Toyota believes there's a lot of life left in its 'Lander because this three-row family hauler knows what crossover buyers really want -- and it's not bushwhacking ruggedness. It's room, flexibility and loads of 21st-century tech.
Still, the new fourth-generation Highlander figures a little dash of tough-guy styling can't hurt.
Available with front- or all-wheel drive, V-6 or hybrid powertrains, and in L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum trims, the new 2020 Highlander doubles down on its reputation as a family-friendly automotive helper. The evidence is in a larger cargo bay (thanks to this crossover's 2.4-inches of additional overall length), a middle-row seat that scoots fore and aft 1.2 inches farther than before for added third-row leg room or, if preferred, more hauling space, and an all-new platform that's said to be notably more refined, comfortable and quiet. (And that's saying something. After all, it's not like the current Highlander is a hay wagon, fer cryin' out loud.)
Dubbed "Toyota New Global Architecture" (TNGA-K to its friends), those new Highlander bones make extensive use of high-strength steel to create a stiffer overall structure, Toyota says.
Regarding tech, everything from the latest hand-wringing safety nannies to the current must-have connectivity wizardry are included or available.
Standard on every 2020 Highlander is second-generation Toyota Safety Sense, a suite of bubble-wrap safety tech that includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, radar-based smart cruise control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Road Sign Assist and lane-keeping assist.
Rise up the Highlander-trim food chain and such features as Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and sonar-enabled Rear Cross Traffic Braking become available.
The standard infotainment stuff includes a backup camera, of course, along with Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Alexa In-Car compatibility, plus Waze, a satellite radio receiver and Wi-Fi hot-spot talent.
Buyers who want more can move up through the trim levels to add such goodies as Dynamic Navigation, an 11-speaker, 1,200-watt JBL Premium Audio System and a Bird’s Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan that boasts a live, rotating 360-degree view around the vehicle.
Concerning motivation, Highlander has dropped its heretofore base four-cylinder engine but continues to offer V-6 and hybrid powertrains.
Carried over is the V-6, which still makes 295 hp and 263 lb.-ft. of torque. That power is sent pavement bound to either the front wheels or, in all-wheel drive models, to all four corners via an eight-speed automatic. It's a drivetrain that, when teamed with the optional tow package, allows this crossover to achieve an impressive 5,000-pound tow rating.
Available on all but the base L model -- and, for the first time, with both front- or all-wheel drive motivation -- is a lighter, more compact hybrid powertrain that links a 2.5-liter I-4 with a pair of electric motors for a total-system power spec of 240 hp. With a Toyota-estimated combined fuel economy of 34 mpg, the new hybrid hardware provides a 17-percent improvement in efficiency over its hybrid predecessor.
All of the above is wrapped in styling that's more angular and aggressive than that of the outgoing Highlander.
Toyota has yet to release 2020 pricing. For help with guestimates, we can say the 2019 Highlander starts at roughly 35 grand for a V-6, 38 large for a hybrid.
Look for the 2020 Highlander V-6 to arrive in showrooms in December with the hybrid showing up in February 2020.