2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum is a $50,000 proposition
The redesigned is better than its predecessor in almost every category: it’s roomier, comfier, quieter, smoother, more efficient, and more evolved. Evolution comes at a price, and of all the superlatives attached to the Highlander, “most expensive” might be the most noteworthy.
Though the bestselling three-row crossover SUV is only about $1,500 more expensive than the outgoing model, on average, the range-topping Platinum Hybrid eclipses $50,000. It’s just a number, but it requires a psychological leap worth scrutiny.
It makes the 2020 Highlander Platinum seem reasonable; 1 in 7 Highlander shoppers spend up for the Platinum model, according to Toyota spokeswoman Nicky Hamila.
After a week lugging around kids and loading up pandemic-inspired home improvement projects, I could find just as many arguments in favor of the Platinum as against it.
The centerpiece of the cabin is a 12.3-inch touchscreen display for infotainment. The best part of it is the split-screen backup camera projection that takes up almost the entire screen, with the surround-view marginalized on the right side. It has to be one of the clearest, broadest projections on the market, and ideal for a three-row crossover. With all the hullabaloo in the rear two rows, the rearview mirror can become a hazard. This projection along with the side mirrors has a calming, reassuring presence.
One of the easiest criticisms of Toyota vehicles has been the out-of-date interface, but even the font feels fresh. With this bold, bright display, you can change the color and the background. It can be confusing to toggle between the split-screen, and I didn’t dig deep enough into the settings to figure out how to just have the map as the full blanket view, but even without it, the Platinum’s 12.3-inch screen is a huge improvement. The 7.0-inch vehicle info display is also an improvement, but the odd layout with a left-side drop-down menu takes some getting used to.
Miss: $51,112 Platinum tester
The tester had $1,200 in options, mostly for the $425 Moon Dust light blue metallic coat that was totes worth it. But if you’re going to be using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that comes standard on the base L model, then the 8.0-inch touchscreen suffices and the backup camera projection is good enough. Top trims like Platinum are meant to say “good enough” is not good enough, especially since the Platinum is…
Hit: Stylish inside and out
The Highlander has never stood out in the styling front, but Toyota must’ve learned from the attractive cut of the Kia Telluride. The Platinum trim adds 20-inch alloy wheels to complement the buffed up sills and truck-like square wheel arches. It looks more trucky than minivany, but the interior is where Toyota shows off its higher trim levels. The buttery leather-trimmed seats and wood trim pieces in the dash add a sophisticated edge to the horizontal design of the controls beneath the touchscreen. It looks good and feels better, even if the heated steering wheel button is hidden on the lower left side of the dash, near the driver’s left knee.
Hit and Miss: Rear-seat functionality
The 2020 Highlander is more than two inches longer than the outgoing model, and the second-row seats have an extra 1.2-inch range to slide fore and aft. This all makes for more cargo room and easier access in and out of the third row. The Highlander has 16 cubic feet of space with all seats up, so you could easily fit the starting squad and gear of the grade school basketball team. Or, utilizing the 60/40-split folding third-row seats, load up the back for a weekend getaway for a family of five without needing a roof rack.
But Toyota uses a set of latches on the seat tops and seat sides that are more cumbersome than the simple buttons found on the Kia Telluride and Honda Pilot. From the third-row, there is a latch on the top of the seat that tucks the seat at a 45-degree angle and slides it forward. That’s easy enough. But to collapse the seat fully, someone at the rear doors has to pull one latch to get it to collapse, and another latch to slide it forward and back. With all seats folded, there is 84.3 cubic feet of space, which let me load up closet doors and a Costco run simultaneously. It’s no minivan, but its cargo volume is still pretty good.
To fold the third-row seats from the tailgate, you have to pull the latch on the top of the seat, not the easier-to-reach straps. You use those to pull it back into place. The headrests automatically collapse on the descent, which is nice. Again, it’s perfectly functional but a little more work, and you’re more likely to get shmutz on your pants from the rear bumper. Some automakers have handles or buttons in the cargo compartment to easily collapse the third row, and at this price, Toyota should, too.
The third row fits two 5-footers comfortably with the second row in a middle position. Four adults can ride up front, and three kids can fit in the third row. The issue with the third row is the foot room. There’s no wedging toes beneath the second-row captain’s chairs. There are plenty of cupholders, however, and overhead vents to optimize comfort.
There’s a lot to like about the 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum. But for about 20% less, the $41,000 XLE optimizes value and comfort. It comes with captain’s chairs, synthetic leather seats and door trim, heated front seats, automatic high beams, and a few other goodies along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen. In the Moon Dust paint, of course.