2020 Toyota Highlander official: 8 seats, Hybrid tech, pricing

Toyota has revealed the new 2020 Highlander, pairing more memorable design with the promise of greater driving refinement while still seating up to eight inside. Set to arrive in dealerships this month in gas form, the 2020 Highlander Hybrid will follow on early in the new year for those who prefer some electrification in their SUV.

Now in its fourth-generation, the Highlander uses the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) as its underpinnings. That's the same platform used in the Toyota Camry, Lexus ES, and the RAV4, and for the 2020 Highlander it should mean a stiffer structure, smaller turning circle, and smoother ride.

It's also a bigger vehicle than the outgoing SUV. 2.36-inches longer, in fact, which Toyota has used entirely in the cargo area; that's now 16 cubic feet with the third row up. Drop the rearmost seats and it rises to 48.4 cu.ft.; folding the second row expands that to a capacious 84.3 cu.ft. The second row seats also slide 1.2-inches further up for the 2020 model, adding greater legroom between the second and third rows.

There'll be two drivetrains. First to market is a 3.5-liter V6, which promises 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. It's paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and will be available with a towing package with 5,000 pounds of capacity and Trailer Sway Control.

Following on in February 2020 will be the Highlander Hybrid. That combines a 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine with two electric motors, for 243 hp of total system horsepower. It'll be offered in 2WD and AWD too, a first for the SUV, and Toyota is estimating a 36 mpg combined rating on the EPA's tests. That's an impressive 24-percent increase over the old Highlander Hybrid's 29 mpg combined. Better still, the hybrid's battery pack now fits under the rear seats, rather than eating into cabin or cargo room.

There'll be the choice of FWD or three different all-wheel drive systems. The Highlander Gas L, LE, and XLE will be offered with optional AWD that can send up to 50-percent of the torque to the rear wheels when conditions demand. The Highlander Limited and Platinum grades get Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD, which can also shift power between the left and right rear wheels.

Finally, there's the special AWD system in the Highlander Hybrid. That uses a separate electric motor for the rear wheels, with no mechanical connection to the front.

Outside, the styling is bolder and more memorable. L, LE, and XLE trims will get a black front grille with silver trim; Limited and Platinum pair the black with more chrome, along with projector headlamps and 20-inch alloy wheels. There'll be eight paint colors.

As for the cabin, Toyota is promising generally more comfort and tech, with the choice of 7 or 8 seats. There's more sound dampening and insulation, and Limited and Platinum grandes get laminated front side window glass too, along with ambient LED lighting. Wireless phone charging is available, while Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Alexa, and WiFi are standard across all grades. So, too, is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 and 3-zone climate control.

Seating is cloth in L and LE trims, Softex artificial leather in the XLE, and then perforated leather in the Limited. Embossed, perforated leather is featured in the 2020 Highlander Platinum. Navigation is standard on the Platinum, with a 12.3-inch display; a 1,200W JBL audio system is standard on Limited and Platinum.

As for pricing, that kicks off at $34,600 for the 2020 Highlander L Gas FWD (plus $1,120 destination) or $36,200 for the same SUV in AWD form. The cheapest hybrid will be the Highlander LE Hybrid FWD, at $38,200, or $39,800 in AWD form. The Platinum grade starts at $46,850.