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First Drive Review: Redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander is friendlier for modern families

Toyota has redesigned the Highlander but hasn't reinvented the wheel - and that's a good thing.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander is so good, it will have you wondering why Honda even bothers to still sell the Pilot. Seriously. Toyota has hit the nail on the head with the redesign.

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.

2020 Toyota Highlander 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.

2020 Toyota Highlander 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.

2020 Toyota Highlander 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.

2020 Toyota Highlander 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.

2020 Toyota Highlander AWD 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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The Rivian R1T is undergoing final testing in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of Rivian

Four new performance testing videos featuring the Rivian R1T all-electric pickup truck have dropped on YouTube. Three of the videos show a specific area of performance while the last wraps it all up showcasing a trail ride. Whether you're an electric vehicle enthusiast, truck fan, or someone who enjoys the road less traveled (or a combination thereof), there's something for everyone.

The first video hones in on the launch performance of the truck. The R1T, like other electric vehicles, has power at all four wheels, giving it instant torque when the driver presses on the accelerator. The wildly wrapped R1T rapidly gains speed as it heads down a dirt path. Watch the video below.

The second video features the R1T drifting around a series of corners at a controlled facility in the Arizona desert. With the dust kicked up, the effect is dramatic. Late last year, Rivian showcased its model's ability to complete a tank turn. The company has already trademarked the phrases "Tank Steer" and "Tank Turn". You can see the drifting video below.

The third video Rivian posted features an off-roading adventure with the R1T speeding down a desert trail. The drive is a test for the dynamics of the vehicle which will have to compete with the suspension and handling capabilities of traditional trucks like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, and GMC Sierra when it comes to market. Watch the video below.

Rivian says, "Last weekend, we grabbed our cameras and chased a few engineers around the desert as they put the R1T through its paces." The video shows off trail riding, rock climbing, and some on-track driving. Let's be honest, this one is the most exciting - especially the rick climbing bit. You can watch the full video below.

Rivian is looking to start deliveries of the vehicle in 2021. Production was delayed due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

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Audi is adding sport versions of its all-electric SUV to their portfolio.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Audi models badged with an "S" or "RS" are the sportiest the German automaker offers. Nearly every model in the lineup has such a variant, some more than one. With four-wheels delivering instant power to the pavement, it should serve as no surprise that the company is rolling out sport-tuned versions of their E-Tron and E-Tron Sportback.

The 2021 Audi E-Tron S and E-Tron S Sportback are the first all-electric Audi models to earn that distinction. The models will have there electric motors (one up front and two in the rear) and a battery that combine to produce 496 horsepower and up to 717 pound-feet of torque, which is available for an eight-second boost period.

The battery has a 95-kilowatt hour capacity with 91 percent usability. On a full charge, the Audi e‑tron S and the Audi e‑tron S Sportback can achieve ranges of up to 223 miles and 226 miles (WLTP).

When the car is operating in normal drive mode, just the rear motors are working. The the driver requires more performance, the front one kicks in. There is no mechanical differential in the all-wheel drive SUVs so torque vectoring takes place in just milliseconds at a very high threshold. Other drive modes including "Sport" and "Dynamic".

Each model has been given "S" specific tuning as well as the ability to adjust the height of the SUV. Owners can store up to seven driver profiles.

The profile of the vehicles has changed as part of "S" modifications with wider wheel arches. The E-Tron S Sportback is more aerodynamic than the E-Tron S. Both models have special front and rear bumper with pronounced contours and prominent inlets. A rear diffuser spans nearly the entire width of both bodies. The models have silver and aluminum exterior detailing and mirror housings, respectively.

Digital Matrix LED headlights are an option. The smart lights can project guides onto the road to show a car's position in a lane on a narrow street.

The SUVs' cabins are equipped with dark upholstery and finishes. Electrically adjustable sport seats finished in Nappa leather are available.

The center stack features two touch screens to control traditional infotainment and climate control functionalities. A head-up display is available. Navigation and the latest modular infotainment platform (MIB 3) are standard.

On-sale dates for the U.S. and pricing have yet to be announced.

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