By on December 19, 2019

toyota

There’s no other way to say it. Toyota’s Highlander is a bonafide success story, and the next-generation model appearing for 2020 will undoubtedly continue the midsize crossover’s built-in popularity, regardless of what Corey thinks of the new grille.

Toyota debuted the new Highlander on Wednesday, calling attention to a new platform shared with the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES and a hybrid variant that blows the previous model’s fuel economy out of the water.

Yes, for 2020 buyers can kiss the old 2.7-liter base four-cylinder goodbye, not that many buyers ever opted for that underpowered mill. All gas-only Highlanders now source their power from a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. No change in output there, nor in the engine’s dance partner — an eight-speed automatic.

A stop-start system now comes standard, so expect a mild uptick in fuel economy.

The big powertrain news is that the popular hybrid variant ditches its V6 companion in favor of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Tethered to twin electric motors and a revised transaxle, the engine and its electric assistants deliver a combined output of 243 hp. While that’s significantly less than the previous version’s 306 hp, the reduction in weight and friction losses means drivers will spend less money to keep theirs on the road. Toyota estimates a combined fuel economy figure of 36 mpg — a full 7 mpg improvement over the previous thriftiest Highlander.

toyota

Besides that, buyers will now be able to choose their Highlander Hybrid in either front-drive or all-wheel drive, a departure from the previous-gen’s AWD-only proposition. In this case, calling upon the AWD system spins an electric motor that drives the rear wheels independently from the gas engine.

Beyond the new styling, which is fairly evolutionary in nature (at least when viewed from a side-on angle), Toyota has designed the newest Highlander to be more user-friendly. Stretching an extra 2.4 inches from stem to stern, the model adds additional volume to the all-important rear cargo area. Three-row crossovers aren’t known for their acreage aft of the rearmost seats, but the 2020 Highlander does manage to eke out some extra room — total volume back there grows from a measly 13.8 cubic feet to 16 cubic feet. With third row folded down, cargo volume expands from 42.3 cubic feet to 48.4 cubes.

Helping the knees of third-row passengers is a second-row seat that slides an extra 1.2 inches. In base L and volume LE trim, the middle row is a three-person bench. XLE and Limited customers will find standard captain’s chairs, though they can option their Highlander with eight-passenger seating if required. Only the top-flight Platinum takes the bench off, erm, the table.

toyota

Platinum buyers, of course, will be too busy gazing at their 12.3-inch multimedia screen and standard 20-inch wheels (plebs get an 8-inch screen, though Limited buyers also gain access to 20-inch hoops).

Riding atop Toyota’s long TNGA-K platform, the Highlander is no doubt a stiffer, quieter, and more refined vehicle than before; whether buyers notice or even care is another story. Highlander sales rose to a new high in 2018 (244,511), and sales through November of this year show only a 1.1-percent decrease in popularity. The Highlander is built to sell, and sell it does.

With extra space and MPGs in tow, as well as standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (which includes full-speed dynamic cruise control and pre-collision braking), the 2020 Highlander is positioned to succeed. Our jaws would be on the floor if it didn’t.

Going on sale in February 2020, the next-gen Highlander starts at $35,720 after destination. The cheapest AWD model starts at $37,320, while the entry-level hybrid — not available in base L trim — stickers for $39,320. Add another $1,600 if you want your hybrid with AWD.

toyota

[Images: Toyota]

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41 Comments on “Put on a Happy Face: 2020 Toyota Highlander Dons New Platform, Ditches Old Engine...”


  • avatar
    AA610

    Say what you want about design, driver engagement, etc, I’m beginning to appreciate the excellent reliability of Toyota vehicles, even though I don’t own one right now. I’m currently driving an Infiniti G37 that I always assumed was reliable because it’s Japanese. I’ve learned that’s not the case.

    As I’ll be turning 40 soon, I’m ok with getting a well equipped Camry XLE next time around. I don’t care about impressing anyone anymore or carving through corners in my hometown!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      G37 is actually the high water mark for Nissan/Infiniti IMO, whats wrong with yous?

      • 0 avatar
        AA610

        It’s been overall a very good car, but things that need to be repaired end up being costly due to the design of the car. Things that cost $400 on a Maxima cost $1400 on the G37. At least this is my understanding from a few mechanics I’ve talked to.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’m glad to hear its treated you well. They may have designed the components in such a way the Nissan part doesn’t fit/slightly not compatible but as you point out the component cost may be in relation to the design of the model itself. I’ve noticed on the premium RWD stuff is simply more complicated because of the features they are trying to bring to the drive experience. I also want to say the G37 has some semi-exotic suspension setup but I may be off.

