- Spacious interior
- High-mpg hybrid
- Upgraded infotainment
- Busy styling
- Rivals’ turbos may be faster
- Stiff competition
The 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid’s impressive fuel economy may win us over.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander looks to its RAV4 little brother for some of its styling inspiration. Boxier, more angular lines than last year’s model belie the 2020 Highlander’s larger footprint and more spacious interior.
The redesigned Highlander goes on sale in December in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels, with hybrid versions of the LE and higher trims set to follow in February 2020.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 295 horsepower that shuttles power to the front or all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.
With the Highlander Hybrid, Toyota pairs a 2.5-liter inline-4 to a nickel-metal hydride battery mounted below the rear seats and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The hybrid system is good for a total output of 240 hp, but the more important number might be Toyota’s 34-mpg combined fuel economy estimate. That’s 6 mpg higher than the outgoing model’s rating and it’s 10 mpg combined higher than what Ford estimates for its Explorer Hybrid. On high-trim Highlander Hybrids, the gasoline-electric powertrain works with the navigation system to predict traffic situations where coasting may yield better fuel economy.
Regardless of what’s underhood, the Highlander is offered in either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. Highlander L, LE, and XLE trims with the V-6 can shuttle 50 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels when needed to enhance grip on slippery roads. Highlander Limited and Platinum use a different all-wheel-drive system that can brake the left and right rear wheels individually to enhance grip. That high-grade system also features various modes for off-road and slick terrain, although the Highlander is far from a rock-crawler.
When equipped with all-wheel drive, the Highlander Hybrid has a second electric motor to power its rear axle. No mechanical connection exists between its front and rear wheels.
Opt for the V-6 and the Highlander is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds. Toyota hasn’t said how much the hybrid will be rated to tow.
The new Highlander’s shape isn’t much different than last year’s model, though it rides on new modular architecture shared with a number of other Toyota vehicles such as the Camry and RAV4. It stretches about 195 inches from bumper to bumper, about 2.6 inches longer than before. Its styling is more angular, with deeply defined lines that are softer than those on the RAV4.
Inside, the new Highlander groups most of its controls together around a standard 8.0-inch or optional 12.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment with redundant knobs and buttons below. Storage bins below the infotainment system can store small items and a wireless charging pad is optional on some trims.
The new Highlander’s larger footprint translates to more space inside. Behind the third row, cargo space grows to 16.1 cubic feet. With the row folded flat, the Highlander can lug 40.6 cubes. Folding both the second and third rows opens up 73.3 cubes.
2020 Toyota Highlander safety and features
The Highlander lineup stretches from a new entry-level Highlander L trim to the range-topping Highlander Platinum. Base L and LE versions feature cloth upholstery, XLEs use synthetic leather, and Limited and Platinums are dressed in leather upholstery.
Base L and LE trims come with a three-seat middle row that gives them seating for eight. That setup is optional on XLE and Limited trims, which come standard with middle-row captain’s chairs. The Highlander Platinum comes only with middle-row captain’s chairs.
No matter what’s draped on how many seats, all Highlanders come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Most Highlanders have an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment while range-topping Highlander Platinum uses a 12.3-inch touchscreen.
All 2020 Highlanders include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, lane-departure warnings, and eight airbags.
Highlander Ls are hardly basic with three-zone automatic climate control, LED headlights, an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and keyless ignition. LE versions add a power liftgate, blind-spot monitors, fog lights, and leather around the steering wheels and shift knobs.
XLEs throw in more power adjustments for the driver’s seat, a 4-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat, heated front seats, a power moonroof, and roof rails. Limiteds add to that cooled front seats, JBL speakers, navigation, and a few other features. Highlander Platinums top the lineup with a power panoramic moonroof, heated second-row seats, a rearview mirror that doubles as a display for the rearview camera, and a surround-view camera system.
Toyota has not said how much the 2020 Highlander will cost.