2009 Highlander Hybrid New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Highlander is a family hauler that's smooth and comfortable with generous space for passengers and cargo. The Hybrid model delivers excellent fuel economy with minimal emissions, while a new four-cylinder engine for 2009 offers decent fuel economy at a lower price point. An available V6 engine delivers smooth performance and respectable fuel economy.
Completely new for 2008, the current Highlander is larger than the previous-generation in every significant dimension.
New for 2009 is a brand-new four-cylinder engine. It displaces 2.7 liters, makes 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and delivers attractive EPA fuel economy ratings of 20/27 mpg City/Highway. It has a variable intake manifold and Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize torque and fuel efficiency and to deliver strong response at all engine speeds. The new four-cylinder is matched with a six-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission, and is available only with two-wheel drive. Otherwise, the Highlander is unchanged for 2009.
A versatile cabin adds to the attractiveness of the Highlander as a family vehicle. The second row can slide forward and back, and the third-row seat is hospitable for children and capable of carrying adults. Getting in and out of the first two rows is easy, and Toyota provides both a walk-through and a fold-and-slide-forward second-row seat to ease access to the third row.
In addition to the new four-cylinder engine, there are two other powertrains. A 3.5-liter V6 delivers 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The 3.5-liter V6 is buttery smooth, as is its five-speed automatic transmission, which downshifts seamlessly to provide ample passing punch. Front-wheel-drive Highlanders with the 3.5-liter V6 are EPA-rated at 18/24 mpg City/Highway, while all-wheel drive models are rated slightly lower at 17/23 mpg.
The Highlander Hybrid has a 270-hp gas/electric powertrain that provides smooth, plentiful power. The gasoline engine is a 3.3-liter V6 that delivers 208 horsepower and 212 pound-feet of torque and is matched to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). In combination with the electric motors, the complete Hybrid powertrain can deliver 270 horsepower to the driving wheels. The Hybrid is rated at 27/25 mpg City/Highway.
Gasoline-only Highlanders come standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available for customers who want all-weather capability and enhanced safety. Hybrids come standard with all-wheel drive.
The Highlander is a so-called crossover SUV, meaning it's built more like a car than a truck. The Highlander is based on the architecture of the Toyota Camry midsize sedan. As a result, the Highlander offers a quiet cabin and a luxurious ride quality. Overall, we found the Toyota Highlander to be a pleasant way to carry a group of people.
The 2009 Toyota Highlander offers a choice of three powertrains, three trim levels and front or all-wheel drive. The base Highlander ($25,705) comes with the 2.7-liter four cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6 ($27,600). The Highlander Sport ($30,000) and Limited ($33,070) come standard with the 3.5-liter V6. The all-wheel-drive models all have the 3.5-liter V6, and are available in base ($29,050), Sport ($31,450), and Limited ($34,520) trim. Highlander Hybrid models come standard with all-wheel drive and are available in base ($34,700) and Limited ($41,020) trim.
The Highlander comes standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning; three-row seating for up to seven passengers; a 40/20/40 second-row seat with a removable center section that can be stowed under the first-row center console; a fold-flat third row; AM/FM/CD with six speakers and MP3; power windows, door locks, and mirrors; remote keyless entry; cruise control; variable intermittent wipers; rear defogger with variable intermittent wiper; rear spoiler; tilt/telescope steering wheel; two front and one cargo-area 12-volt power outlets; fog lights; and 245/65R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Hybrid models get Toyota's Smart Entry System that includes keyless entry and starting, a 3.5-inch multifunction display screen that includes a rear backup camera, a clock, tire-pressure display, air conditioning readout, and outside temperature and trip computer information, in addition to all the hybrid-related features. Also, base Hybrids come standard with two seating rows; the third row is optional.
Sport models add 245/55R19 tires, sport-tuned suspension, opening rear glass, a rear tonneau cover, cargo area levers to fold the second-row seats, and the multi-function display.
Limited models upgrade with leather upholstery, 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and four-way power front passenger's seat, front dual-zone automatic climate control, and Homelink universal transmitter, foldable power outside mirrors with puddle lamps. Limited models also come with opening rear glass, a rear tonneau cover, cargo area levers to fold the second-row seats, and the multi-function display. Limited models ride on the standard suspension, but they get the 245/55R19 tires and 19-inch wheels.
Limited Hybrid models come with the same features as the Limited.
Options include leather upholstery ($1,490 for two rows, $1,840 for three rows), a navigation system in combination with a JBL audio system ($2,530), front dual-zone climate control ($375), automatic rear air conditioning ($585), heated front seats ($440), upgraded JBL audio with nine speakers and a Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link ($630), sunroof ($850), power rear tailgate ($400), rear DVD entertainment ($1,700), several other options, and numerous packages that combine individual options.
Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags for thorax protection, head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover all three seating rows, a driver's knee airbag, active front headrests, tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes, traction control, antiskid control, and hill-start assist. Hill descent control is standard on AWD models.