2009 Toyota Highlander
Toyota totally redesigned its Highlander for the 2008 model year. Looked at through today's more minimalist prism, Toyota making the Highlander larger and dropping its base four-cylinder engine seems ill timed. But the shift made sense back then given the growth of the Toyota Rav4. As the Rav4 grew, it pushed the new Highlander up a segment to compete against the likes of the Honda Pilot and some other mid and large SUVs that are no longer with us, including the Chevy Trailblazer and Dodge Durango.
At the Highlander's 2008 press introduction, Toyota told us that 300 pounds of added mass came with the crossover's enlarged size. Such a burden would be too much for a four-cylinder given the engineering team's performance goals. So for 2008, the Highlander was only available as a V-6 or as a V-6 hybrid. Both V-6 powertrains gave the crossover energetic acceleration ... so much so that journalists and consumers wondered loudly about there being a rational argument for a less powerful and more efficient engine becoming available.
Toyota reacted quickly to the absence of a four-piston mill, and for the 2009 model year added their corporate 2.7-liter I-4. Its mileage of 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway comes close to matching the V-6 Hybrid model, which nets 27 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.
See where this story is heading?
Before we get to the final point on hybrids vs. conventionally-powered vehicles, let's look more closely at the 2009 Highlander Hybrid.