2020 Toyota Highlander Chicagoland Review By Larry Nutson
2020 Toyota Highlander
By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
My drive of the redesigned-for-2020 Toyota Highlander has an interesting twist. On the invite of Toyota I participated in the line-off celebration of the new Highlander at Toyota’s Princeton, Indiana plant were it is produced. This took place a number of weeks before I was given the opportunity to get behind the wheel and experience for myself how the new Highlander drove.
Toyota has made a tremendous investment in the U.S. market. The plant in Princeton just completed a $1.3 billion modernization that added 550 new jobs to the workforce that now totals over 7,000 individuals. They like to say it’s the second largest city in Gibson County, Indiana.
Together with a cadre of Chicago-area auto writers, on the invite of Toyota I had the opportunity to drive the new Highlander around the local roads and highways in Chicago’s Western suburbs.
The midsize-crossover SUV Highlander is one of the best-sellers in its class. It now rides on a new platform, Toyota’s TNGA-K platform which is 15% more rigid. Wheelbase is now 2.36 inches longer with a corresponding increase in overall length. The Highlander is also a bit wider but there’s no change in overall height or ground clearance. This of course makes for more room on the inside, especially legroom and cargo capacity.
Available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the gasoline engine model Highlander is powered by a 295-horsepower 3.5-L V6 coupled to an 8-speed automatic. EPA test-cycle ratings for FWD models are 24 combined mpg, with 21 city mpg and 29 highway mpg. AWD models are EPA rated at 23 combined mpg, with 20 city mpg and 27 highway mpg. The gasoline model is rated to tow a 5,000 lb. trailer.
There’s also a Highlander Hybrid powered by a 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine combined with electric motors for a total system output of 243 horsepower. The hybrid is also available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Hybrids are all about low fuel consumption and the fuel economy ratings are up a significantly (+24%) over the previous model. Front-wheel drive models are EPA rated at 36 combined mpg, with 36 city mpg and 35 highway mpg. AWD models are rated at 35 mpg in all test-cycles. And, to state the obvious, hybrids pay off in city type driving. Trailer tow rating is 3,500 lbs.
The Highlander Hybrid has been selling at about 10 percent of total sales for 2019. Toyota forecasts about 20 percent of sales for 2020, a bellwether of the increased desire and interest in hybrids in the marketplace.
With seating for 7 or 8, L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims are offered. However, the L is not offered with the hybrid. A new XSE trim for the Highlander gasoline model was introduced at the recent Chicago Auto Show and will become available in the Fall of 2020.
The 2020 Highlander has a starting MSRP of $34,600. Toyota expects the XLE AWD to be the most popular model. It’s priced at $41,200 plus a $1120 destination charge. The Highlander Hybrid LE FWD starts at $38,200 plus the $1120 destination charge.
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard in all models in the 2020 Highlander. This suite of advanced driver-assistance safety (ADAS) features includes: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beam, new Lane Tracing Assist, and new Road Sign Assist.
On the outside the Highlander takes on a bolder look exhibiting more style with a more modern look. There’s eight colors to pick from, five of them new for 2020.
The interior cabin has a more premium look and feel with improved quality materials and touch surfaces. A new camel interior trim provides a very elegant look. Now standard is Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi connectivity. A 12.3 inch touchscreen is nicely integrated into the dash. A new rearview mirror uses a camera to give a view to the rear when the back seat is full of bobbing heads or tall cargo. The second row seats slide fore and aft to vary legroom with the third row.
More detailed information about the 2020 Toyota Highlander can be found at www.toyota.com.
I drove both the V6 gasoline model as well as the Hybrid. Actually, we were the first media to drive a production Highlander Hybrid. Both perform very well. The V6 engine with its 8-speed trans provides plenty of off-the-line acceleration and mid-range passing ability. Overall, the V6-powered Highlander is nicely quiet with minimal wind, tire and engine noise permeating the cabin.
The Hybrid too has plenty of get up and go with its combination of a gas engine and instant-torque electric motors. There’s a bit more engine noise which is typical of most every 4-cylinder engine.
The Highlander is a credible entry in the midsize SUV segment. There’s a decent array of midsize SUV offerings on the market that makes for good choices and perhaps tough decisions for a shopper. A nice problem to have.
I really appreciated to not only drive the hew Highlander but also to see where it’s made. Thanks to Toyota for a comprehensive new vehicle introduction.
© 2020 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy