- The Toyota Highlander is one of the most successful vehicles for the brand. It's their third best seller this year, behind the popular Camry sedan and the Tacoma pickup.
- The Highlander is now in its third generation with the fourth on its way for the 2020 model year, which debuts at the New York Auto Show.
We're sure we're not the only ones who think the newly revealed 2020 Toyota Highlander looks a lot like the 2019 version. Toyota, apparently, doesn't want to take any big risks for their best-selling SUV, and we don't blame them. From just about every angle, the new Highlander bears the same overall looks as the outgoing model with only some minor detail changes, or at least it appears that way. The styling is definitely evolutionary.
Gone is the overly complex six-bar grille that was slapped on during the Highlander's last refresh. It's been replaced by a dark mesh, single bar grille with a large Toyota emblem from and center. The headlights taper even further back along the hoodline, and the foglight housings are set deeper. Most noticeable is the hockey stick crease in the body that curves with the rear fender. It's more dramatic than the old crease, and we like the added style/ruggedness the styling cue provides.
Toyota did thankfully ditch the rather weak 4-cylinder engine and now only the 3.5-liter V6 engine or the hybrid powertrain will be available. Output for the gas-only engine is the same as the old model at 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. The hybrid system does get updated with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a pair of electric motors for the front wheels, but in AWD versions, there's a third motor for the rear wheels. The system delivers 240 horsepower and gets an impressive 34 mpg combined, up from 28 mpg in the current hybrid.
The Highlander rides on Toyota's TNGA platform, and it gets the longer K version used in the Camry, Avalon, and the new RAV4. Unlike most of the three-row pack, however, the new Highlander doesn't really get bigger inside, sticking to its sweet spot in providing a fair amount of room versus making it significantly bigger to go up against the likes of the Kia Telluride or the Hyundai Palisade. Again, the Highlander has performed so well in terms of sales, it probably didn't make much sense to alter the formula much but just improve styling, tech, and safety.
But not everything is the same inside. The cargo area behind the third row grows from 13.8 to 16.1, a significant jump that really helps tote more gear and groceries when all the seats are used. Unfortunately, when you fold the third-row seats flat, there's actually less cargo space (down to 40.6 from 42.3), and shockingly the overall cargo dimensions with the second and third-row seats folded flat is 10 cubes less at 73.3.
But it does make sense when you consider that the second row now slides 1.2 inches more, and the third-row seats get more legroom as a result, along with increased headroom that will make rear occupants feel less cramped. We wonder if Toyota saw an opportunity to provide more space for passengers, which may be used more often than the full load floor. No actual leg/head/shoulder room dimensions have been provided yet, so we'll have to see how much of a change there is in the new Highlander.
If there's one thing we really didn't like about the outgoing Highlander, it's the interior styling, which just came across as weird. It looks like Toyota answered the call by totally changing it. The cabin looks a lot like a fancier RAV4 with much-improved styling, tech, and materials. The weird flowy styling in the dash is gone, as is the dull infotainment design and lame shift knob. Even the steering wheel controls have changed for the better, and the audio buttons are more intuitive. Also, every 2020 Highlander will get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Amazon Alexa compatibility, Waze integration, satellite radio and in-car WiFi.
The seats, as you can see, look a lot like the ones in the new Camry. We're sure they're just as comfy and definitely better looking than the old Highlander's seats. For the second row, bench seats are standard in L and LE trims (providing 8 passenger capacity), and higher XLE and Limited trims get standard second-row captain's chairs for 7-passenger volume and easier access to the rear. a bench seat in the second row is a no-cost option for those trims.
All trim levels come standard with an 8-inch color touchscreen, but the Platinum trim gets a fancier and much bigger 12.3-inch screen with a 60/40 split, which prevents you from having to toggle between screens, a nice added convenience. In terms of safety, every Highlander comes standard with forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-tracing assist, road sign identification, automatic high beams, and full speed adaptive cruise control. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning are standard on every trim except the L. That's a great set of safety features that really boosts the Highlander's reputation.
No sale date or pricing has been revealed yet, but we expect to hear more from Toyota soon. It should be a continued hot seller for Toyota, and we look forward to testing it. Now, if Toyota can redo the Tundra, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser, that would be great.