NEW YORK – Forget Lexus, this December is going to be one to remember for Toyota Highlander fans, because that's when the all-new model unveiled at the New York International Auto Show goes on sale.
The three-row Highlander is built on Toyota’s latest vehicle architecture, which is shared with its top-selling Rav4 and Camry, and promises to bring a new level of refinement to the big SUV.
The 2020 model is over two inches longer than the one it replaces, with all of that length earmarked toward increasing the size of the cargo area to help the Highlander better compete with its top rival, the behemoth Honda Pilot.
The Highlander will be offered with seating for either seven or eight and the choice of a conventional V6 engine or hybrid powertrain.
The 3.5-liter V6 is rated at 295 hp and comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It can tow up to 5,000 pounds and is available with an all-wheel-drive system that can improve handling through a torque-vectoring function that shifts power from side to side in turns, and has several drive modes optimized for a variety of surfaces including mud and sand.
There’s also a hybrid model that will follow next February, and it’s very different than the outgoing one. The powertrain combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a pair of motors mounted coaxially within the transaxle. One helps propel the car and both chip in to recharge the battery pack during braking and when there’s an excess of power being produced.
According to Toyota, front-wheel-drive models are expected to get an EPA combined rating of 34 mpg, which is up from 29 mpg for the current Highlander Hybrid. An all-wheel-drive hybrid adds a third electric motor that powers just the rear wheels, which is a similar set-up to what the Toyota Rav4 hybrid has.
Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 package of semi-autonomous driver aids is standard across all models and includes automatic emergency brakes and adaptive cruise control, while a blind spot alert and self-braking parking sonar assist are optional.
The interior has been upgraded with more soft-touch surfaces, and the top of the line Platinum trim features a 1,200-watt 11-speaker audio system, 360-degree camera and a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a WiFi hotspot.