Susan Frissell, Editor, Womenwithwheels.com
Although not necessarily a SUV fan, I do enjoy spending some time in the various offerings. The Toyota Highlander appealed so I took the opportunity to spend a week in the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV; Platinum trim level with AWD. A beautiful vehicle that I can imagine would shine on a road trip. Driving the three-row Highlander in town was good practice. This is a large vehicle which required some planning ahead when backing into sports and sharing narrow roads.
There are several available trim levels in the Hybrid Highlander, including L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum, top of the line. The Highlander can be had in either all-wheel-drive or 2-wheel drive. With room for seven, this is a large vehicle. Starting at $34,600, the Highlander seems reasonable, and for most, all that is available is probably enough. The pricing climbs steadily with each trim level until it gets a tad pricey.
For those interested in connecting with the world, the Highlander sports two 12-volt outlets and four USB ports. The center console, a soft-touch roll-top, offers good space with a couple of different levels, making it a useful storage space, for phones, computer tablets or just your ‘stuff.’
There are many ‘standard’ features on the Highlander; to name a few: Rain-sensing/variable intermittent wipers, rear liftgate windshield defogger and washer, backup camera washer (!), UV reduction glass-all windows, privacy glass on rear side, quarter, liftgate windows, front-grille black with chrome plated surround, color-keyed side rocker panels and lower molding, C-keyed door handles, Bird’s-eye view camera with dynamic grid lines including perimeter scan, overhead 360 degree view in low-speed drive and reverse and curb view. The later feature-on the Platinum edition, takes some getting used to. Each time the car comes to a stop, the screen flashes the birds-eye view camera with shots of who might be in front of you, or on the either side. Mind-boggling.
Other features on our Hybrid Highlander Platinum edition include roof rails, front/rear mud guards, power windows, 3-zone auto climate control, overhead console with conversation mirror, 10-way power adjustable drivers’ seat, heated/ventilated front seats, 4-way adjustable passenger seat, heated second row seats. Leg room is good in the second-row seating, but not overly generous.
As expected, a heated steering wheel is standard. Heads up display is a 10-inch color, with speedometer and road sign assist, navigation, hybrid system indicator. A 7-inch color LCD multi-information display in meter cluster with odometer, current/average fuel economy, cruising range, average speed, AWD torque distribution cruise control guide, audio status, hands-free incoming call notices, telephone information, ECO driving indicator and energy monitor.
Redesigned for 2020, the Highlander Hybrid is in its fourth generation and now uses a four-cylinder engine, replacing a V6. The step-down in power is noticeable but fuel economy is improved. Not many differences for this year, although two inches longer, the Highlander adds a few inches to the cargo area.
There are of course, pros and cons for all vehicles driven. In the 2020 Highlander Hybrid the engine is louder than expected and somewhat less refined. Although for the most part, smooth. Choices are mind-boggling, but for those buyers who know what they want and must have, perhaps it isn’t such a drawn-out process.
The obvious pluses of the Highlander include strong fuel economy, estimated at 35-36 mpg, fair pricing in the non-Hybrid versions, AWD offered for all trim levels and plenty of standard and available features.
The ride in the Highlander Hybrid is as expected in a Toyota product. This is a large vehicle, yet handling is smooth. Available height levels on the driver’s seat make it possible for all size of driver to be accommodated, and to feel in control.
Also new for the 2020 Highlander Hybrid is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine replacing last year’s V6. This new four-cylinder hybrid system generates roughly 60 fewer horsepower than the previous model, fuel economy improves by 7-8 mpg in mixed driving. A newly available front-wheel-drive configuration adds to the potential fuel savings.
There are several other vehicles out there today to compete with the Highlander. Many buyers gravitate to Toyota for obvious reasons: more cargo space, more safety features and more power, to name just a few. Dependability, of course. For those who want to compare, take a look at Ford Explorer or Expedition, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Honda Passport, Subaru Ascent, Dodge Durango, Mazda CX-9, Toyota 4Runner, Chevy Traverse and/or VW Atlas.
Nissan no longer sells a hybrid Pathfinder, the Mitsubishi Outlander is much smaller, and the new Kia Telluride does not offer a Hybrid version. The Explorer comes with a higher price, lower fuel economy in their V6 with 318 combined horsepower. With Highlander, you’ll get excellent feel in the brakes, interior space that’s abundant.
I’s easy to get spoiled with a Toyota product, and there are a lot of good choices today in every category. Toyota is offering a $2,000 rebate now on the 2020 Highlander.
Depending on time of year you buy and how quickly you need to make a decision, one can choose from several Highlander versions. End-of-year pricing is usually fair.
The LE and XLE are good choices, both with a lot of features and at a reasonable price point. The Hybrid Limited offers several upgrades, including leather, heated and ventilated front seats, and parking sensors. With four trim levels from which to choose, the Hybrid version can be had for a fair price. Seating for 8 is standard on the LE version. The XLE, Limited and Platinum have standard second-row captain’s chairs, reducing the seating total to seven.
As those interested in a hybrid often know, you are paying more than you are for any of the standard gas engine versions. You’ll also be losing horsepower which isn’t terribly noticeable or concerning, particularly for hybrid owners. No one ever bought a three-row minivan or SUV for speed.
When opting for the Highlander equipped with a standard engine, you’ll get a 295 hp, V-6, held over from the previous generation model. This is a smooth riding engine with plenty of power, and paired with the 8-speed transmission.
Pricing: $50,200 plus shipping
Engine: combined net hp: 186, 5,000 rpm., 4-cylinder ECVT Hybrid
Transmission: electronically controlled ECVT w/sequential shift mode. Power-assisted rack and pinion steering, CVT
Power-assisted ventilated disc brakes w/ECB system, integrated regenerative braking
Electric power steering. Power
Fuel economy: 35/34/35
Fuel Tank Cap: 17.1 gal.
Length: 194.9 in.
Width: 76.0 in.
Height: 68.1 in.
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Towing: 3,500 lbs.
Seating Capacity: 7
(Photos by George Straton, www.Roadblazing.com)