If there has ever been a carmaker following the steady-as-she-goes strategy, it’s Toyota. The redesigned fourth-generation 2020 Toyota Highlander is the next chapter. There is nothing over the top or earth shattering about this update. The next Highlander is a bit over two inches longer and a skosh wider than the current model. The Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform is spreading through the Toyota lineup like kudzu on a Georgia hillside. So, no surprise it’s the foundation for the newest Highlander, too.
Highlander’s meager measurement gains aren’t enough to shoot it to the front of the pack of 3-row CUVs in terms of passenger space. In fact, it barely gained any ground at all in that category. There are 16 midsize SUVs with three rows and, at 27.7 inches, Highlander remains toward the bottom of the pack in terms of third-row legroom. The Buick Enclave and Volkswagen Atlas, for example, have more than 33 inches of third-row legroom. Highlander’s cargo space did get a bump up to 16 cu ft. behind the third row, up to 84.3 cu ft. with the second and third rows folded.
The exterior styling is a bit edgier for 2020, with a more dynamic front end and additional definition to the side panels. Every new Highlander comes with LED headlights and taillights. Inside, styling and technology carry the day. We particularly like the highly stylized new interior with its reimagined recessed cargo trays along the base of the dash, as well as the neatly integrated touchscreen and supporting controls in the dash’s center.
Standard on all models are Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, satellite-radio capability, Waze and Amazon Alexa compatibility. Driver Easy Speak that can broadcast the driver’s voice through the rear audio speakers is another across-the-board standard feature. Also standard on all grades is Safety Sense 2.0 with automatic front braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane-tracing assist and road-sign assist.
Capable of seating seven or eight, depending on captain’s chairs or a bench in the second row, the reworked Highlander will come in gas-only, as well as hybrid versions. Gas-only models are on sale now with the hybrid coming in the spring of 2020.
What’s New for 2020?
The 2020 Highlander is completely redesigned. See the 2020 Toyota Highlander models for sale near you
What We Like
- Fuel-efficient hybrid model
- Upscale interior
- Full suite of safety features standard
- Improved driving dynamics
- Available 12.3-in touchscreen
What We Don’t
- Big price tag
- Cramped third-row legroom
- Daytime glare obscures the touchscreen
Turbocharging? We don’t need no stinkin’ turbocharging. Providing the propulsion in the gas-only Highlander models is a 3.5-liter V6 engine with start/stop. It generates 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission with Drive Mode Select ushers power to the wheels. Front-wheel-drive (FWD) versions of the L, XLE, Limited and Platinum trims deliver an estimated 21 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. For whatever reason this drops to 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined in the LE. Opting for all-wheel drive (AWD) provides estimated mileage of 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined for all the grades.
A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors will power the hybrid when it arrives next year. The combined output will be 243 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Distributing power to the wheels falls to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Toyota is expecting the fuel economy for FWD versions to be 36 mpg city/35 mpg highway/36 mpg combined. In AWD versions, the LE will deliver 35 mpg in city, highway and combined driving. The highway number will drop by 1 mpg in the other grades.
Ordering AWD for the gas-only L, LE and XLE gives you a system that transfers as much as 50% of available torque to the rear wheels to counter wheel slip. The Limited and Platinum grades get an enhanced AWD system with Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring with Driveline Disconnect. This allows a redistribution of torque not only from front to rear, but also side to side on the rear axle. This system also provides a multiterrain driving mode selection including Mud & Sand and Rock & Dirt.
Maximum towing for the gas-only Highlander is 5,000 pounds. For the hybrid, it’s 3,500 pounds.
Standard Features & Options
With the 4-cylinder engine gone, buying into Highlander is more costly in 2020. The gas-only Highlander comes in L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum grades. Hybrid trim grades begin with LE. All trims can be optioned with AWD. The premium for that runs between $1,600 and $2,025, depending on the trim. All prices are for FWD models and include the $1,120 factory destination charge.
