2020 Toyota Highlander features new look, improved interior, better fuel economy

The fourth-generation 2020 Toyota Highlander offers the choice between a powerful V6 or new-generation hybrid powertrain, with the gas version offering up to a manufacturer-estimated 24 MPG combined fuel economy and the Hybrid offering up to a manufacturer-estimated 36 combined MPG. Toyota photo

Gaining a second (and third) look

This week’s tester is newly redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander. It’s the newly redesigned part that has piqued my interest. Previously, my thoughts on the Highlander were ho hum at best. It was just another boring family SUV with nothing memorable. But this year’s new-look Highlander had me feeling something.

Even the looks were way more modern and more distinctive. The Highlander stands out – finally – with a highly styled profile that includes a design cue that flares up over the rear wheel well. But the best feature is the new grille. If this is a look at what Toyota’s design studio has been working on, then the future is bright. This is the best the Highlander has ever looked.

The Highlander now offers only one engine. It’s a carryover from last year. The 3.5-liter V6 engine was far superior to the pokey and uninspiring 2.7-liter four-cylinder. So when I got behind the wheel of the 2020 Highlander with that more potent V6, it left me feeling much better.

Although the steering remains a little dull, the off-the-line acceleration is typical. The Highlander is good for 295 horsepower which is adequate but nothing more than that. My tester did have all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard), so the overall handling was good and what you expect from an SUV.

The interior shows a vast improvement over previous iterations. What was once dull and outdated now stands at the front of the segment with an updated interior, better materials and an improved, more advanced infotainment system. I already liked the intuitive nature of Toyota’s infotainment system, but this year it gets even better with a clean presentation that is simple to use.

With the redesign of the exterior the overall dimensions of the interior improve with a cabin that feels roomier in the first and second rows. As is the case with most SUVs in the segment, the third row is cramped and should be reserved for children.

Cargo room, however, is much improved with 16 cubic feet behind the third row and 84.3 cubic feet of overall space.

There are five trims available for the Highlander including L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum. My tester was the top-of-the-line Platinum trim. It had an MSRP of $48,800. With a few optional equipment packages, my tester had a final price tag of $51,654.

Fuel economy for the 2020 Toyota Highlander sees a slight improvement from last year. Even my AWD tester saw a one MPG gain year over year. Overall, the AWD V6 Highlander has an EPA rating of 20 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway (compared to 20/26 last year). In a week’s worth of suburban driving, I averaged 23 mpg.

In a bland segment full of vanilla SUVs that all remain oh-so-popular, it was wise for Toyota to re-engage with an updated Highlander. As the pack was starting to catch up and surpass it, Toyota manages to gain interest with a viable, attractive seven-passenger SUV.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.

2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER PLATINUM

  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $48,800/$51,654
  • Mileage.......................................... 20 mpg/city; 27 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 3.5-Liter V6
  • Horsepower................................. 295 hp/263 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. 8-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ Princeton, Indiana

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