Performance and Efficiency
The Toyota Highlander offers three distinct types of performance: a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine joined the line in 2009, offering an EPA-estimated 26 MPG in highway driving. The new 2.7-liter engine produces 187 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of peak torque while providing excellent fuel efficiency. The engine is equipped with a variable intake manifold and dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), which controls phasing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts to optimize torque and fuel efficiency. Both of these technologies help give the new 2.7-liter engine a broad torque curve for strong response at all engine speeds. The new four-cylinder engine is teamed exclusively with a standard six-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission.
Handling and Ride
The 2009 Highlander builds on the previous-generation model’s excellent reputation for providing agile handling and a smooth, quiet ride. Four-wheel independent suspension is via MacPherson struts in front and a dual-link strut rear suspension system. Sport-tuned suspension on the Sport grade sharpens handling responses. Base Highlander models are equipped with standard 17-inch alloy wheels with 245/65 R17 tires. Sport and Limited models get standard 19-inch alloy wheels with 245/55 R19 tires. A direct tire pressure warning system is designed to alert the driver if pressure in a tire drops to critical levels. All Highlander models are equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. On conventional Highlander 4WD models, full-time four-wheel drive is available on all grades.
As with all Toyota SUVs for the last five years, Highlander comes standard with Toyota's Star Safety System™, which includes enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC), an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist (BA).
Enhanced VSC helps the driver maintain control by automatically adjusting engine output and braking force at each wheel under certain conditions while also providing steering assistance in the appropriate direction through Electric Power Steering (EPS). Unlike conventional ABS, TRAC, VSC and EPS, which operate independently of each other, the enhanced VSC system integrates all of these features to enhance vehicle maneuverability in all traction conditions. Gas Highlander models are also equipped with a straight-line steering feature. When varying traction causes ABS to apply different left/right braking force, the system can apply steering torque to help offset left/right pull.
The Highlander Hybrid employs the advanced Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system. VDIM system is designed to enhance handling, traction and braking systems that normally react to vehicle driving conditions by anticipating tire slippage before a skid, slide or wheel spin occurs and helps make corrections in a smooth, progressive way. In addition to integrating all of the Highlander's dynamic control systems (VSC, TRAC, BA, EPS, EBD and ABS), the VDIM system also employs powerful proprietary software to integrate the Electronic Throttle Control with intelligence (ETC-i) and Electronically Controlled Brakes (ECB).
Two additional electronic/hydraulic systems, though not part of enhanced VSC, are also designed to help improve driver confidence and control. Standard on all Highlander and Highlander Hybrid models, Hill-Start Assist Control provides braking pressure to all four wheels for approximately two seconds to help prevent the vehicle from rolling backward, , therefore helping to ensure a smooth start.
Downhill Assist Control (DAC), standard equipment on all gas 4WD models, helps control downhill speed when engine braking is not sufficient. The DAC feature is designed to maintain a constant speed, and maintain handling and steering control by reducing wheel lock under braking even at slow speeds on slippery descents.
Highlander comes standard with a total of seven airbags. These include advanced driver and front passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and a driver's knee airbag. Roll-sensing side curtain airbags help to protect the occupants of all three rows in the event of certain side collisions or vehicle rollovers. Additionally, all Highlander models are now standard equipped with front active headrests.
Standard features on all Highlander models include air conditioning; front seats with height-adjustable active head rests and eight-way (10-way on Limited) adjustable driver's seat; power door locks and windows with driver's window jam protection and auto-up/down feature; cruise control; multi-function keyless entry system; UV-reduction windshield and rear privacy glass; digital clock; dual sun visors with vanity mirrors and sliding extensions; conversation mirror; illuminated entry system; manual tilt and telescopic steering wheel; scheduled maintenance indicator light; full-size spare tire; and much more.
Base and Sport models feature a standard AM/FM/CD audio system with six-speakers; Limited models upgrade to an AM/FM/six-disc in-dash CD changer with six speakers, MP3/WMA playback capability and satellite radio capability. All audio systems are equipped with a universal mini-jack.
A variety of options and accessories are offered, including a power rear door that can be opened and closed with a key fob; a voice-activated touch screen navigation system with an eight-inch screen; JBL premium audio with a four-disc changer, nine speakers and Bluetooth® technology and satellite radio capability, a rear-seat entertainment system with a nine-inch screen; three-zone air conditioning; JBL premium audio with six-disc changer, nine speakers and Bluetooth® technology and satellite ready capability; leather seat trim and multi-stage heated seats, and a power tilt/slide moonroof. The optional tow package enables up to 5,000-pound maximum towing capacity (V6 gas models only) -- one of the highest in Highlander’s class -- while the four-cylinder tow package enables up to 3,500 pounds of maximum towing capacity.
The new-generation Highlander moves away from traditional SUV styling cues. Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. sculpted clean, crisp lines, a wide, stable stance and muscular contours to give Highlander an advanced, contemporary, assertive and dynamic personality.
The Base grade Highlander could be mistaken for an upgrade model with its six-spoke 17-inch machined alloy wheels, color-keyed power remote outside mirrors, silver-painted front grille, silver-painted rear license plate garnish, a black rear lower bumper cover and black rear step bumper cover.
The upscale Limited looks the luxury part with chrome grille and inserts, chrome door handles, puddle lamps, fog lamps, light silver-painted roof rails, chrome grille surround and light silver-painted rear license plate garnish, and rear spoiler.
The Base grade Highlander Hybrid is distinguished by a front grille with chrome surround and silver-painted fins, silver-painted rear license plate garnish, blue-tinted headlight and taillight lenses, black fog lamp covers, silver-painted lower bumper cover, rear spoiler with LED stop lamp, 17-inch alloy wheels with 245/ 65 R17 tires, and Hybrid Synergy Drive badging. Highlander Hybrid Limited adds 19-inch, 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, light silver-painted roof rails, rear glass hatch, and a power rear door.
The second-generation Highlander provides an open, airy and versatile interior with seating for seven or up to 95.4 cubic feet of total cargo capacity (94.1 for Highlander Hybrid). Compared to the previous-generation Highlander, the new model’s interior is more than four inches longer, front-to-back, and is also wider, yielding additional room between each of the three rows of seats. There are numerous storage compartments throughout the cabin, along with ten cup holders, four bottle holders, two front and one cargo-area 12-volt auxiliary power outlets and cargo area tie down hooks.
The Base and Sport grades feature a center console, shift knob with silver-painted accents and front driver and passenger assist grips. On the Sport grade the assist grips are accented in silver-painted trim. The center console, shift knob and assist grip on the Limited grade feature satin-mahogany wood grain-style trim.
The Highlander Hybrid is equipped with a unique instrument panel, including an energy monitor that adds new features to assist the driver in maximizing fuel economy. Styling features on the inside of the Highlander Hybrid include a silver and birch-wood grain-style interior trim with chrome door handle accents, Optitron meters with blue graphics and a power meter with a hybrid system indicator.
Access to the third-row has been improved, not only by adding the Center Stow™ seat, but also by placing the walk-in lever at an easy to reach position at the bottom of the second-row seat. Standard on Highlander Sport and Limited grades, one-touch levers inside the cargo area allow the second-row seats to fold forward and flat.
The third-row seats function in a similar manner, using a lever in the back of the seat. Highlander 2WD Base and both 2WD and 4WD Sport models are available with a two-row seat package. The rear door offers a power operation as an option (standard on Highlander Hybrid Limited and not available on gas Base grades). The four-cylinder model also comes standard with two rows of seats and an available third row seat package. Smart Start and Entry is standard on the Highlander Limited and Hybrid models.