Home Car Reviews First Look at the 2020 Toyota Highlander

First Look at the 2020 Toyota Highlander

by Frank
2020 toyota highlander

If you’ve got a full house, then you’re going to be interested in a mid-sized SUV that comfortably seats 8 passengers. With a V6 and a hybrid powertrain available, you don’t have to compromise on fuel economy either. The new 2020 Toyota Highlander is beefy and reliable. Its style is modern and forward-thinking.

When auto enthusiasts got their first look at the new Highlander at the 2019 New York auto show, there was plenty of talk about the new design. Some liked it and others thought it was a bit dismal. Yet nobody could overlook the sheer onslaught of options that came with it.

There are five model trims for the 2020 Toyota Highlander – L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum. You can also include the fuel-sipping Hybrid. Yet, there’s a large scale in terms of the price range. The base model with FWD starts at $34,600. The top-end reaches $50,200 with the Platinum Hybrid model.

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2020 Toyota Highlander Style Points

The front fascia of the 2020 Toyota Highlander is a bit polarizing. It has a downturned front bumper, a large black center grille, and body lines that pull the hood and light paneling toward the nose. Perhaps the goal was to make the Highlander look athletic and bold, but on the road, it seems middle-aged and grumpy.

The profile is redemptive. The Limited and Platinum model trims can be outfitted with 20-inch wheels. A single flow line sweeps across the lower portion of the doors and sweeps upward in a dramatic curve over the rear wheel wells. It was a good decision to keep the profile simple because the 2020 Toyota Highlander is 194.9 inches long. That’s about 2 and a half inches longer than the 2019 version.

The rear of the new Highlander is thankfully muted, as well. The rear light assembly wraps around from the profile, but the portion that touches the rear liftgate is slim and narrow. There is decent visibility from the rear window because the rear pillars are slightly pinched. You won’t find any chrome-tipped exhaust tips though. This Highlander is for grown-ups.

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Interior Amenities


The interior of the 2020 Toyota Highlander is spacious and comfortable, even on the base model. Three rows of seating make the Highlander a serious competitor for the Honda Pilot and the Ford Explorer. Altogether, there is 139.1 cubic feet of passenger volume.

The base model comes with automatic climate control for each row, privacy glass for the passenger sections and twelve cup holders for the whole family. A power liftgate comes in handy, especially since it’s hands-free. That’s available on the LE trim and above. The Limited model is where you start to get the leather seating and wood trim panels. You also get a JBL premium audio system.

Multimedia and infotainment are important amenities for family vehicles. The 2020 Highlander doesn’t disappoint. It has available Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Alexa compatibility, Wi-Fi and wireless charging stations, and up to five USB ports. Another useful tech feature is the digital rearview mirror. Drivers won’t have to strain their neck to get an unobstructed view out the rear window because a camera back there sends a digital image to the rearview mirror.

If you’ve seen the 2019 Highlander, then you might notice a difference in the dashboard configuration. There’s now a 12.3-inch touchscreen on the Platinum model that sits a bit lower in the console. The whole idea is to create more visibility both front and rear.

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Safety Features

That leads to safety – an area where Toyota has always done well. The 2020 Toyota Highlander comes standard with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. That puts pre-collision warnings and pedestrian detection on every model that rolls off the lot. You also get automatic high beams, lane-keeping technology, and smart cruise control. The mid-level and higher get blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alerts, and automatic braking. The top of the line Highlanders will also come with a 360-degree camera system. Although not a make-or-break safety feature, some Highlanders can be equipped with front and rear parking assist.

2020 Toyota Highlander Performance Capabilities

toyota highlander engine bay

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is one of the most versatile vehicles in the crossover/SUV segment. It can be outfitted with an all-wheel or front-wheel drive. There are two powertrain options. There’s a 3.5 Liter V6 and a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors. An 8-speed automatic transmission manages to provide just enough power to get the heavy beast moving, but don’t expect any risky passing on the highway.

Driving modes and terrain select make the new Highlander even more off-road capable. SPORT, ECO and NORMAL driving modes help regulate fuel economy. The terrain select adjusts traction and torque to handle everything from mud and dirt to rain and snow. It also has a 5,000-pound towing capability to help you bring your big boy toys to the summer sandbox.

Fuel economy is an important selling point for people considering a mid-sized SUV. The 2020 Highlander is not a gas guzzler. Even with the V6 engine option, you get 23 combined MPG with the all-wheel-drive and 24 MPG combined with front-wheel drive. The hybrid boasts up to 36 miles per gallon.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is built on a new platform – the Toyota New Global Architecture. It has a reinforced underbody to improve handling. There’s a multi-link rear suspension and independent McPherson strut front suspension.

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Final Verdict

The Toyota Highlander has always been a sort of plain Jane going back to the first generation in 2001. It’s been a slow pull over the years, but Toyota has leaned away from those tame design cues to introduce a Highlander that makes a valiant attempt at looking sophisticated. The downturned front fascia might not be for everyone, but it certainly conveys a certain flavor – not just vanilla.

Overlook the style column altogether and you’ll be rewarded with your choice of all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, V6 or hybrid. Choose a second-row captain’s chair or three rows of bench seating wrapped in leather. Ride clean on 18-inch wheels or deck out the Highlander in chrome accents and 20-inch alloys.

Entry-level Highlanders are adequately equipped to move big families in style. Platinum and Limited models are poised to rival the likes of the Navigator and Audi Q7. Most of the safety features you need come standard, thanks to Toyota’s stellar safety pedigree. You also won’t feel out of touch with the onboard technology. Overall, the 2020 Toyota Highlander is the vehicle to beat in the midsize SUV category. All other automakers should bend the knee.

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