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2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid long-term update: Efficient and easy to like

Our Highlander is proving to be a comfortable, efficient hauler during its honeymoon period.

2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
This light-blue Moon Dust color looks great on the redesigned Highlander.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

I've now put about 1,000 miles on Roadshow's new long-term Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and I've become surprisingly fond of this three-row hauler. It doesn't really look or feel like a big, dull, family crossover. The exterior styling is surprisingly aggressive and works especially well in our tester's shade of Moon Dust. The interior is also remarkably upscale looking and feeling, especially given the car's $50,000-ish price tag.

Overall, there's a lot to like here, but the best thing about this Highlander is the frugality of the hybrid drivetrain. The EPA promises 35 miles per gallon combined for a Platinum Hybrid AWD tester like ours, and while it's still a little early to tell if that's going to be accurate over the long haul, my gut says yes. I've been getting around 34 mpg right now, with a lot of highway driving, but that's all during the initial break-in period, so there's likely more efficiency to be had.

A downside to the otherwise excellent drivetrain is the overall crudeness with which the gasoline engine comes alive, as well as its surprising volume level inside the cabin. "Why is this thing so loud?" Managing Editor Steven Ewing writes in our logbook. Social Media Editor Daniel Golson has similar gripes, and also points out that the 243-horsepower powertrain, while efficient, is kind of pokey when accelerating onto the highway.

The interior of the Highlander -- especially in our super-luxe Platinum model -- is pretty great. The leather feels good and looks fantastic thanks to its elaborate perforations, and nicely wraps the comfortable seats. The infotainment system is among the best I've used in a Toyota product in a long time, too. The center console design, with its slide-back lid, unique tilting wireless phone charger bed and useful storage area, is surprisingly functional.

The rear captain's chairs are awesome and super-easy to move, adjust or fold out of the way. Ditto the third row, but seeing as I don't have kids, I've kept it stowed for the bulk of my stewardship. So far, my biggest hauling project with the Highlander was to pick up a rowing machine, which required a little finagling, but it fit and without too much effort. Golson used the Highlander to pick up some furniture during his move to Los Angeles, and found it to be a perfect companion for an Ikea run.

We're currently getting a cool 34 mpg, but we wish the gas engine weren't so loud when it kicks on.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

While the overall feeling inside is one of quality, there are a few weird faults that seem to be beneath Toyota's generally well-deserved reputation for build quality. Specifically, the shift knob on our Highlander is a little loose and feels like it's just a little too big for the shaft it's on. Another strange thing: the sharp edges on the volume and tuning knobs. Both seem like weird bits of corner-cutting for a company like Toyota.

Overall, though, the Highlander has been a terrific daily driver. An eight-hour day behind the wheel was done without issue or soreness, and with minimal stops for fuel, too. This is definitely the kind of SUV I could see enjoying over the long term. Good thing it'll be sticking around with Roadshow's LA crew for many months to come.

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers