When you think of three-row Toyota SUVs, the Highlander is probably not the first one that comes to mind. But unless you’re an affluent Serengeti park ranger, this midsize crossover probably suits your needs better than the Land Cruiser.
The Highlander is spacious, practical, affordable, and by the standards of its class, relatively fuel-efficient. Unlike many vehicles in its lineup, Toyota updates it regularly because it’s a car customers buy. The company sold 75 times as many Highlanders as Land Cruisers in the U.S. in 2019.
Toyota launched an all-new generation of Highlander for the 2020 model year. I drove the highfalutin' Platinum trim specced out past $50,000 (the model's starting MSRP, for what it's worth, is $34,600). The new Highlander offers elevated style inside and out, and delivers a tranquil (if not especially sporty) driving experience. It may not be your first choice in this segment; after all, it's hard not to be wowed by the Kia Telluride. But if you’re not keen on joining the waiting list to buy the latter, it’s worth checking out.
The Highlander no longer looks like a minivan without sliding doors
Customers buy three-row midsize SUVs because they don’t want a minivan. The departed third-generation Highlander, however, was soft and rounded...and looked like a minivan without sliding doors.
Toyota rectified that for the new generation — which looks, dare we say it for a three-row crossover, intriguing. On the exterior, the front end has more aggressive, new-RAV4-like design language with a grille that — refreshingly for this segment — does not mimic a full-size truck. Flared fenders and a high back end give a hint of athleticism.
The interior felt voluminous (at least in the first two rows) and high-end with soft-touch materials, leather-trimmed an expansive 12.3-inch touchscreen, a panoramic moonroof and heated rear captain’s chairs.
My family members oohed and aahed over the Highlander. I even had someone who admittedly may not have been too familiar with Toyota’s SUV lineup ask me if it was the Land Cruiser.
The Highlander drives well — at least, for how you use it
Parents want less stimulation and less stress, and the Highlander provides. It’s Lexus-like quiet on the inside, and has excellent suspension damping. I drove the gas-powered version, which had a fair amount of pop thanks to its 295-hp V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. You can also opt for the hybrid model, which earns an impressive 35 mpg.
Like the Telluride, it performs exceedingly well — within its operating range, at least, which encompasses almost everything everyone would ever do with a Highlander. Slam down the accelerator and slalom your way through corners, however, and you will no doubt be disappointed.
The Highlander could be your Kia Telluride alternative
I’ve been recommending the Telluride to everyone since I drove it, and I’m not the only one. If you’re trying to buy one, there’s probably a long waiting list. Dealers can't keep the "Sell-u-ride," as they've nicknamed it, on the lot. I have friends getting the pricey new Nightfall edition, because it was either buy that...or wait two to three months.
If you’re in that spot on the waiting list,I say: test drive the Highlander. The two cars have a similar upscale feel, and are equipped almost identically. The Highlander’s 3.5-liter V6 puts out 295 horses and 263 lb-ft of torque; the Telluride’s 3.8-liter V6 puts out 291 hp and 262 lb-ft. Both have similar cargo space — up to 87 cubic feet in the Telluride vs. 84.3 cubic feet in the Highlander. Both have the same 5,000-pound towing capacity. The Telluride winds up being a bit cheaper...but the Highlander has the hybrid option available.
2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6; 8-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 295 hp
Torque: 263 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Seats: Seven, eight with a second-row bench if you don't have the Platinum trim