Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid
All the bells and whistles, electrified
At last year’s State Fair of Texas I had my first look at the 2020 Toyota Highlander. It was only a static display, but my immediate impression was that this new Highlander is a big step up from the previous model, and set to serve as a legitimate alternative to (more expensive) Lexus models. And after driving the new Hybrid model for a week, I’m even more convinced. I found the latest generation Highlander to be one of the best highway cruisers I’ve tested. Yup, one of the very best.
The 1st-generation Highlander appeared in Toyota’s showroom about twenty years ago, when Americans began their love affair with crossover/SUVs. Bland but different, it quickly became a segment favorite. This newest, 4th-generation Highlander is, of course, bigger, roomier and more capable. And it has three rows, so it’s sure to be a hit with suburban households.
I tested a Ruby Flare Pearl (but you could call it ‘red’) 2020 Highlander Hybrid Platinum AWD; it came in with a $52,512.00 window sticker. That’s a price point $14,000 higher than the base MSRP of $38,200 for the hybrid model, and about $18,000 more than the base gasoline model. This car came with pretty much all the bells and whistles, giving it the feel of a true luxury vehicle.
The two-electric motor hybrid powertrain gives this three-row crossover impressive best-in-class fuel economy numbers of 35 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. That’s compared to 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the gas model. The choice of a hybrid may not be as attractive today – with gasoline prices way under $2 a gallon – but the powertrain has to be applauded for its efficiency.
There is a rear electric motor which operates independently, with no mechanical connection between the transmission and the rear wheels. When accelerating, it distributes more force to the rear wheels to suppress front wheel slip during off-the-line starts. Although I didn’t take the Highlander off-roading, the rear motor is designed to increase rear-wheel torque to help move the crossover over rough or slippery surfaces.
This Highlander is longer than its predecessor and that pays dividends for a roomier interior. The quality of the interior design of the Platinum trim is definitely Lexus-like. The details include softer padded surfaces and a more tailored look, with stitching that continues from the door trim to the instrument panel.
The automaker’s comprehensive active safety system, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, comes standard in all models in the 2020 Highlander. This package includes pretty much every safety feature that almost all new car buyers insist on these days. The Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist came in handy when driving back and forth from Dallas to Houston. It’s part of the adaptive cruise control system that will keep you at a safe distance from vehicles in front of you, as well as turn the steering wheel to keep the Highlander in the lane. You just have to keep your hands lightly on the steering wheel and the car does the rest. It’s not autopilot, but it is a great feature to have when driving long distances. This feature pushed it toward being one of the best highway drivers I’ve tested.
This new Highlander is going to be a hit with the suburban family car buyers. The Hybrid may not set sales records until gas prices rise significantly, however.