MISSION ACCENTUATE 3-ROW WITH PARSIMONY:
Your Mission, Should you Choose to Accept it, is as follows:
Take the most efficient version of the best selling 3-Row crossover SUV.
Slap it onto a new modular platform
Drape it 2020’s modern, showing more leg
Make it more useful, communicative, and entertaining
Get it across deep rutted muddy routes to soccer fields and camp grounds
Cut suburban driving fuel consumption by 20%
Rather than self-destruct the message of the mission became a mantra. Toyota did not shirk away from this mission impossible. Fully accepting the challenge the automaking giant has delivered the new 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
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WHAT: 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum AWD-i 3 Row, full-sized hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.
Standard Power: 2487 cc Atkinson cycle, dual VVT-i DOHC 24V start-stop idle I-4 cylinder gasoline engine: 186 hp/ 175 lb-ft; 220 kW (243 hp) net hybrid , arranged parallel to
- 1 x 650V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor, front wheels: 123 kW, coaxially mounted with
- 1 x 650V synchronous AC Hybrid Starter Generator: 11 kW
- 1 x 650V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor, rear wheels : 50 kW, (All-wheel drive models only)
- Battery electric supply: Ni-MH, 288V, 45 kW
- Continuously Variable Transaxle, parallel shaft gearset coupled,
- Optional: rear electromagnetic differential; 100:0 – 20:80 torque split
- 63 net hp < 2018 Highlander Hybrid AWD
- 370 lbs. < 2018 Highlander Hybrid AWD
- 16:2 vs. 19.1 2018 Highlander Hybrid AWD pounds / horsepower
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: The 4th evolution of Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and of the model overall, rests on the modular TNGA-K spine. Designated series XU70, it replaces the 3rd generation XU50 Highlander Hybrid.
An outpatient cryosurgical mole removal brings a full length trapezoid tri-to-bi horizontal bar grille: It’s less polarizing than Lexus’ spindle rage; Mid-fascia develops high cheek-bone T-corners; Wrap-around headlamp housings thin out;
It’s a dramatic steep belt-line rise from the hood front to the liftgate mid-section; An oversized rear roof spoiler could be a circus tent; Similarly rising lower door cheat-line creasing creates a Coke bottle fuselage effect.
WHY: Camel of cordless rides for families traveling roads near or far.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since early Winter 2020
WHERE: Toyota new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Princeton, Indiana, U.S.A.
WHERE TO: This time around with front wheel drive as standard. OPTIONAL = dual traction electric motor all-wheel drive, e-varying front/ rear traction from nominal 100/0% to maximum 20/80%, ABS torque vectoring; +1 Trail mode = rear biased torque split w/ a crawl mode; 8″-inches clearance = Inclement weather beater & dirt road, light mud treader.
HOW ROADWORTHY: Downsizing from V-6 to inline-4 gas engine loses considerable peak horsepower and brings alone mechanical sewing machine sounds (muted by the cabin though they are). However an unladen 2020 Highlander Hybrid is nearly 400 pounds lighter than its predecessor, owing to both the new modular architecture and a slimmer Nickel Metal Hydride battey pack. The weight reduction and a more powerful generator reduction gear motor make for about as robust a getaway as the V-6 hybrid of old. A mostly docile but able continually variable transaxle doesn’t whip up the drivetrain in the way a conventional planetary automatic does. Thus, brisk highway overtaking demands a “pedal to the metal” strategy. Where this new Highlander Hybrid undeniably has it all over its predecessor is at the petroleum pump.
It’s hard to imagine that the new TNGA-K modular platform can improve on the solidness that was legend of the 3rd generation XU50 series, but it places 2020 Highlander nearly right up there with some Lexus kin. Steering is quicker, more linear than previously. The brake pedal clamps down in a reassuring uncommon to other Toyota regenerative systems. Springs have been shored up for improved vertical stability and reactive dampers deliver a tautly plush ride. Still the set-up is biased towards pushing the rear out and high-speed straight tracking requires more attention than it should.
HOW FAR: 33 combined miles per gallon rated; 600 miles range
- +1 Observed combined = 31 MPG
- -1 EV Mode ≈ < 2 miles, @ < 25 mph, @ very light throttle.
- +24% urban / suburban fuel economy mix
- +15% observed combined fuel economy
VS. 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid AWD:
- +24% urban / suburban fuel economy mix
- +15% observed combined fuel economy
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ 7 Occupant seating = 2+2+3 owing to 2nd Row Captains’ chairs option; +2.36 wheelbase = bump in 1st & 2nd Row legroom; √ LE & XL trims carry 8 with 2nd Row 60/40% split bench configuration;
- +1 No sacrifice in cargo space to non-hybrid Highlander (due to relocation of more compact battery)
- -1 Sparse Row 3 legroom remains at the back of the segment’s pack.
