First Drive Review: Redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander is friendlier for modern families
On the outside, the 2020 Highlander is more visually interesting though not wholly dissimilar in the new generation from the previous gen. Its design plays out best in bright colors from the available color palette like Ruby Flare Pearl, Moon Dust, and Blizzard Pearl.
The 2020 Highlander is more visually interesting than its predecessor.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Toyota sells the Highlander in the buyer's choice of two powertrain options. The gasoline-only 3.5-liter V6 is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and delivers 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. A hybrid 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers 243 horsepower and has over 600 miles of range.
The hybrid powertrain also has the benefit of achieving an estimated 36 mpg combined. That's a whopping 7 mpg more than the 2019 Toyota Highlander Hybrid was able to achieve and quite an impressive number compared to other three-row SUVs.
When driven back to back, there isn't too much difference between the two powertrains that the average buyer will notice - both are suitably confidence inspiring. The lack of horsepower in the four-cylinder is made up for by the electric burst of energy from the hybrid powertrain. Both models have a variety of drive modes designed to bring a level of customization to the vehicle's drive experience and inspire confidence.
The Highlander has similar exterior design to the last-gen Highlander and the new Toyota RAV4.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Toyota is selling the gasoline V6 engine-powered Highlander in five trim levels: L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum. Front wheel drive is standard in those and all-wheel drive is available.
The Highlander Hybrid is available in four trim levels: LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum. Like the V6 models, it's available in in front- and all-wheel drive variants.
The interior of the Highlander is thoughtfully redesigned.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
With an available towing package, the V6 can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Sitting inside the Highlander, one word comes to mind - thoughtful. Those that had their hands in designing the new Highlander must have spent significant time in the previous generations' models and listened to a lot of feedback. The feedback must have said to not reinvent the wheel, but rather refine it. Truthfully, the 2020 Highlander isn't completely dissimilar from where the last-gen ended up. It's a natural evolution, installing the latest comfort and convenience tech and improving on the interior features and easy usability Toyota has been known for.
The second-row seats in the 2020 Highlander move forward and back more in this new generation.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
The Highlander comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and a Wi-Fi hot spot. An 8-inch infotainment touch screen is standard while a 12.3-inch screens is available in higher trims. Top-tier models also get a 10-inch head up display. There are four USB ports and two 12-volt outlets in the Highlander.
Front row seats are comfortable for long spells though there is a lip to climb over when getting in. Once you're seated, the lip makes sense, offering a spot to rest your feet that's elevated from the cabin floor. The second-row seats have more forward-aft movability than in the previous generation and adults can fit in the third row.
This new generation Highlander gains 2.36 inches in length, which is translated right to its cargo area. The rear storage space remains a reasonable size for the modern family.
The rear seats fold flat in all models of the 2020 Highlander.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
All Highlanders come with a suite of driver assistance and safety technology known as Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. In all but the base model, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert is added. Limited and Platinum trim levels also get rear cross traffic braking.
Where the Pilot no longer competes, the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride do. Those two models are the new darlings of the three-row SUV field and they also stand out for their interior appointments and features, comfort, and value proposition. If you're shopping for the Highlander, you'll want to cross-shop those two and forget stopping at the Honda lot.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander starts at $36,400 and the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid starts just a tick higher at $38,200. Both are on sale now.
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