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Toyota’s 2020 Highlander checks all the boxes

Luxury Living Tampa Bay

Choice is a good thing, right? Cheeses in the Publix deli. Pizza toppings at Domino’s. And don’t even think about clicking onto Amazon.com.

In an investigation of the subject, the New York Times described it as “The Paralyzing Problem of Too Many Choices.” They determined that a multitude of options was not cool for your karma. 

Looking for a three-row, $40,000-$50,000 mid-size crossover? Prepare to be overwhelmed by a plethora of possibilities, a superfluity of selections. 

The big guns include everything from Ford Explorer to Mazda CX-9 to Honda Pilot to Subaru Ascent to the new kids from Korea, Kia’s class-leading Telluride and Hyundai’s Palisade. The list goes on.

But when it comes to knockout sales, owner love, loyalty and adoration, plus stellar reliability and resale, there’s one family-hauling soft-roader that stands above the rest: Toyota’s Highlander. 

No, it’s far from being the best of the pack. Nowhere close to being the standard-setter in terms of performance, handling, fuel economy and interior space. 

Yet it outsells everything with its combo of overall goodness, value, bulletproof build-quality and the fact that it’s a Toyota.

I’ve just spent a week with the top-of-the-line, leather-lined, V6-powered, all-bells-and-whistles Highlander Platinum. And I tell you, for $49,900-and-change, it’s hard to resist. 

For 2020, Toyota redesigned, reimagined and re-jiggered the Indiana-built Highlander. First introduced way, way back in 2001, this is the fourth-generation iteration.

Like me, you’re probably not a fan of that sour, turned-down mouth either. Coupled with those angry-bird, slit-like headlights, it looks like it’s just tasted kale for the first time. But trust me, you won’t lose it in the Whole Foods parking lot.

Side-on is its best look. A high waist, low roof, blacked-out pillars and interesting bulges over the rear wheels add a little visual drama.

Climb aboard and there’s space for six in the beautifully appointed cabin. The fancy-schmancy Platinum trim level provides lovely perforated leather seats, which are heated and welcomely cooled up front.

Platinum-spec also gives you comfy, but a tad narrow, second-row captains’ seats, though the wide gap in the middle makes it easy for the kids to clamber back to the third row.

Yes, that far-back 60:40-split bench is just about big enough for adults to hang back there, just providing you’re not heading all the way to grandma’s house. 

As with pretty much all the contenders in this red-hot segment of the market, luggage space with the third row in place is pretty tight. Right around 16 cubic feet.

But anyone wanting to carry “stuff” in the Highlander will flip the third row forward and enjoy the 48 cubic feet of space. With both rows flat, load space jumps to a whopping 80.4 cubic feet. There are Airbnbs smaller than that.

For 2020, Toyota offers up two powertrain choices; gas or hybrid. In these days of two-buck-a-gallon gas, only the most dedicated tree-huggers are paying the $1,400 extra for the hybridized Highlander. 

And having dropped the wheezing four-cylinder base engine for 2020, you’re left with the excellent 3.5-liter V6 carried over from the previous generation. 

Offering up 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, there’s plenty of muscle to punch the big Toyota away from the stoplight — 0-to-60 takes a respectable 7.2 seconds — and pass and merge safely. 

The standard 8-speed automatic is the only slight disappointment, shifting jerkily under hard acceleration, and lethargic to respond to calls for more giddyup.

 

Our test Highlander came with optional all-wheel drive — a $1,950 must-have. Included in the system is something called torque-vectoring, which does wonders to enhance cornering when you’re pressing on.

But mostly, the Highlander’s best dynamic traits are its smooth, supple ride, its nicely weighted steering, its quiet and strong engine. 

No, it’s not as excellent all-round as Kia’s class-leading Telluride, or as athletic as Ford’s Explorer. But when it comes do doing everything well, the Highlander is hard to beat. 

Test drive the new 2020 Highlander at Toyota of Tampa Bay, Stadium Toyota Tampa, Clearwater Toyota, AutoNation Toyota Pinellas Park, Courtesy Toyota of Brandon, or Wesley Chapel Toyota. 

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