Toyota invented the mid-size crossover segment, when it introduced the Highlander in 2001. It did it again when it introduced the first-ever Highlander Hybrid in 2006. Today, it furthers the model’s reputation as a segment trend-setter with the fourth-generation Highlander.
The all-new Highlander Hybrid, which Toyota revealed this morning at the New York auto show takes the model to new levels of utility, efficiency, and tech. The 2020 Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-liter gasoline engine mated to two electric motors. The net 240 horsepower from the engine/motor combo can be sent to the front wheels or all four — the 2020 Highlander Hybrid is finally available in four-wheel drive.
Thanks to new improvements in aerodynamics, energy management, and transaxle gearing, the 2020 Highlander Hybrid has earned an combined EPA-estimated 34 miles per gallon, which is a 17 percent efficiency increase over the third-generation Highlander Hybrid.
The new eight-seater crossover offers impressive efficiency without sacrificing interior utility, too, as the battery pack has been mounted underneath the rear seats and does not encroach on interior cargo room. And there is plenty of room in this all-new Highlander. With the rear seats folded, the Highlander boasts 73.3 cubic feet of cargo area.
On the go, Highlander Hybrid drivers can choose from Eco, Normal, Sport, and EV modes. The latter of which allows for electric-only driving for short distances at low speeds. Intriguingly, Toyota has also developed a new ‘downshift’ feature that allows drivers to increase regenerative braking in steps. For example, this would be most effective in preventing the normal friction brakes from overheating while descending a large hill.
In terms of technology, Toyota has made Safety Sense 2.0 system standard across the Highlander line. This system includes two new systems called Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) and Road Sign Assist (RSA). In its release, Toyota didn’t specify what either of these features accomplish. Presumably, however, Lane Tracing helps keep the Highlander centered in the lane. And Road Sign Assist likely can recognize and read speed limit signs, for example, and alert the driver if they’re exceeding the limit.
Technology All Around
Infotainment is displayed on either a standard 8.0 inch screen in the center dash. Or on a 12.3 inch screen offered exclusively on the Platinum trim. The screen comes standard with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM, Waze and Amazon Alexa Compatibility.
Standard Highlander, powered by a 3.5 liter V6 gasoline engine, goes on sale December of 2019. Buyers interested in the Hybrid model will have to wait until February of 2020.
It’s great for Toyota to improve the efficiency, utility, and looks of the Highlander Hybrid. However, I wish the Japanese brand would offer a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant. There’s a chance that it will. I have to wonder: Why wait so long? Toyota was, for a while at least, seen as an electrification pioneer. Now even Ford has beaten Toyota to the market with its Explorer PHEV.
I hope Toyota doesn’t drag its feet too long and brings a Highlander PHEV to market soon. It’d be an ideal mid-point between a traditional crossover and an all-electric SUV for busy, on-the-go families who want the best of both powertrains.