Glance too quickly at a 2020 Toyota Highlander and you might mistake it for a high-end luxury SUV. Slanted headlights, angular front bumper lines, and blacked-out mid-pillars give this penny-saving old-timer a fresh new look. Long gone are the days of boxy bodies and Dodge Caliber-esque silhouettes. Here to stay is the all-new 2020 Toyota Highlander.
Having trouble deciding if the newest Highlander is the right car for you? Check out our quick guide below. It will give you all the information you need to make a better buy. From fuel efficiency numbers and available trims to safety features and competitors, we’ve got you covered!
Toyota equips the 2020 Highlander with two different engine variants. There’s a traditional gas version and a hybrid model. A 3.5-liter V6, making 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, comes standard. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid models run on a combination of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that together make 243 horsepower. With the Hybrid setup, you can easily tow up to 3,500 pounds. However, the gas-powered model add 1,500 pounds to that capability.
Choose from the following colors to paint your 2020 Toyota Highlander.
- Moon Dust
- Blizzard Pearl
- Magnetic Gray Metallic
- Celestial Silver Metallic
- Midnight Black Metallic
- Ruby Flare Pearl
- Opulent Amber
Let’s talk trim levels. The gas-powered Highlander is available in L, LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims. Hybrid models can be purchased in LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims only. All trim options, including the hybrid variants, can be equipped in all-wheel drive as well, though front-wheel drive is standard.
With a starting MSRP of $34,600, the base Highlander sticks to the Toyota maxim of affordability paired with utility. Base models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense, which we discuss more in-depth in our next section. Other standard equipment includes an eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry, push button start, LED headlights, and automatic climate control. Technology on the L model includes Bluetooth, satellite radio, a WiFi hotspot, and a rearview camera. For a base model, that’s a pretty solid list.
Both the L and LE models seat eight people. Additional upgrades include LED foglights, a power liftgate, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Safety additions are limited to blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Highlander LE models begin around $36,800.
You’ll have to shell out for the XLE model if you want to seat one less passenger. However, the two middle occupants will probably enjoy the luxury of their captain’s chairs. Driver and front passenger will enjoy heated seats, and leather upholstery is available as well. Wireless charging and a moonroof round out the features on this middle-of-the-road model. It starts at roughly $40,000.
Navigation is one of the prime advantages of choosing the Limited trim. It also offers an upgraded 11-speaker JBL sound system, too. Power liftgates move to hands-free at this stage, for a price of just under $44,000. Those big bucks unlock, however, premium features such as “front and rear parking sensors, leather-trimmed seats for the first and second rows, ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.” A dual pair of 20-inch wheels will keep you riding pretty in the Limited model.
Quad captain’s chairs are standard — and the only option — on this top-shelf trim level. All said and done, you’ll likely pay around $49,000 for the highest end model. Other features include a 12.3-inch touchscreen, heads-up display (HUD), adaptive headlights, a panoramic sunroof, and a digital rearview camera “that offers both a traditional mirror or digital image.” It can take a bit getting used to it, but the digital rearview camera is likely to become standard equipment on future new cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet rated the 2020 Toyota Highlander, in both gas and hybrid variants. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), while it also has not yet rated the newest version, did award the 2019 Highlander as a Top Safety Pick.
When it comes to standard safety features, the Highlander receives the best of Toyota’s Safety Sense. This suite of driver aids includes “radar adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane tracing, forward collision alert, pre-collision assist, automatic high beams, road sign assist and cyclist/pedestrian detection.” Safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, and a surround-view parking camera system cost extra. Whether or not you pay for these upgrades, you’ll be very safe inside a new Highlander.
The EPA reports the 2020 Highlander achieves 21 city and 29 highway miles per gallon when configured in front-wheel drive. Since there are actually two different all-wheel drive systems found on the Highlander, depending on which trim package you choose, all-wheel drive fuel efficiency numbers vary slightly. The Platinum model in AWD achieves 20 city and 27 highway MPG, while every other all-wheel trims achieves 1 MPG more on the highway.
When it comes to the Hybrid models, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired to an electric motor make an estimated 36 city and 35 highway MPG in front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive models even out the numbers to be 35 both in town and on the interstate.
Industry experts had a lot of praise for the 2020 Highlander. However, a few offered Toyota some suggestions for next year’s model. For example, Edmunds reviewers appreciated the “quiet ride” and “upscale interior materials,” but didn’t appreciate the lack of “seat height adjustment for [the] front passenger.” Although the 2020 Highlander did receive an exterior facelift, it “doesn’t raise the bar in any meaningful way.” As the experts pointed out, this leaves the door wide open for Kia and Hyundai’s newest entrants into the SUV game. Why settle for the same-old Highlander when you could be driving a new model like the Telluride or Palisade?
Kelley Blue Book experts echoed the praise of the 2020 Highlander’s interior, admitting it “could practically pass for a Lexus.” Though the engine has “more verve” than fellow old-timer, the Honda Pilot, and runs smoother than Subaru’s turbocharged Ascent, you will note a higher price tag when it comes time to talk numbers. Traditionally, Toyota and Honda strike a fair balance between affordability and capability. However, underdog nameplates like Mazda, Volkswagen, and even Chevy’s Traverse boast a cheaper entry fee in this case.
The fact remains that like most SUVs in this segment, the 2020 Highlander hits many high notes. However it still falls flat at times. The third-row seating is about as useful as the back seat of a high-end sportscar for full-sized people. On the other hand, the reliability and resale ratings of this model help protect your investment from the get-go. Most people will pay for the Hybrid alternative if they’re aiming for fuel savings. Despite that, the gas-powered Highlander actually posts respectable ratings. Remember that it’s making the same numbers as many four-cylinders, but with two extra to contend with.
The Last Word
Continuing with tradition, the 2020 Highlander offers families an affordable, reliable, capable alternative to moving through life via a set of four wheels. The Hybrid model, which has been in production since 2005, certainly tops off the cake by saving thousands at the pump. And though it’s no Supra, the Highlander keeps up with the competition just fine.
Find out more about the 2020 Toyota Highlander by visiting your local Toyota dealership and test driving a model today. If you’re not convinced the Highlander is the right SUV for you, come right on back to Autoversed! We’ve got the numbers and details about many other models to help you make a smart decision for you and your family.