Facing competition in the hottest segment of the U.S. market, the Toyota Highlander is enhanced with a poised redesign, a generous portion of new content – and claims a 2020 Wards 10 Best Interiors award.
“Toyota is setting the bar high for non-luxury-vehicle interiors these days,” editor Christie Schweinsberg declares.
The focal point of the all-new, sixth-generation Highlander’s interior is an instrument panel resembling a tuning fork turned on its side and housing an infotainment screen measuring 12.3 ins. (31 cm), large by Toyota standards. In another contrast with Toyotas of the past, Wards judges find the screen resolution excellent.
The IP offers a pair of handy cubbyholes and, in the Platinum model we tested, was rendered in a warm caramel color that matched the leather seats, soft-touch center console and door inserts. The screen is framed in piano-black trim, and glossy wood-like and carbon-fiber highlights lend an upscale feel elsewhere. Diamond-pattern perforations distinguish the seats.
Connectivity is well-covered by four USB charge ports, a USB media port, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and a Qi wireless phone charger. Voice-command responses are quick and accurate.
The charger nests inside a center console whose sliding lid is “a big win and puts (the) clunky and obtrusive lifting lid out to pasture where it belongs,” Schweinsberg says.
The Highlander seats seven – eight if the second-row captain’s chairs are switched out for a bench seat. The heated second-row captain’s chairs (left) easily slide forward to provide third-row access.
The third-row seats (with room for three) fold flat, creating 48.4 cu.-ft. (1,371 L) of cargo space – 16% more than the previous-generation model, thanks in part to a 2.4-in. (60-mm) extension of the wheelbase.
For the big trip to Ikea, second-row seats fold nearly flat as well, providing a large, even load floor.
Amenities abound, including a panoramic roof, privacy screens, a full-color 10-in. (25-cm) head-up display, digital rearview mirror and 11-speaker JBL premium audio system. Options include running boards and second- and third-row all-weather floormats.
Editor Tom Murphy writes on his scoresheet: “Highlander reminds me of (the Toyota) RAV4 interior that was a winner last year: Great first impression, interesting color scheme, clever (and plentiful) storage bins, very comfortable, quality materials. For me, it checks all the boxes.”
The Highlander’s competitors in Wards Large CUV segment include the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas.
The Platinum trim level tested by Wards editors was priced at $51,654, not an unreasonable sum to editor Dave Zoia: “Was surprised at first by the price, seemed high. But Highlander presents a good value here. Very well equipped and nicely designed overall.”