Last winter, Toyota added a four-cylinder, front-wheel drive base model to its Highlander line. The engine is a 2.7-litre unit that makes 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque; fuel consumption is rated at 10.4/7.3 L/100 km (city/highway). As in 2008, V6 models are rated at 12.3/8.8 L/100 km.
2009 Toyota Highlander base four-cylinder. Click image to enlarge
The Highlander four-cylinder, curiously, is the only one to use a new six-speed automatic transmission; V6 models carry on with last year’s five speed auto. The new six-speed auto is the same one used in the Camry four-cylinder, while the 2.7-litre engine is shared with the Venza crossover.
Credit for the lower consumption goes partly to the smaller engine and new six-speed transmission, but can also be attributed to the lack of 4WD hardware, whose extra weight and drag on the engine have a noticeable effect on efficiency. While all-wheel drive is a great asset in a Canadian winter, a good set of winter tires, along with the Highlander’s standard stability and traction control, will make the front-drive model a perfectly reasonable proposition when the snow flies.
With two people on board, the Highlander four-cylinder performed admirably, with strong acceleration and smooth shifting from the new transmission. For most of our drive in the Highlander, we were on the relatively flat Thousand Islands Parkway in south-eastern Ontario. I suspect that in hillier terrain, or with all seven seats occupied (or both), the engine might be overwhelmed. The four-cylinder Highlander has a 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) towing capacity, a respectable amount for a large vehicle with less than 200 horsepower.
I’d suggest that if you frequently have a large number of people on board, or regularly a large trailer or boat, that the V6 would be the better choice. If most of your driving consists of transporting family and friends around town the four-cylinder model will fit the bill just fine.
With the four-cylinder model being the new base model Highlander for 2009, last year’s Base V6 trim is gone, and the SR5 model becomes the new entry-level V6 model. That model gets new standard equipment for 2009, including a power rear hatch, flip-up rear hatch glass, an eight-way power driver’s seat and upgraded cloth upholstery, in-dash six-CD changer and fog lamps.
2009 Highlander pricing starts at $32,600 for the four-cylinder model, which is $4,300 less than the 2008 Base V6 model. The new entry-level V6 4WD trim is priced at $37,570, compared to $39,150 for the 2008 SR5 model.
Both the 2010 Camry and 2009 Highlander four-cylinder models are on sale now.