Click above for high-res gallery of the 2008 Toyota Highlander

When the all-new Highlander launched last year, it came equipped with your choice of a 3.5L V6 or a 3.3L hybrid powerplant. Toyota is expanding the Highlander's powertrain lineup for 2009 by adding a more fuel efficient 2.7L four-cylinder engine. The new engine produces 187 horsepower at 5,800 RPM and 186 lb-ft at 4,100 RPM, making it the most powerful four cylinder engine in Toyota's lineup. Assisting the new 2.7L engine is a six-speed automatic transmission that Toyota says together will provide smooth acceleration and V6-like performance. EPA figures will be announced closer to the engine/transmission's January 2009 launch date, and they should be a few mpg better than the 3.5L engine's 18/24 figures.

The addition of a four-pot to the Highlander lineup will give customers a less expensive and more fuel efficient option in this model lineup, which should prove mighty popular. What remains to be seen is whether a 187-hp engine can properly motivate a 4,000-lb vehicle. We're guessing that since many Highlander buyers aren't likely all that interested in driving dynamics, the most important stat for Toyota's CUV will be its EPA number. Hit the jump to for Toyota's press release if you're looking for nitty gritty details.

Related GalleryReview: 2008 Toyota Highlander Sport

[Source: Toyota]


PRESS RELEASE:

August 14, 2008 - Torrance, CA - Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., announced today that the 2009 Highlander mid-size sport utility vehicle (SUV) will offer an all-new, powerful yet fuel-efficient 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine. When it arrives at dealerships in mid-to-late January, the new Highlander powerplant will be among the best mid-size SUVs in the areas of performance, fuel economy and value.

The new 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine will generate an impressive 187 horsepower at 5,800 RPM and 186 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,100 RPM on regular 87 octane fuel. A dual exhaust manifold will help achieve exceptional low-end torque and maximize its power output. In addition to its performance output, the Highlander equipped with the new four-cylinder will be EPA-rated as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEVII) and is expected to be among the leaders in fuel efficiency in the gas mid-size SUV segment. Official EPA fuel efficiency ratings will be announced closer to launch.

The new four-cylinder engine will be mated to an all-new six-speed electronically-controlled automatic overdrive transmission with intelligence (ECT-i). The new transmission will help deliver quiet and smooth performance on par with a V6 and acceleration that is surprisingly quick for a four-cylinder. When equipped with a tow package, the new powerplant will achieve a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

The new engine will come standard on the Highlander grade two-wheel-drive model equipped with two rows of seats, contributing to its excellent value. A third row seat package will also be available for families requiring additional seating capacity. Other key optional equipment will include an eight-way power driver's seat, manual rear air conditioning, and an AM/FM/six-disc CD Changer with satellite radio capability, MP3/WMA capability and six speakers.

With the new four-cylinder engine, Highlander will be the only mid-size SUV in the current market to offer three powerplant choices. The 3.5-liter Highlander V6, available in two- and full-time four-wheel drive, is among the leaders in fuel efficiency among V6 gas engines in its segment. The full-time 4WD-i Highlander Hybrid, equipped with a V6 powerplant with front and rear electric motors, stands above all others for fuel efficiency among all mid-size SUVs.

Since it first launched in 2001, Highlander has been one of Toyota's most popular vehicles, setting the standard for car-based SUVs in innovation, comfort and sales. Driver and passenger comfort is accomplished with segment leading seating versatility through innovative flexible seating functions for up to seven people. Comfort is complemented with one of the highest levels of standard safety features in the small- and mid-size SUV market including a segment-leading total of seven airbags.