Here's what we like about 2020 Highlander and what we would change.
We recently had the chance to drive the 2020 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, which are now entering their fourth generation. The Highlander competes in the three-row mid-size SUV category, where a slew of new entrants like the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas has made an already competitive segment even more crowded. Since the third-generation Highlander was released way back in 2013, it felt outdated next to its fresh competitors.
Toyota knew it needed a total redesign in order to compete and the 2020 Highlander has arrived as a more compelling option in this segment. But is it compelling enough? Though this new model is a massive improvement over the outgoing one, there are still some elements that keep us from calling it the class leader. Here is what we love about the 2020 Highlander and what we might change.
Toyota has stepped up its interior game with the Highlander boasting plush materials, bold design, and advanced technology instead of dull plastics, familiar layouts, and outdated tech. Even the base model doesn't feel drab but the loaded Platinum trim with the lush Glazed Caramel leather and class-leading 12.3-inch touchscreen would be our preference. This new touchscreen feels more responsive and looks crisper than other Toyota units, making the Highlander feel like a more premium product. Plus, Toyota has finally jumped on the Android bandwagon and now includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration.
All of the seats feel comfortable (no matter what material they are wrapped in) but the heated and ventilated chairs found on higher trims are even nicer. The heated rear captains chairs are also nice but don't have ventilation like the Telluride and Palisade. We also love how Toyota kept the Highlander's signature dashboard cubby but divided it into two separate areas so small items don't go rolling around.
The new Highlander's styling isn't offensive but it doesn't move the needle for us like some of its competitors. Just like the last-generation Highlander, we think this new model will mostly go unnoticed when you bring it home from the dealership and park it in the driveway for the first time. We will give Toyota props for including some exciting new colors like Moon Dust and Ruby Flare Pearl, but we wish the company gave the Highlander more aggressive styling. Just look at the current Toyota RAV4, which looks far bolder than the model it replaced.
While some automakers have moved to turbocharged four-cylinder engines, Toyota has been sticking with the V6, making it smoother and more refined with each new generation. It's pretty powerful too. This state of tune develops 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque sent out to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. We had a chance to drive a base L grade with front-wheel-drive and we can confirm from experience that the Highlander can pull off a wicked front-wheel burnout. The hybrid model with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder developing 243 hp moans and drones a bit more, but it still feels smooth and achieves class-leading MPG figures of over 35 mpg.
The Highlander has winning powertrains but when it comes time to get it out on the road, it falls flat compared to some competitors. The steering feel is light and the ride comfort is smooth, but when you pitch the Highlander around a corner, you get the feeling you are going to fall out of the seat. You may say this should be expected in a three-row SUV but in our time with the Kia Telluride, we were blown away by its road manners even when driving on a mountainous Colorado road.
We even spent some time riding in the third row and the Telluride's composure kept us from feeling sick as our drive partner whipped around corners. The Highlander isn't a complete barge, but it's no Telluride. It also suffers from annoying road noise at highway speeds, which seems to plague a variety of Toyota models at the moment.
In order to make its customers feel secure, Toyota has crammed a ton of standard safety features into the new Highlander. All grades include Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as standard, which includes full-range adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist. Some other optional safety features include blind-spot monitors, a 360-degree camera, rain-sensing wipers, self-leaving headlights, and rear cross-traffic alert. We assume that when the Highlander goes in for crash testing, it should achieve excellent ratings.
Toyota has a reputation for offering solid vehicles at an affordable price but the 2020 Highlander is far from the most affordable vehicle in its class. It does come very well-equipped, but the $34,600 starting price for the base L grade is around $3,000 more than the least expensive models in this class. Step up to the fully-loaded Platinum Hybrid with AWD, and the price jumps to $50,200, making it one of the priciest vehicles in this segment.
There are plenty of less expensive competitors with longer warranties, but it might not matter much to Toyota loyalists. The Japanese automaker has some of the most faithful customers in the industry, who won't go anywhere else even if they get a better price. So while the Highlander may be solid across the board but far from class-leading in a few areas, it won't stop Toyota from selling them as quickly as it can build them.
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