2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander Test Drive Review: The Every-Family's SUV

by Ian Wright

The Toyota Highlander is a best-seller and has been with us for nearly two decades. When it was first launched, it bucked the body-on-frame trend and has since gone from strength to strength, and the annual sales numbers don't lie: the USA loves the Highlander. The 2020 model is fully redesigned and features a significant number of exterior, interior, and tech updates that truly sets it apart from the previous year model. Toyota knows well that the midsize crossover SUV market is a tough space to compete in, especially when going up against Korean rivals such as the Kia Telluride and the Japanese Honda Pilot. But with a fresh face, and a capable 3.5-liter V6 developing 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, the Highlander has a point to prove. The big question is whether these new changes will be enough to get it to the top of the midsize crossover SUV class.

Read in this review:

2020 Toyota Highlander Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2019 Highlander?

The new Toyota Highlander has been redesigned from the ground up and features a bold and chiseled new exterior, and a load of new tech. Since its inception back in 2001, the Toyota Highlander has proven to be one of the most popular cars in its class, and with the new redesign, Toyota hopes to keep sales numbers high. The fourth-generation Highlander has been stretched by 2.36 inches, and the second-row seats now slide out 1.2 inches further. Power is provided by a 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Platinum trim cars get a new 12.3-inch touchscreen display, while the rest of the range gets an eight-inch system, and all trims come with standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi connectivity. Five new colors join the party too: Magnetic Gray Metallic, Moon Dust, Ruby Flare Pearl, Blueprint, and Opulent Amber.

Pros and Cons

  • Configurable seating arrangement
  • Good standard features
  • Comprehensive safety features
  • Quiet ride
  • Tight third-row seating
  • Doesn't feel like a complete redesign
  • It's a dull drive
  • Cluttered dashboard

2020 Toyota Highlander Trims

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
L
3.5-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$34,600
LE
3.5-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$36,800
XLE
3.5-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$39,600
Limited
3.5-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$43,650
Platinum
3.5-liter V6 Gas
8-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$46,850

2020 Toyota Highlander Exterior

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to design crossover SUVs that excite and inspire. Most manufacturers are resorting to massively accentuating certain exterior pieces, especially the front grille, in order to get a message of individuality across, and Toyota has nearly fallen into the same trap. Toyota calls the new design sculpted, and it is, but a massive gaping grille undermines the rest of the crossover's sophisticated lines. Toyota has gifted the L, LE, and XLE with a black front grille with silver trim, and Limited and Platinum trim cars with a black grille with chrome trim and chrome-plated lower rear fascia. Toyota also offers the Highlander with a set of 20-inch wheels (with base models featuring 18s as standard), a first for the range. The redesigned body offers greater aerodynamic efficiency, and also helps keep road noise to a minimum.

2020 Toyota Highlander Front View CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Rear View CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Front Angle View CarBuzz
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Dimensions

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is classed as a midsize crossover SUV and squares up to the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot in terms of dimensions. For 2020, Toyota has stretched the Highlander by 2.36 inches, for a total length of 194.9 inches. That's over two and a half inches shorter than the Honda Pilot. The Highlander rolls on a 112.2-inch wheelbase and is 76 inches wide and 68.1 inches tall. Ride height is a useful eight inches, and Toyota claims approach and departure angle of 18.1/22.9 degrees, with a breakover angle of 16.7 degrees. Curb weight starts at 4,145 pounds for FWD L and LE models and goes up to a heaviest of 4,450 lbs for Platinum AWD models.

  • Length 194.9 in
  • Wheelbase 112.2 in
  • Height 68.1 in
  • Max Width 76.0 in
  • Front Width 65.3 in
  • Rear Width 65.4 in

Exterior Colors

Tight-knit suburban communities tend to breed homogeneity, which is to say that Karen and Sarah will go to the same hairdresser, and Bill and Bob will shop at the same H&M store for their khaki shorts and salmon shirts. The point here is that standing out is not the goal, and the Toyota Highlander does not try to break the mold in any sense whatsoever. Instead, it plays it safe, and the range of color options perfectly illustrates our point. Toyota offers the 2020 Highlander in eight different hues of suburban bliss. Classics include Midnight Black Metallic, Celestial Silver Metallic, and Blizzard pearl. For the more adventurous, there's Opulent Amber or Ruby Flare Pearl. Base model cars are available with Blizzard Pearl for an extra $425 and five no-cost options including Midnight Black Metallic and Blueprint. LE models are offered in all eight colors, as is the XLE, Limited, and Platinum.

  • Magnetic Gray Metallic
  • Celestial Silver Metallic
  • Midnight Black Metallic
  • Opulent Amber
  • Blueprint
  • Blizzard Pearl
  • Moon Dust
  • Ruby Flare Pearl

Highlander Performance

Talking about performance levels in the context of the Toyota Highlander means focusing on its everyday drivability, instead of its top speed or how fast it can sprint from 0 to 60, or whether it can lap the Nurburgring. It's specced with a large capacity naturally aspirated V6 gasoline engine producing close to 300 hp. As such, the Highlander never feels underpowered, even when fully loaded with humans and a stuffed trunk, but due to the nature of this engine, you have to make it work to reach its maximum potential. We found that cruising around town was a relaxing affair, and the V6 engine had enough poke to keep up with traffic and take medium-sized gaps in traffic. Merging onto the highway took a good stabbing of the throttle, but the Highlander picks up momentum with ease, and once up to cruising level still has enough pull to overtake cars driving at the speed limit. We won't say that it's fast, or even quick, but there's enough power to get things done. The 2020 Toyota Highlander SUV can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

2020 Toyota Highlander Aft View CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Gear Shifter CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Engine CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

Toyota has kept things simple for the new year. They have gone with a tried and tested large capacity 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is exactly what rival Honda has done in their Pilot. This engine produces 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, which means you'll have to keep the revs high when carrying heavy loads. This can also hurt refinement when you have to climb long hills, for instance. In the four-thousand-pound-plus Highlander, this powerplant can be described as adequate, or plucky at a stretch. But for what the Highlander was designed for, and considering the fact that it will spend most of its life carting kids around, it does just fine. Power is sent to either the front or to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Limited and Platinum models are available with dynamic torque vectoring AWD, which gives these trim levels increased ability in off-road situations.

  • Engine
    3.5-liter V6 Gas
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

The 2020 Toyota Highlander was explicitly designed to carry a family of eight to school, work, family holidays, and the very occasional dirt trail camping trip. Nowhere in the design brief did it stipulate that the Highlander should excite or entertain the driver. It does all of that perfectly adequately, and even comfortably. It's comfortable enough at low speeds and handles rough road surfaces well. Out on the highway, there is nothing to complain about. The Toyota Highlander can go left, right, and straight without breaking a sweat.

However, there's a surprise for those that enjoy going left and right off the regularly congested roads. It's not quite a Mazda level of chassis performance, but the Highlander is surprisingly competent if you're in a hurry. There is a Sport mode that tightens up the throttle response, and the chassis remains flatter and more agile than you would expect from a three-row crossover. We expect most people will appreciate the added slice of handling when avoiding an incident on the road, but it is there.

We took our AWD test vehicle for a 50 mile run on some bumpy dirt forestry roads, and found the suspension took the edge off well. Particularly a corrugated section of track that usually only slows you down because it makes everything rattle in the vehicle, including teeth. Limited ground clearance means the Highlander couldn't tackle much more than a small stream, but slippery wet dirt roads shouldn't be a problem for avid hikers and campers.

Highlander Gas Mileage

As with much of the competition, Toyota has stuck to its guns by making use of a naturally-aspirated large capacity six-cylinder engine. The reason for this is twofold: these engines develop good power, and they are almost bulletproof when it comes to reliability, exactly what you want if you're looking at a family transporter. On the other hand, they don't deliver the best gas mileage, but in the case of the 2020 Highlander, Toyota has managed to keep things reasonable. The EPA rates that the FWD will manage 21/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined. The AWD car will see those numbers dip to 20/28/23. Our AWD model came in at 22.1 mpg combined after a week, including around 50 miles of low-speed dirt road. With the 17.9-gallon gas tank filled, the Highlander can get between 412 and 430 miles per tank.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    17.9 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 21/29 mpg
* 2020 Toyota Highlander L FWD

Highlander Interior

Once inside the 2020 Toyota Highlander, it becomes clear who this car is targeted towards. There's nothing fancy about the layout or design of the interior; instead, you get a logical layout with controls within easy reach of both the driver and front passenger, but we have to say that things feel a bit cluttered. Below the infotainment display, you'll find a plethora of controls and knobs. This layout can be distracting for the driver once on the go. In terms of space, the Highlander feels larger than its exterior dimensions would suggest, and visibility is good all round. As with most Toyotas that offer a relatively utilitarian service, the Highlander doesn't pretend to be a premium product and prefers hard-wearing durability over finer details and the pretense of premium quality.

2020 Toyota Highlander Steering Wheel Design CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Dashboard CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Infotainment System CarBuzz
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Seating and Interior Space

Although the crossover Highlander is more car than SUV, Toyota has managed to squeeze seating for eight into the body of a midsize SUV, which naturally means that some compromises have been made, but front and second-row occupants need not worry: space is still ample, and five average-sized adults should find no difficulty in getting comfortable in the 2020 Toyota Highlander, even on long road trips. The headroom in the front is 39.6 inches for XLE, Limited, and Platinum models, and 41.2 for L models. The second-row headroom is 39.4 inches or 37.1 inches with a moonroof, and those in the third row get 36.1 inches of headroom. Legroom comes in at 42 inches in the front, a generous 41 inches in the second row, and a kids-only 27.7 inches in the back.

  • Seating capacity
    8-seater
  • Front Leg Room 40.4 in
  • Front Head Room 39.9 in
  • Rear Leg Room 41.0 in
  • Rear Head Room 39.4 in

Interior Colors and Materials

Toyota knows that its Highlander will most likely live a hard life filled with crisp crumbs and soft drink stains, so it has opted to go for basic hard-wearing materials in the lower-trim models that should stand up to years of use and abuse. The base model car comes with your choice of Graphite or Black material seats. XLE models have the honor of being upholstered in Softex material seats in your choice of Graphite, Black, or Harvest Beige. Limited models are the first in the Highlander lineup to be offered with leather seats, and the Platinum adds Glazed Caramel to the leather color options list. The rest of the interior has a robust and well-fitting feel, although some cheaper plastic bits do make an appearance.

2020 Toyota Highlander Trunk and Cargo Space

Compared to rivals such as the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander offers less space, but that's not to say it's cramped; in fact, there's more than enough space for a family of five to store all their day to day goodies. Behind the third row, the 2020 Toyota Highlander offers a solid 16 cubic feet of space, which is only half a cubic foot less than the Honda Pilot, but a substantial 2.2 cubic feet less than the Ford. Fold-down the third row, and you're left with 48.4 cubic feet. That's enough to carry a decent amount of bake sale stock. With the second-row seats folded down, the Highlander opens up to 84.3 cubic feet.

Small-item storage is average for this class and includes a split glove box to keep items from rolling to the passenger side when turning.

2020 Toyota Highlander Third Row Seats Folded CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Cargo Room CarBuzz
2020 Toyota Highlander Trunk Space with Third Row Folded CarBuzz

Highlander Infotainment and Features

Features

The 2020 Toyota Highlander might be slightly more expensive than competitors such as the Honda Pilot, but Toyota makes up for it by offering the Highlander with a generous amount of standard features. The base model of the Highlander range offers up standard features such as three-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, five USB ports, two 12V outlets, as well as numerous active driver assistance features such as forward collision warning and emergency forward braking with pedestrian detection. LE models add features such as a height-adjustable power liftgate with jam protection, a leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel, and blind-spot warning indicators. XLE models include a power tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, and a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support. Limited models offer standard leather-trimmed front- and second-row seats with heated and ventilated front seats and ambient interior lighting. Top of the line Platinum cars get a digital rearview mirror with HomeLink, heated second-row captain's chairs, a ten-inch color head-up display, and a surround-view camera system.

