2020 Toyota Highlander

With expectations of a new design every five years, the automotive market doesn’t take kindly to models that don’t continuously push their boundaries. That is especially true of the crossover market, where an ever-increasing number of new players means that even the Toyota Highlander, the segment’s best selling model since 2016, needs to take some calculated risk. 

Toyota Highlander

And sure enough, the Toyota Highlander went big with its 2020 redesign and is impressive in nearly every regard.

Taking a Stance

It’s not terribly challenging to slap on the latest styling cues onto an existing design and score another 10 minutes in the spotlight, but thankfully, Toyota has committed to leaping ahead of the competition and ditches the comparatively staid styling of the previous generation. 

Toyota Highlander

The consistent theme of rigid details placed among the large fluid surfaces brings a sense of solidity yet also dynamism with an upright grille, blacked-out A-pillars, large sweeping curves along the side, and a crisply-shaped rear end. It speaks to the era of fresh-thinking design that is excitingly in motion at Toyota. 

Toyota Highlander

The interior is equally a conversation piece. Its surfaces all build towards the driver’s instrument cluster, again, by way of large shapes that wear strongly defined details. 

The silver “woven beam” stretches from the passenger side and sits forward of the upper dash panel before it eventually splits to provide a docking point for a very large glass-surface touchscreen and high-gloss plastic panel that houses the HVAC controls. 

Toyota Highlander Interior

The mid-level cubbies are also fully integrated into the style of the dash without losing their practical purpose. It may have been simpler and more cost-effective to use a molded insert as many competitors do, but the Highlander team integrated the pockets’ surfaces and imprinted a dimpled texture which contrasts the smooth finish of the rest of the lower dash panel. So even when they’re not stuffed full of face masks, phones, and food wrappers, they can still be appreciated. 

Toyota Highlander Interior

While the rest of the interior surfaces are what we’ve come to expect from Toyota – simply shaped large parts with very few parting lines in plain sight – there are a few instances where Toyota’s efforts to adopt high-end style were met with the reality of the Highlander’s price point. 

The concept of stitching two leather surfaces together is seen within interiors of premium brands and while the stitching may be authentic in the Highlander, the “mating line” is simply molded into the upper dash panel and sits near eye-level. 

Toyota Highlander Interior

Several other areas feel as though their execution didn’t correlate well with the stylists’ intentions such as the wavy gloss-black surface of the HVAC controls, the unusual look of the faux wood trim, the sharp feel of the top corner of the infotainment screen surround, and the seemingly uncoordinated selection of which interior surfaces are colored black versus this Platinum trim’s brown. 

Toyota Highlander Interior

Smooth Operator

The 2020 Toyota Highlander rides on an entirely new platform which ultimately provides (and limits) the extent of which engineers can tune everything from handling response to NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness). With the Highlander, it’s obvious that the engineering team had a shared target of achieving an exceptionally smooth riding machine. One might expect this thinking to be at odds with the large 20-inch wheels and 8-passenger capacity, however, the rigid body structure allows the suspension to soak up minor road imperfections, sharp impacts, and even significant high-speed dips in a manner that minimally disrupts the vehicle’s current trajectory nor the calm environment of the interior. 

Toyota Highlander

Credit also goes to the powertrain engineers as well as the 3.5-liter V6 is an already accomplished motivator, having seen duty across Toyota’s lineup. Powerful and efficient, the engine and 8-speed transmission never placed a foot wrong whether working through heavy rush hour traffic, climbing (and descending) steep mountain passes, or passing on two-lane highways.

Toyota Highlander

The torque-vectoring all-wheel drive is more advanced than the system on lesser trims, however, its effect wasn’t noticeable nor is it likely that one will use its theoretical advantage considering the Highlanders more sedate handling priorities. The Highlander earns an EPA-estimated 23 MPG combined, which I was able to surpass with mid-24 mpg during mixed driving that tilted towards more highway cruising. Those interested in prioritizing fuel efficiency over power may be enticed by the 35 mpg Hybrid version. 

Toyota Highlander

Room/ Space/Tech

Just as the chassis and drivetrain provide a worry-free drive, the interior is equally suited to tackle all things with minimal concern. 

The new Highlander sees an additional 2.3 inches of length and becomes neatly aligned with the spacious Honda Pilot. Cargo capacity can be simply stated as very large and, even with the third-row seatbacks in place, there is ample cargo room for rows of grocery bags. 

Toyota Highlander

The 10-way adjustable driver’s seat features heating and ventilation and is shaped for comfort,  however, the door armrest is too far away to be useful when driving. Second-row passengers can slide their heated perforated leather seats forward and aft depending on the need/compassion level for third-row occupants (which remains sized for children), flip-down their armrests, and enjoy an expansive view through the panoramic sunroof. 

Toyota Highlander

There are several high-tech features that also help to make this top-of-the-line Platinum trim easy to enjoy in everyday life. 

