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2020 Toyota Highlander debuts in New York with fresh looks and new tech

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Toyota does a lot of things very well, but one of the things it does best is midsize family SUVs. The Highlander has long been a leader in the segment with excellent build quality, great reliability and a reasonable price tag. That all seems to be sticking around for the 2020 Highlander, which debuts at the New York Auto Show this week. But Toyota is also throwing a bunch of tech at the Highlander — something it sorely needed.

Most of the Highlander’s fancy new tech is possible because Toyota is moving the SUV to its TNGA-K platform. If TNGA is looking like a familiar set of letters to you, that’s probably because Toyota has spent the last few years transitioning nearly its entire lineup of unibody vehicles to one flavor of it or another.

For 2020, the new Highlander will offer two powertrains. The first is a relatively standard 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine that makes 295 horsepower and 263 foot-pounds of torque. This engine uses Toyota’s D4 dual fuel injection system which utilizes both direct fuel injection and multiport fuel injection (and which we first saw on the Toyota 86 née Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ twins). This engine, bolted to the standard eight-speed auto is good for 22 miles per gallon.

Where things get really interesting is with the optional hybrid drivetrain. Toyota remains the undisputed king of hybrid tech, and it’s really flexing its muscles there with the new Highlander. Rather than the Hybrid Synergy Drive that we’re all used to, Toyota is debuting a next-generation system that it calls Predictive Efficient Drive.

Predictive Efficient Drive is a smart hybrid system in that it monitors and learns driver habits and compares that with GPS data for upcoming roads to decide when to best utilize the electric portion of the drivetrain for maximum efficiency. It’s pretty cool, but what’s cooler is that Toyota is claiming that the hybrid Highlander will offer its owners 34 miles per gallon combined. That’s unreal in a big SUV and a 17% increase over the previous-generation hybrid.

The new Highlander pulls some of its styling cues from the recently refreshed RAV4 — and that’s not a bad thing.


Toyota

Outside, the new Highlander grows a little bit (2.36 inches in length, to be precise) but manages to look slimmer than the car it replaces. This is mostly down to the new, more aggressive styling, which we like. We also like that Toyota has worked to make this new design functional, tuning the side mirrors and even the taillights to reduce wind noise at speed. For 2020, the Highlander can now be had with its first-ever 20-inch wheels. There is also a unique set only available as an option on the top-level Platinum trim level.

The Highlander hasn’t given up any ground in the interior room category either. It’s still cavernous enough to haul all your kids and their crap around or swallow up a full Ikea-shopping trip’s worth of flat-pack furniture with no complaints.

The Highlander’s L and LE trim levels feature a standard second-row bench seat which means that, in total, it’ll seat eight people. The XLE and Limited trim come with captain’s chairs in the second row for a total capacity of seven people, though you can swap them for a bench. The top-level Platinum trim comes with captain’s chairs in row two, and you are unable to switch those for a bench because luxury.

It doesn’t matter which trim level you choose, though, if what you care about is safety tech. All 2020 Highlander models come standard with Toyota’s SafetySense 2.0 ADAS suite. SafetySense 2.0 includes features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist and road sign assist. Other safety features that aren’t part of SafetySense are optional depending on your desired trim level, and these include blind-spot monitoring, parking sonar, and something called parking support braking.

The interior on the top-tier Platinum trim benefits from a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while lesser models get an eight-inch unit.


Toyota

Inside, things get better still. The Platinum trim level gets a 12.3-inch touchscreen in its center console — one of the largest in the segment — and all other models get an 8-inch unit. The latest version of Toyota’s infotainment platform also supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa as standard. It’s about time Toyota.

Toyota hasn’t given us any information on expected pricing or a potential on-sale date, but we are betting that the former will be pretty reasonable and the latter will be sometime later this year.

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