2020 Toyota Highlander is basically better in every way

What is it?

A brand new, larger and more fuel-efficient version of Toyota’s ever-popular Highlander.

Why does it matter?

It’s the fourth generation of Highlander and, like the recently revised RAV4, this year’s remake is substantial. In addition to incorporating Toyota’s latest New Global Architecture (TNGA-K), the 2020 Highlander is powered by a healthy V6 — 295-hp isn’t exactly chicken feed — mated to a state-of-the-art 8-speed automatic. Combine it with the Towing Package’s heavy-duty radiator and computer-controlled Trailer Sway Control and the V6-powered Highlander can haul a real truck-like 2,273 kilograms.

As for the Hybrid, it combines a higher-efficiency 2.5-litre four — there’s a Variable Valve Timing-intelligent system by electric motor (VVT-iE) working on the intake cams while regular VVT-i is used on the exhaust valves — with two electric motors. This latest Toyota Hybrid System offers a whopping 17 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency compared with the previous Highlander Hybrid — from an already commendable 8.3 L/100 km to a truly-impressive-for-a-large-SUV 6.9 L/100 km overall. There’s even a “hypermiler” function called Auto Glide that Toyota says limits engine braking when the driver lifts from the accelerator pedal, acting like a neutral gear to allow the vehicle to coast further. All this focus on frugality does sacrifice performance as the revised hybrid powertrain drops the V6-powered system that yielded 306 hp in favour of a much more efficient four-cylinder that puts out a far more modest 240 net system hp.

And, in a first for Highlander, the Hybrid version is also available in FWD or AWD guises. Toyota, in fact, is offering no less than three different all-wheel-drive technologies for its new SUV, the most sophisticated of the V6 versions including Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect — yes, it’s a mouthful — that doesn’t need to wait for wheel slippage before engaging, the quicker action resulting in more traction. The Hybrid AWD system also preemptively distributes torque to the rear wheels and, says Toyota, with more torque being sent rearward, the Highlander is more capable off-road.

The Highlander’s interior, meanwhile, goes similarly high-tech with LED mood lighting and a multi-media infotainment system that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a 1,200-watt JBL audio system on offer and, like all recent Toyotas, it comes with a full complement of Safety Sense features — Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beam, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist.

When is it coming?

The Yanks get the plain ole gas model in December 2019 and the full-zoot Hybrid version in February 2020. We’re typically a few months behind.

Should you buy it?

Well, it is a Toyota. It’s also a Toyota with a more powerful gasoline engine or more efficient hybrid system, offers more sophisticated AWD systems and truly “connected” interior. It may not be the sexiest sport ute on the planet, but it will provide safe, reliable and increasingly efficient transport. More importantly, 6.9 L/100 km overall fuel consumption is astounding for a full-sized seven — or eight — passenger SUV without a plug.

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