2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum V6 AWD Review - Victim of Timing

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum V6 AWD Fast Facts

3.5-liter V6 (295 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
20 city / 27 highway / 23 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)
11.7 city, 8.6 highway, 10.3 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$48,800 (U.S) / $54,150(Canada)
As Tested
$51,112 (U.S.) / $56,905 (Canada)
Prices include $1,120 destination charge in the United States and $1,940 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared. The V6 must be special ordered in Canada, so consumer pri
2020 toyota highlander platinum v6 awd review victim of timing

The 2020 Toyota Highlander is a pretty good improvement over the previous generation, building off an already strong foundation, but unfortunately for Toyota, it comes along just as Kia’s Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade soar towards class dominance.

Ask anyone who made big plans for after March 1, 2020, and they’ll tell you – timing is everything.

In Toyota’s case, a very, very good three-row family hauler is getting lost in all the hype about the two outstanding Korean entries.

Somewhere, a Toyota sales manager sobs in his coffee in between Zooms.

Understandably so, because the Highlander is dang good at achieving its mission – hauling your minions/stuff/pets/whatever across town in relative comfort, without being a chore to drive.

The Highlander is not a joy to drive – it can feel heavy, ponderous, and slow at times, despite 295 and 263 lb-ft of torque being on tap from the 3.5-liter V6. Handling is deliberate. The ride, however, is nice and comfortable. An eight-speed automatic transmission gets the power down to the all-wheel-drive system.

Still, the driving dynamics aren’t so far off what the Kia/Hyundai twins offer that it’s completely out of range. And most buyers in this class don’t care all that much about on-road dynamics, anyway. Competence is often good enough.

And the Highlander is more than competent in the areas that matter. The interior looked and felt fairly upscale, and creature comforts weren’t lacking. The cabin design isn’t as handsome as that of the Hyundai and Kia, and it’s a bit of a mish-mash of shapes, but as noted before, the materials look and feel nice enough to make up for any stylistic weirdness. And there’s enough utility in terms of cupholders and cubby holes and storage areas to help out any harried parent.

Even the infotainment screen is better integrated than on many Toyota products, though the brand’s graphics still rival Honda for being the most far behind the times.

Shortly after I drove the gasser Highlander, I marched west an hour to drive the hybrid version of the Highlander on the suburban streets around Toyota’s Chicago-area regional offices. I guess when it comes to this Highlander, there can be more than one.

Not shockingly, the Hybrid is slightly less engaging on-road, in service of fuel economy, but the overall package doesn’t feel too different. You do give up power – the 2.5-liter four-cylinder has 186 system horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. You also trade an eight-speed automatic transmission for a CVT.

The exterior design combines slab siding with curved fenders and a sloping roofline with a front face that is more than a tad angry-looking. Thank the slanted headlamps, along with a chrome strip that includes the Toyota badge, for that. The fog-lamp openings also contribute to the Highlander’s perpetually pissed-off face.

It’s an aggressive look that belies the crossover’s mission as a comfortable family hauler. It’s not a bad look, but it feels unnecessary, as well as incongruent with the softer styling from the A-pillar rearward. Who asked for this – dads who want to show that they can still be hardcore with a baby seat in the back?

The features list, especially on the Platinum trim I drove, was class-competitive. There wasn’t much in the way of options – just the paint color ($425), carpeted floor mats and cargo mat ($318), a tablet holder ($99), and crossbars for the cargo area ($350).

Standard features included Toyota’s SafetySense suite of driver’s-aid tech: Pre-collision system w/pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams, and road-sign assist. Other standard features included blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking assist with automatic braking, 360-degree camera, 20-inch wheels, LED headlamps, adaptive front lighting, LED fog lights, hands-free power liftgate, panoramic moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, heated and cooled front seats, leather seats, heated second-row seats, 60/40 spilt-fold/fold-flat third-row seats, 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment, navigation, satellite radio, premium audio with subwoofer, USB media port, four USB charge ports, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, wireless smart-phone charger, and a rearview mirror that includes HomeLink.

