2020 Toyota Highlander unveiled: Crossover SUV juices up with thrifty, 34-mpg hybrid

April 18, 2019

With the 2019 New York auto show debut Wednesday of its redesigned 2020 Highlander, Toyota hasn’t built the Prius of three-row crossover SUVs. The automaker’s 34-mpg combined fuel-economy estimate for the 2020 Highlander Hybrid comes close, however. That figure is a hefty 6 mpg higher than last year’s hybrid combined EPA test estimate, thanks in part to a new front-wheel-drive version.

Where the outgoing Toyota Highlander Hybrid was a curiosity in the lineup, the new model is solidly mainstream.

MORE: Read our 2020 Toyota Highlander preview

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

The 2020 Highlander hits dealers in the U.S. in December, initially with a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 shuttling power to its wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels. The Highlander Hybrid that will follow in early 2020 skips the base L trim and swaps in a 2.5-liter inline-4 paired to an electric motor fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery stuffed below the middle seat. The hybrid is rated at a total system output of 240 hp. The Highlander Hybrid is down 75 hp compared to the new Ford Explorer Hybrid, but Ford estimates just 24 mpg combined for its new three-row crossover SUV.

The Highlander’s optional all-wheel-drive system varies by what’s underhood. With the V-6, the all-wheel-drive system can shuttle up to 50 percent of power rearward as needed. Limited and Platinum trim levels can split torque front to back and side to side for better grip or fuel economy. Opt for the hybrid powertrain and the optional all-wheel-drive system consists of a second electric motor that works as a differential to split power between the rear wheels. The hybrid’s system has no mechanical connection between the front and rear axles.

No matter what wheels are driven, the Highlander Hybrid’s gasoline-electric powertrain communicates with its navigation system to anticipate traffic and topography ahead to prepare the system to use more or less electric power to reduce fuel consumption.

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

Under the skin

The Highlander switches to a new platform shared with the Toyota Camry and RAV4, and its styling is a combination of the two. The crossover SUV’s profile is blockier and edgier like the RAV4 but with rounded design cues pulled from the Camry.

Inside, its dash clusters most switches around a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Highlander Platinums swap in a flashier 12.3-inch touchscreen.

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander

Base L and LE Highlanders come standard with three-seat benches in the middle and third rows. XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims replace the middle bench with two individual captain’s chairs. The new Highlander stretches about 2 inches longer overall, and cargo volume rises to 16.1 cubic feet behind the third row, 40.6 cubes with row three folded, and 73.3 cubic feet with the second and third rows stowed.

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