Six months ago, our family of three grew by one. This extra little person had me questioning whether or not my current two-row midsize SUV is best for my family of four. Parents with infants know how much space a child safety seats take up. It leaves what should be space for three people, a space for two. Does upgrading to a 3 row SUV make sense? We are a road-tripping family; we are always on the go. I need an SUV that is excellent for daily commutes, safe for my family, comfortable and fuel-efficient for longer drives. We tested out the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD. And by test, I mean we took it on a 180-mile roundtrip drive to the Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure. This trip was perfect for testing if the new Highlander is the best SUV for families like mine.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD is the Best SUV for Families needing more space and love the convenience of having a 3rd row.

A Stylish & Safe Midsize SUV with a Luxury Feel

I’m a mom of two but I need an SUV that doesn’t scream ‘mom car’. The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD with its soft curves and leather trim, looks just as good on the outside as it does inside. Luxury features like heated seats, a moonroof, a Qi wireless charger, and a suite of safety features make it a practical vehicle for moms like me who crave style without having to sacrifice safety or function. 

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD Family Road trip to Six Flags Safari

Family Road Trip on a Safari Adventure 

Safety is what Toyota does best. Having standard safety features like lane departure assist, blind-spot monitoring made me feel safe during our 90+ mile drive to the Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure. 

The Qi-Wireless charger enabled the driver (my husband or me) to keep the focus on the road ahead. Having the ability to slide the console cover forward to hide our charging phones removed the temptation of checking them.

The Qi-Wireless charger enabled the driver (my husband or me) to keep the focus on the road ahead. Having the ability to slide the console cover forward to hide our charging phones removed the temptation of checking them. Additionally, since the Highlander XLE is equipped with navigation removing the need to even use your phone for directions. If that’s not enough, the Highlander is equipped with Bluetooth, allowing you to play your favorite music and answer phone calls – safely. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are must-haves for both my husband and me, provided us easy access to our favorite apps on our respective phones. 

The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE V6 AWD Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are must-haves for both my husband and me, provided us easy access to our favorite apps on our respective phones.  Great for Family road trips

When I think of the best SUV for families that are constantly on the go, the SUV must have sufficient charging ports for everyone’s devices, especially the children. Dealing with bored children on long drives isn’t fun. Trust us, we’ve dealt with it. And believe it or not, one of the first things our 9-year-old noticed in the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE was the number of USB charging ports; there are five (5) USB ports. If those weren’t enough there are two 12V outlets to keep mom, dad, and the kids charged and happy! But wait, that isn’t all.  

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE was the number of USB charging ports; there are five (5) USB ports. If those weren’t enough there are two 12V outlets to keep mom, dad, and the kids charged and happy! But wait, that isn’t all.  

If you have devices that only function on WiFi – our daughter’s iPad for example – families will love that with Wi-Fi Connect enabled, the Toyota Highlander turns into your personal hotspot with 4G connectivity. Allowing up to five devices to stay connected. It is perfect for mom or dad to catch up on work or for kids to stay entertained (and out of mom and dad’s hair) while on the road.

I thought we had time before hanging with your parents became uncool. 😢

The reason for this road trip was to get out of the house and do a fun socially distanced family activity. Guess what? Our 9-year-old couldn’t wait to claim the third row as her own, leaving her sister and me all alone in the second row. Even with the bulky car seat, I had enough space to sit comfortably during the 2-hour drive.

The 2nd row seat legroom in the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE. Even with the bulky car seat, I had enough space to sit comfortably during the 2-hour drive.
I had about a foot of legroom in the second row. Plus, I had easy access to the charging ports and rear passenger climate controls.

The third row of the Highlander XLE was her sanctuary. She played with toys, watched some of her favorite Disney+ shows, roleplayed, and napped. For her, an almost 5’ tall child, it was just enough space. 

The third row of the Highlander XLE was her sanctuary. She played with toys, watched some of her favorite Disney+ shows, roleplayed, and napped. For her, an almost 5’ tall child, it was just enough space. 
I caught her sleeping on the way back from the Safari Drive.

Like me, she enjoyed the moonroof, especially once we arrived at the Safari Park. It allowed her to experience the Safari in full. Hello, Giraffes. 

Like me, she enjoyed the moonroof, especially once we arrived at the Safari Park. It allowed her to experience the Safari in full. Hello, Giraffes and friends. 

If you think about it, had this been a true safari, the 2020 Highlander XLE AWD would have been the perfect vehicle. It features a Multi-Terrain Select. Allowing the driver to choose between four modes (mud & sand, rock & dirt, snow, and normal) for improved traction. In addition to that, there are three drive modes: Sport, ECO, and normal. 

You’re probably wondering how this midsize SUV with 3.5L V6 and 295 horsepower faired on fuel, right? Six-cylinder vehicles are known to be gas guzzlers. However, this 180+ mile road trip only used half a tank of fuel. That is pretty impressive for an SUV of this size. I know that had we completed the same trip with my current vehicle, we would have had to fuel up on our trip back. 

