Toyota's 2009 Highlander is available in base, Sport and Limited models. A 2.7L 187-horsepower 4-cylinder is now standard on the base model, but a 3.5L V6 engine making 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque is optional on the base model and standard on the Sport and Limited. There's also a Highlander Hybrid model, offered in base or Limited trims, that pairs a 3.3L V6 engine with an electric motor and generator system to make 270 horsepower together. The Hybrid now has an EV mode, for driving short distances at low speed on electric power only, and there's also an ECON mode that limits acceleration to conserve energy. The new 4-cylinder model is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while V6 versions get a 5-speed automatic. The base model comes only in 2-wheel drive when equipped with the 4-cylinder, while V6 models are available in either 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive. The V6 can be equipped to tow 5,000 pounds, while the 4-cylinder can pull 3,500.
All three powertrains are quite fuel-efficient. The 2.7L 4-cylinder delivers 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, while the 3.5L V6 returns 18 city, 24 highway. The Hybrid gets 27 city, 25 highway, according to EPA estimates.
Inside, there's optional seating for seven, with a third-row seat that folds and stows away, and a 40/20/40-split folding second row that slides fore and aft and also reclines. The Highlander is one of the most refined vehicles in its class. In particular, Toyota employs new measures to minimize road noise, and uses a sophisticated engine mounting system to isolate noise and vibration.
Vehicle safety control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist are standard on the Highlander; a total of seven air bags are offered, too, including front side air bags, roll-sensing side-curtain bags and even a driver's knee bag.
An electric power steering system is installed across the model line. The system also serves several safety functions. The non-hybrid Highlanders have straight-line steering, which means the power steering system helps offset a pull to the side due to different surfaces in hard braking. All Highlanders also have a corner braking feature in which power steering assist guides the driver toward restoring vehicle stability.
The Highlander Hybrid also includes the VDIM (vehicle dynamics integrated management) system, which integrates all of the safety electronics--including throttle and brakes--together to more seamlessly intervene if a loss of control is anticipated. Also, to help when negotiating a steep hill where traction might be difficult, both hill start assist and downhill assist control are offered.
The Highlander's standard feature list includes keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control and power accessories. The Sport model adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, leather-trimmed steering wheel, power driver's seat, and a number of appearance improvements. At the top of the line is the Limited, which adds leather upholstery and Satin Mahogany interior trim, automatic climate control, an upgraded sound system with a 6-disc changer Smart Key entry system, fog lamps, heated power mirrors and a heated windshield, along with a host of cosmetic details.
Major options include a power back hatch that can be opened with the key fob, voice-activated navigation, leather upholstery and multi-stage heated seats, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, tri-zone air conditioning, a tow package, a moonroof and a JBL premium audio system with Bluetooth.
Following a major redesign in 2008, the 2009 Highlander sees few changes. A new base-level 2-wheel-drive 4-cylinder model joins the lineup, featuring a 187-horsepower 2.7-liter engine that gets an estimated 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway and is rated as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle by the EPA. Two-row seating is standard in the base model, with third-row seating and an upgraded stereo optional.