in 2009 Affordable Midsize SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $15,930 - $22,381
Original MSRP: $27,600 - $34,520
MPG: 18 City / 24 Hwy
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2009 Toyota Highlander Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The 2009 Highlander offers strong engine power and a smooth ride, though most complained about its numb electric steering and subpar handling. A plus for 2009 is a more powerful four-cylinder engine on the base model, which gets fantastic fuel economy for the class.

  • "Although the redesigned Highlander is considerably larger and heavier than before, it's still easier to drive than most midsize SUVs, even those of the crossover variety." -- Edmunds
  • "Pleasant to drive, though not quite car-agile. Cornering lean is evident and steering response a bit slow on Base and Limited models; Sport is only slightly better. But overall control is fine, and the brake-pedal feel is firm and progressive." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Ultimately, the Highlander's performance bends under its own weight, but doesn't break. It's a soft ride and electric power steering provides a solid, but not precise, feel." -- The Detroit News
  • "Performance could've used a bit of an increase in size. Some staffers went so far to say they had to double-check that it wasn't a hybrid Highlander they were driving, and not simply because of how quiet it is once you push the ignition button." -- AutoWeek

Acceleration and Power

For 2009, the Highlander received a four-cylinder engine option for the base trim. The 2.7-liter inline-four makes 189 horsepower, and is only paired with two-wheel drive, netting an EPA rating of 20/27 mpg city/highway. That's the best of any non-hybrid three-row SUV. All other trims come with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque and is paired with a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. According to the EPA, two-wheel drive V6 models achieve 18/24 mpg city/highway, while four-wheel drive models achieve 17/23 mpg.

Overall, reviewers said that those who prioritize fuel economy should definitely stick with the base four-cylinder engine, but if you plan to regularly use all three rows of seats or do any towing or hauling, you'll be much happier with the more-powerful V6.

  • "Models with the conventional V6 engine have good all-around power. They're peppy off the line and competent during midrange passing." -- Consumer Guide
  • "In accelerating to 60 mph from a full stop, we timed the Highlander at 7.9 seconds, which is reasonably speedy for an SUV." -- BusinessWeek
  • "The V-6 is far better suited to hauling around a Highlander loaded to the gills with occupants and their stuff." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Most found the Highlander has car-like manners and a soft ride. However, test drivers said the Highlander's electric power-assist steering feels numb and is one of the SUV's low points.

  • "[Ride quality is] Among the best in class. Test AWD Limited floated smoothly over smaller bumps, though larger ones sometimes pounded through. Note that the Sport model has a sport suspension that rides more stiffly." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The Highlanders handle like tall, thoughtfully engineered station wagons. Ask them to change direction, and they do it without the trucky reluctance one often encounters in real S.U.V.'s." --The New York Times
  • "The suspension is tuned to give a quiet and supple ride that will absorb most road imperfections with ease, even when equipped with the optional 19-inch wheels." -- Car and Driver
  • "Ride is soft so you don't get beat up and bounced around the cabin. But handling is very minivan-like. Expect wide swings in corners, lean in turns, and loose, less-than-pinpoint steering with a tendency to wander." -- Chicago Tribune
  • "Steering feel ... with Toyota's new electric assistance, felt numb, offering little feedback from the road to the driver's hands. On paved roads, the steering delivers a small but constant vibration that contradicts the feeling of separation." -- Popular Mechanics

Next Steps: 2009 Toyota Highlander

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