One of the original and most popular three-row family crossovers has been completely redesigned, and if you liked the previous version, chances are you'll like the incrementally improved 2020 Toyota Highlander. It's well-equipped with generous safety equipment and entertainment features, and is available with the best fuel economy by far thanks to its unique hybrid offering. That said, it is smaller than virtually all of its competitors, so if you plan to frequently use all three rows of seats and/or need lots of luggage space, it may not be for you.
We have yet to drive the 2020 Highlander, but will update this post when we do. In the meantime, you can find everything we know so far about it below.
What's new for 2020?The Toyota Highlander is all new for 2020, riding on the same new platform that underpins other recently redesigned Toyotas. It's only a bit bigger than before, and largely represents evolutionary changes intended to bolster its refinement and sharpen its driving experience. The previous Highlander's V6 engine is now standard (the weakling four-cylinder has been dropped), while the Highlander Hybrid model is more powerful, more efficient and now available with front-wheel drive. The advanced torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system from the RAV4 Adventure is now an option on some V6 trim levels. Finally, styling inside and out is significantly different and infotainment features have been bolstered with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A jumbo 12.3-inch touchscreen is also now available.
What's the Highlander's interior and in-car technology like? The 2020 Highlander interior largely maintains the functionality of its predecessor, but makes it more visually distinctive. Materials quality has also been improved, with more stitched simulated leather surfaces, but to be fair we've only seen the range-topping Platinum trim at this point.
Interior storage remains a priority for Highlander. It retains the mid-dash shelf of its predecessor, but it's now split in two (one beneath the center stack controls, the other in front of the passenger), and there's a squishier, grippier surface inside to keep items secure. Below, there's a larger area specifically devoted to even the biggest smartphones. It is there where all three front USB ports reside, while those in the rear are on the back side of the center console (there are none in the third row). That center console's bin is once again very deep and covered by a sliding cover — but there's only one cover now instead of the old model's odd clamshell design, and it's more densely padded to better serve as an armrest.
In terms of technology, every 2020 Highlander comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa integration, Waze app control, satellite radio and in-car WiFi. All trim levels but the top Platinum also come standard with an eight-inch touchscreen, which is currently the optional screen size on most Toyotas. It's also mounted quite high on the dash, making it easy to see (and effectively larger, like sitting closer to your TV). The Platinum has a 12.3-inch screen, which is a Toyota first. Like other extra-wide screens, such as the one in the Kia Telluride, it allows for a 60/40 information split. You can simultaneously look at hybrid information and the Apple CarPlay interface, for instance, which eliminates the need to constantly go between screens.
How big is Highlander? If you're shopping within the Toyota family, the Highlander offers appreciably more space than the RAV4, both in terms of cargo capacity and its extra row of seats. It also has a deeper, more accessible space than what's in the 4Runner.
That said, the Highlander is one of the smallest three-row crossovers available. Apart from the Kia Sorento and maybe the Mazda CX-9, you're going to find more cargo capacity and passenger space in the Highlander's competitors. That's especially true in the third row. The second row slides a bit more to grant extra legroom now, but the third row remains awfully close to the floor, and it won't be long before your growing kids will feel cramped and claustrophobic in the way-back. Full-size teens and adults will be flat-out grumpy.
That said, the Highlander's smaller size might be just right for many buyers who appreciate its more manageable dimensions when parking or maneuvering in tight spots. Plus, if you only need that third row for occasional use and just a little more space than what a RAV4 provides, it really won't matter that the Highlander can't match its competitors' jumbo size.