The return of the 2009 Toyota Highlander four-cylinder was a quick response to the great fuel spike of 2008. And for most everyday family needs, the power of four cylinders will likely be enough. For those shopping this five-to seven-seater to transport colleagues or team players with a load of gear through hill country, the V-6 will be the better choice.
When Highlander debuted in 2001, there was a four-cylinder model, but it eventually was pulled from lack of interest.
The important specifications for the new Highlander four-cylinder are its 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and fuel-economy ratings of 20 mpg city and 27 highway, which is better than many smaller five-seat crossovers.
Pricing is fairly simple. Sold only in one front-wheel drive model, the starting price is $26,505, including the $800 freight charge. The test vehicle had one option, the Extra Value Package ($1,813), which includes the third-row bench seat that folds flat into the cargo floor.
That pricing compares to $28,400 for the V-6 or $35,500 for the Highlander Hybrid.
With styling to offend none — except those who prefer something edgier — the Highlander has the golden Toyota touch.
The driver area is orderly and ergonomic. Sightlines are good, ride quality is remarkably calm and the cabin is quieter than ever. It steers with a light touch, displacing its 15.7-feet length and nearly 2-ton curb weight. Throttle response is direct and braking is smooth and flat — and all this from a vehicle sourced from the Camry sedan platform.
Performance away from the light can be sharp, but it is the 30 to 60 mph zone where acceleration can feel starved. Give yourself room when merging with speeding interstate traffic. The six-speed is a big help in keeping the engine in the power band, but the engine still gets winded on those long uphill grades when the gang is on the way to the soccer tourney.
With full-size people onboard, it is a better six-seater than seven, though there is very good use of space.
The 40/20/20 second row slides fore and aft, reclines and folds for access to the third row or to expand cargo space, which is slim with the third row in place.
The second row has clever engineering of captain's-style window seats with fold-down armrests, separated by a fold-down center console that doubles as a very narrow center seat.
The so-called Center Stow seat also can be removed for an aisle to the third row, which has basic padding as a seat bottom but decent foot room for youngsters.
The Highlander four-cylinder is a desirable, easygoing family vehicle, but it is positioned as a base model that can't be optioned with some desirable features available on the V-6, such as a power tailgate, heated front seats or a sunroof.
Toyota should reward consumers who are trying to conserve fuel and emissions and give them access to the full line of Highlander options.
2009 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER
Body style: midsize, five-to seven-passenger, front-wheel-drive Camry-based crossover
Engine: 187-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual mode
Standard equipment includes: remote locking, six-speaker CD audio system; eight-way adjustable driver's seat; power locks and windows with driver's auto-up/down feature, cruise control, UV-reduction windshield and rear privacy glass, digital clock, sun visors with vanity mirrors and sliding extensions, conversation mirror, illuminated entry system, manual tilt and telescopic steering wheel, scheduled maintenance indicator light, 17-inch machined alloy wheels and full-size spare tire
Safety features include: seven air bags (including driver knee bag and curtain roll sensing) vehicle stability control, traction control, driver and passenger active headrests, tire pressure monitor system and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, brake assist, and electronic brake-force distribution
Base: $26,505, including $800 freight charge; price as tested $28,318
Options on test vehicle: Extra Value Package ($1,813) includes black roof rails, hands-free phone connection, manual rear air-conditioning system with rear vents for second and third rows, engine immobilizer, daytime running lights with automatic on/off headlights
COPYRIGHT 2009 THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE.
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