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When the family hauler goes on sale in December, it will face formidable competition in form of the redesigned Ford Explorer as well as segment mainstays including the Honda Pilot, Chevy Traverse and Kia Sorento, among others. Let's dive into the numbers and see how the redesigned 2020 Toyota Highlander stacks up with some of the segment's finest and most popular vehicles.
Engine, transmission and towing
At first, the Highlander will be available only with a carryover 3.5-liter V6 engine featuring the same horsepower, torque and towing figures as last year's model. The eight-speed automatic transmission is also carryover. By February of next year, the Highlander Hybrid will be rolling into dealerships with a powertrain much different than the 2019 Highlander Hybrid.
Instead of electrifying a V6 engine up to 306 horsepower, the new four-cylinder Highlander Hybrid will have to work with 66 fewer ponies. However, because the hybrid is now the base powertrain, standard horsepower is up by 55, making the Toyota much more competitive with the segment's other base powertrains.
Merging electrons with four-cylinder frugality means significantly improved efficiency. Toyota estimates the 2020 Highlander Hybrid will get 34 miles per gallon combined, a substantial 5-mpg improvement over last year. The most efficient versions of the other (gas only) midsize crossovers listed here average 23 mpg combined, so the fact that the Highlander Hybrid might beat that average by 11 mpg should captivate potential buyers. Ford has yet to release fuel economy specs for its new Explorer Hybrid, which goes on sale this summer, but V6 power could put its figures more in line with the 2019 Highlander Hybrid.
At this early stage, Toyota hasn't said specifically whether the Highlander Hybrid will use a continuously variable transmission. But from how Toyota has described it so far, the transmission sounds similar in concept to the CVT being used in the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, so it's probably safe to assume the Highlander Hybrid will incorporate this type of transmission, as well.
Toyota has yet to quote a tow rating for the hybrid, but if the smaller 2019 RAV4 Hybrid can tow 1,750 pounds, its big brother should be able to pull at least that much.
Tech and safety
The 2020 Highlander comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on an 8-inch touchscreen, plus satellite radio and in-car Wi-Fi. Available features include embedded navigation, a 12.3-inch touchscreen and an 11-speaker, 1,200-watt JBL.
Like the Highlander, the 2020 Ford Explorer also comes well equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen and Wi-Fi. The Honda Pilot isn't nearly as generous with standard tech, where all you get is a 5-inch LCD (in fairness, most buyers purchase higher trim levels, which have more comparable feature sets). Things look up again with Chevy's Traverse. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen, as well as Wi-Fi.
Don't assume the discount-priced Kia Sorento is this comparison's cabin-tech department slacker. The Kia comes pretty well-equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen.
When it comes to advanced driver-assistance features, the Highlander shines with its standard Toyota Safety Sense suite of features. Features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, automatic high-beams and adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert come equipped on all but the base trim, while a 360-degree camera is standard on the top Highlander Platinum.
The 2020 Ford Explorer looks to be well equipped, too, with standard pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams. There's even a self-washing rearview camera in case you dust it up while doing some light off-roading — or, more than likely, during snowy or wet weather.
The Honda Pilot's standard driver-assistance tech is much more comprehensive than its cabin tech. With the Honda, you get automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beams. The Traverse and Sorrento, on the other hand? Diddly squat. If you want driver assistance on those SUVs, you're going to have to pay extra.
Last year, the Highlander offered mid-pack cargo room. This year, the Toyota now offers less-than-mid-pack cargo space. With the third row folded, the 2020 model is down a couple cubes compared with the 2019 model, but when you fold the second and third rows, the new Highlander offers 10 cubic feet less space than its predecessor.
Headroom and legroom
Toyota has yet to release headroom and legroom stats for its new Highlander, so let's hope the decreased cargo space specs above aren't a bad omen for the redesigned SUV.
Last year, the Highlander shined with its superior front legroom, but all the way in back, its third-row headroom came in last place against the competition listed below. To add insult to injury, the 2019 Highlander's third-row legroom was an embarrassing 27.7 cubic feet. Hopefully Toyota has learned its lesson from the previous generation.
Last year you couldn't get a Highlander base above $50,000. It's unlikely you'll be able to surpass a $50,000 trim-level price on the 2020 model either. That's at least partially because last year's Hybrid Limited with Platinum Package used a more expensive V6 engine. This year's hybrid uses four-cylinder power, while the V6 option stands alone. Those changes should help the Highlander keep its price competitive rather than becoming listed through the stratosphere like the upscale-leaning Ford Explorer Platinum, which starts at just shy of $60,000.
Speaking of the Explorer, Ford will announce the Explorer Hybrid's pricing soon, but for now, it's safe to assume its price will hover around the 2019 Highlander Hybrid's $38,265 base price.
According to this tale of the tape, the 2020 Toyota Highlander is definitely more competitive than before. The hybrid model's fuel economy should be a particularly compelling draw. Updated infotainment and a healthy suite of driver-assistance features sure aren't going to hurt, either, though abbreviated space might.
Now, all that's left is for us to take the new 2020 Toyota Highlander for a spin, so keep it locked here on Roadshow for our upcoming first-drive review.
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