The Toyota Highlander SUV receives an extensive overhaul for 2020.
A gasoline V6 is available as well as a hybrid option with all-wheel drive.
Interior features include wireless charging and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
For those that look at the new Subaru Outback and say, “I need a little more truck than that,” might I direct your attention to the 2020 Toyota Highlander. If the Outback is a station wagon with off-road capabilities, consider the Highlander to be a truck with station wagon capabilities. It’s big enough, good enough and, most of all, it’s a Toyota; so it’s going to run (almost) forever.
The basics here are this: the 2020 Toyota Highlander is a big, two-box SUV that comes in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum grades. There’s a hybrid version with optional all-wheel drive. There are three colors carried over from 2019: Blizzard Pearl, Celestial Silver Metallic, and Midnight Black Metallic. Toyota added five new colors for 2020, however: Magnetic Gray Metallic, Moon Dust (which is actually a shade of blue), Ruby Flare Pearl (red obviously), Blueprint, and Opulent Amber.
Opulent Amber is a “deep, luxurious brown” but that’s a lie. It’s brown, and brown is a terrible color for a car. Don’t buy a brown car.
Meat & Potatoes: Traditional Vs. Hybrid
Non-hybrid Highlanders feature a 3.5-liter V6 with Toyota’s Dual Variable Valve Timing and D-4S Injection system; meaning direct fuel injection with port fuel injectors. The systems combine to increase performance and efficiency, according to Toyota. Mated to a Direct Shift eight-speed automatic, the engine puts out 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft. of torque. All-wheel drive is optional and can send up to 50 percent of the available torque to the rear wheels.
There’s a standard stop/start feature to reduce fuel consumption too. Estimates from Toyota come in at 22 mpg combined for the gasoline V6.
The hybrids have a 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder, mated to two electric motors in a more compact and efficient manner than before says Toyota. The ICE engine employs a mouthful called “Variable Valve Timing-intelligent system by Electric motor” or VVT-iE on the intake camshaft; whereas the exhaust camshaft uses just the Variable Valve Timing-intelligent system (or VVT-i). The all-wheel drive Highlander Hybrid uses a separate, rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels only when needed. To further improve efficiency, the hybrid uses a variable cooling system (electric water pump and electric thermostat) and a fully-variable oil pump.
Toyota says all that adds up to 240 total horsepower and 34 combined mpg (based on their estimates). Not bad, eh?
In case you’re interested, the battery pack is installed under the rear seats, so cargo or passenger space is unaffected. The new Highlander offers 16.1 cubic feet of carrying space behind the third row; folding that third row flat nets you 40.6 cubic feet. Drop down the second row and you have 73.3 cubic feet for hauling just about anything you can think of.
Speaking of hauling, V6 Highlanders have a 5,000 lbs. towing capacity, thanks to a heavy-duty radiator with an engine oil cooler and improved fan performance. Trailer Sway Control is also part of the package and uses the Vehicle Stability Control system to help counter unwanted trailer movement.
The Highlander Hybrid will coach you on ways to drive as economically as possible. For example, an “accelerator guide function” suggests an acceleration level according to the driving conditions. The Highlander Hybrid’s Predictive Efficient Drive (PED) analyzes your daily driving habits, along with the upcoming road and traffic conditions. That data is then used to more efficiently charge and discharge the battery.
Interior Treatments: The TV Control Room
Comfort and convenience features abound in the new Highlander. “The 2020 Highlander offers its plushest accommodations ever,” says Toyota. And with softer padded surfaces and more tailored stitching on the door trim and instrument panel, who are we to argue? The center console offers Qi wireless charging and plenty of storage spaces, with USB charging ports and ambient LED lighting to set a relaxing mood. Interior colors run the gamut from Graphite or Black cloth, to Softex artificial leather in Harvest Beige, Graphite or Black.
Higher grades get those same color choices in real leather, and the top-of-line Platinum features embossed, perforated leather trim in those three colors, plus Glazed Caramel.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander has enough multimedia stuff to make you feel like you’re driving a television control room. All grades come standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze (handy!), SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi connectivity through AT&T and Toyota Safety Connect. Service and Remote Connectivity is available as is navigation via a 12.3-inch screen. JBL Premium Audio is standard for Limited and Platinum, and comes with 1,200 watts of power and 11 speakers in nine locations.
Safety & Security
And of course, there are tons of safety systems, from blind spot monitors to rear cross-traffic alerts. Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard on all Highlanders and includes: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection; Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Automatic High Beams. New for 2020 is Lane Tracing Assist and Road Sign Assist. There’s also a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, offering automatic braking should you be an inattentive moron.
Pricing & Availability
The 2020 Toyota Highlander V6 will arrive in December with the Hybrid coming in February 2020. No word yet on pricing, but since this a Toyota we’re talking about, it’ll probably cost less than you’d expect. So, if you have a bunch of people and stuff to haul around, whether it’s to the ski slopes or to school and then to soccer practice, it’s real hard to ignore the latest Toyota Highlander.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.