2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum V6 AWD Review by David Colman +VIDEO
A beauty of a beast!
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
For 2020, Highlander has a rather startling new look. Even though this SUV has long been the sales leader in the full-size SUV market, Toyota decided it was overdue for a complete update. From the outside, there's no mistaking the external revision. Most obvious is the dramatic side sculpting of the body shell. Flame surfaced ripples convert last year's bread loaf shape into a new visual bombshell.
Though it may be difficult to impart excitement to a 3-row SUV, Toyota has managed to turn the trick that distinguishes Highlander from its myriad competitors. The Platinum version we tested, which is the ultimate variety of 9 available grades, also does a great job of carrying the exterior's promise into the redesign of the interior. We were particularly impressed by the level of fit and finish in the cabin, the high grade of materials on display, and the exceptional wraparound comfort of the front seats.
Nor has Toyota stinted on Platinum-level engine performance. Although less expensive grades of Highlander make do with a 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder, hybrid motor (240hp), the Platinum echelon we drove enjoyed stellar punch from its 60-degree, all-aluminum, 3.5 liter V6. Coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission and all wheel drive, the 295hp engine provided an excellent horsepower-to-weight ratio of 14.9lb/hp for this 4,398lb vehicle. In fact, the V6 Highlander offers a better power/weight ratio than any imported 3-row SUV, including Honda's Pilot, Kia's Telluride, Hyundai's Palisade, Mazda's CX-9, Subaru's Ascent and VW's Atlas. We especially enjoyed the unexpected top end punch of this V6 as it screamed to redline of 6,600rpm The gearbox, although lacking paddle shifts, can be manually operated by using the shift lever to perform up or down shifts.
While you will never confuse the handling of a 3-row SUV with a sport vehicle, the new Highlander acquits itself well on a twisty road. In fact, we were able to stay comfortably ahead of a BMW 635 convertible over a switchback 5 mile stretch of road, in large measure due to the adhesion of our Goodyear Eagle Touring radials (235/55R20) mounted on 20 x 8J alloy rims. These come standard on the Platinum model. Dialing up the "Sport" setting on the drive mode indicator helped stabilize suspension response in spirited back road driving. Even though the Goodyears carry a long-life Treadwear rating of TW 500, they showed no tendency to lose grip, even when the V6 was punched hard. In "Normal" driving mode, however, the Highlander feels noticeably sloppier around bends, evincing pronounced head toss as it transitions from side to side.
Toyota's new interior design focuses more on accessibility to the third row bench than it does on conversion of the interior to cargo storage. Thus, the second row captain's chairs slid effortlessly to allow ingress to the tight 60/40 split-fold rearmost bench. But when it came to reorganizing the interior to facilitate portage of a bicycle, reorganization became a bit more complex. While it's easy to flop the third row bench flat, stowage of the second row chairs proved more complex. In fact, we had to consult the owner's manual, where we discovered a 7-step (!) procedure to create a full flat floor. In the current easy-use SUV market, such organizational difficulty is hard to accept.
The dashboard redesign moves Highlander to the top of the market for logic of layout and convenience of use. Thoughtful storage cubbies abound throughout, and a QI wireless smartphone charger occupies a prominent place under the center armrest cover. We especially appreciated the 12.3 inch size of the enlarged touchscreen, which straddles the dash like a drive-in movie screen. However, the top left corner of the screen unfortunately places a knife-sharp edge well within crash range of the driver's head in the event of an accident.
2020 marks Toyota's 4th generation Highlander. Without question, the Platinum model we drove moves Highlander into a prominent position to defend its title as the 3-row segment sales leader. At 195 inches in length, it's now 2.4 inches longer than before, which means added cargo space and less reason to fuss with dropping the pesky second row chairs flat. We were particularly impressed with the driving dynamics of this model, especially its responsive V6, which allows it to tow 5,000 pounds, plus run a standing start quarter mile in 15.6 seconds at 91mph. The Platinum model moves Highlander from a beast of burden to a best bet.
2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER PLATINUM V6 AWD
ENGINE: 3.5 liter V6 DOHC, 24 valves
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20MPG City/27MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $51,112
HYPES: Lively Drivetrain, Exceptional Handling
GRIPES: Fussy Interior Conversion, Sharp edged Display Screen
STAR RATING: 8 Stars out of 10