- Wheelbase 112.8″ = 6.9″ < Ford Explorer Hybrid; 2.0″ > 2021 Kia Sorento HEV
- Row 2, Row 3 legroom = -1.6″, -4.5″ vs. Ford Explorer Hybrid; 2.3″, -1.9″ vs. 2021 Kia Sorento HEV
HOW USEFUL: √ +1 Middle dash storage shelf; √ Middle center stack wireless device shelf with cable management; √ 2nd Row heated captain’s chairs; √ Flat folding 2nd Row tilting seatbacks; √ Flat folding 50/50% split 3rd Row tilting seatbacks w/ twin release straps; √ Fixed floor mounted dual cupholders between 2nd Row captain’s chairs; √ Power liftgate – 20% lighter than before.
- +1 Deep center armrest w/ split roll-top; View over sloping hood;
- -1 Rear backlight & over shoulder blindspots; Distant reach to glove box; No power remote cargo bay 2nd or 3rd row seatback fold releases
- Cargo Volume (nom., max.) = 33%, 6% < Ford Explorer Hybrid; 8%, 10% > 2021 Kia Sorento HEV
- Tow rating: 3500 lbs. = 30% < Ford Explorer Hybrid; 111% > 2021 Kia Sorento HEV
HOW SAFE: √ 12 airbags; √ IIHS Top Safety Pick; √ Rear camera; √ STANDARD Toyota SafetySense P = Pedestrian detection braking; Forward collision avoidance braking; Lane Departure Warning, Keep Assist; Partial adaptive cruise control, Automatic High Beams;
PLATINUM trim adds: ♦ Blind spot & Rear Cross-traffic warning, ♦ Sonar front & rear park assist w/ automatic braking; ♦ 360° Bird’s Eye View camera w/ Pre-drive perimeter scan; ♦ 10.0″ Heads Up Display; ♦ Rain sensing windshield wipers
- +1 Safety Extra: Digital video rear view mirror for times when cargo blocks backlight
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: At least in Platinum trim, the new 2020 Toyota Highlander cabin trappings are rather plush with rich contrast stitched soft materials abound. At least for the first two row occupants there is little to want for. Depending on one’s perspective, however, the saddle and simulated turned metallic accoutrements in the test vehicle are either a welcoming cheery or display of over-the-top excess.
√ Perforated Leather seating – heated Rows 1 + 2, cooled Row 1; √ Wide seat cushions √ Power 8-way driver’s seat, w/ 2 position memory, 4-way front pax √ Heated Leather steering wheel with spoke integrated redundant controls; √ Keyless entry, ignition; √ Full express power windows x 4; √ 2nd Row window sunshades; √ Large twin ELD analog gauges; √ Rear seat minder in gauge cluster;
- +1 Wide center armrest; Generous steering wheel reach adjustment;
- -1 Qi inductive wireless device charging pad on shelf within center armrest bin; Minimal seat torso support, flat cushions; Tall liftgate lift-height
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Bird’s Eye Camera Perimeter Scan; √ Panoramic moon roof w/ power shade; √ Digital video rear view mirror
Details Done Right: √ Simulated turned aluminum dashboard and console appliques; √ Seat-matching stitched simulated leather dash & door panel inserts; √ Contrasting 3rd Row/ cargo pillar/ upper plastic trim; √ Rigid ABS load floor panel; √ Soothing blue foot well & door panel ambient lighting;
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 7.0″ color TFT multifunction gauge cluster display = gimmicky graphics; Unadorned window switches center console buttons; Over glossy simulated dark ash wood grain center console and door panels; Stark ochre colored hard plastics.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: √ 12.3″ tri-pane capacitive touch LCD 3-pane infotainment screen flanked by large soft-touch button switches; √ Adaptive voice command hands-free communications; √ GPS cloud-based HDD Navigation; √ Siri Eyes, Android Auto / Apple Car Play smart phone app projection; √ Entune wireless device apps: Doppler weather, Traffic Updates, Amazon Alexa; √ Boomy 11 speaker, 1200 Watt JBL streaming audio, HD-Radio; √ USB x 4 (rows 1 & 2), 12V x 2 (row 1 + cargo), 115V AC x 2 (row 2 + cargo)
- √ Sirius XM (90 day trial); Safety & remote connect (1 year trial); AT&T 4G LTE Wi-Fi (2GB trial)
HOW MUCH: $52,512 = 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD-i Platinum
WHAT’S MISSING: Sport driving mode with longer CVT ratio hold & quicker steering; Tachometer; Sharper instrumentation graphics
ANY COMPETITION: Ford Explorer Hybrid: +1 Rear wheel drive platform, conventional automatic transmission; 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid: +1 Square jawed rugged looks; greater EV range
Contributing Editor: G. Straton