Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. releases specifications today on its new 2.7L 4-cyl. engine in the Highlander cross/utility vehicle.

The engine will be available in the ’09 Highlander in January, the same month it launches in the new Toyota Venza CUV.

When Toyota redesigned the Highlander last year for the ’08 model year, it eliminated a 4-cyl. engine, offering only V-6s in both the standard model and hybrid-electric variant.

In the Highlander, the 2.7L will make 187 hp and 186 lb.-ft. (252 Nm) of torque, slightly above its output of 182 hp and 182 lb.-ft. (247 Nm) of torque in the Venza; peak torque is achieved at 4,100 rpm vs. 4,200 rpm in the Venza.

Toyota says advantages of the engine include dual variable valve timing with intelligence on both the intake and exhaust cams and a variable intake manifold. Both technologies improve fuel efficiency through broadening the 2.7L’s torque curve, the auto maker says.

The engine is mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission in both the Highlander and Venza.

Its small size and light weight, as well as smooth shifting, are key attributes of the 6-speed, Toyota says.

Fuel economy for the Highlander 4-cyl. is estimated to be 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km) city and 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) highway.

The 2.7L 4-cyl. will be the standard engine in the Highlander grade with front-wheel drive and two rows of seating, the auto maker says. A third-row seat is optional as part of a package.