Toyota launched their all-new, 4th generation Highlander for the 2020 model year, and has been improved in every way over the outgoing model. The updated Highlander has more space for cargo and passengers, rides better, and has more technology than any other Highlander in Toyota’s history. The question remains – Is it enough to keep the best-selling Highlander at the top of sales charts when the competition keeps getting better and better?
More Upscale Styling
For 2020, the Highlander exterior has a much more premium and chiseled look. The body lines are pronounced and give the Highlander a powerful, athletic stance. Our Platinum trim tester featured a black grille with chrome trim up front and a chrome-plated rear fascia to separate it from the XLE, LE, and L trim.
A silver front bumper and unique 20-inch wheels help finish the Platinum look. The updated design also features aerodynamic improvements that help reduce noise and wind resistance. Our tester featured Moon Dust paint, a metallic light blue-grey that helps take the Highlander’s looks upmarket.
Dimensionally, the fourth-generation Highlander is 2.36-inches longer overall, with all that length being added to the cargo area. The second row of seats gains an additional 1.2-inches of sliding room to give more room between the second and third rows.
Interior Comfort, Technology & Safety
The updated 2020 Highlander interior is beautifully finished and will impress anyone that looks inside. Toyota has definitely managed to move the Highlander more upscale with multiple colors and textures working together to create a near-luxury feeling. Our Platinum trim tester featured embossed, perforated leather-trimmed seats with heating and ventilation up front and heating on the second-row. The light interior might not be the best choice for families, but the color definitely looks sharp while it’s clean.
The second and third rows in the Highlander are adorned with the same embossed leather as the front row. The second-row captain chairs are a very comfortable place, but the third row should only be reserved for small children or short trips. The third row sits just above the floor and is quite uncomfortable for adults of average size to sit in for any period of time. Best just to lay the third row down and use them only if needed.
With all the seats up, the Highlander has 16 cubic feet of cargo space and a cavernous 84.3 cubic feet of space with all the seats folded down.
Toyota also did a great job adding storage in places that would normally be wasted space. There are cubbies abound, including one above the glove box, one below the center infotainment stack, one below the center stack, and the standard large door pockets and console storage. The central cubbie also has a thoughtful cable passthrough for phones or other devices.
Speaking of console storage, there is Qi wireless charging slot that my iPhone 11 Pro Max doesn’t fit into with a case on. Nice attempt, but there are only a handful of wireless charging slots in vehicles that actually fit the larger phones available today.
The most noticeable feature of the 2020 Highlander’s front cabin is the new 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display. The display can be set to be split-screen and can display several different functions at once, including a trip computer, media, and map display all at once. When put into reverse, the Highlander will split the display between the high-resolution rear-view camera and one of the best all-around view cameras I’ve experienced in a vehicle. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility are standard.
Climate control and entertainment controls can also be controlled through standard buttons and knobs just below the screen.
Being a family-oriented vehicle, Toyota packed the 2020 Highlander with just about every safety system available today. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on every Highlander and features lane-departure warnings with emergency automatic braking, full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and blind-spot monitoring with surround-view cameras (standard on our Platinum tester, optional on lower trims).
Performance & Economy
Gasoline-powered Highlanders are all equipped with a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine, which makes 263 pound-feet of torque mated to an 8-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission. Our tester was equipped with all-wheel drive.
The V6 engine does a decent job of propelling the larger 2020 Highlander to highway speeds and provides ample power to get around traffic if the situation calls for it. The EPA estimates our all-wheel-drive Platinum Highlander at 20 mpg city and 27mpg on the highway. In 170 miles of mixed driving, I observed 25.2mpg.
Pricing for the 2020 Highlander starts just under $35,000 for the L model but creeps up quickly when options or higher trim levels are picked. Our Highlander Platinum tester has a base price of $48,800 with a $1,220 destination charge and a final price-as-tested of $51,112. That’s about $4k more than the equivalent offerings from Kia with the Telluride, but still about $9k less than a top range Ford Explorer.
While not perfect, the 2020 Highlander Platinum is a fantastic near-luxury three-row SUV. It feels familiar and well thought out inside and out. Buyers of the Highlander won’t be looking for flashy, but rather functionality and reliability. In that, Toyota has succeeded and should keep buyers coming to Toyota showrooms.