Toyota’s midsize Highlander is all new for 2020 and with three-rows, can seat seven or eight people depending on second row options. And its sculpted design that’s a real eye-catcher.
In this its fourth generation, Highlander sits on a new platform that has grown a bit to accommodate the third row seats while also increasing overall interior space. It’s offered in FWD and AWD and in L, LE, XLE, Limited and top-shelf Platinum that was tested.
After a mere 19-inch step-in into the cabin, you’re treated to a sumptuous interior with super soft, perforated leather heated/cooled front seats, a wide 12.3-inch tri-view touchscreen, easy to operate HVAC controls and an overall pleasing luxury car design wherein you’d think you were in a posh Lexus sedan.
Impressive is the 12.3-inch display that serves the gamut of satellite audio, Entune apps, navigation, HVAC control selections, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Alexa, Waze, Wi-Fi connectivity and a rearview camera with a really nifty 360-degree revolving view around the vehicle.
All Highlander models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense system that includes pre-collision warning w/pedestrian detection and automatic braking, full-speed radar cruise control, lane departure alert w/steering assist, automatic high beam, lane tracing assist (new), road sign assist (new), blind spot monitor w/rear cross traffic alert and more.
The console accommodates the 8-speed automatic transmission shifter with multiple operating controls and the console box hides a wireless phone charger.
There are three drive modes of Normal, Eco and Sport while a rotary activates the AWD modes of Mud/Sand, Rock/Dirt with a separate switch for Snow mode. With 8-inches of ground clearance and its AWD system, Highlander can handle moderately harsh off-road terrain.
Highlander’s gauge cluster incorporates a driver’s information display to show selected operating functions, alerts and more.
The top-line Platinum comes with heated second row captain’s chairs as well that offer seating for seven. Lesser models can be had with a second row bench seat that combined with the third row is rated at eight. But the third row is mainly for youngsters.
Back in the cargo area and with the third row seat upright, there’s 16 cubic feet of cargo space that measures 18 inches deep, 45 wide and 24 high. Flip them and capacity increases to 48.4 cubic feet for 44 inches of cargo depth. Fold down the second row seatbacks and capacity expands to 84.3 cubic feet.
Beneath the cargo floor is a 4-inch deep storage bin that houses car-jack tools with space for small item storage.
Highlander Platinum came with a 3.5L, V6 producing 295-hp and 263 lb/ft of torque. With the 8-speed auto trans, the combination earned EPA mileage ratings of 20 city, 27-highway mpg with start/stop engine technology. Not miserly, but consider it’s an AWD midsize with a curb weight of 4,450 pounds. This hunk has a payload of 1,485 pounds and can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Despite this heft, Highlander has exceptional power. In Sport mode and at 50 mph, punch the throttle and it blasts off while pushing the body into the seat as it quickly reaches its 7,000 rpm redline in three seconds. It offers robust acceleration from a standing stop and during highway passing maneuvers.
If you’d prefer better economy, Highlander is also offered with a hybrid powertrain. It’s powered by a 2.5L, inline 4-cylinder with 186-hp and 175 lb/ft of torque. Combined with the electric motor is develops a total of 243-hp and with AWD, it’s rated at 35/34 mpg.
With an overall length of 194.9 inches, Highlander is surprisingly easy to park in tight spots with its tight 37.4 foot turning radius.
As for the ride on tall 20-inch Bridgestone tires, it’s smooth and quiet. Highlander is an SUV that excels at providing a comfy ride. Tar strips and pock-marked roads are smoothed and go mostly unnoticed.
And for a somewhat tall vehicle, Highlander handles exceptionally well. There’s virtually negligible lean in sharp turns and it’s absent of any tippy feeling.
With a very long list of standard features, functions and safety items, Highlander carried a base price of $48,800. The only extra cost options were for special color paint ($425) and carpeted floor mats ($318) that took the bottom line to $50,663 including delivery.
For those with a large family who need a third row seat or need for occasional use, Highlander is a proven SUV that has been around a long time. Only this 2020 version is the best to date with loads of enhancements that maintains a high resale value. A win-win SUV all the way around.