Toyota Motor Corporation’s new Highlander makes big strides in the right direction, but it still has some drawbacks, reports TAJUDEEN ADEBANJO with agency addition.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander gets high marks for its superb comfort and above-average fuel economy. It feels confident on a winding road, and its responsive acceleration is useful for driving around town. It’s also comfortable on long-distance drives. But the Highlander suffers from a third-row seat that is confining and falls below the mark set by the top players in this segment.
But, it comes with a huge price N28million.
Aside from those made in China for local consumption, every Toyota Highlander (and Kluger, as it is known in Japan and Australia) is built in a factory in Gibson County, Indiana, that employs 7,296 Hoosiers.
For the year, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana retooled to build the fourth-generation Highlander and Highlander Hybrid around Toyota’s TNGA-K architecture and two powertrain combinations. Non-hybrid models receive Toyota’s ubiquitous 295-horsepower 3.5-litre V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission.
View Other 2021 SUV of the Year Contenders and Finalists Here
Car shoppers have more choices than ever for a three-row midsize SUV. But don’t forget about one of the crossovers that started it all. The redesigned Toyota Highlander steps back into the mix with key changes that uphold its spot as a solid pick in the class.
Meanwhile, the Highlander Hybrid uses a new system based around the tried and true 2.5-litere Atkinson-cycle I-4, two coaxially mounted electric motors, a battery pack mounted under the rear seats, and a sequentially “shiftable” CVT. Highlander’s hybrid drivetrain works in front- and all-wheel drive. Toyota claims it is smaller, lighter, and 24 percent more efficient than the previous generation, making the new Highlander Hybrid the class leader in fuel economy (move one size down, however, and the 2021 Sorento hybrid is slightly more efficient).
Between gas and hybrid, front- and all-wheel drive, and six trim levels, there are no less than 20 flavours of Highlander. No matter which one you choose, one will get Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, a suite of active safety systems that includes automatic braking capability, automatic high-beams, radar cruise control, lane departure assist, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist.
The Highlander is the top trim level, but give a lot for its price. Everything feels high-quality. Toyota’s infotainment system has taken a big step forward—this one looks cleaner and responds better than a lot of their past efforts.
The Highlander is a pleasant family appliance that’s missing that little X-factor.
The new Highlander is slightly longer than its predecessor, and that extra room increases the cargo space behind the third-row seat. Last year’s Highlander could only hold 13.8 cubic feet of gear behind the third row — one of the smallest cargo holds in the class. The extra room increases the Highlander’s carrying capacity to 16 cubes, which is more competitive though still far off from leaders in the segment.
Inside, there’s a standard eighth-inch touchscreen or a new 12.3-inch display on top-line Platinum trims. Perhaps even more important, both support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration this year. In the previous Highlander, you had to rely on Toyota’s underwhelming Entune system to fully connect your smartphone.
The Toyota Highlander, while competent, doesn’t raise the bar in any meaningful way. That leaves the door open for two newcomers – the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride – to woo auto lovers over with their bigger interiors and luxury-like designs.
The Highlander’s ride quality is plush. Large and small road imperfections are smoothed over thanks to the compliant suspension, yet it avoids feeling floaty or disconnected at higher speeds. The front seats are quite comfortable even on long drives, and the available second-row captain’s chairs deliver nearly the same amount of comfort. Alas, the third-row seats are one of the Highlander’s greatest liabilities. Thin padding, a very low seat cushion and narrow space make them ill-suited for adults.
Wind noise is well silenced on the highway, though, and road noise is minimal.