I’ll be honest I had somewhat low expectations for the 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid since the total power dropped has from 306 to 243, in the name of efficiency, of course, but I had reservations. Fear not once I got behind the wheel of my 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum, I was a fan. More on that later.
The new 2020 Highlander is marginally longer than before, and the platform boosts overall rigidity, provides a quieter, more composed ride, and increases cargo room so that now with all three rows folded flat there’s a total of 84 cubic feet and 16 when each of its three standard rows are occupied.
This is a highly competitive sector and despite being in its 6th and final year of this 3rd generation, the Toyota Highlander was the best-selling 3-row crossover in the U.S. last year. It’s been a roaring success since it was first introduced and Toyota was the first to offer a hybrid 3-row vehicle of any kind, so this one had to be good.
The base 2.7-liter I4 is no longer available but the very good 3.5-liter V6 carries over from last year, with the same outputs of 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft. of torque. We’re not here for the V6 though and this was where I had my concerns since Toyota has switched from a V6 to a smaller I4 engine combined with battery power for a total of 243 hp and that’s a drop of 54 hp. The gains are at the pump though and I must admit it’s unbelievable efficient with an EPA Combined/city/highway of 35/35/34 mpg respectively. I tried very hard during the week to get worse then 25 mpg and I failed miserably.
The hybrid works through a CVT and they are not my favorite transmission at all, but this one together with the engine and electric motor combo is the best I’ve tried. The Hybrid has all-wheel drive using a rear-mounted Electronic On-Demand system.
Despite being down on power the engine is very responsive and it’s only when you floor it does the engine sound become a drone, instead it’s much better to waft along using the excellent torque available at lower revs. If you’re looking to save money at the pumps you certainly won’t miss the V6.
The Highlander Hybrid does feel quite big and there’s some suspension float but that doesn’t mean the body doesn’t feel composed, in fact body control is surprisingly good with limited roll in corners. Sports car cornering it doesn’t have, but high-speed cruising on the highway is relaxed and composed, even if the steering is a bit light for my taste.
Most hybrid braking systems never feel quite right since they have some form of regen that kicks in when you use them. These, however, are the best I have come across with good all round stopping, great feel and they add juice to the battery at the same time. As a package this car is almost complete save for one major annoyance on the inside.
The upgraded interior is both bigger and better
Step inside and the interior matches the good looking exterior. Overall interior quality is a huge leap forward and the new Highlander’s cabin is attractive, well laid out, and reasonably luxurious in all the right places. You’ll have to get down low to find any hard touch plastics. The dashboard design is very stylish, and the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen is both slick and speedy in its responses. What’s nice is you still get a selection of easy to use actual buttons to control frequent functions like climate and stereo.
Front seats are very comfortable and offer multi way power, except the passenger seat doesn’t have height adjustment or lumbar support. My wife is 5 feet tall and felt like she was sitting in a hole. Come on Toyota, firstly this is a family car so passengers need to be comfortable too and secondly this should be available on a car costing 52K!
My Platinum tester was not short on options, hence it’s $52,512 asking price. It comes with Toyota’s standard Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver’s aides, which include lane-departure warning and assist, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision warning with automatic braking. My tester included Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and a fancy digital rear-view mirror.
The Platinum spec offers a seven-seat configuration and the rear offers good levels of comfort and legroom. Space in the 3rd row is good for kids or smaller adults and once laid flat the cargo capacity is a very generous 48.4 ft³ behind the second row.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid has some competition in the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride siblings as well as the Honda Pilot. None of those can match the Toyota’s incredible fuel sipping economy and that could be the reason most people go for this car, plus it really is nice to drive, well-appointed and looks great. Consider myself pleasantly surprised.
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Numbers
BASE PRICE: $52,512
PRICE AS TESTED: $52,512
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front engine, all wheel-drive, 7 passenger, 4-door SUV
ENGINE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter inline-4
ELECTRIC MOTOR: 3 AC motors (Depending on drive configuration)
COMBINED POWER: 243 hp
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable automatic,
0-60 MPH: 7.8 seconds
CURB WEIGHT: 4,465 lb
CARGO VOLUME: 16 ft³, 48.4 ft³ and 84.3ft³ with both rows folded
FUEL ECONOMY Combined/city/highway: 35/35/34 mpg
OUR OBSERVED: 25.1 mpg
PROS: Miserly fuel economy, peppy performance, impressive interior, smooth and silky ride quality
CONS: No passenger seat height adjustment
Read more: 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD Review