Toyota added a 187-horsepower, four-cylinder engine to its Highlander lineup in 2009, as part of its "More Power, Less Fuel" program. This brought to three the number of powertrain choices, as it was also offered with a V-6 or hybrid.
Displacing 2.7 litres, the four-banger was now the Highlander base model, and was available with front-drive-only, with a six-speed automatic transmission. This engine was one of the biggest of its kind on the market, and had more grunt than some V-6s. It was almost identical to the one found in the base Venza and was essentially a Camry four-cylinder powerplant, but bored out and modified.
One technical note here. When car makers start bumping up the displacement of their four-cylinder engines, they run into all kinds of issues, a primary one being engine vibrations and harmonics. Once you get above two litres, four-cylinder engines tend to lose their smoothness and can be stroppy. The most common remedy is to fit a counter-balancer – or two – and that's what Toyota did here. The new four-cylinder also had a variable valve timing system.
While this version of the Highlander wouldn't win any awards when it came to stoplight derbies, and you had to think carefully before towing anything heavy, as a decent-sized people-mover, it did the job.
It could tow up to 1,587 kilograms (680 kilos less than the V-6), had enough reserve power on the highway – to a point – and even with a load of passengers, got you around town at a decent clip.
By way of comparison, the V-6 engine available with the '09 Highlander developed up to 270 horsepower, and was a much livelier vehicle, of course, with 4WD availability and all kinds of pulling power. But in terms of creature comforts and accessories, there wasn't much difference between the two. Same body configurations, same interior layout, same comfort level.
The four-cylinder did deliver better fuel economy than its V-6 stable-mate: 10.4 litres/100 km in town versus 12.3, and it also came with a six-speed automatic transmission, where the V-6 had a five-speed. This gave the four-cylinder a bit of a leg up when it came to highway cruising.
The base Highlander came reasonably well equipped. It had a vehicle stability control system, traction control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution, as well as the usual modcons such as air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt/telescoping steering and keyless entry.
You could also get an optional upgrade package that included rear air conditioning, a six-disc CD player, steering-wheel audio controls, roof rails, fog lamps and a power driver's seat.
Total cargo capacity was the same as the V-6 models at 2,700 litres, and this version of the Highlander sat seven adults in comfort.
Two safety recalls from Transport Canada to report and they both concern the ubiquitous floor-mat/stuck throttle imbroglio, which Toyota has dealt with exhaustively by now. This recall affects a wide range of Toyota products, from 2007 to 2010.
To these we can add a couple of labeling issues from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both concern improper load-carrying designation information on the tires. To quote NHTSA: "Incorrect load carrying capacity modification labels could result in the vehicle being overloaded, increasing the risk of a crash."
NHTSA also has 19 technical service bulletins on file for the 2009 Highlander. These vary from minor oil leakage around the engine, to ticking noises coming from the V-6 engine, to shifting issues from Park to Drive in cold weather, to brief engine rattle and knock during cold starts.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, Consumer Reports loves the Highlander, and the 2009 edition get top marks right across the board. There can be problems with the audio system, but otherwise, the magazine gives the Highlander its "Good Bet" designation. Some comments from owners: "Jammed rear hatch … part cost alone is over $1,200," "Takes all the work out of driving," "Very uncomfortable headrests" and "Confusing wiper controls."
From a base price of $32,000 and change in 2009, the Highlander has held its value well. Even the base four-cylinder version is priced in the mid-$20,000 neighbourhood, and you can drop up to $37,000 or thereabouts for a loaded Hybrid Limited. The four-cylinder version is fetching about $2,000 less than a comparable V-6.
email@example.com Tech specs 2009 Toyota Highlander
Original Base Price: $32,600; Black Book: $23,450-$37,150
Engine: 2.7-litre four-cylinder/3.2-litre V-6/hybrid
Horsepower/Torque: 187 hp/186 lb-ft for four; 270 hp/248 lb-ft for six; 208 hp/212 lb-ft for hybrid
Transmission: Five-/six-speed automatic/CVT
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/7.3 highway (four-cylinder); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, Kia Borrego, Subaru Outback, GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Dodge Nitro, Ford Flex