The Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment remains so viable that not even the COVID-19 pandemic could hurt its sales. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association: “Despite a decline for all car segments, sales of pickups, SUVs and crossovers all posted gains relative to this time last year. In the first three quarters or 2020, three out of every four vehicles sold were light trucks.”
Responding to the trend, domestic automakers killed off most of their car models, opting to focus on SUVs and trucks, while import brands just kept expanding their lineups further with more and more models, from crossover compacts to full-size SUVs. Here’s a sampling of the models Latino Traffic Report (LTR) got to drive in 2020.
Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD
First introduced in 2001 the Toyota Highlander joined the lineup as the first midsize crossover SUV offered by the brand. Over time, the Highlander not only grew in size, it gained a third row and became the best-selling retail model in the segment since 2016.
Redesigned in 2020, the fourth-generation Highlander is still growing, which has translated into greater cargo volume, for a total of 84.3 cu. ft. with the second and third rows folded flat. It also gains more versatility with a second row that slides up an extra 1.2 inches, a handy shelf under the dash for extra storage, and maximum towing of 5,000-pounds.
While Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on all models, more advanced safety technology, like the blind spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, comes standard on four of the five available grades. There is a recall on the 2020 Highlander due to a concern over seat trim covers.
LTR got to drive the top-of-the-line Platinum trim with all-wheel drive (AWD). Equipped with multiple drive modes, from Eco to Snow, maximized the performance from the AWD system.
A 3.5-liter V6 engine with 295 horsepower and 263 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a Direct Shift eight-speed automatic transmission powered the test model. It had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. It averaged 19.7 mpg on the test drive. The standard Stop and Start Engine System should have increase fuel economy although it fell short on the week-long test drive. Still, it engaged with minimal clunkiness.
All grades come standard with Apple Car Play, Android Auto, Alexa In-Car compatibility, Waze, SiriusXM, and WiFi connectivity.
Added features like the 12.3-inch touchscreen display rather than the standard eight-inch display helped the test model live up to its up level trim. The Platinum grade also comes with a Captain’s Chair second row with seating for seven.
The test model added heated and ventilated front seats and a heated second row, adaptive LED projector headlights, and a panoramic moonroof.
Pricing for the 2020 Highlander starts at $35,720. The as-tested price came to $51,112.
Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T FWD
Redesigned in 2019, the fourth-generation Hyundai Santa Fe became the brand’s best-selling SUV in America that year, with sales of more than 1.6 million units.
It will receive a freshened look for 2021, accentuated by a new grille more in line with Hyundai’s current DNA, but the 2020 model tested by LTR also included some refinements.
The Limited 2.0T front-wheel drive (FWD) test model was one away from the top-of-the-line trim, exceeded only by the AWD version of the Limited. That changes in 2021 when the Calligraphy trim will be top-of-the line.
While not standard on all trims, Smart Sense safety technologies like the blind spot monitor with a camera view displayed in the instrument cluster, forward-collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert were included on the test model. It also had the optional Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert that reminds drivers to check the back seat for precious cargo before exiting.
Inside, the Santa Fe offers more cargo room behind the second-row seats and expands space behind the first row of seats with rear seats folded flat to 71.3 cubic feet. For added convenience, the second-row on the test model dropped down with the push of a button,
Hyundai offers two four-cylinder engine options on the Santa Fe. The test model came with the latter, producing 235 horses and 260 lb.–ft. of torque. It has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/27 mpg. It averaged 31.1 mpg on the test drive with a slight turbo lag. All engines are mated to a brand-new eight-speed automatic transmission. The test model also came with three drive modes, Normal, Sport, and Smart, for improved performance.
For owners of an Apple iPhone 8 and iPhone X as well as compatible Android devices, there’s an available Qi wireless charger.
During this test drive there was also a chance to test Hyundai’s 24-hour roadside assistance when the test model developed a flat. While the service was timely and did put on the spare, which was a temporary tire or donut.
Pricing for the 2020 Santa Fe starts at $27,415. The as-tested price came to $38.730.
Lexus RX 450hL Luxury AWD
Lexus ventured into the luxury hybrid SUV market with its RX model more than a decade ago. Refreshed in 2020, the RX 450hL tested by LTR included three rows of seating, improved performance, an updated Lexus Multimedia System, additional standard safety features, and a refreshed exterior design.
As a hybrid, it’s not only the top-of-the-line RX, it’s also the most fuel-efficient. Lexus pairs the fuel injected 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators for strong acceleration and passing performance. The standard AWD system, or “all-weather” according to Lexus, employs a second, independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed for optimal traction.
It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 29/28 mpg. It averaged 25 mpg on the test drive. A stiffer suspension design helped enhance its performance by reducing the noise and vibration from the road while four drive modes, from Sport to EV, should enhance fuel economy at slow speeds though that wasn’t reflected in the test drive.
Updates to the Lexus Multimedia System now include Apple CarPlay integration for an iPhone accessed through the RX’s standard eight-inch touchscreen dashboard display. The RX is also the first Lexus model to offer Android Auto integration.
Other standard luxury features on the test model included heated and ventilated front seats, as well as heated seats in the rear while the third row folded flat electronically.
While it’s the top-of-the-line model as a hybrid, many features remain optional, like the 12.3 touchscreen that comes with the Navigation Package ($3,365). The display was bright and engaging, especially when the navigation system was on view. The instrument cluster, however, was less vivacious.
New safety technology added to the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 includes daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist.
The standard blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert was also upgraded on the test model to include Intuitive Parking Assist.
Pricing for the 2020 RX 450h starts at $48,845. The as-tested price came to $65,340.
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