2020 Toyota Highlander gets major overhaul

2020 Toyota Highlander gets major overhaul
The 2020 Toyota Highlander is all-new for this model year, entering its eighth generation. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

You may not see a lot of three-row SUVs on the streets in Chicago, but if you have a family, you’re likely looking for a seven-passenger vehicle of some sort. 

So, if you’re opting for an SUV over a minivan, is the all-new 2020 Toyota Highlander a good place to start?

It depends.

The Hits

One of the biggest selling points for the Highlander over something like, say, the Kia Telluride, is the fact it has a hybrid model.

The 2020 Highlander gets the next generation Toyota Hybrid System with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors. It’ll have a combined power output of 243 horsepower, have an estimated combined fuel economy of 36 mpg and go about 600 miles on a single tank of gas.

That’s a big deal for a three-row SUV.


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LE vs Limited interior of the @toyotausa #Highlander. #toyota #toyotahighlander #cardujour

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Additionally, it’s the only hybrid SUV to offer hybrid technology on a front-wheel drive vehicle. 

After driving both the gasoline and hybrid models, I prefer the hybrid for its smooth acceleration. Even though it has less horsepower than the gasoline model, it feels faster.

Another point in its favor: standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0.

This means things like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and automatic high beams are standard. 

Finally, I’m a huge fan of the interior design of the Highlander — especially in the Limited and Platinum trims with the available 12.3-inch infotainment screen. 

Toyota succeeds where many other automakers have failed. They were able to design an attractive center stack that nicely integrates a huge screen that pops up over the dash without making it looked tacked on. 

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This is the available 12.3-in screen in the @toyotausa #Highlander. Thoughts? #cardujour #toyotahighlander #toyota

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The Misses

With new entries from Kia and Hyundai in this segment, Toyota has big shoes to compete with. 

While Highlander does get Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and up to 5 USB ports, Toyota missed the opportunity to push the envelope further. 

Palisade and Telluride added a cool blind view monitor, which puts a digital image of the blind spot in the behind-wheel-gauges when a blinker is activated. They’ve also added safety technology that will send an owner a text message if they leave something that moves inside the vehicle after locking it.

The third row is also a pain point. Access is easier in the Palisade/Telluride, and though Higlander adds more slide to the second row to accommodate extra legroom in the third row, the seats aren’t comfortable as even my short legs jutted up off the seat bottom near the knees. 

Another weird thing my drive partner and I noticed: The lower trims smell funny. I’m assuming it’s because of the difference in materials used and will likely dissipate over time, but it was a bad first impression.


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Some there is that doesn’t love a wall. @toyotausa #toyotahighlander #cardujour #toyota #highlander

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The Trims

There will be nine total trims for the Highlander – five on the gasoline model and four on the hybrid. The L is the only trim that doesn’t get a hybrid. Every trim will have front-wheel drive standard with all-wheel drive available. The breakdown is as follows with pricing in the format of gasoline/hybrid.

  • L: $34,600
  • LE: $36,800/$38,200
  • XLE: $39,600/$41,000
  • Limited: $43,650/$45,050
  • Platinum: $46,850/$48,250

Destination isn’t included in the above pricing, and it will be an additional $1,120. If you would like to add AWD, that will cost an additional $1,600 for L, LE and XLE trims and $1,950 for the Limited and Platinum trims.

The Chicago Factor

Large SUVs are tough in Chicago. However, the available blind spot monitoring and around-view camera make a vehicle like the 2020 Toyota Highlander a little more palatable in tight urban spaces. But you will have to pay a premium to get these items as you won’t find them in the base model.

The rear cargo volume as also a nice bonus for the urban lifestyle. The 16 cu. ft. behind the third row is similar to what you’d get in a sedan, and if you need to haul stuff home from Ikea, you can drop middle and rear rows for a stellar 84.3 cu. ft.

The Specs
Engine: 3.5L V-6, 2.5L 4-cyl + electric motor
Horsepower: 295, 243 (combined)
Torque: 263 lb-ft, 175 lb-ft
Fuel economy (combined): 23/24 mpg, 35/36 mpg
Drivetrain: FWD, AWD (available)
Length: 194.9 inches
Width: 76 inches
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Seating capacity: 7/8
Cargo capacity: 16 cu ft behind third row, 84.3 cu ft behind front


Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this first-look review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event, that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.


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  • 1. Still shows the inefficiency inherent in an SUV. I have a Camry with the same hybrid setup, rated at 47 mph, and I have gotten 52 on long trips. It's about as easy to stuff something from IKEA in the trunk, although I am no longer able to lift an IKEA box over 30 lbs.
    2. It looks like Toyota is making its brand look like Lexuses, but that front mug is awfully ugly.
    3. Since we discussed what Ferris Buehler would drive, there are plenty of Highlanders in his territory.
    4. Since Highlander is apparently the Camry based SUV, something like the 4 Runner or Sequoia might be more comparable to the Kia and Hyundai, size wise (although I don't know if those two Toyotas are unibody cars). The Highlander may be more comparable to the Honda Pilot.

  • In reply to jack:

    1 Not wrong -- the Camry has a HUGE trunk -- especially with the rear seats folded flat. But if you need to get multiple pieces, a larger SUV is the only way to go.
    2 If you think this mug is ugly -- look at the previous generation mug.

  • In reply to Jill Ciminillo:

    Ugly is in the eyes of the beholder, but one can only barely make out the pattern in the 2020's grille. At least one could see the horizontal bars in in previous model.

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