Behind the Wheel

Toyota Highlander vs. Highlander Hybrid: Choosing between them comes down to 2 things

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is a formidable SUV.

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

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is one of the best three-row unibody SUVs you can buy, if not the best. With few changes in the pipelune, the 2021 is likely to be the same. Toyota has sweetened the Highlander by offering a hybrid variant again in this generation, this time with a price just a smidge over the asking price for the traditional Highlander. Which is better? Several hundred miles behind the wheel of both gave the answer.

You see, there are three big differentiators between the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, if we set aside the engineering discussions. The first is the weight. Not only is the Highlander Hybrid heavier (thanks, battery), it feels more substantial than the Highlander. Unlike the Lexus LX 570 or a loaded dump truck where the car's weight hinders its performance, the electrified powertrain in the Highlander Hybrid offers enough oomph to overcome its extra load.

2020 Toyota HighlanderThe 2020 Toyota Highlander is friendlier for modern families than the last version. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Get behind the wheel of the traditional Highlander and its available 3.5-liter V6, and it almost feels lighter than it should, even with all-wheel drive. This isn't to say it seems lightweighted or chintzy. There's just a notable difference. Both stopped adequately and were able to hold their own in inclement weather - for the Highlander, that was a long drive in a blizzard with what amounted to eight inches of freshly fallen snow while the Highlander Hybrid handled a week's worth of rain in 24 hours like a champ.

The power supply for both was more than adequate. The V6 in the Highlander gets 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. Toyota has given the Highlander Hybrid a 2.4-liter power plant that pairs with hybrid components to achieve 243 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. With the electrified powertrain, the Highlander Hybrid is more spry but the Highlander doesn't fall far behind.

Here's the big difference - the Highlander (with AWD) gets 23 mpg combined while the Highlander Hybrid (with AWD) achieves 35 mpg combined according to EPA estimates.

They're also similar in the faults department. The Highlander's windscreen quickly fogged up when the snow began to fall, allowing no better than 50 percent visibility in the best of times. Despite a wide variety of trial and error regarding air conditioning, venting, heat, riding with the windows down, only having one passenger in the front, the screen was perpetually foggy whenever the temperature was below 35 degrees. The fog would be enough to drive me away from the Highlander, or, at the very least, expect a trip to the dealership for a fix at some point.

2020 Toyota HighlanderThe 2020 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid are nearly identical inside. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The windscreen of the Highlander Hybrid had issues as well. When tested earlier in the model year, it allowed the whine of passing air to permeate the cabin when accelerating. Sure, two vehicles isn't a pattern that should raise suspicion, it is enough to be noted.

With interiors and exteriors that are nearly identical - yes, that includes cargo space - the dilemma between Highlander and Highlander Hybrid comes down to fuel economy and price.

Toyota prices the 2020 Highlander to start at $31,830 and it goes up to $47,510, plus applicable taxes and fees. The 2020 Highlander Hybrid has a starting MSRP of $37,520 and tops out at $49,180. If you're comfortable spending over $40,000 on your new three-row SUV, you can't go wrong with the Highlander Hybrid. If you're constrained by budgetary concerns, getting a Highlander in a lower trim level won't make you feel like you're missing out too much, but you will pay for fuel fill ups more often.

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New minivan

Honda announces new Odyssey Sport

Sport is a new trim for the Odyssey minivan.

Honda

The Honda Odyssey may not be the most exciting vehicle in the world, but it's getting a new Sport model that at least makes it look the part. Honda will release the model for the 2023 model year, and the Odyssey line overall will be offered with a new Honda Service Pass, which includes two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

The Odyssey Sport slots into the Honda catalog between the EX-L and Touring trims. It comes with gloss-black exterior trim and black 19-inch wheels outside, and black leather with red stitching inside. The cabin comes with red accent lighting on the dash and in the footwells, and the roof pillars and headliner are both black. Under the hood, the Odyssey Sport gets the same 3.5-liter V6 from years past. It makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with a ten=speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

2023 Honda Odyssey SportThe Sport comes with dark exterior trim and unique leather upholstery with red stitching inside. Honda

All Odyssey models come with Honda Sensing safety equipment, which includes adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection. The 2023 van hasn't been crash-tested yet, but the 2022 model earned a Top Safety Pick + award, so it's likely the new model will be rated similarly.

Honda Service Pass is a new program for 2023+ Honda vehicles. It covers routine scheduled maintenance for up to two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. Under the program, buyers get free oil changes, tire rotations, and multi-point inspections.

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The Supra finally gets a manual transmission for 2023.

Toyota

After an almost nonstop chorus of enthusiasts and journalists asking for a manual transmission in the new Supra, Toyota has gone and done it. The car will get an available six-speed manual transmission that will be available on both variants of the GR Supra 3.0, plus a limited-edition model on the U.S. market next year.

2023 Toyota Supra 3.0 MTToyota had to modify the car's interior for the new gearbox. Toyota

The A91-MT Edition Supra will be limited to 500 units, and gets two exterior colors with an exclusive Cognac leather interior. All 2023 Supras come with a 3.0-liter straight-six engine that makes 382 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. Toyota says the six-speed manual has been specially tuned to work with the car's engine, and notes that it modified an existing transmission housing to come up with the design. The gearbox's final drive ratio is shortened to improve response and take-off.

Toyota had to modify the car's interior to accommodate a gearshift lever, so the iDrive controller and other buttons had to be relocated. The automaker says that it focused on the feeling of shifting, from the weight of the knob to the ergonomics and location of the component.

2023 Toyota Supra 3.0 MTThe limited-edition A91-MT trim gets an exclusive cognac leather interior.Toyota

A Supra with a manual gearbox is reason to celebrate, but availability is limited to the top Supra 3.0. The "base" Supra 2.0 won't get the transmission. Toyota says pricing and other information will be available later this year.

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