A late October 2016 article by Roger Schreffler of WardsAuto discussed Toyota’s revived interest in turbocharged engines. In writing about the largest of the carmaker’s two new gasoline-powered 4-cylinder turbo powerplants, Mr. Schreffler noted that
The 2.0L gasoline 8AR-FTS, which debuted in April 2014 on the Lexus NX200t CUV, now is available on seven models. In addition to the NX200t, these include the IS200t, GS Turbo (GS200t), RX200t and RC200t in the automaker’s Lexus lineup along with the Toyota Crown and Highlander.
Indeed, the 8AR-FTS engine (pictured below) has become a Lexus lineup mainstay throughout the world. And the RX 200t reference is not an error, for it is offered in a large number of markets outside North America. We also recall that with the October 2015 mid-life facelift of the 14th-generation (S210) Crown, the 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbo made its move from the luxury Lexus brand to the mainstream Toyota marque. But a 2-liter turbo Highlander?! We have no recollection of this ever existing. Is Mr. Schreffler off-base and mistaken here?
Certainly neither the initial, followup, pricing nor product information Toyota USA press releases for the 2017 Highlander mention a 2-liter turbo option. The sole 4-cylinder Highlander option there remains the 2.7-liter naturally-aspirated 1AR-FE.
But what about Toyota Highlanders for export markets?
With the advent of the 3rd-generation (XU50) Toyota Highlander, Japanese production ceased, and the United States’ TMMI (Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana) facility in Princeton became the sole source for export versions of the mid-sized crossover. Could 8AR-FTS-powered Highlanders be an export-only thing, then? Apparently not, because official Toyota websites in major export markets such as Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Ukraine all fail to mention a 2-liter turbo option.
Are Highlanders built anywhere else?
There is one other current locale for Toyota Highlander production: the GAC-Toyota facility in Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) in southeastern China’s Guangdong province. Articles from ChinaAutoWeb and China Daily both cite the availability, as the base engine on Chinese Highlanders, of the 8AR-FTS 2-liter, 4-cylinder turbo. But the ultimate “smoking gun” is the official GAC-Toyota China Highlander page, which thirds the notion of a 2-liter turbo Highlander, if only in the Middle Kingdom.
Might Toyota-badged 2-liter turbos spread beyond the Crown and Chinese Highlanders?
Right now, Toyota-badged 2-liter turbos are a thing only in Japan and China, but we don’t think it will remain that way for long. The 8th-generation North American Camry (expected to debut at the January 2017 Detroit Auto Show) is strongly rumored to be the first American application of the 8AR-FTS in a Toyota-badged vehicle. Most pundits believe that it will replace the 2GR-FE 3.5-liter V6 as the top Camry engine, though others suggest the turbo 4 will be an intermediate option between the current naturally aspirated base 4 and the V6.
We are skeptical, however, that the 8AR-FTS will be offered in the larger and heavier Avalon, Highlander and Sienna lines. Ford’s dropping the 2-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost turbo option for the 2016 refresh of the 5th-gen Ford Explorer in favor of a larger 2.3-liter unit is tacit confirmation that a 2-liter turbo might be inadequate for North American tastes in larger-than-Camry vehicles. A more natural home for a 2-liter turbo would be the 5th-generation RAV4, expected for the 2019 model year. And, of course, we still dream of this engine going into a Volkswagen GTI-rivalling Corolla hot hatch. Revived Corolla XRS or FX-16, anyone?