Chicago Auto Show Blog

High hopes for latest Highlander

Posted by: Mark Bilek

According to Toyota, its Highlander is the best-selling retail midsize crossover. Last year Toyota sold almost 230,000 units, grabbing a 9% share of the 24-model midsize cross market, and that was with a design that was 7 years old. The 2020 Highlander is all new. It rides on Toyota's TNGA platform, which is designed to reduce development costs and increase overall rigidity. That said, most buyers will notice a 2.4-inch wheelbase stretch that provides additional second- and third-row leg room.


Most other dimensions remain unchanged, but the 2020 Highlander gets significant safety, technology and feature updates. The model lineup includes the LE, XLE, Limited, Platinum with the XLE trim expected to account for the bulk of Highlander sales. Seating capacity is 7 or 8, depending on buyer's choice of a second-row bench or captain's chairs.

Two powertrain offerings return. Gas-powered Highlanders get a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. It mates to an 8-speed automatic and has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. New for 2020 is a stop-start system that's designed to reduce fuel consumption. Hybrid models get a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that pairs with a couple of electric motors through a continuously variable automatic to produce a combined output of 243 horsepower. It's a version of the RAV4's hybrid system that's been tuned for the Highlander and, according to Toyota, should net impressive EPA ratings of 35 MPG overall.


Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions are offered with both powertrains. The gas all-wheel-drive system has a traditional drive-shaft that connects the engine with the rear wheels. In upper models there's a torque vectoring system to provide additional control and stability, while all models get an auto disconnect that's designed to improve fuel economy. Hybrid all-wheel-drive models get a third electric motor that powers the rear wheels when the fronts begin to slip.

On the technology front, the 2020 Highlander doesn't disappoint. Depending on trim, buyers get either an 8-inch or 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with 5 USB ports and support for Android Auto, Apple Car Play and Amazon Alexa. Also available is a 10-inch full-color head-up display and an 11-speaker, 1500-watt JBL sound system. Additional new features for 2020 include digital rear-view mirror, hands-free power liftgate, panoramic moonroof, wireless smartphone charger, 2 120V power outlets and 3-zone automatic climate control.


Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 is standard across the model lineup. It includes full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, forward-collision warning with auto emergency braking, lane-departure warning, auto high beams, lane-tracing assist (centering) and road sign assist. Also offered are blind-spot warning, parking assist with automatic braking, safety connect, wi-fi connect, service connect, remote connect and destination assist.

During preview drives, it's immediately clear that Highlander benefits from TNGA's new structure. The vehicle feels much more solid, while still providing a comfortable and controlled ride. Dynamically, there's a bit more athleticism as well. The V6 engine is one of the most potent in the class and the new hybrid powertrain has plenty of low-speed get-up-and-go. On the inside, Highlander coddles with comfortable seats, excellent noise suppression and loads of tech goodies. Second-row and third-row seat room are improved as well.


Highlander and Highlander Hybrid are on sale now with prices starting as low as $34,600. Stay tuned for a full road-test review on in the coming weeks.

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