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  • 2009 Toyota Highlander 4X2

    Posted on July 29th, 2009 ninarussin

    New four-cylinder engine adds a fuel-efficient alternative to the V-6

    By Nina Russin

    2009 Toyota Highlander

    2009 Toyota Highlander

    Toyota introduced the original Highlander in 2001: the mid-sized crossover was the yin to the 4Runner’s yang. Whereas the 4Runner appealed to customers wanting serious off-road performance, the Highlander reached out to families needing a versatile cargo area, but with better fuel economy and a softer ride.

    The Highlander quickly became the biggest success story in Toyota history. Over the past nine years, Toyota has broadened the lineup to include hybrid and sport models. This year, Toyota adds a new 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine as the standard block for the base two-wheel drive grade, offering a fuel-efficient alternative to the more powerful V-6.

    While it doesn’t have the off-road performance of the Toyota 4Runner, the Highlander is an excellent choice for active families, with seating for up to seven passengers, a high level of standard safety, and versatile interior.

    The 2.7-liter engine averages 27 miles-per-gallon on the highway, reducing cost of ownership. An available towing prep package increases towing capacity on the base grade to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standards.

    A unique center stow seat adds an extra pathway to the back. The undersized seat stows under the center console. Captains’ chairs on either side slide forward to ease access and egress to the third row.

    Test drive in Phoenix

    This week, I had the chance to test drive the base model in Phoenix, Arizona. Being July, it was a good opportunity to test the air conditioning, and see how well the new four-cylinder engine would fare in extreme heat. Daytime highs averaged in the 110s, including a day that reached 115 degrees.

    Being mid-summer, I was delighted to have a test car with cloth trim. Not only is cloth cooler than leather, it’s also easier to keep clean. The air conditioner worked remarkably well, cooling the car down in ten minutes on the hottest day of the test period.

    The four-cylinder engine has adequate power for most driving situations, though it feels somewhat anemic during hard acceleration. The gate shifter includes a manual shift option, so the driver can make the most of the engine’s available power. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, minimizing the shift shock characteristic of small engines.

    When I drive the Highlander, I’m always impressed by how much its ride and handling resembles Toyota passenger cars. It’s quiet and responsive, with linear braking and a perfectly-tuned independent suspension. The electric power steering is more compact than a hydraulic system, with similar performance. There is plenty of assist at low speeds, with a positive on-center feel on the highway.

    A hill start assist feature is standard on all models. It applies the brakes on steep inclines so that the car doesn’t slip when accelerating from a stop.

    Seventeen-inch wheels, standard on the base model, have a large enough footprint to keep the car stable on cloverleaf entrance ramps. A corner braking feature works with dynamic stability control to reduce understeer. The Highlander comes with a full-sized spare tire, providing extra insurance on long road trips.

    Visibility to the front and sides is quite good. Thick rear pillars and a narrow rear window reduce visibility out the back, especially when parking. A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clear in rain and snow.

    Seating for seven passengers

    Toyota Highlander Interior

    Toyota Highlander Interior

    The Highlander’s versatile interior is its biggest asset. Features such as the standard conversation mirror and the center stow seat make the Highlander an easy car for families to live in.

    Up front, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag. Redundant audio controls minimize driver distraction.

    The conversation mirror in the overhead console also includes a sunglass holder. There are two overhead reading lamps to illuminate the front at night. All models come with ten cup and four bottle holders.

    Two large gauges are easy to read in any light; a digital display in between includes odometer and trip meter. There is a deep storage bin in the center console. Ahead of that, the gated shifter includes manual shift mode. A snow button starts the car in a higher gear to avoid slipping on wet roads.

    The center stack houses the audio and front temperature controls: all within easy reach of either seating position. The glovebox is huge: large enough for a medium-size pack. All models come with three twelve-volt power points: two up front and one in the cargo area.

    An audio upgrade on the test car ($540) adds WMA playback capability and wiring for satellite radio. Other options on the test car include rear air conditioning ($415), the towing prep package ($220), roof rails and tonneau cover ($240), heated outside mirrors ($60), and third-row seats. Third row seats are standard on six-cylinder models.

    Spacious second-row seating

    Legroom is good all the way across the second row. I was surprised at how comfortable the middle position is with the narrow stow seat. The seatback provides remarkably good lumbar support. Four ceiling vents circulate cool air throughout the cabin.

    The third row is best for kids or very small adults, with limited leg and headroom. The large wheel arches make it difficult to climb in back from the side doors, even with the second-row seats moved forward.

    Second-row seats fold flat and lock in a 60/40 pattern using levers on the seatbacks. The third-row seats are easy to raise and fold using a lever on the seatback. Tie-down hooks in the cargo area secure large items. The Highlander easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.

    Standard safety

    All cars come with front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, dynamic stability and traction control, antilock brakes, and active front headrests to reduce the possibility of whiplash. Base price on the test car is $25,705, not including a $659 delivery charge. The 2009 Highlander is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.

    Likes: A versatile sport-utility vehicle with a high level of standard safety features. The center stow seat and standard conversation mirror make the Highlander ideal for travelling with small children. The new four-cylinder engine has excellent fuel economy, reducing ownership costs.

    Dislike: Third-row seats are difficult to access with the center seat in place.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Toyota
    Model: Highlander 4X2
    Year: 2009
    Base price: $25,705
    As tested: $29,599
    Horsepower: 187 Hp
    Torque: N/A
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: Yes
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 20/27 mpg city/highway


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