Best Road trip SUV for families
This is the 2018 Highlander (L) next to the 2020 Highlander (R). The body of the 2020 model is more feminine.

Storage in Every Little Nook & Cranny

I think shopping for the best SUV for families is comparable to shopping for a home. I cannot be the only mom thinking about the amount of storage a vehicle has. The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD has storage areas tucked in every little nook & cranny of the vehicle. I was amazed by how many places there are to hide things like change, mobile devices, sunglasses, and these days, hand sanitizer, and masks. 

Another storage area that is important is the cargo area. It has a hands-free power liftgate that is operated via the keyfob or a button in the interior cabin near the driver. 

The Highlander has a total of 84.3 cubic feet of space, but that is with both the third and second-row seats folded down. With the third row folded down, which is how I would normally drive, cargo space is 48.4 cubic feet. As with most 3 row midsize SUVs, you lose valuable trunk space with utilizing the 3rd-row seating. That leaves 16 cubic feet of space. With the 3rd row up, I was unable to fit my daughter’s stroller. It was only able to fit utilizing the 60/40 split or keeping the seats down completely.

The Highlander has a total of 84.3 cubic feet of space, but that is with both the third and second-row seats folded down. With the third row folded down, which is how I would normally drive, cargo space is 48.4 cubic feet. As with most 3 row midsize SUVs, you lose valuable trunk space with utilizing the 3rd-row seating. That leaves 16 cubic feet of space. With the 3rd row up, I was unable to fit my daughter’s stroller. It was only able to fit utilizing the 60/40 split or keeping the seats down completely.

The Highlander has a total of 84.3 cubic feet of space, but that is with both the third and second-row seats folded down. With the third row folded down, which is how I would normally drive, cargo space is 48.4 cubic feet. As with most 3 row midsize SUVs, you lose valuable trunk space with utilizing the 3rd-row seating. That leaves 16 cubic feet of space. With the 3rd row up, I was unable to fit my daughter’s stroller. It was only able to fit utilizing the 60/40 split or keeping the seats down completely.

What We Loved About the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD

  • Heated seats – for the cold New York winters
  • Moonroof  – to take in the sun and sights, and make the interior cabin feel less claustrophobic
  • Hands-free liftgate – for the times you’re juggling a baby and groceries
  • Wi-Fi – to keep the family entertained during long drives
  • Multiple charging ports – to ensure all devices are remain charged and ready to use
  • Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (Toyota Safety Sense (pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, lane keep assist, road sign reading and automatic high beam headlights) 
  • 2nd-row seats are on rails making it easy to reach the backseat

The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD is the best road trip vehicle for families

The 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD is the Best SUV for Families 

The Highlander XLE provided a comfortable and safe drive for our family during our family road trip. It easily accelerated easily on the highway and maneuvered well doing what we wanted it to do when we wanted. So who do we see in it?

  • Small families like ours who occasionally need additional seating; the Highlander can seat up to 8. (Captain seating is available)
  • Image conscious millennial

Our 9-year-old daughter fell in love with the Highlander XLE. It's the best road trip vehicle for families.

What the 2020 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD Cost

The Highlander that I test drove had an MSRP of $44,498, which includes the $1,120 delivery processing and handling fees, as well as $2,178 in optional equipment. Optional equipment installed on the XLE AWD I drove are as follows:

  • Premium audio – $1,040
    • Destination assist
    • Dynamic navigation and app suite
    • 8” touch screen
  • Special Color (Moon Dust/Sepia) – $425
  • Carpet mat package – $318
  • Paint Protection Film – $395

The base model has an MSRP of $34,600. In it, you get all the same safety features since Toyota Safety Sense is standard. If you need things like heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, a birdseye view camera, a panoramic sunroof, a 12.3″ touch screen, a head-up display, and more, you’ll want to upgrade to the Platinum, which is the top of the line model. That will cost you about $50,000.

2020 Toyota Highlander XLE: Is This the best SUV for Families? road trip vehicle

Whether or long drive or just driving around town running errands, the Toyota Highlander XLE is a 3 row midsize SUV to consider. It checks off style and safety. Toyota ensured passengers in the Highlander stay connected, charged, and entertained. The multiple drive modes keep you ready for any terrain, whether it’s a safari, tundra, or your neighborhood. 

Disclosure: Toyota provided the Highlander for review consideration only. All opinions are my own.

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Kim S.
Owner
Kim is a 30-something-year-old wife and do-it-all mom of two beautiful daughters; her rainbow babies. Kim uses Beauty and the Bump NYC, to share her perspective about the things that she loves most and finds beautiful: family, travel, cars, food and more. As a contributor to A Girl’s Guide to Cars, Kim shares her love for cars through providing helpful tips and car reviews from the perspective of a modern working mom.