Infotainment

At the 2020 Highlander's price, there are all the modern amenities you'd expect. The base model Toyota Highlander comes equipped with an eight-inch touch screen that is mounted prominently at the top of the dashboard and displays images and menus in a clean and readable fashion. Standard infotainment features across the range include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, as well as Amazon Alexa compatibility and SiriusXM satellite radio with an all-access three-month trial and Wi-Fi connectivity. Limited models get a premium JBL sound system with dynamic navigation. Platinum cars have the same JBL sound system as found in the Limited but get a large 12.3-inch display. We found that the sound system in the Highlander sounded tinny in stock form, but the upgraded JBL system performed flawlessly, especially when bumping NIB by Black Sabbath.

2020 Toyota Highlander Common Problems and Reliability

The freshly redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander has been subjected to one recall due to an engine control unit programming error that could cause fluctuating fuel pressure levels, which in turn could affect the start/stop functionality. Other than this hiccup, the 2020 Highlander has proven to be a trouble-free car. Toyota will back the 2020 Highlander with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year corrosion warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile drivetrain warranty, two years of roadside assistance, and a two-year/25,000-mile maintenance plan.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    2 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Maintenance:
    2 Years \ 25,000 Miles

Highlander Safety

Gone are the days of SUVs simply being large metal boxes that you can stuff the kids and dog into for family vacations. These days SUVs have to be as safe or even safer than your average sedan, as their duty of carrying large amounts of people necessitates it. The good news is that the 2020 Toyota Highlander is one of the safer midsize SUVs on the market today. The NHTSA is yet to review the 2020 Toyota Highlander, but a 2019 model scored a full five out of five stars. More important is the fact that the 2020 Highlander managed to bag a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. Toyota has packed the Highlander full of standard active driver assistance features, which puts it up there with the best of them, including the Honda Pilot, which also managed a Top Safety Pick in 2019.

2020 Toyota Highlander Key Safety Features

With a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS and five full stars from the NHTSA, the 2020 Toyota Highlander's ratings make it clear that it packs a seriously safe punch. Standard safety features across the range include eight airbags, a reverse camera, a tire pressure monitor, as well as traction and stability control. More importantly, all Highlander models come with Toyota's excellent Safety Sense package which includes active driver assistance features such as a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure with steering assist,

lane tracing assist, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, as well as road sign

recognition, and cyclist detection. XLE models add a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, while Limited models get front and rear parking assist and automatic braking. Platinum models get adaptive headlights with auto-leveling.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2020 Toyota Highlander a good car?

The 2020 Toyota Highlander isn't a technologically advanced sports car or an all-electric eco crusader. What it is is a simple midsize SUV powered by a basic naturally aspirated V6 that can carry eight people and keep them relatively safe. So if you're judging this car based on its modernity and tech advancements, then it's going to perform quite badly. On the other hand, judging this car on its practicality and ability to get the basics right will net better results. We appreciate the fact that Toyota offers such a decent amount of standard features, especially in Limited and Platinum trims, and we also commend it for the number of active driver assistance systems on board every Highlander. There's enough power for most, and the ride is compliant and relaxed, perfect for suburban cruising. On the other hand, we wish the Highlander offered more space in the third row, but you can't expect much more from its midsize design.

We appreciated how the Highlander handled itself in the bends, but the overall driving experience is numb, bordering on boring. If you're looking for a dependable SUV to transport the family, then the Highlander is a safe bet. But when it comes to an all-round driving experience, Mazda does it better. However, for a relentlessly reliable engine and an all-around family vehicle, the Highlander is well worth cross-shopping.

🚘What's the Price of the 2020 Toyota Highlander?

With five different trim levels for sale, there's a price for the Toyota Highlander that's suitable for nearly every budget. All models are available in FWD and AWD configurations. The base model L starts off at an MSRP of $34,600, which does not include tax, registration, or a destination charge of $1,120. Going for the AWD version adds $1,600 (the same goes for all models). Next up is the LE, which will set you back $36,800. The mid-range XLE costs $39,600, and the Limited breaks the $40,000 mark with an asking price of $43,650. The top of the line Platinum Toyota Highlander will cost you $46,850.

2020 Toyota Highlander Models

There are five trim levels on offer for 2020. All models are powered by the same 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engine producing 295 hp. Power is sent to either the front or all wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The L is the first trim on offer and features LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, and keyless entry on the exterior. The interior gets three-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, and a four-way manually-adjustable passenger seat, as well as an eight-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Standard active driver assistance features include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure with steering assist, lane tracing assist, and full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control.

