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Redesigned Toyota Highlander debuts

New version larger and rounder than current model, available in V6 and Hybrid versions only.

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Toyota unveiled the redesigned 2008 Toyota Highlander at the Chicago Auto Show Wednesday.

The new design has softer edges and corners making it look more like a larger version of Toyota's popular Rav4 small SUV.

The Highlander is a car-based crossover SUV based on the engineering of the midsized Toyota Camry sedan. It was originally introduced in 2001.

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"The 2008 Highlander takes the car-based SUV concept to a new level," said Don Esmond, senior vice president for Toyota Motor Sales. "I say that with conviction, because it's a category we invented."

The new version is about four inches longer than the current Highlander and includes second row seats that can be changed from separate "captain's chairs" with armrests to a single bench-style seat.

When not in use, the center portion of the "bench" can be hidden in a compartment under the front center console.

The second row seats also recline and can move 4.7 inches forward or backward to create more legroom or cargo space.

A four-cylinder engine will no longer be offered in the new Highlander. Instead, buyers will get two drivetrain choices. The new Highlander will be available with a 3.5-liter 270-horsepower V6 with a 5-speed automatic transmission or a gasoline/electric hybrid system with a slightly smaller V6 coupled with an electric motor and a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Fuel economy figures are not yet available for the new Highlander. The current front-wheel-drive V6 Highlander gets an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

The current FWD Highlander Hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg. The new version will have virtually the same fuel economy, according to Toyota.

The non-hybrid Highlander is expected to go on sale in July, 2007 followed by the hybrid version in September.

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