Toyota recently announced what it's calling a significant enhancement to its Highlander (aka Kluger) mid-size crossover SUV lineup. Destined for a more complete reveal at the New York International Auto show later this month, the updated Highlander range will feature the availability of an all new powertrain, a more powerful engine, and room for up to eight passengers.

By adding a new 8-speed automatic coupled to what is now a 3.5 liter V-6 direct injection engine, Toyota is giving Highlander buyers more model options. The changes mean there are now three different powertrain options to choose from: the new V-6, a Hybrid V-6 with 8-speed automatic, and the unchanged 2.7-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic (available only in the LE).

The new Highlander will come in six different model grades in the gasoline versions (LE, LE Plus, XLE, SE, Limited and Limited Platinum), and four in the hybrid models (LE, XLE, Limited and Limited Platinum). All of the gas models will be available in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, while all hybrid models remain all-wheel drive.

Current Highlanders are available with the same-sized engine, but it's not direct injection and it's coupled to a six-speed transmission, so performance numbers – horsepower, torque and gas mileage – should be improved in the 2017 models.

To help improve fuel economy, all of the V-6 models get a new stop and start engine system that shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop, then restarts the engine when the driver takes their foot off the brake.

Externally, Toyota sets each grade apart with different grille finishes and other cosmetic options, particularly giving the two upper grades a more refined and upscale look.

Owners of the top-of-the-line Limited and Limited Platinum models will also have the choice of either a second-row of captain's chairs to bring overall seating to seven, or second-row bench seats that will expand capacity to eight.

Toyota has also improved safety features, with the addition of Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS) as standard, which includes lane departure alert, automatic high beam actuator, and pedestrian and forward collision warnings with automatic emergency brake. The Limited Platinum edition gets the added benefit of what the company is referring to as "Bird's Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan." It incorporates four cameras and gives the driver a 360-degree view around the vehicle to help detect any obstacles.

The new Highlander will debut at the New York International Auto Show on March 23 and is expected to be in showrooms later this year.

Source: Toyota

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