Base Camp: 2020 Toyota Highlander L
Every week, wheels.ca selects a new vehicle on sale in Canada and takes a good look at its entry-level trim. If we find it worthy of your consideration, we'll let you know. If not, we'll recommend one that earns a passing grade.
The mid-size crossover vehicle from Toyota was one of the first models to embrace a three-row lifestyle and package it in a rig that bore an SUV shape but based on a car. Its powertrain shares much with the venerable Camry, a decision that bodes well for longevity and reliability.
Its base model is denoted by a simple ‘L’, which is a new trim for 2020 and shows up on the heels of a complete Highlander redesign for this year. No matter which model is selected, it will be equipped with a 3.5L V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission. This means paying more for a snazzier trim and content, but not more power.
To go along with those eight cogs are an octet of seats, with a full three rows of chairs fitted to every Highlander, including the base L trim. The space for both people and cargo are also identical across the H-lander range, further bolstering the argument that one needn’t spend more than necessary on this machine if one is simply shuttling people or cargo.
While cargo generally doesn’t care about features and amenities, most passengers certainly do. In this department, the $39,990 L does without a few key features such as a power liftgate and – most importantly for some people – all-wheel drive. To get the latter, one will have to make a $3,500 walk to the LE, a car whose exterior appearance is virtually indistinguishable from the L thanks to sharing the same wheels and paint selection.
Inside, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is shared with all other trims and works with Apple CarPlay / Android Auto. Infuriatingly, satellite radio is absent. However, the front seats are heated cloth and have an 8-way power adjustment for the pilot. Exterior mirrors have heating elements as well. Note that single-zone air conditioning is the order of the day.
What We’d Choose
Two omissions prevent us from selecting the base L without any hesitation. The lack of satellite radio is annoying and represents a blatant attempt at an upsell since the L and LE share infotainment systems. Single-zone climate control can also put a damper on marital bliss and can be found on vehicles costing thousands less.
However, aside from those two features (and all-wheel drive) there isn’t much difference between the L and LE. If the music catalog on your phone is as robust as your restraint in complaining about your spouse’s temperature selection, then pop for the L and invest some of the savings in a top-tier set of winter tires.