The Toyota Highlander has been going strong since 2001. At the time when most midsize SUVs were truck-based, the Highlander’s unibody structure with four-wheel independent suspension quickly became the template for a new segment of more comfortable and family-friendly SUVs, says Toyota.
Over these years, it has grown in size, and is also claimed to be the best seller in the segment since 2016. The 4th generation model is here to continue bringing fortunes for the big T. As with most latest Toyotas, the 2020 Highlander is built on Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K). The SUV is 2.36-inches (60 mm) longer than before.
As for the design, the new Highlander sports an angry face, sculpted shapes and chiseled lines. That character line on the side reminds you of the new Supra.
Depending on the trim, equipment list includes automatic LED headlamps with auto high beam, adaptive and self-leveling technology for the headlamps, LED fog lamps, LED taillamps, roof rails, 20-inch wheels, panoramic moonroof, and rain-sending wipers.
Inside, the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the Platinum trim is claimed to be the largest in the segment. Depending on the trim, other features include 10-way power driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, 3-zone automatic climate control, JBL audio system, Head-Up Display, embedded navigation system, ambient lighting, power liftgate, and bird’s eye camera.
All grades come standard with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and Wi-Fi connectivity through AT&T.
The second row can be slid an extra 1.2-inch further up, to increase space between the second and third row. The Platinum grade also gets heated 2nd row seats. The Highlander is available in 7- or 8-passenger seating configuration.
The SUV offers 456-litres (16.1 cu-ft) of carrying space behind the third row. Folding the 60/40 split third-row seatbacks opens the space to 1,150-litres (40.6 cu-ft), and then folding the second row increases that to 2,076-litres (73.3 cu-ft).
Safety kit includes Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as standard. This active safety system includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist and Road Sign Assist.
Passive safety includes 8 airbags including side-curtain airbags for all three rows. More safety includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), ABS with EBD and Brake Assist.
All Highlander models come equipped with Toyota Safety Connect with 1-year trial subscription.
Which then brings us to the business end of the story. The 2020 Highlander offers a choice between a gas V6 or a new version of the Toyota Hybrid System.
The 3.5-litre V6 offers 220 kW (299 metric hp) and 356 Nm (263 lb-ft) of torque, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The optional towing package for V6 models enables a 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) towing capacity.
The hybrid variants pack a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors, offering a system output of 179 kW (243 metric hp). The EPA-estimated 34 combined MPG is a 17% improvement over the previous-generation Highlander Hybrid’s 28 combined MPG, Toyota says. In another Highlander first, the hybrid is now available in either 2WD or AWD.
The transaxle mounts the electric motors (MG1 and MG2) coaxially rather than in-line, and the resulting smaller and lighter package reduces frictional losses. The gas engine and MG2 work in concert to deliver dynamic performance, while both MG1 and MG2 charge the hybrid battery, the company said. The battery pack sits underneath the rear seats.
There’s an EV mode too, which allows electric-only driving at low speeds for short distances.
The optional AWD system on the gas models can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels to counter wheel slip when necessary. Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect is available for the Highlander Limited and Platinum trims.
As with the AWD system in the previous Highlander Hybrid, the 2020 model’s AWD employs a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed. This motor operates independently, with no mechanical connection between the transmission and the rear wheels.
The Highlander gas models will arrive in December 2019 and the Highlander Hybrid will reach customers in February 2020.