The LE model is next in line and adds exterior features such as LED foglights and a height-adjustable power liftgate with jam protection. On the interior, you can expect to find features such as a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

Mid-range XLE cars ramp things up with a power tilt and slide moonroof on the exterior, while the interior offers wireless phone charging, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, SofTex upholstered seating, as well as a ten-way power-adjustable seat, and second-row sunshades.

Limited models get LED projector headlights with LED-strip daytime running lights, high-output LED foglights and 20-inch chrome wheels on the exterior. Inside, the Limited includes a ten-inch head-up display, a surround-view camera system, a premium JBL sound system, and heated second-row seats.

Platinum cars offer rain-sensing window wipers, a power panoramic sunroof with sunshade, and a rear bumper scuff plate on the exterior side of things. Inside, the Platinum gets a digital rearview mirror.

See All 2020 Toyota Highlander Trims and Specs

2020 Toyota Highlander Additional Packages

Those seeking a more individualized experience can look to the options list, which is pretty extensive. Base model cars aren't available with any optional packages; you'll have to go for the mid-range XLE to gain access to the $1,040 Premium Audio and Navigation package, which adds an upgraded JBL sound system and navigation. Limited models are offered with a 12.3-inch touchscreen package with a surround-view camera for $1,050. As the range-topping model, the Platinum trim car is also not available with any extra options and comes with everything Toyota offers for the Highlander range.

🚗What Toyota Highlander Model Should I Buy?

With such a broad spectrum of trim levels on offer, Toyota makes it easy to find the perfect Highlander for each individual's specific needs. Choosing a single model becomes difficult then. If we had the money, we would look more towards the middle of the pack, where the balance between price and features hits a sweet spot. We would end up going with the mid-range XLE, which comes in and just under $40,000 but adds a number of premium features. Standard gear on the XLE includes a power tilt and slide moonroof, wireless phone charging, SofTex upholstered seating, and a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

Check out other Toyota Highlander Styles

2020 Toyota Highlander Comparisons

Honda Pilot Honda
Ford Explorer Ford
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Toyota Highlander295 hp21/29 mpg$34,600
Honda Pilot 280 hp20/27 mpg$32,250
Ford Explorer 300 hp21/28 mpg$32,765

2020 Toyota Highlander vs Honda Pilot

The Honda Pilot has been cruising along without any major changes, but that doesn't mean that it's falling behind the competition. In fact, the Honda Pilot is so good, that it still sits close to the top of the affordable midsize SUV pack. Power comes in the form of a naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 280 hp. The Honda Pilot doesn't look any better than the Highlander from the outside, and we think looks will play a negligible role in the purchasing decision. Out on the road, the 2020 Honda Pilot is the better driving car, both in terms of comfort and dynamic ability. Towing capacity is competitive, as is fuel economy. The interior is functional instead of stylish, as in the Highlander, but Honda has made sure that the 2020 Pilot gets a solid amount of features. The upper trims can get expensive, and the overall package is starting to show its age, but we'd still go with the Honda in this comparison.

See Honda Pilot Review

2020 Toyota Highlander vs Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer has the enviable title of being America's best-selling SUV. This means that Ford is constantly improving its offering to stay ahead of the curve. For 2020 Ford has released an all-new Explorer, which ups the ante even further. Engine options range from a 2.3-liter EcoBoost producing 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, while the ST and Platinum models get a 3.0-liter V6 EcoBoost with 400 hp/415 lb-ft and 365 hp/380 lb-ft respectively. As the class leader, the Ford performs well across all categories: The driving experience is relaxed and composed at the same time, and we think it looks miles better than the Highlander. Inside, the Explorer offers impressive levels of standard comfort and driver assistance features. With the seats folded, the Explorer also offers miles of cargo space. We did find that the options can get expensive, and the dull interior doesn't inspire. We'd still go with the Ford.

See Ford Explorer Review

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2020 Toyota Highlander Video Reviews

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Photos
$34,600 - $48,800
Price Range (MSRP)
Toyota Highlander