That all added up to $48,800. With the options and the $1,120 destination fee, the sticker was $51,112. That $48,800 base price is a few grand more than a Telluride SX bases for, but clicking lots of options boxes on the Kia puts it on par with the as-tested price.

However, a Telluride spec’d close to this Highlander undercut it by several thousand dollars.

The Highlander is a pretty damn good three-row crossover, with nice interior materials. It’s not as strong all-around as the Palisade or Telluride, mainly because it’s not quite as attractive, inside or out, and it’s not quite as engaging on-road. But it’s nicer than Ford’s Explorer, which can get costly, and feels a bit upmarket compared to Volkswagen’s Atlas (which scores well on utility, if not aesthetics).

There’s a reason the Telluride and Palisade are kicking butt, but if they don’t ring your bell, the Highlander works well.

Maybe that will make our hypothetical sobbing Toyota exec feel better.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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2 of 78 comments
  • SuperCarEnthusiast SuperCarEnthusiast on Sep 30, 2020

    What the new Highlander needs is a V8! Maybe tune to 400 hp and 400 lbs. torque!

  • Petey Petey on Oct 15, 2020

    Is it just me or is the 3.5L motor getting long in the tooth.... Come on Toyota, Your competitors are offering V8's, and turbos, even twin turbos in their family sleds. If your going to charge 55K canadian, I would demand more then a na V6.

  • BklynPete So let's get this straight: Ford hyped up the Bronco for 3 years, yet couldn't launch it to match the crazy initial demand. They released it with numerous QC issues, made hay for its greedy dealers, and burned customers in the process. After all that, they lose money on warranties. The vehicles turn out to be a worse ownership experience than the Jeep Wrangler, which hasn't been a paragon of reliability for 50 years. The same was true of the Aviator, Explorer, several F-150 variants, and other recent product launches. The Maverick is the only thing they got right. Yet this company that's been at it for 120 years. Just Brilliant. Jim Farley's non-PR speak: "You don't get to call me an idiot. I get to call myself an idiot first."Farley truly seems hapless, like the characters his late cousin played. Bill Ford is a nice guy but more than a bit slow on the uptake too. They have not had anything resembling a quality CEO since Alan Mulally turned the keys over to Mark Fields - the mulleted glamor boy who got canned after 3 years when the PowerShi(f)t transaxles exploded. He more recently helped run Hertz into the ground with bad QC and a faulty database that had them arresting customers. Ford is starting to resemble Chrysler in the mid-Seventies Sales Bank era. Well, at least VW has cash and envies Ford's distribution reach and potential profitability.
  • Mike Beranek This guy called and wants his business model back.
  • SCE to AUX The solid state battery is vaporware.As for software-limited pack capacity: Batteries are obviously the most expensive component of an EV, so on the rare occasion that pack capacity is dramatically limited (as in your 6-year-old example), it's because economies of scale briefly made sense at the time.Mfrs are not in the habit of overbuilding pack capacity just for fun, and then charging the customer less.Since then, pack capacities have been slightly increased via software because the mfr decides they can sacrifice a little bit of the normal safety/wear margin in the interest of range. We're talking single-digit percentages, not the 60/75 kWh jump in your example.Every pack has maybe 10% margin built into it, so eating into that today (via range increases) means it's not available to make up for battery degradation tomorrow. My 4-year-old EV still has its original range(s) and 100% SOH, but that's surely because it is slowly consuming the margin built into the pack.@Matt Posky: Not everything is a conspiracy to get your credit card account, and the lengthy editorial about this has nothing to do with solid state batteries.
  • JLGOLDEN In order for this total newcomer to grab and hold attention in the US market, the products MUST be an exceptional value. Not many people will pay name-brand money for the pretty mystery. I can appreciate the ambition of selling $50K+ crossovers, but I think they will go farther with their $30K-$40K offerings.
  • Dukeisduke They're where Tesla was when it started - a complete unknown. I haven't heard anything about a dealer network. How are they going to sell these? Direct like Tesla? Franchises picked up by existing new car dealers?