By Peter Perrotta
In 1958, Toyota opened its first American car dealership inside a former Rambler dealership in Hollywood.
The Japanese importer sold a whopping 288 cars that year – mostly a failed vehicle called the Toyopet Crown that was way too heavy and miserably slow.
But it wasn’t until 1965 when Toyota introduced the Corona Sedan that this Japanese auto maker really began to make inroads into the highly desired American market.
While it was the Corona that knocked on the door of the American market it was the Corolla, introduced in 1968, that actually kicked it in – starting the Toyota worldwide expansion that at this point is a runaway freight train.
By way of contrast, Toyota sold a modest 20,000 cars in the American market in 1966.
Fast forward to last year, when Toyota – now widely recognized as the world’s largest auto maker – produced a mind boggling 10.4 million cars for the world market in one year.
But a lot has changed along the way for the Japanese automaker.
From its humble beginnings, Toyota initially made its bones by producing small, fuel efficient sedans that were known to be high quality, long lasting and durable.
As of last count, Toyota now offers 18 different models at its typical American car dealership.
Who would have ever envisioned after seeing that first little Corolla – now the biggest selling car in automotive history – that Toyota would someday be making something as large and fuel inefficient as the 229-inch long Tundra pickup truck that gets a whopping 15 miles a gallon from its massive 5.7 liter, V8 engine?
Or that they would have ever produced an 8-seat Sequoia SUV that’s 205 inches long and weighs a massive 6,025 pounds?
Well, as Toyota infiltrated the American market, it changed its marketing strategy to provide Americans with the massive style SUVs and pickups they had been used to getting from the American car makers.
I recently jumped behind the wheel of the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD to see just how refined that Japanese automaker has become with its mid-sized SUV.
Toyota made a lot of changes with the 2020 version of the Highlander, the fourth generation of this model.
First off, it sports a fresh new sculpted, sporty and aggressive look and stance from the ground up. It measures about 2.4 inches longer than the 2019 model, adding space to the cargo area.
It now offers two powertrains as well. The conventional 295 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6 and a 240 horsepower hybrid four cylinder.
The model I test drove for one week was the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD version that came in an attractive Moon Dust exterior color and a handsome sepia leather interior.
The base sticker price of the model I drove is $41,200. With added options and $1,120 for destination and delivery, the bottom line sticker price comes in at $44,498.
The added options included: $1,040 for the premium audio package that included an upgraded audio system as well as an 8-inch touch screen dynamic navigation system; $425 for the special exterior paint; $318 for carpeted floor mats and carpeted cargo mats; and $395 for paint protection film.
I found my Highlander to be more attractive and aggressive looking than its predecessor. As far as interior room and comfort go, I feel it exceeds expectations. It has plenty of leg and head room and offers a smooth, comfortable ride.
The interior ergonomics are solid, but not exceptional.
Overall, this Highlander gets above average grades all around for the total package it presents.
The 3.5 liter, V6 engine gives it enough power so you can make aggressive lane changes on the interstate and cruise quite nicely at high speeds in the left lane on the Turnpike.
Put more simply, it drives like you would expect a Toyota to drive. I don’t mean that in any sarcastic way either. It just has a sound overall good ride quality to it, without ever providing you with that tremendous “wow” feeling. Because, in reality, that’s not what Toyota is all about.
It’s akin to buying a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes at ShopRite. You know what to expect before you open the box. Chances are you won’t be disappointed, nor will you be blown away once you take that first bite.
Toyota plays it safe all around, so you know what to expect from the moment you step into the cabin.
As far as the EPA fuel consumption ratings go, this Highlander gets an overall 23 miles per gallon in gas mileage – 27 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in city driving.
The EPA estimates that it will cost on average about $1,750 per year in gas to run the Highlander as it uses about 4.3 gallons of gas for every 100 miles driven.
The new model Highlander has not been given the government’s five star safety crash test rating yet.
The 2020 Highlander comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM, Waze and Amazon Alexa compatibility.
There are six different trim levels: the base LE; LE Plus; Limited; Platinum; SE and XLE.
Peter Perrotta’s On The Road column appears weekly. For comments and questions, he can be contacted at email@example.com.