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2020 Toyota Highlander an improvement in all areas

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is powered by a 3.5-litre, V6 engine that makes up to 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque; it's worked by an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander is powered by a 3.5-litre, V6 engine that makes up to 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque; it's worked by an eight-speed automatic transmission. - Richard Russell

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — When the final numbers are in for 2019, the Honda Civic will mark its 22nd consecutive year as the best-selling car in Canada. The Ford F150 will continue its 37-year reign as the best-selling vehicle overall. The big news is that the Toyota RAV 4 will outsell the Civic, replacing it as the best-selling non-truck in the country as the migration to crossovers continues.

Car sales, including the Civic, continue to plunge, down almost 15 per cent for the year. Toppling the Civic from its place atop the family car charts, is a bold indication of just how much the scene is changing. Toyota could have sold even more RAV4s, if it had been able to get sufficient batteries to meet growing demand for the RAV4 hybrid. It estimates 25 per cent of RAV4 sales will be hybrids when supply catches up to demand.

All this by way of introducing the 2020 Toyota Highlander. New from road to roof, the new Highlander is available in nine different grade levels, four of them hybrids! Toyota has gone to great lengths to ensure hybrid versions are priced and equipped so there is a model for everyone shopping in this segment. 

The Highlander boasts what Toyota calls a "new-generation hybrid powertrain” with two electric motors paired with a gasoline engine. Total output is 243 horsepower, significantly closing the performance gap to the gasoline-powered version. It is 19 per cent more fuel efficient than the outgoing model, has a range of more than 950 kilometres and can tow up to 3,400 lbs.

It has been six years since the last all-new Highlander. Sales have more than doubled since its introduction, while the segment has grown by 25 per cent. The 2020 Highlander comes in L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum trim levels. At $39,990 the new L trim allows Toyota to market the Highlander at “less than $40,000.” It is the only front-wheel-drive Highlander and not expected to be a big seller, even with an impressive standard equipment list. 

The real numbers start with the $43,490 LE model. Like all remaining Highlanders, it has all-wheel-drive. For $250 more than the outgoing LE, it adds LED headlights, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, the newest version of Toyota’s Safety Sense system, an electronic parking brake, push button start and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

Toyota expects the volume model to be the $45,990 XLE at only $195 more than the outgoing version. The $51,690 Limited trim will cost $410 more than the 2019 version, but that gets you a premium JBL audio system, wireless charger, kick-operated power rear hatch, multi terrain system and a new AWD system with dynamic torque vectoring. The new $53,990 Platinum trim level boasts 20-in alloy wheels, unique seat trim, a giant 21-cm touchscreen, heads-up display, panorama view monitor, digital rear-view mirror and heated captain’s chairs in the second row. 

All of the new 2020 Toyota Highlanders are based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which also serves beneath the RAV4, Camry and Avalon. The new platform provides a stiffer foundation, a tighter turning circle, quieter ride and enhanced agility. - Richard Russell
All of the new 2020 Toyota Highlanders are based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which also serves beneath the RAV4, Camry and Avalon. The new platform provides a stiffer foundation, a tighter turning circle, quieter ride and enhanced agility. - Richard Russell

There is a new base hybrid model, the LE, priced at $45,490 — only $2,000 more than the equivalent gasoline version, and a new Platinum model atop the trim ladder. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard across the board. It brings a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with rod edge detection, automatic high beams and lane tracing assist.     

All of the new 2020 Highlanders are based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which also serves beneath the RAV4, Camry and Avalon. The new platform provides a stiffer foundation, a tighter turning circle, quieter ride and enhanced agility. The 2020 Highlander’s wheelbase is 60 mm longer than the old, and overall length is up by the same amount. This allowed the range of the sliding second row seat to be increased by 30-mm. Overall width is up a slight five mm.

Aluminum is used for the front fenders and hood and resin for the rear hatch. The result is weight savings of up to 145 pounds depending on model and trim level despite the new standard equipment.

The interior design team gets full marks for not only appearance but the provision of numerous storage spaces throughout. There are four interior colour choices and a lengthy list of standard features, including a washer for the rear-view camera lens, and auto up/down for all four windows. Standard equipment on Canadian models will include heated front seats, mirrors and windshield wipers de-icers. 

The driver faces up to a trio of displays, the size and number dependent upon trim level. On upper trims the main display for engine, road speed and other vital info is a 20-cm colour unit. Above that, in the lower portion of the windshield is a 25-cm colour heads-up display and the centre stack is topped by a giant 31-cm infotainment organizer.

There are three rows of seats at all trim points. You can only get a pair of “captain’s chairs” in the most expensive trim level. Otherwise there is a three-person bench in the middle row. The cargo space is suitable for an eight-passenger vehicle and both second and third rows fold flat should you need more. There is no discernible sacrifice in terms of cargo space for the hybrid versions. The battery packs rests beneath the second row of seats. 

The standard engine is Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 producing 295 horsepower in this application. It is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and in all but the base model, an all-wheel-drive system with multi-terrain select. The Limited and Platinum trims get a new and more sophisticated AWD system that uses torque vectoring, which can apportion power to each side at the rear. 

All hybrid models use a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, a pair of electric motors and an on-demand AWD system. 

On the road, the hybrid is noticeably more powerful and responsive than older versions. Under heavy or sustained throttle applications, the CVT forces it to moan/growl but in normal use, the “hybridness” is all but invisible. The V6 is silky smooth and quiet at all times. The ride in both versions is pleasant and until pressed hard, there is little lean or understeer.

The all-new fourth generation Toyota Highlander boasts incremental improvements across the board — much-needed new appearance, additional safety features, added value and big improvements to the hybrid version.  

The specs

Model: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum Hybrid
Engine: 3.5-litre, V6, 295 horsepower, 263 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 11.7 / 8.6
Length: 4,950 mm
Width: 1,930 mm
Wheelbase: 2,850 mm
Price: $39,990 base, $55,990 as tested, plus freight
Competition: Ford Explorer, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas
Options on test vehicle: none

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