Toyota’s all-new 2020 Highlander SUV has landed at the 2019 New York Auto Show, showcasing a chiseled new design that borrows styling cues from the smaller RAV4, new tech and a more efficient hybrid system. The gasoline-powered 2020 Highlander will arrive in Toyota dealerships in December, while the Hybrid in February 2020.
Compared to its predecessor, the all-new Highlander is claimed to be safer, more comfortable, more durable and of a higher built quality, relying on a new vehicle platform dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K).
A more sophisticated attitude
At heart, the 2020 Toyota Highlander remains a family-friendly SUV. However, the Japanese automaker wanted to make sure that this new-generation model had a more powerful stance and a more elegant exterior, while also featuring greater aerodynamic efficiency (reducing wind noise while enhancing stability).
In terms of design, L, LE and XLE grades come with a black front grille with silver trim, while Limited and Platinum models are distinguished by a black grille with chrome trim, chrome-plated lower rear fascia, premium projector headlights and 20-inch wheels (a Highlander first).
Only three colors were carried over from 2019: Blizzard Pearl ($395 option), Celestial Silver Metallic and Midnight Black Metallic. The following five colors are brand new: Magnetic Gray Metallic, Moon Dust (blue), Ruby Flare Pearl (red), Blueprint and Opulent Amber (brown).
This fourth-gen SUV is 2.36 inches (60 mm) longer than its predecessor, while its second row can be slid an extra 1.2-inches further up in order to increase distance between the 2nd and 3rd rows.
As for practicality, the L and LE grades feature a second-row bench (seating for 8) as standard, while the XLE and Limited grades come standard with a Captain’s Chair second row with seating for seven (seating for 8 optional). The Platinum grade also has a Captain’s Chair second row design as standard. With all the seats in use, the Highlander offers 16.1 cu.ft (456 liters) of cargo room behind the third row. Fold everything and you end up with 73.3 cu.ft (2,075 liters) of room.
Smooth and efficient engine range
Even though Toyota chose to keep the current Highlander’s 295 HP 3.5-liter V6 engine for this all-new generation model, a new hybrid system is used for the electrified version, combining an efficient 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine with two electric motors instead of the outgoing Hybrid’s more powerful, but thirstier V6.
In total, the 4-cylinder hybrid returns a system output of 240hp with an EPA-estimated 34 combined mpg (6.9 l/100km), a 17 percent improvement over the previous-gen Highlander V6 Hybrid’s 28 combined mpg (8.4 l/100 km), although the latter was rated at a much higher 306 HP.
“The Highlander Hybrid’s Predictive Efficient Drive (PED) analyzes the driver’s daily driving habits and upcoming road and traffic conditions to more efficiently charge and discharge the hybrid battery accordingly alongside actual driving. The more the vehicle is driven, the more data is accumulated, contributing to practical fuel efficiency. Many actual roads chosen to represent common usage scenarios, such as in urban congestion or on mountain roads, were driven on and analyzed to create control that feels natural to the driver when operating to enable more efficient driving.”
It’s the same system found on the latest RAV4 Hybrid, in which, the more the vehicle is driven, the more data is accumulated, contributing to practical fuel efficiency. Many actual roads chosen to represent common usage scenarios, such as in urban congestion or on mountain roads, were driven on and analyzed to create control that feels natural to the driver when operating to enable more efficient driving.
On the move, drivers can choose between Normal, Eco and Sport modes for the Highlander Hybrid, while both versions get a choice of either 2WD or AWD with Dynamic Torque Vectoring. Facing a sticky situation? You can engage the Multi-Terrain Select control dial for Mud & Sand or Rock & Dirt.
Comfort is everything
Step inside the 2020 Highlander and you’ll be greeted by softer padded surfaces (compared to its predecessor), available Qi wireless charging, new ambient LED lighting and more. The flagship Platinum grade even has embossed perforated leather trim.
As far as tech, all grades come standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM and Wi-Fi connectivity through AT&T. The Platinum grade offers standard Dynamic Navigation and a 12.3-inch screen, to go with the JBL Premium Audio System with 1,200 watts and 11 speakers.
The entry-level L grade is equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, 18-inch alloys, 3-zone automatic climate control, 4.2-inch instrument panel display, 8-way power driver’s seat, auto up/down for all power windows, 8-inch touchscreen display, front seat reading lights and cargo area light, LED headlights and taillights, privacy glass on rear side, quarter and liftgate windows and Smart Key entry.
Opt for the LE and you gain a power liftgate, blind spot monitor, additional multimedia capability, LED fog lights and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob. The XLE meanwhile adds a 10-way power driver’s seat, 2nd row sun shades, 4-way power front passenger seat, 7-inch instrument panel display, auto dimming rear-view mirror with garage door opener, auto LED headlights with Auto High Beam, plated interior door handle, LED fog lights, power tilt and slid moon roof and roof rails. The Limited spec however offers ambient interior lighting, driver’s seat memory, heated and ventilated front seats, the JBL audio system and more.
Finally you have Platinum, which boasts the 12.3-inch multimedia head-unit, 20-inch wheels, adaptive and self-leveling headlights, head-up display, heated 2nd row seats, panoramic moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, Birds Eye camera and the embossed perforated leather-trimmed seats.
Actively keeping you safe
The 2020 Toyota Highlander is equipped with the second-generation of Toyota Safety Sense, which means you get Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert as standard on LE grade and above, while Rear Cross Traffic Braking is available with clearance sonar on Limited and above. The previously-mentioned Birds Eye camera with Perimeter Scan is available on Limited and standard on Platinum.
*Article updated with live images from the New York Auto Show