2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Review: A Wise Investment

by Morgan Carter

While the standard Toyota Highlander seeks to find a place for itself on the podium alongside segment rivals like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, the Highlander Hybrid is already king of the roost. Featuring the same bold exterior design and upscale interior of the gasoline variant, the hybrid SUV is unrivaled in fuel economy, largely due to the lack of hybrid rivals in the mid-size three-row SUV segment. The new Ford Explorer may be seen as a potential competitor, but with its focus on performance over economy and an estimated 34 mpg combined mileage, it can't hope to compete with the Highlander in that area. While the Toyota can't promise the same level of fun and competent handling as its rivals, with only a 243-horsepower powertrain at its disposal, it will appeal to brand loyalists and those seeking an excellent return on investment.

Read in this review:

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

The Highlander Hybrid is all-new for 2020, so plenty has changed. The most notable change is the new four-cylinder powertrain, dropping two cylinders and 63 hp. More safety and tech features come standard across the range, with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert standard on all hybrid models. The top-tier Platinum also gets access to Toyota's new 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. The new Highlander also offers front-wheel-drive instead of making all-wheel-drive the standard.

Pros and Cons

  • Impressive fuel economy
  • Ample cargo capacity
  • Handsome interior
  • Plenty of standard and available features
  • Spacious first and second row
  • Lackluster driving experience
  • Cramped third row
  • High starting price

Highlander Hybrid Exterior

The manufacturer tried to give the new Highlander a more aggressive design, and while it's certainly an improvement over the forgettable models of yesteryear, it's still unlikely to leave much of a lasting impression. The LE Hybrid rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and gets LED head- and taillights as standard, along with LED fog lights. Adaptive LED headlights and high-output LED fog lights are available. The lower trims sport a black front grille, trimmed in silver, while the upper trims opt for a more eye-catching chrome trim. Four doors come standard on the three-row SUV, with a hands-free power liftgate available at the upper trim levels.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Front Angle View Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Rear Angle View Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Front Angle View 1 Toyota
See All 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Exterior Photos

Dimensions

At 194.9 inches long, with a generous 112.2-inch wheelbase, the Highlander Hybrid is not a small SUV. It stands quite tall, too, with an overall height of 68.1 inches. The vehicle's 76-inch width is not overly convenient for squeezing into tight spaces, but there are SUVs out there that have a harder time of it. Although the Toyota has a ground clearance of eight inches, it is not the most capable off-roader. The curb weight figures for the hybrid variant of the Highlander have not yet been released, but the standard Highlander weighs in between 4,330 and 4,595 lbs from LE to Platinum.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Exterior Colors

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

Highlander Hybrid Performance

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Front View Driving Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Rear View Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Engine Toyota

Engine and Transmission

Toyota has installed a new engine on its 2020 Highlander Hybrid, reducing power in favor of enhanced fuel economy, the complete opposite approach of the similar Ford Explorer. Under the hood of the Toyota is a 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor to deliver a combined 243 hp. This power is regulated by a continuously variable transmission and directed to either the front or all four wheels, depending on the drivetrain you choose. Although the hybrid has lost 63 hp during its evolution, it doesn't feel underpowered on the road, at least not in everyday driving. There is plenty of low-end torque to get you around town in a brisk manner. However, it does run out of breath on steady inclines, and the power tapers off when accelerating on the highway.

  • Engine
    2.5-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
  • Transmission
    Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrains
    AWD, FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Athleticism is not the Toyota Highlander's selling point, and expecting anything more from this otherwise competent family hauler will only lead to disappointment. As is common with larger SUVs, the steering is light and responsive, allowing for easy low-speed maneuvering. However, it is not talkative nor dextrous at higher speeds. The regenerative brakes are plenty capable of bringing the vehicle to a stop, even if they are a little more intrusive than regular brakes.

The hybrid's suspension does a relatively good job of absorbing minor road imperfections, but it isn't as smooth as the standard model, although it shares the same terrible sound-dampening at high speeds. The large SUV will lean uncomfortably into sharp turns, and the lack of seat support makes executing such maneuvers harrowing, so we suggest you drive like you always have a toddler in the back, which is just what the family-oriented Highlander was designed for.

