Shifting demand for smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles around the globe, but especially in North America, has hit carmakers hard. Even industry leader Toyota is feeling the pain, announcing shocking profit results for the past quarter on the back of flagging sales for its SUV and pickup models in the U.S. market. The carmaker has responded to the changing trends by announcing today that its midsize Highlander SUV will be available with a new four-cylinder petrol engine in January.

Pricing for the 2009 Highlander equipped with the four-cylinder engine will start at $25,705. The new 2.7L mill generates 187hp (140kW) and 186lb-ft (250Nm) of torque and is fitted with a dual exhaust manifold to help improve torque levels at lower rpms. According to Toyota, the four-cylinder Highlander will accelerate from 0-60mph in around 9.7 seconds.

A six-speed automatic comes as standard, and both 2WD and 4WD modes are available. When equipped with a tow package, the new powerplant will achieve a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. The EPA has rated the vehicle as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEVII), with official numbers coming in at 27mpg on the highway, 20mpg in the city and 22mpg combined.

Pricing for the Highlander V6 and Hybrid models are unchanged, starting at $27,600 for the FWD V6 model and topping out at $41,020 for the AWD Highlander Hybrid.

The 2009 Highlander four-cylinder will begin arriving at dealerships next month.