One-Day Drive

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.

Kia Motors has given insight into the company's future product plans.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Kia is charging ahead with an aggressive electric vehicle (EV) implementation plan that includes 11 new vehicles in the next five years. The strategy, called "Plan S" starts with the company's first dedicated EV in 2021.

Plan S is a dual-focus shift for the company. On one side they will be progressing toward an EV-centric product strategy while in the other hand Kia will be focusing on customized mobility solutions. They will also be focusing on autonomous vehicle development.

By the end of 2025, Kia plans to offer a full line-up of 11 battery electric vehicles. The company is aiming to have 25 percent of its vehicle sales outside of China come from what they call "eco-friendly cars" by 2025 on their way to achieving a 6.6 percent market share in the global EV market (500,000 annual EV sales excluding China). According to a McKinsey & Co. analysis published April, the U.S. EV market almost doubled to 360,000 EV units in 2018, mainly because of the strong sales performance of Tesla's Model 3.

From 2022, Kia plans to add EVs in the passenger vehicles, SUVs, and MPVs categories. They further outlined their electric vehicle development:

The dedicated EV model to be launched 2021 will be built on a unique platform specifically engineered to accommodate the car's world-leading EV powertrain and technologies. It will offer a crossover design which blurs the boundaries between passenger and sport utility vehicles, a future-oriented user experience, a single-charge driving range of over 500 kilometers, and sub-20-minute high-speed charging time.

Across its EV line-up, Kia plans to operate two different types of EVs with different charging capabilities (400V/800V) -- high-performance dedicated models and derivative models with reasonable pricing -- to meet the diverse needs of customers.

Growth in global EV sales will be pursued in accordance with a customized, market-oriented strategy, which considers regional differences in environmental regulation, subsidies, infrastructure and more.

These EVs are expected to first be sold as a trim level option in Kia vehicles in the same vein as the Niro EV and Soul EV.

Additional Kia expansion is planned to come from car-sharing and e-commerce businesses.

"Plan S is a bold and enterprising roadmap for Kia's future business transition, buttressed by the two pillars of electric vehicles and mobility solutions," said Han-woo Park, president and CEO, Kia Motors. "Our approach is to put customers first, and Kia will reinvigorate its brand innovation by developing products and services that offer new experiences for customers."

Easily missed in this plan is Kia's proposition to raise the sales of internal combustion engined vehicles while at the same time establish the development system for EV architecture. Though they say that they'll focus those efforts on emerging markets, it's relatively safe to say that the Soul, Forte, and Telluride aren't going away any time soon.

Kia is activating recent partnerships and company share acquitions to get to this goal. Last year, the Korean automaker invested in Croatian performance EV manufacturer Rimac Automobili and IONITY, which specializes in building high-speed charging infrastructures.

They're also planning on building "Mobility Hubs", transfer stations between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles. Long term plans call for self-driving robotaxis and on-demand roboshuttles to also populate these Mobility Hubs.

Kia is part of a car-sharing services joint venture with Repsol, Spain's major energy corporation, in Madrid via its WiBLE brand.

The Chevrolet Silverado HD was redesigned for the 2020 model year.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It already proved capable at hauling and towing on long stretches of road up, on, and around Mt. Bachelor in Oregon. That was a confined test, however, designed by Chevy to show off the redesigned Silverado HD's best qualities. When tested, unrestricted, on the rural roads, historic city streets, and highways of the East Coast, the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD proved even more impressive.

The Silverado HD is huge. The 2500 that was delivered sat in the driveway towering over the Explorer parked next to it. The truck looks imposing too, especially with the large grille that faces a hood that is taller than this driver.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD The grille of the Silverado HD is quite large.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Thankfully there are grab handles and side steps to aid in getting in the truck. Without the steps, it's quite the pull-up to get into the 2500. Getting in the bed was also easy thanks to a sidestep and the bumper steps.

The Chevrolet Silverado HD just isn't as nicely appointed as the Ram HD. There's no getting around that. However, in its midgrade trim level, the interior appointment choices of the 2500 make good sense for its price point and likely utilitarian lifestyle.

That doesn't mean that it's not well-appointed. Its surfaces aren't plush like what you'll get in the Ram, but they're pleasant enough to look at and inoffensive to the fingertips.

The truck's seats are comfortable, even for 600 miles at a time, which is about the range of the 2500 when equipped with the 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 engine.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD The Silverado HD is surprisingly well-mannered on the highway.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

On the road, the Silverado HD is much more impressive. Despite its enormous size, the truck is easy to keep between the lanes, even without the modern driver assistance technology you'll find on some regular-duty trucks. Driving the model on the highway isn't tiring.

Though it does feel its size when you're behind the wheel, the truck is reasonably nimble and easy to maneuver. That's helpful on small, historic streets of places like Charlottesville, Virginia, where the size of the lanes and availability of parking spaces will make you wish there was a "HD trucks" setting in the navigation system. At around 78 inches tall as delivered, the Silverado HD is too tall to fit in most of the parking garages in historic areas.

That being said, the truck's numerous camera angles and wide mirrors made it easy to back into a spot and parallel park when necessary.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD Mid-grade Silverado HDs, including this LTZ trim model, are the best balance of capability and value.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

The Silverado HD is tremendously more stable on the road and it soaks up most of the imperfections. It doesn't have nearly the amount of body lean when cornering that the Ram HD does.

The engine is just as competent as the handling. Despite being plenty beefy and brawny for the task at hand, the diesel delivered around 22 mpg in mixed traffic situations, including some stretches pushing the upper limits of allowable speed on the highway and idling in traffic several times in bottlenecks. That number makes the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 about 50 percent more fuel efficient than the 2020 Toyota Tundra in similar driving situations.

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD The interior of the Silverado isn't as nice as the Ram HD, but it's good enough.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

The Silverado HD LTZ came with standard with an 8-inch infotainment system. It worked as advertised with the latest operating system running in the background, which isn't too much of a departure from the previous one resulting in a very shallow learning curve.

The Silverado 2500 made a lasting impression during a week of road tripping. Its comfortable seats and fuel efficiency were the biggest surprises and the only true disappointment was that its height made it incompatible with parking garages.

With the capability and appointments considered, its $70,000 sticker price seemed appropriate.

Chevy may not have hit it out of the park with the Silverado HD redesign, but they hit a solid double that keeps them in the game.