Highlander Hybrid Gas Mileage

While the Highlander may not be the most fun to drive, it will certainly provide a thrill when you do your gas expenses at the end of the month. Even the standard gasoline SUV boasts class-leading fuel economy, so it's no surprise that the hybrid does the same. The new four-cylinder engine may cut back on power, but the increased efficiency is well worth it, with the hybrid models boasting an expected combined mileage of 36 mpg. By comparison, the newly released Ford Explorer only gets 28 mpg across the combined cycle in its most efficient guise. If the Highlander Hybrid gets the same 17.9-gallon fuel tank as the gasoline model, it will be able to cover up to 608 miles between gas station visits.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    17.1 Gallons
* 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE V6 FWD

Highlander Hybrid Interior

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Dashboard Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Dashboard 1 Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Front Seats Toyota
See All 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The interior of the SUV is plusher than in previous years, with even the standard cloth-trimmed seats being eminently comfortable. Leatherette and premium perforated leather upholstery are available. The LE can seat up to eight across its three rows of seats, with the first two rows providing ample head- and legroom even for taller adults. The third row is only suitable for smaller children, with legroom being particularly cramped. An eight-way power driver's seat comes standard, with ten-way adjustability available. Heated and ventilated front seats are offered, along with heated rear seats. Getting in and out is not overly difficult thanks to the relatively low step-in, but accessing the rear seats is a little trickier, as is common in three-row SUVs.

  • Seating capacity
    8-seater

Highlander Hybrid Trunk and Cargo Space

Unlike many rival hybrids, the Highlander doesn't sacrifice trunk space for its economical drivetrain, storing the battery pack more smartly. As such, the SUV offers 16 cubic feet of trunk space behind the third row of seats. While it is by no means class-leading capacity, it is still quite impressive for a hybrid. The third-row seats can be folded flat in a 60/40 split, with a little finagling of the manual lever, to open up 48.4 cubic feet of space. The second-row seats can also be folded down in a 60/40 split to offer a total area of 84.3 cubic feet when hauling large items. Even the standard trunk should suffice for everyday errands, easily swallowing up ten grocery bags or a couple of large suitcases.

Around the cabin, there are plenty of creative spaces available for small-item storage. Up front, there is a standard glove compartment and a pretty large center armrest cubicle. Within the dash, there are two cubbies provided, though their practicality is questionable. Eight cupholders are supplied around the cabin, and the front and second-row passengers can use the ample door pockets.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Rear Angle View 1 Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Rear View 1 Toyota
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Rear View 2 Toyota

Highlander Hybrid Infotainment and Features

Features

The Toyota SUV comes well-equipped even in its base form, partly because the entry-level hybrid model is the mid-tier LE. Standard features include tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, rearview camera, eight-way power driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, 4.2-inch driver information display and two 12-volt power outlets. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard, too, and includes pre-collision avoidance, lane departure alert, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. Other standard safety features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-seat reminder. Upgrading through the trim levels grants access to an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a ten-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, heated front and ventilated, heated second-row captain chairs, a panoramic sunroof, a seven-inch driver information display, a head-up display, a surround-view camera, and front and rear parking assist.

Infotainment

The infotainment suite on the Highlander has been improved over previous iterations and now features even crisper graphics and a more responsive interface. An eight-inch touchscreen comes standard, supporting Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, HD Radio, and SiriusXM, all channeled through a six-speaker sound system. The infotainment suite also supports a Wi-Fi hotspot, and four USB ports are supplied throughout the cabin for charging and interfacing smart devices. A wireless charging pad is added with the upgrade to the XLE trim, and the top-tier Platinum gets the large 12.3-inch touchscreen interface that supports dynamic navigation, and an 11-speaker premium JBL sound system.

Highlander Hybrid Problems and Reliability

The Highlander Hybrid has not been rated for dependability by an independent body, as yet. While by no means class-leading, the SUV's warranties cover the limited plan for 36,000 miles/36 months and the powertrain plan for 60,000 miles/60 months. The hybrid components are covered for 100,000 miles/96 months, and two years of unlimited roadside assistance is provided. No recalls have been issued for the latest generation Highlander nor its Hybrid model, to date.

Highlander Hybrid Safety

Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated the safety of the Toyota SUV by crash test, but with its extensive range of standard and available safety tech, we expect it to score well, as its predecessor did. These features comprise adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, pre-collision avoidance, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road sign recognition, all under the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. Available features include blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Verdict: Is 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid a good SUV?

Why do people buy hybrids? Are they looking for a powerful, sporty car? Are they looking for tax incentives? Do they just want to seem cool and modern? Or is it because they have a mind for value?

