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Toyota took the wraps off its all-new, fourth-generation Highlander SUV, right before its public reveal at the New York International Auto Show. This new Highlander features sleeker styling, revised powertrains, a robust suite of standard safety equipment, and a more comprehensive infotainment system.
It holds tight to its winning formula, although there are incremental improvements throughout that promise to make it even more appealing to family shoppers.
The new Highlander goes on sale in December, with a hybrid version following in February 2020.
Here’s what we know so far.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander looks like an extension of the current model. The grille is a bit less aggressive, and there is more sculpting to the sides, with a dramatic flare that rises to the rear fenders. The company says that the new body is more aerodynamic than the outgoing model, helping fuel economy and reducing wind noise. Twenty-inch alloy wheels are offered for the first time.
The Highlander can seat seven or eight passengers. The L and LE trim levels come with a second-row bench seat, while the XLE, Limited, and Platinum come with captain’s chairs. A standard three-zone climate control system enables air to be routed around the cabin, based on everyone’s needs.
The 2020 Highlander measures about 2.4 inches longer than the 2019 version. That extra space goes to the cargo area, and the second row has more space to slide forward and back, giving the passengers there the chance to balance legroom with the third-row occupants.
Toyota has stepped up its infotainment game. All Highlanders come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, as well as Alexa In-Car and WiFi hot-spot capability. More expensive trim levels get audio upgrades, and the Platinum trim gets a large 12.3-inch screen.
What Drives It
The Highlander will be offered with two powertrains, a conventional 295-hp V6 engine or a 240-hp hybrid four-cylinder. The V6 can pull up to 5,000 pounds with a tow package that includes a heavy-duty radiator with an engine oil cooler. There are two all-wheel-drive systems offered with the V6, a traditional setup and one that is focused more on performance—it sends more power to the rear wheels.
The hybrid powertrain is said to deliver an EPA-estimated 34 mpg combined—a large step up from the previous hybrid’s 28 mpg overall rating. (We got 25 mpg overall in our tests.) For the first time, the hybrid will be offered in both front- and all-wheel drive.
There are driver selectable modes: Normal, Eco, EV, and Sport. Eco favors efficiency from both the engine and battery. Sport uses power from the battery to improve acceleration. And EV allows the Highlander to operate short distances on strictly battery power. Further, a feature called Auto Glide helps hyper-milers achieve maximum efficiency by limiting engine braking when coasting. A Predictive Efficient Drive feature learns the driver's behavior and routes and, using the navigation system, optimizes battery use based on past patterns, adjusting for hills and traffic.
Safety & Driver-Assist Systems
The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite comes standard with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic high beams, and the ability to display speed limit in the instrument panel. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are optional, depending on the trim level.
The Highlander has long been a strong performer, even in the face of newer competitors. It's had a desirable balance of an absorbent ride, responsive handling, and generous interior space. But rivals have edged past it with more advanced infotainment systems and more lavish creature comforts.
This new Highlander looks to level the playing field and defend Toyota's position as a top seller in the category. We welcome the strong roster of safety equipment, as well as the comforts and conveniences promised for the cabin.
We look forward to testing this all-new model once it goes on sale.
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