Auto buyers have quite a few options for a midsize 3-row SUV these days. One of the oldest that has been around since 2000, is this Highlander. Now in it’s 4th generation, does the 2020 Toyota Highlander have what it takes to stand out in a crowded 3-row SUV market?
Engine – There are two powertrain options for the 2020 Toyota Highlander. A 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid or what this demo vehicle has; a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6. The V6 engine is not the most powerful in this class with 295 hp & 263 lb-ft of torque but behind the steering wheel, it feels quite a bit faster than it appears on paper. Unlike other 3-row SUVs that have a slight delay in throttle response for smoother acceleration off the line, the V6 in this Highlander is very quick to react to driver inputs. But it does it without being too noisy or rough sounding. Like most other midsize SUVs in this class, the Toyota Highlander can tow up to 5,000 lbs across all trim levels.
Although this is a relatively large V6 engine without any hybrid or turbocharger aids, fuel economy is actually pretty good given the Highlander Platinum’s weight of just over 2,000 kg. It is rated for 8.6 L/100km (33 mpg) on a highway and 11.7 L/100km (24 mpg) in a city. During my time with the Highlander, I averaged 10.9 L/100km so hitting the claimed fuel economy figures is as easy as pie.
Transmission – The V6 engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. This 8-speed offers fast and crisp gear changes which makes it one of the better transmissions in this class of SUVs. There are no paddles behind the steering wheel but you can take over control with the “old fashioned” gear selector. No fancy button or rotary knob gear selector with the Highlander.
Braking – The brakes on the 2020 Toyota Highlander are strong with a firm brake pedal under emergency braking situations. Automatic emergency braking is a standard feature across all trims levels.
Handling – The 2020 Highlander sits on a new platform and can be equipped (like this one) with real torque vectoring all-wheel-drive. The new chassis makes the Highlander feel like it’s a lighter SUV than it actually is at just over 2,000 kg for this Platinum trim. Steering is responsive and direct to driver inputs. The torque vectoring AWD system can send power to whichever rear wheel has more grip without having to use the brakes like other AWD systems. It’s not the most engaging 3-row SUV to drive – that honor is still held by the Mazda CX-9 – but it is very easy to drive the Highlander. During a long trip, that’s what matters most… along with comfort.
Ride Comfort – Down a road or a highway, the 2020 Toyota Highlander is a comfortable SUV. The suspension can easily absorb both small and large road bumps without making the SUV feel like a land yacht. Although, some may feel as though they are in a land yacht when sitting behind the steering wheel because the Highlander has a high driving position. This makes it very good for seeing down the road over other cars and it feels like a more traditional SUV.
Further adding to the land yacht feeling for some are the seats which are very comfortable and plush. The leather is supple and the front seats provide ample amounts of adjustment. They are also heated and ventilated on the top trim.
Interior Space – The Highlander is more spacious than the previous generation, however, it has one Achilles’ heel. The third row seats are tiny. Even kids over the age of 13 or so will find the third row seats uncomfortable. So if you’re a 14 year old and you’re reading this, stop picking on your sister or brother otherwise mom & dad will force you to sit in the cramped third row.
The second row is much more spacious. Adults like myself at 6’4” will find it quite commodious with good amounts of head and leg room but some may find their hair slightly brushing against the headliner due to the panoramic sunroof & air vents which are mounted in the roof rather than on the back of the center console. The captain’s chairs in the second row can slide and recline for more space and comfort. The Highlander is available with a bench seat second row.
Just like passenger volume, cargo capacity is more over the previous generation but less than other 3-row SUVs. The 2020 Highlander has 454 L (16 cu-ft) of cargo behind the third row and 1,150 L (40.6 cu-ft) with the third row folded. That is a bit less than the Hyundai Palisade and a whole lot less than the Honda Pilot.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When driving on a city road or on a highway, the Highlander maintains its level of comfort. Road, wind, and engine noises are well subdued making this an excellent long trip family hauler.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – This fully loaded Platinum trim is equipped with every feature that a family would expect from a 3-row SUV. Navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, heated 2nd row seats, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, and more; it’s all there. There’s even a heads-up display and wireless charging pad for smartphones. Speaking of which, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are compatible with the infotainment system.
There is a standard 8-inch touchscreen while this Platinum trim upgrades that to a 12.3-inch screen. The resolution of the screen is good but the design of the infotainment itself looks dull and dated already. A good graphics update should make it look like it belongs in the 2020’s rather than the 2010’s.
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard across all trims of the Highlander. This “package” includes lane departure alert with lane keep assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian & cyclist detection, and lane tracing assist. The 2020 Toyota Highlander also comes standard with blind spot sensors & rear cross traffic alert but rear cross traffic braking is only available on the Limited & Platinum trims.
Interior Design – Sticking with the family orientated theme, the design of the interior is made with large families in mind. In the front, all of the controls are easily within reach and are clear to understand as to what each button does. The only thing that may annoy some is the use of piano black plastics for the climate controls. Those will attract fingerprints like flies onto an insect zapper. There are also a number of storage bins below the climate controls, in front of the passenger, a deep center console, and lots of storage in the door panels. In the rear, there are plenty of USB ports for charging devices and cup holders for every seat.
Exterior Design – The exterior has a lot of smooth curves and lines, unlike its little Rav4 brother which looks to have been styled using only a ruler. The Toyota Highlander has a more grown up look but that front grille looks as though it’s disapproving of everything. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’m ok with the design of this 4th generation Highlander. As for that paint, it’s not black. It’s called “Opulent Amber” and it looks more dark burgundy under direct sunlight. It’s just hard for a camera to pick that up.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander starts at a very reasonable $39,990 CAD ($34,600 USD) and can be equipped up to just under $54,000 CAD ($46,850 USD). The starting price is similar to that of the Honda Pilot & Mazda CX-9 but is considerably less than the Kia Telluride. However fully spec’d, the Highlander V6 matches all the other 3-row competitors for price. So is the Highlander the best? It is very good but consider the Kia Telluride as well when you’re shopping especially if you plan to use all 3 rows with older kids or adults. I personally don’t like the look of the Kia. So as a family hauler, I’d spend my money on this Highlander.
Thank you to Toyota Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Toyota.ca