Toyota Highlander Hits a Crossover/SUV Sweet Spot


CHATHAM, Mass. – Want a sport utility (SUV)/crossover (CUV) to grace your driveway, but you don’t know what size or style or price would be the best fit? Spend some time reviewing the Toyota offerings, six different variants in multiple trims, and you might find the answer.

Redesigned from the ground up for 2020 is the mid-size Toyota Highlander, the company’s entrant in the heart of the SUV market. The Highlander range entry point is the $34,600 all-wheel drive (AWD) L model with three-rows of seating for up to eight and a comprehensive collection of advance-driver assistance (ADAS) and safety systems.

At the other end of the Highlander series, which includes AWD and front-wheel drive (FWD) as well as hybrid versions of all but L models, is the loaded Platinum trim level with a starting price of $46,850.

In between are too many possibilities to go into in this space but are detailed at https://www.toyota.com/highlander/.

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Room for eight with all the amenities

We spent a pleasurable week in the very-well-equipped 2020 Highlander Limited with AWD and eight-passenger seating thanks to the substitution of a (no-cost optional) second-row bench seat in place of captain’s chairs.

Seating is tight in that third row, but those in the middle row can help by moving their seats forward (they also recline when no one is behind them). Behind the third row is 16 cubic feet of storage and, thanks to 60/40 arrangements in both the second and third rows, allows for very customizable haulage space (and can be accessed easily by the power liftgate).

A rear climate control system, with multiple ceiling-mounted vents, and numerous cupholders and cubbies help make the entire rear area comfortable regardless of the weather.

Up front, the Highlander Limited’s leather covered bucket seats are heated and ventilated with the driver’s having 10 ways of adjustment (the passenger’s four ways by power) with two-person memory.

Dominating the dash is a 12.3-inch color touch screen which is the control center of the Highlander’s climate control (three zones), including the seat functions; audio (AM/FM/HD/SiriusXM/Android Auto/Apple CarPlay); navigation, and Bluetooth mobile devices (like your smartphone). Toyota thoughtfully added real buttons and switches, as well as voice recognition, to supplement the touch screen’s controls, thus making adjusting these systems while driving a much safer endeavor.

The touch screen can display two or three of the controlled systems simultaneously, thus providing the information the driver and/or passenger needs.

Of course, a modern vehicle is ready for today’s mobile family. USB ports are easily accessed by front and second-row passengers, while a wireless charging deck sits below the tambour door of the center console. In addition you can place your iPhone on the small shelf below the touch screen and snake the cable through an access hatch to keep it out of the way.

Thoughtful touches like these permeate the Highlander, an SUV designed to fulfill a family’s motoring needs and desires.

Making a (stop and) go of it

Like all gasoline-only Highlanders, our blueprint (navy) Limited’s 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps 295 horsepower and 263 pounds-feet of torque through its eight-speed transmission. Thanks to all the modern engineering and design tricks, this combination returned a bit more than 23 miles per gallon during the week, right on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s 23 mpg combined mileage rating (20 mpg city/27 highway). These numbers, while not in the vicinity of a small sedan, dwarf those of comparable SUVs from as recent as 10 years ago – and all with even better performance than its predecessors.

Bringing the Highlander to a halt begins with 13.3-inch ventilated rotors up front and 13.3-inch solid ones in the rear. Of course, an anti-lock (ABS) system controls their operation and is a major feature of the Toyota Safety System, which is standard on all Highlanders.

Also included in this system are:

– electronic brake-force distribution
– brake assist
– traction control
– enhanced vehicle stability control
– smart-stop technology

Another suite of ADAS standard across the Highlander range is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes:

– pre-collision system with pedestrian detection
– lane-departure alert with steering assist
– automatic high beams
– radar cruise control
– road-sign assist
– cyclist detection

Blind-spot monitor with rear-cross-traffic alert as well as front and rear parking assist with automatic braking and a birds-eye-view camera system (replacing the simple rear camera) were also part of our Limited’s equipment.

All these features, systems and controls add up to a solid mid-size SUV. The Toyota Highlander competes admirably with others in this class like the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer. Our comprehensively equipped and luxurious AWD Limited carried an MSRP (including a $1,200 delivery charge) of $48,483. But as we explained, you can put together just the Highlander you might want or need from about $35,000 to just under $50,000. If you desire even more luxury than our Limited or the next level Platinum might provide, Toyota’s Lexus luxury division offers six more SUV/crossovers, many in both gasoline and gasoline/hybrid versions.

Considering Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability and the myriad of choices, a Highlander SUV would be a smart choice in this segment.

About Author

Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Senior Editor for The BRAKE Report. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.