the hybrid's unique grille is different. At the rear, the taillights have been replaced and, less obviously, there's a new rear bumper.

But it's under the hood that the most significant changes have been made. Toyota has increased the Highlander Hybrid's engine from 3.3 liters to 3.5 liters, and upped the combined power output from 270 to 280 horsepower.

Despite a bigger, more powerful engine, the Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the large midsize sport utility vehicle--the only hybrid SUV to offer a 7-seat option--delivers slightly better fuel efficiency.

Last year, the 2010 Highlander Hybrid was EPA-rated at 27 mpg city, 25 mpg highway with standard electric all-wheel-drive. (Only the gasoline Highlander offers a front-wheel-drive-only option.) The hybrid AWD uses a beefy electric motor to drive the rear wheels on demand, rather than the Ford Escape Hybrid's mechanical all-wheel-drive system.

For 2011, mileage ratings rise to 28 mpg city, 28 mpg highway , a noticeable improvement.

The entire refreshed 2011 Toyota Highlander line debuted at the Moscow Auto Show, a significant market for luxury SUVs that offer more flexibility for newly wealthy Russian buyers over that country's frequently primitive rural roads.

Other changes for 2011 include better standard equipment. The Highlander Hybrid now includes as standard front and rear air conditioners, power windows, doors, and mirrors, a steering column that telescopes as well as tilting, and keyless entry.

The 2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid starts at $37,290, plus a destination charge of almost another thousand dollars. Just for comparison, the gasoline Highlander with the base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive, which is rated at 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, starts at $27,390--just shy of $10K less.

The Highlander Hybrid Limited--which includes a Tech Audio package with a USB port, Bluetooth and satellite radio, among other features--starts at $42,945, again plus destination.

[Toyota via Car Connection]