          • 0 avatar
            StudeDude

            The G35/37 has a pretty simple suspension design. Modified struts in front with upper and lower control arms and multilink rear with tube shocks. If you start to replace bushings at a shop, it might get costly. Do it yourselfers, not so much.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Thanks, I may have been misinformed.

    • 0 avatar
      Mnemic

      I hear you. 4Runner limited is currently top of list for my next vehicle but its worse than V8 gas mileage and not even a heated steering wheel for 50K really sucks. But its top 5 best reliability and top 5 best resale still keeps it top of the list. I am thinking a 2017 or 2018, no use buying new when its the same vehicle and the pre-owned will be just as rock solid and I wont lose an arm and a leg when I flip it in a couple three years, possibly into an all-new 2023 if I like it that much.

      • 0 avatar
        AA610

        Agreed. I don’t think it needs a lot to bring it to where it makes people happy at $50k.

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        Now that the 4Runner has CarPlay and partial TSS, it is at least bearable for commuting and general use. I love the 4Runner, but living with it can be incredibly painful over time. I am considering one as well (within the next two weeks)… but if you take a 4Runner for a nice, long test drive and then jump in a V8 Jeep GC Trailhawk or High Altitude, it is REALLY HARD to get back into the 4Runner and think its a better vehicle.

        The Higlander is kind of in the same boat – its solid and reliable, but its also dreadfully boring to drive.

        • 0 avatar
          Mnemic

          The 4runner limited rides much better than the SR5 or other models. The limited has suspension designed to make it ride like a unibody SUV, where the other ones have the same ride quality of a 1980’s SUV. I want a BOF suv, the GM’s are priced in stupid territory and the FCA products are in delay jail. I can also get the Yota for cost, used or new.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        I have a 2009 Highlander Hybrid with 275,000 miles and it still runs like it did when it was new. I have to add oil between 5k changes and gas mileage is down to 22 mpg. I have a lead foot and have driven it VERY hard since day one. It has NEVER left me stranded or failed to start except once when the battery died and I had to get a jump start. It is the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned and resale is irrelevant to me since I plan to drive it until it turns to dust.

        It has lots of cargo room, it carries lots of people, it has excellent ergonomics, it is comfortable and the cloth seats are durable. For buyers who need a midsized/large “station wagon” type of car, this is as practical a vehicle as you can buy, in my opinion. It has been a workhorse for our family. Highly recommended.

    • 0 avatar
      saturnotaku

      My wife’s old 2013 Venza is the least reliable vehicle she owned since her 2001 Mk IV Jetta. The CHMSL shorted out on the way home from the dealer the day we took delivery. The steering wheel developed an obnoxious creaking that took 4 dealer visits to ultimately determine it was a faulty turn-signal switch. Assembly quality on the dashboard an interior panels would have been an embarrassment to early 1990s General Motors. We traded it at 40,000 miles for a Honda CR-V and won’t be looking back.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Actually, long term reliability is a question even for Toyota these days. My coworker and I, both, had to get rid of our Toyotas due to same issue – uncontrollable engine oil consumption . My Highlander had 8 recalls, 1 warranty repair, 1 other repair. And when I was trading it in with only 131K miles, it had engine issue, transmission issue and needed new shocks and struts (leaking)

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    All this sounds like quite an improvement if you’re a Highlander fan as I am. 35 mpg for this size vehicle is pretty astounding. My only grievance is the funky rear-door-to-rear-panel design monstrosity. Hideous.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Hamilton

      I doubt it will actually get 35 mpg in real world driving. I have a Rav4 Hybrid and average 29-30 mpg. The Highlander has a somewhat improved version of my engine but weighs considerably more.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        What year RAV-4 they did give it a big bump from the 2018’s 32 combined rating to 40 combined for the 2019 and 2020. The admitedly small number of people who have reported their MPG on the Gov website are averaging 39 on their 2019’s.

        • 0 avatar
          Greg Hamilton

          You are correct. Mine is a 2016 with the convenience package and gets 29 in the winter, 34 in the summer. It has all the electronic nannies which work quite well and I use on a regular basis. The radar cruise works in non rush hour traffic at the closest setting. Forget about using it in rush hour, everyone will cut in front of you. It has been completely trouble free except for a loose gearshift knob which the dealer tightened without me asking. Best of all it has a J vin.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “The big powertrain news is that the popular hybrid variant ditches its V6 companion in favor of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Tethered to twin electric motors and a revised transaxle, the engine and its electric assistants deliver a combined output of 243 hp. While that’s significantly less than the previous version’s 306 hp, the reduction in weight and friction losses means drivers will spend less money to keep theirs on the road. Toyota estimates a combined fuel economy figure of 36 mpg — a full 7 mpg improvement over the previous thriftiest Highlander.”