First-up, Toyota’s second-generation active safety suite is onboard to provide automatic emergency braking, active cruise control, lane centering, blind-spot detection, and emergency services notification. Outward visibility is good with support from large mirrors, a digital rearview mirror, and a surround-view camera. For being a large vehicle, it was easy to keep tabs on what is happening on all sides and even when maneuvering in tight spaces. A crisp color head-up display allows one to keep their eyes on the road while staying informed of navigation directions, current speed limits, and vehicle speed. 

Toyota Highlander

The Highlander’s infotainment display is impressively crisp and large though it requires some familiarization to become proficient and can feel overly busy, despite its size. Gratefully, there are easy-to-locate physical buttons for most functions. The 1200-watt, 11-speaker JBL sound system is very good and is compatible with the latest systems from Apple, Amazon, and Google. 

Toyota Highlander

Conclusion: 

Completely redeveloping the segments best selling model is no easy feat and the Toyota Highlander development team did not pull any punches. It carries forward the level of manufacturing precision and value that is ingrained in every Toyota yet the Highlander team dramatically pushed the boundaries in terms of style and material quality. While there’s room for a sportier verve, the Highlander is set to impress on a daily basis, even five years down the road.  

Toyota Highlander
Toyota Highlander

2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD – $50,345

2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

As one would rightfully suspect, the Corolla Hatchback has a lot in common with the Corolla sedan (which is a good thing) but one peek around at its backside, and it becomes instantly clear that the stylists went for some added edge. The focus on styling may have cost some utility points but for the individual seeking practicality and a sense of individuality, the “HB” is an appealing small car. 

Toyota Corolla Hatchback
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2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon EcoDiesel

Putting context to the phrase: “It’s a Jeep Thing”.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon EcoDiesel

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Ecodiesel

There is a bond between people whose sense of off-road adventure has brought them to the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. It’s simply diagnosed as “a Jeep Thing” but what does it mean?

It may be beyond me to pin it down, but after experiencing the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with the all-new 3.0-liter V6 EcoDiesel, I at least came away with a better understanding.

Here are my eleven most distinguishing take-aways.  

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2020 Nissan Frontier Receives a Surprising Update

As the 2020 Nissan Frontier rolls down the assembly line for one final year looking very much the same as it did 15 years ago, there’s a significant upgrade hiding underneath in the form of an all-new powertrain. Even though it may be the result of fortunate timing of events rather than some sort of farewell tribute, the Frontier’s notable improvements in power, emissions cleanliness, and fuel efficiency are certainly worth a celebratory dance. 

2020 Nissan Frontier
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Kia Niro EV

Kia Niro EV front

Practical, powerful, and efficient, the Niro EV is easy to like although the current charging rate from commonly found charging stations means there’s still some pre-planning necessary – especially for longer trips away from a guaranteed charging spot. With an unlimited range of near guilt-free power, the Niro EV is a pretty fun runabout, while its crossover styling cues and an interior with physical buttons and knobs make it feel instantly familiar.

But before stepping into the land of power plugs and kWh, here are ten EV-specific characteristics that are worth knowing: 

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2020 Chevrolet Equinox AWD Premier 2.0T

Chevrolet Equinox Exterior

The Chevrolet Equinox competes in the same segment as the venerable Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 where high-quality designs, materials, and assembly are expected. Its strong sales might indicate that Chevrolet has landed a home run, however, taking a closer look shows that there are a lot of opportunities for improvement.

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2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Honda Civic Hatchback side exterior

The Civic constantly reminds me of how good of a car it is. Not only is it available in many different flavors – coupe, sedan, and hatchback form with regular, sporty, and super sporty performances, but its the quick-reacting chassis, ergonomically friendly controls, and a plethora of storage cubbies are what make the Civic a very easy car to enjoy.

However, its aging design and the continued onslaught of newer competition have revealed several blemishes in its armor and some of those shortcomings are noticeable during everyday use. But are they significant enough to ruin the charm of this Hatchback Sport Touring model?

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2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser is unquestionably over-built for typical day-to-day commuting though simply knowing that “it can” is a big part of its allure. Its reputation as being one of the most dependable over-landing adventure vehicles in existence is held with little debate, however, as its capabilities have increased with each successive generation, so has its size, price, and appetite for fuel – almost to absurdity. Is it still relevant in today’s climate where SUV’s require fewer compromises than ever before? That’s what I set out to determine.

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2020 Ford Ranger Lariat

Right off the bat, let’s note that this is a very different truck than what Ford last sold as a Ranger in 2011. That specific design had become very familiar because it went unchanged in the U.S. for most of the ’90s and 2000s. Taking a look at this 2020 Ranger, it couldn’t be much more different. From its swept-back windshield and high shoulders to the efficient and powerful powertrain, the latest Ranger represents today’s world view of what a mid-size pickup should be, but does that work for America? 

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2020 Kia Soul GT-Line

The Kia Soul pulls at my emotions, going back and forth between being impressed by the design and creativity though disappointed in many areas where I wish Kia had gone a step or two further with the concept and level of refinement. These areas include drivetrain, packaging and interior material quality. That being said, I have developed a soft spot for this character of a car. Its unique cuboid shape, never-ending acceleration, advanced tech, and ability to comfortably perform commuting and carpool duties outweigh the downsides… mostly.

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