New Model News

2020 Toyota Highlander gets completely redesigned but doesn't stray far from the mold

The Toyota Highlander has been redesigned for the 2020 model year but still retains many features families love.

Photo courtesy of Toyota

The Toyota Highlander has been a perennial favorite for buyers. Since its last redesign, the Highlander's competition has gotten fierce with entries from the Subaru Ascent, Kia Telluride, Volkswagen Atlas, and Hyundai Palisade all arriving on dealership lots in the last two years.

Riding on Toyota New Global Architecture, the unibody fourth-generation 2020 Toyota Highlander has slim taillights that jut out at the rear creating a more aggressive appearance. The new Highlander's grille will no doubt garner comparisons to Subaru's with its chrome Toyota logo placement.

Toyota only carries over three paint jobs from 2019 into the new model year (Blizzard Pearl, Celestial Silver Metallic, and Midnight Black Metallic). The Highlander will also be available in five new colors: Magnetic Gray Metallic, Moon Dust, Ruby Flare Pearl, Blueprint, and Opulent Amber.

2020 Toyota HighlanderBuyers will be able to get the 2020 Highlander with their choice of eight paint jobs.Photo courtesy of Toyota

Buyers will have two powertrain options. Its base power plant is a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine that is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and delivers 263 pound-feet of torque. Stop-start engine technology is standard on the model. V6 models come with either front- or all-wheel drive and achieves an EPA-estimated 22 mpg.

Gasoline-powered Highlander models with all-wheel drive come with a terrain mode selector that includes Rock & Dirt and Mud & Sand modes. These modes employ torque vectoring technology to optimize power allocation to the wheels based on the needs of the vehicle while it is in motion.

Toyota will offer a towing package for the V6-powered Highlander that will increase its towing capacity to 5,000 pounds. The package includes a heavy-duty radiator with engine oil cooler and improved fan performance. It also comes with Trailer Sway Control.

2020 Toyota HighlanderThe Highlander is available in two- and all-wheel drive. Photo courtesy of Toyota

The 2020 Highlander Hybrid will be powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that employs an electric motor and battery to achieve 240 net horsepower and an EPA-estimated 34 mpg combined. That fuel efficiency is a 17-percent improvement over the previous generation's fuel efficiency. The battery pack resides under the rear seats, not causing any loss of cargo space.

Vehicles powered by the hybrid power plant will be available in two- and all-wheel drive. The Highlander Hybrid will come with Normal, Eco, Sport, and EV drive modes.

Toyota is touting the SUV's ability to "coach a driver to drive as economically as possible." To do this, in-vehicle technology will suggest an acceleration level that the in-vehicle computer has determined is best according to current traffic conditions. The car then scores the driver on their efficiency.

Predictive Efficient Drive uses the Highlander Hybrid's navigation system to analyze driving habits and learned road and traffic conditions to optimize the vehicle's battery charging.

2020 Toyota HighlanderThe Highlander comes standard with Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa.Photo courtesy of Toyota

The interior of the Highlander isn't a copy-made-bigger of the RAV4, or even the new Corolla or Avalon. The design very much sticks to the history, of the Highlander but with new materials and technologies. The storage tray on the passenger side of the dashboard remains and a new small storage area is under the infotainment screen and climate controls. Both areas feature ambient lighting.

All Highlander grades come standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi (AT&T subscription). Top Platinum models come standard with a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with navigation. The silver surround of the infotainment screen, with its unique arrow-like design, is sure to drive anyone who craves symmetry nuts.

A JBL Premium Audio System is standard on Limited and Platinum grades and features 11 speakers. Clari-Fi technology and Qi wireless charging are also available.

Tri-zone climate control is standard.

2020 Toyota HighlanderThe Highlander is larger inside than the RAV4, with one more row of seating.Photo courtesy of Toyota

The Highlander has been lengthened by 2.36 inches for the new model year, resulting in greater cargo volume over the previous generation. It has 16.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, which is a big improvement but still falls short of the Ascent's over 17-cubic feet of space. Rear seats feature a 60/40 folding split. Folding them results in 40.6 cubic feet of cargo space while also folding the second row raises that number to 73.3 cubic feet.

A second-row bench seat is standard in the 2020 Highlander. Top tiers come standard with captain's chairs.

Additionally, second row seats can be slid an extra 1.2-inches forward to increase the distance between the second and third row seats.

Each new Highlander comes equipped with the second-generation of Toyota Safety Sense, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, road sign recognition, and lane tracing. Deepening on the trim, the Highlander can be equipped with rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, Intelligent Clearance Sonar, rear traffic braking, and a bird's eye view camera.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is expected to go on sale later this year. It will be available in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims. The 2019 Highlander starts at $31,330 and tops out over $48,000. The 2020 model will likely be priced similarly with Highlander Hybrid models costing more than V6-powered Highlanders.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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