    That’s good, but if the the 2.7L I4 was dropped because no one ordered it how does this new 2.5 actually drive?

    Also, the interior looks quite swanky except for the gigantic center console which appears it wants to eat passengers in that shot at least. Tell me that doesn’t look like a big open mouth closing.

  • avatar
    haroldhill

    Front face is reminiscent of my 2008 matrix, which I long considered to be the second ugliest car ever manufactured (Aztec, anyone?). But from the driver’s seat it all becomes someone else’s problem, and if the Highlander has room for my splayed knees next to the center console it’ll make my short list. From the pix it doesn’t look likely…

  • avatar
    ant

    can you make all that crap dark for night driving? preferably done with a round knob.

    please include this information when you guys drive and review new cars please.

  • avatar
    How_Embarrassing_4You

    What’s wrong with the grill? It seems perfectly in line with what other manufacturers are doing right now. Certainly not as ungainly and ugly as what GM is putting out there. UGH.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Yes, for 2020 buyers can kiss the old 2.7-liter base four-cylinder goodbye, not that many buyers ever opted for that underpowered mill. ”

    Ok, may be it was truly under-powered when all the bloat came into play. My 2009 5-seater was 3800 lb while 2018 LE 4cyl was only avail with 7 seats and came in at nearly 4200 lb.

    So, for my 2009 this engine was competent. There were only 2 conditions when it felt under-powered – high speed highway passing and mountain drives. Crossing New Hampshire on the way to Canada was somewhat interesting. Kept transmission under 4th gear all the time. But 0-55 driving it was fine!

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I like the looks of the 2020 okay, but the discount on the 2019s is compelling as well. We picked up a 2019 Limited AWD in September for a pretty steep discounted price because of the impending arrival of the 2020.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      They discounted them all the time. I got one in February and discounts were really deep. I prefer 2019 even now because
      – it is much cheaper even without discount
      – it is smaller/shorter
      – it has 2nd row bench so I turned int into 5pass car
      – it has real emergency brake not electronic one
      – it has same powertrain, so you don’t miss anything
      – it has less nannies
      – it doesn’t look like a Subaru

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I have a 2016 Hybrid Platinum and like it more than I expected to when I bought it. While both the lighter weight and increased fuel economy will be welcome, I have a hard time believing that the new 4-cyl 240-hp Hybrid will come close to the outgoing model’s experience. With the V6, it’s velvety smooth, very quiet, and has a luxury-car level of refinement. It’s also surprisingly quick when asked to hustle, despite weighing 4800 (!) lb.

    They’re also taking away the two-piece hatch, which is great to have because of how long the huge full hatch takes to open and close.

    I also feel inclined to recommend that bargain hunters seek out 2019 models. There are some nice deals out there. You can get an LE+ Hybrid in the mid-30s or a Plat in the high 40s.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I’m amazed, but not displeased, that Toyota still resists the lure of the ubiquitous 2.0T.

    (Not pleased, especially, either, since the one in my wife’s V60CC is *perfectly good*.

    But it’s an interesting choice to still eschew smaller turbocharged motors.)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “But it’s an interesting choice to still eschew smaller turbocharged motors”

      The correct choice IMO. Toyota will simply leverage its HSD to meet fuel economy targets while the others hack conventional technologies which are already at their limits given the ever ridiculous emissions standards. Turbos and CVTs are simply a crutch to squeak buy.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Looks like a giant startled insect from the netherworld, with specialized cheek pouches for storing worms with a little beady eye peering out of each. Loathsome. The same crews who created that CH-R were given specific parts of this car to design, but each team were told to never talk to the other teams. The corporate stitchers put the thing together in CorelDraw from 1992.

    Toyota is number one in sales worldwide. I suppose that reduces the need to style handsome cars and instead indulge in fantasy while popping Tums to ease the quease. Wouldn’t want to become a monopoly or anything by producing cars that people looked at and said – Hey, now that looks nice!

  • avatar
    newenthusiast

    36 mpg combined for a 7 seat mid-size SUV?

    Even if that’s in lab conditions, getting anything approaching 30 combined in this class is pretty remarkable. This class is all around 200 inches and weigh…what 4500+ lbs and more?

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