Depending on where your priorities lie, you may or may not believe the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a good car. It certainly isn't the most powerful SUV on the market, and not even within its own segment, where the newly released Ford Explorer supplies an extra 75 hp and loads more torque. It also isn't the most affordable car, right off the bat, with a pretty high starting price of $38,200.

However, what you get for your investment, and how quickly the Toyota returns on it, is what makes the Highlander an appealing SUV. Three rows of seats, with up to eight passenger appointments, along with impressive cargo capacity for a hybrid model make the Toyota a high-utility family hauler. And despite the overall weight of the vehicle, it gets excellent mileage, with an estimated 36 combined mpg, largely due to its weaker but more efficient four-cylinder engine.

The Toyota Highlander will not excite driving enthusiasts, but it will get your blood pumping at the end of the month when you see how much you've saved on gas. There are better SUVs out there, with more utility, more advanced features, and far better handling dynamics, but you'll be hard-pressed to find one that offers a well-balanced package at such high value.

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

It is not unusual for hybrid vehicles to cost more than their gasoline counterparts, and the same is true of the Highlander Hybrid. However, even the standard Highlander is considered pricey for the segment, so the hybrid's price tag may dissuade first-time Toyota buyers. The entry-level LE trim starts at $38,200, while the XLE adds $2,800 to the invoice. The well-appointed Limited will set you back $45,050, and getting behind the wheel of the most premium trim, the Platinum, will cost you $48,250. All-wheel-drive is available on every model, and adds between $1,600 and $1,950 to the bill. These prices are MSRP and don't include tax, licensing, registration, or Toyota's $1,120 destination charge.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Models

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Hybrid LE
2.5-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$38,200
Hybrid XLE
2.5-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$41,000
Hybrid Limited
2.5-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$45,050
Hybrid Limited Platinum
2.5-liter Inline-4 Hybrid
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
All-Wheel Drive
$48,250
See All 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Trims and Specs

What Toyota Highlander Hybrid Model Should I Buy?

The Highlander Hybrid won't be a cheap purchase upfront, but it will quickly earn back any overspend with its excellent fuel economy. As such, we suggest aiming high, if you can afford it, and picking up the Limited trim. It gets all the safety features available to even the top trim, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear parking assist. It also gets the plusher leather-appointed seats with heated front seats, although it misses out on the crisp 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display. But it's still hardly lacking with navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa and SiriusXM all included. It also gets LED daytime running lights and high-output LED fog lights.

Check out other Toyota Highlander Styles

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Comparisons

Acura MDX Hybrid Acura
Ford Explorer Hybrid Ford

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid vs Acura MDX Hybrid

As a mid-size luxury SUV, the Acura MDX is in a higher price bracket than the affordable Toyota, with a starting MSRP of $52,900. But for that investment, you get a well-appointed cabin featuring high-quality materials and top-notch construction. However, the MDX hybrid provides even less cargo space than the Highlander, with only 15 cubic feet behind the third row of seats. And while the Acura comes standard with plenty of safety and comfort features, the Toyota gets access to most of the same features for less overall cost. Also, equipped with a more powerful 321-hp engine, the MDX Hybrid performs better, but it gets far less impressive fuel economy at 26/27/27 mpg. Even the highest-tier Highlander is cheaper than the Acura, but you can pick up a better-quality luxury SUV for a similar price. Thus, the Toyota Highlander looks to be the smarter purchase in this comparison.

See Acura MDX Hybrid Review

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid vs Ford Explorer Hybrid

Just like the Toyota Highlander, the Ford Explorer is all-new for 2020. Unlike the Highlander, however, the Explorer Hybrid doesn't focus on improved fuel economy, instead using its hybrid engine to increase performance figures. The Ford's powertrain develops a combined 318 hp and an impressive 322 lb-ft to give it athletic acceleration. The Toyota seats more as standard, and comes with an upscale interior, even if it trails the Explorer's 18.2-cubic-foot trunk capacity. Both SUVs come well-equipped with safety and convenience features, but the Highlander gets a more modern and user-friendly infotainment suite. The Ford Explorer has a much higher starting price of $52,280 and gets a combined mileage of 28 mpg in its most efficient guise. For those who place emphasis on value for money, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the better choice.

See Ford Explorer Hybrid Review

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Popular Comparisons

$38,200 - $50,200
Price Range (MSRP)
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
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