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SUV Review: 2020 Toyota Highlander

SUV Review: 2020 Toyota Highlander
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Usually, it refers to the number of high-end features you get for your dollar. In the three-row SUV segment, there are several newcomers that excel at this, particularly the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride .

For the Toyota Highlander, which begins its fourth generation with the 2020 model year, higher-end feature content niceties are not its standout. There are no ventilated second-row seats or third-row USB ports here. To get a seven-seat configuration with second-row captain’s chairs, you’ll have to go all the way to the top-of-the-line Platinum package we have here, which rings up at $56,215 as-tested.

But if you tend to examine practicalities — and if you tend to keep your vehicles for a long time — then there are factors at play here that can’t be found on a spec sheet. Toyota’s reputation for reliability is a big one; so is the brand’s tendency to hold its value well. That’s not to say that other brands don’t build reliable cars that hold value, just that with Toyota, it’s more of a given. And depending on how you use your three-row SUVs, that may be the factor that tips the scales in the Highlander’s favour.

Those who already own a Highlander and are considering replacing it with a new one will find the 2020 model drives much in the same manner they’re used to. The naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 produces 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. It doesn’t have that satisfying low-end punch that some turbocharged competitors have , but it delivers a solid amount of power through a pleasantly responsive throttle.

And it does this with very good fuel efficiency figures for its size: Natural Resources Canada rates this configuration at 11.7 L/100 kilometres in city driving, 8.6 on the highway, and 10.3 combined. My real-world figure over a week was higher at 12.7, but that was with a lot of suburban short-run errands. I’m confident it would perform better in more well-rounded use.

On the other hand, for those who consider responsiveness and fuel efficiency to be important factors, without having yet driven the Highlander Hybrid myself I’d expect that it will perform much better on both counts. Plus, the warranties Toyota puts down on its 2020 hybrids are stellar: eight years or 160,000 kilometres for hybrid components, and 10 years/240,000 kilometres for the battery is nothing to sneeze at.

The Highlander’s handling is relaxed with some movement to it. There is vertical transfer into the cabin over rougher roads that comes across as somewhat bouncy, though it’s very smooth in doing so. The trade-off is that it allows some body roll through long curves like highway on-ramps, but not to a degree that would be difficult to live with. And the interior is overall a pleasant place to be: it’s quiet, and the rear seats are comfortable with lots of headroom, although the seat cushions are low to the floor in the third row. The 454 litres and 1,150 litres of cargo space behind the third and second rows aren’t the highest figures in the class, but that space is made usable by the fact that all of the seat backs fold down to create a nicely flat load floor.

Credit is due where the Highlander’s design is concerned: Toyota was clearly willing to try a few things here. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I find myself running hot and cold on some of the changes. I love the updated front end, for example, and they absolutely nailed the window treatment with the floating look supported by the blacked-out A-pillar. On the other hand, I deeply dislike that massive stamping in the doors.

While we’re on the subject, here are a few more of the Platinum-only features: a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, a digital rear-view mirror (the kind that shows a projection from a rear-facing camera in case your sightlines are blocked by cargo), reverse auto-tilting exterior mirrors (a feature I can’t stand and always turn off), and the real shocker — heated second-row seats. Heated front seats are standard and ventilation comes in at the Limited grade, but heat for the second row is available at much lower price points in so many competitors that having to pony up this much for them here feels hard to take. You’ll need to pay for Limited to get a heated steering wheel, too.

Not having power-folding third-row seats for this cost also stings a little. There is a wireless phone charger, though, which is nicely tucked away in the centre console where the phone can’t be a distraction to the driver. Unlike several competitors at this price point, the gauge cluster isn’t fully digital here, though that’s a feature that falls solidly in the nice-to-have category.

SUV Review: 2020 Kia Telluride

That said, Toyota was one of the first brands to make a suite of safety technologies standard equipment, which it also does here: lane keep and lane departure assist with road edge detection and steering assist, collision mitigation with pedestrian and bicycle detection, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams are all included from the base model.

So, yes, the new Toyota Highlander has competitors that are executing certain things better. If you’re one of those people who’s always ready to drop your money to have the latest gadget, this is probably not the car for you. But if you care more about a reputation for reliability and longevity than bells and whistles, those attributes make the Highlander as worthy of consideration as it ever was.
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