When Toyota introduced the 2020 Highlander it was easy to overlook the following figure: 6.7 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in combined driving conditions. Usually, in big three-row crossovers, we immediately want to hear about the cargo space, tech features or safety equipment, so the fuel economy number never popped out. Then we started driving the hybrid and saw these kinds of numbers on the vehicle’s screen. We saw lower numbers than that – things in the range of 5.3-5.5 l/100 kilometres. Automakers and the government testing associated with fuel ratings are pretty conservative, but seeing fuel consumption in this range is downright unbelievable.
While the rest of the 2020 Highlander (and its gas equipped model) isn’t as amazing as this hybrid highlight, it goes to show just how much advancement Toyota has made with this vehicle. Commonly seen as the safe choice for risk-averse buyers, it now checks plenty of boxes, arriving as a product in a very competitive segment that can blow away the competition.
Going the distance
Most of this impression comes from the Hybrid equipped model, a vehicle that is easy to recommend if you’re set on getting a 2020 Highlander. Powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that’s augmented with two electric motors to power to all four wheels. The Hybrid has a combined output of 243 horsepower. The performance difference between the gas and hybrid models is pretty slim, with the hybrid taking 7.7 seconds to hit highway speeds from a standstill (0.2 of a second longer than the gas model.) The Hybrid uses an eCVT, which can get the small gas engine overly excited and buzzy when the driver calls for urgent acceleration but otherwise does a fantastic job of keeping fuel usage at a minimum.
For reference, Natural Resources Canada suggests that the hybrid version of the Ford Explorer (the only other hybrid in this class) earns 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres. The Highlander Hybrid is by far the most fuel-efficient vehicle in this class, with an estimated range of 967 kilometres. The only downside of the hybrid model is its tow rating, which is limited to just 3,500 lbs.
Those looking for more towing capability may be better served by the 3.5-litre V6, which can tow 5,000 lbs. This is more or less the same as the outgoing model with 295 horsepower on tap to go along with 263 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and can be configured in front-wheel-drive or AWD. These vehicles are less efficient, returning a 10.3 L/100 KM combined rating. The FWD and AWD models have the same rating, thanks to the driveline disconnect feature of the AWD system and engine start-stop system found in both models.
The Platinum and Limited versions of the gas-powered Highlander bring a torque-vectoring AWD system into the equation. While regular models split the power evenly between all four wheels the torque vectoring system allows redirects the rearward power to the left or right wheels when needed. This should provide drivers with some added confidence while making their way through winter weather or unpaved cottage-country roads.
Practical and high-tech
Confidence comes easily to the latest vehicles in the Toyota lineup, particularly those like the Highlander that use the TNGA architecture. The Highlander is more rigid and responsive than before, leaving behind the imagery that Toyotas are some floppy, boring vehicles. Don’t mistake it for being stiff and sporty though, the suspension does have a bit of float in it, but the vehicle is significantly more responsive, and there are no concerns about the vehicle’s ride quality.
Toyota employs smart engineering decisions to help the Highlander cut weight such as aluminum front fenders and hood, and a rear hatch has been made of resin. Toyota says that by trimming the weight of the hatch, it now opens quicker than before, saving some more valuable time while at the grocery store, or hockey rink.
However, the Highlander isn’t as spacious as its competitors, with 456 litres of space behind the third row of seats, 1,150 L behind the second row and 2,076 L to offer when all seats are folded flat. None of the seats are powered in any of the trim levels, but the second row of seats has more range to slide forwards and backwards to allow easy entry to the third-row seats or improve legroom. There are plenty of cubbies, shelves and storage spots within the cabin of Highlander, helping it fit the mold of a family hauler.
Updated Cabin, but can it keep up with rivals?
The interior of the Highlander is vastly improved, and buyers can get a very high-end cabin. In typical Toyota fashion, the cabin is buttoned down with a nice mix of materials and hidden hard plastics. Higher trim level models offer gorgeous upholstery, including a nice appetizing looking caramel brown shade. There’s an available 12.3-inch touch screen, which is easier to use than what you’ll find in other Toyotas, though using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is recommended.
There are plenty of USB ports to charge devices with, and even an available wireless phone charger as well. A large panoramic sunroof is also available to deter cabin fever, and a head-up display is offered for drivers to keep a better eye on their speeds as well as other information like navigation instructions. A three-zone climate control is available, along with vented seats up front, but the Highlander doesn’t go the same distance as some competitors with no vented seats in the rear. Heated seats are found on the front seats and second-row, a heated steering wheel is also here, as well as a windshield and windshield wiper de-icer.
The past Highlander looked dated and lacked personality, but this one looks modern, with a sculpted hood and prominent lines in the side profile. It looks too similar to other crossovers on the market, but the three-row crossover segment doesn’t usually feature innovative or eye-catching designs.
Toyota Tax in Full Effect
However, Toyota certainly isn’t pushing any boundaries in terms of pricing. The base FWD L model does start at a somewhat approachable price of $39,990. Compared to rivals from Hyundai or Chevrolet, the Highlander is more expensive but it comes with plenty of standard features. All other trim levels of the Highlander come with AWD, so the jump to LE is a bit steeper than expected at $43,490, while the XLE features a price of $45,990. There are two premium grades on tap as well. The Limited models are $51,690 while the Platinum trim leaves nothing behind with an asking price of $53,990. It’s worth pointing out that in every step, the Highlander is more expensive than other vehicles in this class.
The Hybrid models are also pricey. The Highlander Hybrid LE starts with an asking price of $45,490, while the XLE retails for $47,990. The Limited comes in at $53,690 and Toyota will offer the Platinum for $55,990. If you’re interested in the Highlander, it’s arguable that the fuel-sipping hybrid is the best version to get, but spending over $55,000 is a hard decision.
Things have never been better if you’re a shopper looking for a three-row crossover. Hyundai and Kia both delivered fantastic new three-row vehicles earlier this year in the Palisade and Telluride, while Subaru introduced the new Ascent. The new Highlander deserves to be mentioned near the best of the bunch with solid improvements across the board but its the hybrid truly impresses as no other vehicle can match it for efficiency.