The L ($35,720) comes standard with 18-in painted alloy wheels, eight airbags, remote keyless entry, push-button start, power heated outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, LED headlights and taillights, a back-up camera with washer, trizone automatic climate control, eight cupholders, four bottle holders, an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, a 4-way manual front-passenger seat, cloth seating, 8-passenger seating with 60/40 split fold-down second-row and third row bench seats, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a 4.2-in color LCD meter cluster, four USB ports, two 12-volt outlets, Driver Easy Speak, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, hill-start assist, Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition, an 8-in touchscreen and a 6-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite-radio capability. AWD versions also have downhill-assist control and front/rear mud guards.
In addition to or in place of the L’s standard equipment, the LE ($37,920 Gas; $39,320 Hybrid) comes with 18-in machine-finished alloy wheels, power lift gate, LED fog lights, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The XLE ($42,320 Gas; $43,720 Hybrid) add-ons or changes include a power moonroof, roof rails, a Qi smartphone charger, auto-dimming rearview mirror, synthetic-leather-trimmed front and second-row seats, heated front seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, 4-way power-adjustable front-passenger seat, 7-passenger seating with second-row captain’s chairs, second-row sunshades and a 7-in color gauge cluster. Options include 8-passenger seating and navigation system.
The Limited ($44,770 Gas; $46,170 Hybrid) add-ons or changes include 20-in composite wheels, puddle lights in outboard mirrors, LED projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, high-output LED fog lights, a hands-free power lift gate, leather front and second-row seating, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, a premium 11-speaker JBL audio system, a navigation system, a 120-volt outlet, ambient interior lighting and front/rear parking assist with automatic braking. AWD versions get the upgraded system with torque vectoring. Options include 8-passenger seating, 360-degree bird’s-eye camera and 12.3-in touchscreen.
Except for 8-passenger seating, the Platinum ($47,970 Gas; $49,370 Hybrid) adds the Limited’s options plus 20-in alloy wheels, adaptive self-leveling LED projector headlights, rain-sensing front wipers, a panoramic moonroof, a digital rearview mirror, a 10-in color head-up display and illuminated front-door sills.
Every Highlander comes with eight air bags and Toyota’s Star Safety System, including stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and brake assist. Also standard on all grades is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 with automatic front braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane-tracing assist and road-sign assist.
To date, no third party has crash tested the 2020 Toyota Highlander.
Behind the Wheel
The Highlander’s cabin is a pretty comfortable place to spend a few hours. First- and second-row occupants have plenty of spreading-out space. The third row is best left to tiny tykes. Tidy and easy to navigate, the instrument panel is sensibly arranged. The greenhouse provides better-than-average views all around. The issue of glare interfering with reading the touchscreen continues to hound Highlander.
The gas-only version offers plenty of go. The performance isn’t neck-snapping, but it is more than adequate and certainly more than some rivals. The V6 is a tried-and-true engine, mating well with the 8-speed automatic tranny. Thanks to the TNGA platform, Highlander handling is consistent and solid. It feels big from behind the wheel, but that will appeal to those who buy an SUV for that extra degree of safety they feel a larger vehicle provides.
Toyota decided to replace the V6 gas element of its hybrid system with a less thirsty 4-cylinder. The result is a less powerful, but more fuel-efficient hybrid. The CVT causes that 4-banger to roar at times, but otherwise pretty well hides the fact it isn’t a traditional transmission.
Other Cars to Consider
2020 Buick Enclave — If space is your jam, the Enclave provides plenty of it in all three rows. Also a bit pricey, it offers loads of standard equipment, user-friendly controls and a library-quiet cabin.
2020 Mazda CX-9 — Although it’s not considered a luxury crossover, top Mazda CX-9 trim levels do a convincing impression. The vehicle manages to balance a sporty driving experience with upscale comfort, 3-row seating and excellent fuel economy — just don’t expect comparable sizing.
Toyota expects the XLE to be the best seller among the various grades. We believe the LE offers the best value. Although it offers a lot of additional content, the main reason we might pony up another $4,500 for the XLE would be for the second-row captain’s chairs. Find a Toyota Highlander for sale