Test Drive: 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum

2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum in Ruby Flare Pearl (a $495 option)

Quick Spin, Consumer Guide Automotive

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum AWD

Class: Midsize Crossover

Miles driven: 281

Fuel used: 7.3 gallons

CG Report Card
Room and ComfortA-
Power and PerformanceB
Fit and FinishA
Fuel EconomyA
Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.
Big & Tall Comfort
Big GuyA
Tall GuyA
Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.
Engine Specs243-hp 2.5 liter
Engine Type4-cylinder hybrid
Transmission CVT
Drive WheelsAWD

Real-world fuel economy: 38.5 mpg

Driving mix: 40% city, 60% highway

EPA-estimated fuel economy: 35/34/35 (mpg city/highway/combined)

Fuel type: Regular gas

Base price: $50,200 (not including $1120 destination charge)

Options on test vehicle: Ruby Flare Pearl paint ($425), carpeted floor mats/cargo mat ($318), cargo cross bars ($350), universal tablet holder ($99)

Price as tested: $52,512


Quick Hits

The great: Excellent fuel economy; long list of comfort and convenience features; classy cabin trim

The good: Pleasant ride and driving manners; good cargo volume and passenger space in first and second rows

The not so good: Third-row seats are best suited for kids

More Highlander price and availability information


CG Says:

Toyota’s Highlander 3-row midsize SUV was redesigned for 2020, and for 2021 it’s essentially carried over save for the addition of a sporty XSE model that includes sport suspension and steering tuning, unique 20-inch wheels, and exclusive sporty styling touches inside and out. You can check out our Highlander First Spin report here, and our road test of a regular gas-engine Highlander Platinum model here.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

The Highlander’s redesign for 2020 netted it slightly swoopier body styling, including pronounced bodyside bulges that flare over the rear wheel openings. Roof-mounted cargo cross bars are a $350 option.

Our subject this time around is the Hybrid version of the top-line Platinum trim level. The Highlander’s redesign brought about a significant change in the hybrid version—the previous V6-based gas/electric powertrain was dropped in favor of one with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes a total of 243 horsepower. That’s down from the previous Highlander Hybrid’s 306 hp, but the new Hybrid’s fuel-economy ratings are significantly better: 35 mpg city/34 highway/35 combined with all-wheel drive and 36/35/35 with front-wheel drive, compared to 30/28/29 for the 2019 Highlander Hybrid (which came only with all-wheel drive).

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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

In the top-line Platinum models, the Highlander’s cabin is nicely trimmed and well equipped with comfort and convenience features. Helpful real-time economy readouts in the gauge cluster assist in driving efficiently.

And, we handily topped those EPA numbers in our own tests—we averaged 38.5 mpg in a 281-mile test that consisted of about 60 percent highway driving. The hybrid powertrain is wonderfully smooth. It’s often easy to forget you’re driving a hybrid, but for the soft electric-motor whir in low-speed driving or steady-speed cruising around town. Other noises aren’t quite as serene, however—though it’s nicely muted most of the time, the engine groans a bit gruffly when accelerating. Like almost all Toyota hybrids, the Highlander Hybrid’s gauge displays include helpful “eco-coach” readouts and a powerflow monitor that assist in developing an efficient driving style.

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2020 Hylander Hybrid

The Highlander’s Qi wireless charging pad is located in the center console, underneath a roll-top cover. This keeps it nestled out of the way when charging, but also makes it less convenient to access the storage bin and tray beneath it.

A flipper switch on the console allows the driver to choose between Sport, Normal, and Eco drive modes. Sport mode dials in quicker throttle response, but it doesn’t markedly change the driving character. Eco mode dials back throttle response and HVAC-system settings in the interest of fuel economy, but it doesn’t have a drastic effect on driving personality either. There’s also an EV Mode button that enables pure-electric driving at low speeds for short distances when conditions permit, and a Trail Mode that changes the throttle, transmission, and all-wheel-drive system settings for improved traction and control in low-speed off-road driving.

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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

There’s fine space for adults in the Highlander’s second-row seats, but the third row is best suited for kids.

Like the acceleration, the Highlander Hybrid’s brakes are laudably smooth and easy to modulate. Brake-pedal feel is excellent, with virtually none of the non-linear feel that often plagues hybrid-vehicle brake systems, which use electric-battery regeneration to slow the vehicle (in concert with the brakes themselves).

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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

There’s 16 cubic feet of cargo space behind the Highlander’s third-row seats.

There’s plenty to like about the vehicle surrounding that excellent hybrid powertrain as well. Despite a few hard-plastic trim pieces here and there, the Platinum models’ trim is convincingly classy. Our test vehicle was outfitted with rich-looking “Glazed Caramel” leather upholstery that was nicely accented by “silvered” wood, satin-finish metal, and silver carbon-fiber-look trim.

One Highlander feature carried over from the previous-generation model is a slim storage shelf that runs along the passenger-side and center-console area of the dashboard, though it’s now split into two segments. The shelves provide handy small-items stash space, and there’s a pass-through in the center shelf so that device cords can be looped down to plug into the four charging ports in the center console.

The Qi wireless charger is housed in the center-console storage bin, which uses a somewhat unconventional roll-top lid. This arrangement keeps the phone out of the way while it’s charging, but also makes it a bit less convenient to access the storage bin itself—you have to flip up the charging pad to get to the rest of the storage bin.

Test Drive: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

Cargo volume grows to 48.4 cubic feet when the third-row seats are folded, and 84.3 cubic feet when both the second and third rows are folded to create a smooth, level load floor.

There’s good stretch-out space in the Highlander’s second-row seats (as well as separate climate controls and heated seats), but the panoramic sunroof’s housing can cut into headroom for extra-tall passengers. The Highlander’s third-row seats are OK for kids, or tweens and adults under six feet tall, if the second-row passengers co-operate by sliding their seats forward. Some three-row midsize SUV competitors, such as the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, and Kia Telluride, are better in the passenger-space department, as is any minivan, but the Highlander’s passenger space is more than respectable overall.

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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

The hybrid powertrain pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors for a total output of 243 horsepower–enough for decent acceleration. Platinum models come standard with 20-inch alloy wheels.

Regardless of trim level, the Highlander Hybrid commands a price premium of $1400 over a comparable non-hybrid Highlander. Considering the Hybrid’s significant increase in fuel economy and all-around drivetrain refinement, that strikes us as a fair deal.

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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

For a reasonable price premium over its non-hybrid kin, the Highlander Hybrid delivers outstanding fuel economy with little detriment to everyday-driving capability and refinement.

Listen to the Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Gallery

(Click below for enlarged images)

Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast, Episode 57; 2021 Consumer Guide Best Buys