One of the prototypical mid-size crossovers, the Toyota Highlander enters its fourth generation for the 2020 model year. Like its predecessors, the all-new design will be based on the Camry car platform, and a gas-electric hybrid powertrain will be available.
The Toyota Highlander has been in continuous production since its introduction for the 2001 model year. It’s a cornerstone model line for Japan’s largest automaker, accounting for hundreds of thousands of unit sales per year in the U.S. The new fourth generation Toyota Highlander stays true to form, but has been redesigned around the Toyota New Global Architecture.
In plain speak, this means reduced costs for Toyota, and improved ride, handling, and responsiveness for customers.
Despite the shift to a new platform, the Highlander will continue to have three rows of seating, which is by no means a given in the mid-size crossover segment. It will also ship with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 – a comprehensive suite of active safety features that includes a frontal collision mitigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist.
The Toyota Highlander has long been a trend-setter in its segment, partly by being among the first mid-size crossovers to market. Yet this ground-up redesign for 2020 is long overdue; for each of the first three generations of the Highlander, the model line has ridden on the same aging Toyota K platform, making its underpinnings woefully long in the tooth.
Sometimes, change is good.
Pros/ Smoother, quieter, more agile than before / Available hybrid powertrain / Three-row seating standard
Cons/Love-it-or-hate-it styling / No more passenger space than outgoing model
Bottom Line/The 2020 Toyota Highlander brings sweeping updates to an already massively successful crossover.
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Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy
The 2019 Toyota Highlander’s fuel economy is rated at up to 23 miles per gallon on the combined test cycle for gasoline-only models, and as high as 29 mpg for the hybrid variant. For 2020, Toyota forecasts a small decline of 1 mpg on the combined cycle for gas-only models, while the 2020 Highlander Hybrid will go in the opposite direction, its fuel economy being expected to swell to 34 mpg combined. That’s a 17% improvement, and it’s thanks in no small part to Toyota’s decision to pair the hybrid system with a 2.5L four-cylinder this time around; the outgoing Highlander Hybrid uses a 3.5L V6.
Toyota Highlander Safety Rating
The outgoing 2019 Toyota Highlander was selected as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States, owing to near-perfect crash test scores. The only category in which the mid-size crossover showed less-than-ideal performance was in the difficult small overlap front crash test on the passengers side. In that test, it earned an Acceptable rating – one step below the highest rating of Good.
With the 2020 model line’s brand new chassis, we expect that small inadequacy to be rectified.
Toyota Highlander Features
The new fourth-generation Toyota Highlander is anything but short on features, shipping with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as standard. That’s a comprehensive suite of active safety technologies that encompasses a frontal collision prevention system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist. The latter feature is still a relatively new arrival in the world of mass-market vehicles, using a front-facing camera to read traffic signs like posted speed limits and stop signs, and relaying them to the driver via the digital instrument display.
In addition to those helpful features, the new Highlander will offer optional safety features like a 360-degree around-view camera system, head-up display, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic reverse braking, and adaptive headlights.
As for comfort and convenience, Android Auto connectivity will be added the Highlander’s infotainment system for 2020, joining Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration. This makes it one of few U.S.-market Toyotas to support app integration with America’s second-most-popular mobile phone operating system. An 8-inch touchscreen will be standard, with a larger 12.3-inch screen available as an option. Other options will include wireless phone charging, in-car WiFi, a power liftgate, heated and ventilated front seats, a digital rearview mirror, and a 1,200-watt premium audio system.
Toyota Highlander Pricing
The Toyota Highlander is neither the cheapest nor most expensive entrant in the mid-size crossover segment, with an MSRP in the U.S. starting at $31,830 for a 2019 model, before destination. A fully-loaded Highlander Hybrid Platinum with all the bells and whistles will just crest a $54,000 MSRP.
Pricing ought to fall in a similar range for the new 2020 model, although the floor on that MSRP range could rise a bit as a result of Toyota’s decision to do away with the base 2.7L four-cylinder engine offered on the 2019 model range.
Toyota Highlander Competitors
The Toyota Highlander’s chief competition comes in the form of the Ford Explorer and Kia Telluride – also brand new for 2020 – as well as the Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent. All have three rows of seating, and all but the Ford Explorer start in the low-$30,000 range.
Ford has taken rather a different tack with its new RWD/AWD Explorer, with pricing starting at a comparatively hefty $36,675 in the U.S. before destination.
The outgoing Highlander has proven competitive in its class despite the aging chassis underneath, and its available hybrid powertrain represents a significant advantage not seen elsewhere except in the 2020 Ford Explorer. Even then, the Explorer’s hybrid powertrain falls far short of Toyota’s expected fuel economy, achieving virtually the same efficiency as non-hybrid versions of the Explorer as it was developed more with a focus on performance.
|Engine /||3.5L V6 / 2.5L 4-cyl Hybrid|
|Horsepower /||292 (est.) / 240 (est.)|
|Torque /||263 lb-ft (est.) / unknown|
|Transmission /||8-speed automatic / eCVT|
|Drivetrain /||Front-wheel-drive / All-wheel-drive|
Our Final Verdict
While we have not yet had the chance to drive the all-new fourth-generation Toyota Highlander, the mid-size crossover’s latest iteration looks promising on paper. Ride, handling, and responsiveness should all be improved with the adoption of the Toyota New Global Architecture, and its dual-injected, 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine hasn’t lost any power, meaning it should still prove plenty sufficient for motivating the three-row utility.
The redesign brings with it some meaningful changes to the list of standard and available tech features, too, and we welcome Toyota’s decision to finally incorporate Android Auto connectivity into the infotainment system. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 isn’t a radical departure from the older Safety Sense P suite, but it does add Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist, the latter of which helps automatically keep the vehicle centered within its lane. Both are very appreciated additions.
There is a lot to look foward to from the 2020 Toyota Highlander, and we imagine this complete redesign will reinvigorate the popular mid-sizer, keeping it very competitive in its class for some time to come.4.2