Base price for the 2020 Toyota Highlander is $39,990 in Canada, $34,600 in the US.
The Highlander was introduced 20 years ago.
Now build on the TNGA, it is more refined, quieter and better than ever.
All SUV segments are important for manufacturers. The most significant is without a doubt, the compact segment. This is where carmakers get volume. Eventually, however, smaller families who typically start their journey in compact vehicles, migrate to a midsize vehicle like the Toyota Highlander to meet their growing needs.
It is true that 3-row midsize vehicles like the Highlander might seem like overkill for the average North American family, the reality is that more often than not, we opt to get a little more of everything. There are 5-seater midsize SUVs but typically, they do not represent a cheaper purchase to the 3-row alternative. Besides, we always need room for more stuff, and people, right?
The Toyota of 3-row SUVs
The Toyota Highlander has been a beacon of reason in the segment for 20 years and the giant Japanese automaker has no intention of changing this perception. Now assembled on Toyota’s consistently excellent global platform, the TNGA, the all-new 2020 Highlander puts an even better foot forward when it comes to doing its job.
The majority of these midsize SUVs were visually soft in the 2000s and 2010s but this styling language has come to an end. Within Toyota’s own minivan and SUV ranks, all vehicles save for the C-HR and upcoming Venza, now don a more upright and muscular look. The new Highlander adheres to this trend and it has never looked more macho. The character lines that begin to flare out behind the front wheels and bulge into the rear fender flares are another successful attempt at beefing up the SUV.
A cabin to move into
No matter what was done on the outside, the 2020 Toyota Highlander’s cabin is as user- and family-friendly as ever. The dashboard is typical Toyota fare where the layout is somewhat busy yet hyper-functional. The center-piece encompasses the standard 8-inch screen along with all HVAC and audio controls, and vents. Although the presentation could be considered a little chunky, it works.
The cubbyholes cut into the dash for phones, wallets, keys or hairbrushes are brilliant. The one in the center-stack includes a slot to run a wire or two which again, is brilliant. Storage is otherwise quite good with one exception. If you happen to be wirelessly charging your phone… The wireless charger is located below the center armrest and could prove to be mildly annoying to use (watch the video). The trunk is huge behind the second row as it can effortlessly hold 1,150 litres (48 cubic feet) of gear.
Fun at the wheel? Yes.
As tested, the standard 3.5-litre V6 is still an excellent powerplant. With 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque, it happens to make the Highlander fairly quick. It might require more fuel than the hybrid, 10.3L/100 km compared 6.7L/100km (23 mpg compared to 36 mpg) but the extra performance and towing capability (5,000 lbs) can justify the choice.
With the standard 8-speed automatic transmission, the big Highlander moves briskly but with an uncanny level of serenity. The TNGA is once more at the heart of a Toyota’s impressively good driving manners. The chassis’ dampers deliver a comfortable yet sufficiently dynamic ride to have some fun when driving the large SUV. Steering assistance is well-judged and brake pedal response and feel inspire confidence.
There are in fact no situations where the Toyota Highlander feels inadequate. The 8-speed transmission shifts as required and partakes in any passing manoeuvre with a quick kick-down. The V6 will eagerly roar well beyond 6,000 rpm and make some decent sounds in the process. And this, whether there are but a driver or four passengers and gear on board. Yes, I had far more fun driving the new 2020 Toyota Highlander than any other over the last 20 years.
Priced right in the busy segment
There are two versions of the 2020 Toyota Highlander: the “regular” and the hybrid. The non-electrified version’s pricing starts at $39,990 with FWD – this is a no-no plan in Canada. The LE AWD goes $43,490 while the well-equipped and setup XLE AWD is priced from $45,490. It features almost everything including a power tailgate, rear door sunshades, a 7-inch IP display, and more. In the US, the LE AWD retails for $38,400 and the XLE AWD is priced at $41,200.
The tested Limited, at $51,690 in Canada ($45,600 with AWD in the US), includes cooled leather seats, a massive moonroof, JBL audio, and 20-inch wheels. With the exception of the heated steering wheel, the remainder is money spent pointlessly. There’s a Platinum package over and above the Limited as well. Overall, the Highlander finds itself mid-pack with the competition price-wise.
The midsize 3-row SUV segment is bursting at the seams with excellent vehicles. Some of the better picks include the Subaru Ascent, the Mazda CX-9, the Honda Pilot, and the Dodge Durango (because V8). All have specific attributes but the Highlander and Ascent are the most well rounded.