SMOOTH SAILING: 2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER
The mid-over-sized three-row crossover is a surging battle field with sales reaching well over seven figures each year. This makes it one of the most competitive segments next to full-size trucks. Seeing that within the last couple of years we’ve seen new products released by Subaru, Hyundai, Honda, Kia, Volkswagen, Ford and Mazda – it wasn’t surprising to see Toyota end terms on their third-generation Highlander after a mere six-year production timeline. Moving forward with the times however, this all-new fourth-generation Highlander manages to pull out all the stops when it comes to focusing on the latest in technology and comfort.
Highlighting a sleeker profile, this all-new Highlander captivates a more sophisticated style with a spirited crisp design, standard LED headlights, and optional 20-inch wheels. Dropping the old chassis, it now rides on Toyota’s latest TNGA-K platform that shares its same underpinnings with the Avalon, Camry and RAV4. Naturally with anything that gets older the expanding waistline tends to follow as it is now roughly two and half inches longer and a hair wider than before; however, I don’t think the third row quite got that memo.
There is a familiar tune that has been carried over from the previous Highlander generation as the 3.5-liter V-6 makes a comeback unmodified. Working with an 8-speed automatic, the 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque plays as a modest performer. Handling the day-to-day hustle, the bear doesn’t like to be pushed under stress – the transmission is geared towards fuel economy so it tends to shift early and finds itself searching for its lost soul the moment the accelerator gets pushed. Taking on highway hastening, it will see 60-mph in about 7.0-seconds. Sticking to its rated EPA MPG’s, our course managed to hit both the highway and combined targeted ratings as we averaged a 27.2-mpg during our 200-mile highway run and 23-mpg combined in the city.
An all-new hybrid alternative has officially gone on sale since it was originally a few months behind the gas-engine. Costing an additional $1400 more, the 2.5-liter two electrical motor hybrid system is a complete change in pace from the previous V-6 hybrid powertrain. This new system is subjected to see 36-mpg combined with about 600-miles of range. But we’ll have to see that for ourselves when we get our hands on one.
Working with an all-new undercarriage, the Highlander is smooth sailing. Set up for comfort it, its people moving ways is just short of two sliding doors and a rear entertainment system. It maintains decent comfort with a plush relaxed feeling over sloppy road conditions, even on our featured Platinum’s 20-inch wheels. With a nicely weighted electrically assisted steering, it doesn’t quite assert the passion for driving, despite their being a ‘sport’ drive mode. This is a family hauler nonetheless, any aggressive steering maneuvers will showcase its softly tuned suspension as backseat passengers search for a box of Dramamine.
The powertrain game sees a new series of advancements as all models come standard in front-wheel drive with the option to upgrade the L, LE, and XLE model to all-wheel drive at mere $1600 premium. Both the Platinum and Limited models; however, sees the latest in Toyota technology with the optional $1950 all-new advanced two mechanical torque-vectoring all-wheel drive that can deviate its torque distribution more effectively during slippery conditions. Both all-wheel drive system also features a Multi-Terrain Select between Mud & Sand, Rock & Mogul, and Snow.
In Toyota fashion, there is a long list of newly standard safety equipment following the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite – a series of accident avoidance software to help remind the driver that distractions can happen and they’re there to help. With pricing starting at $34,600, the entry Highlander L sees a healthy dose of available comfort creatures like seating for 8, a power driver seat, Smart Key System, and an 8-inch touch screen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Our Platinum, featured here on the other hand held a near 20-grand increase at an as tested price of $51,112.
Focused primarily on premium comfort, the interior is sublime. The seats are nicely formed for a comfortable setting. There is an airier feel over the previous generation with a classier presence. Trims XLE, Limited and Platinum model swap out the eighth available seat for second row captain chairs that offer substantial amounts of passenger comfort – the seats offer heated functionality that can easily slide back and forth, recline and fold completely flat for additional cargo needs. The third row on the other hand still classifies itself as the row for anybody in the single digit age range. For as simple as it is to slide the second row forward to gain access to the third row, space is cramp and uncomfortable.
Being technology and design driven, the dash has been completely restructured, fitting a more upscale contemporary design. Our Platinum featured striking contrasting rich materials with an overwhelming display of style. With a high-definition 12.3-inch touch screen display being the main vocal point, its functionality is crisp and uber friendly with a full-range of customizable display options. Stepping up from its previous-gen model, the Highlander features a huge colorful 10-inch heads-up display, a wireless charging pad, crystal clear digital rearview mirror camera, and a stunning 360-degree surround view camera system with wide angle view. Additionally, boosted sound deadening elevates a quieter surrounding with dual-pane front glass windows and a laminated, sound reducing windshield – all the more to take in the extraordinary 1200-watt JBL audio system.
Supporting the needs of its consumer, the all-new Highlander ticks all the right boxes when it comes the mid-size three-row family crossover. While other brands may feature additional premium options for around the same price, there is a reputation of practicality and longevity behind the Highlander nameplate that most buyers are familiar with that matches its capability and premium comfort.
Model: 2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER
Base Price: $34,600
Starting Trim Price: $48,800
As Tested: $51,112
Color: MOON DUST
Engine: 3.5-LITER V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 295-HORSEPOWER / 263 LB-FT TORQUE
Transmission: 8-SPEED AUTOMATIC
Drivetrain: DYNAMIC TORQUE VECTORING ALL-WHEEL DRIVE WITH MULTI-TERRAIN SELECT
Fuel Economy: EPA RATED: 20-CITY / 27-HWY / 23-COMBINED
AS TESTED: 21.3-MPG COMBINED / 27.2-MPG HIGHWAY (200 MILE TEST)
Fuel Range: 325 MILES
0-60 MPH: ±7.0 SECONDS