With the NY auto show officially postponed to August, it’s entirely possible that this might be the only auto show coverage you get from us this year. Obviously, automotive enthusiasm must take a back seat to public health if the situation calls for it.
That being said, the coronavirus stands a good chance of ruining a whole lot of automotive fun this year, which is very unfortunate. Curbside Classic might not visit the Javits Center in 2020. But I did once again have the chance to attend my local auto show. Here’s what I saw.
The 2020 Toyota Highlander follows in the Rav4’s footsteps in that it arrives on a variant of Toyota’s TNGA modular platform while boasting a vastly sexier exterior. While I saw one of these last year at the NY auto show, this was my chance to get up close and personal to one.
Basically, the new Highlander is what you get when you throw a Toyota Tacoma, Mazda CX-9, and previous generation Highlander into a blender. I think it’s a good look that will age well.
Aesthetically, the interior leaves a bit to be desired. Some of buttons are too small and the LED display in the driver’s cockpit seemed a bit crude by modern standards. That being said, materials quality is just as good if not better than the Mazda CX-9, essentially making it best-in-class.
This is the second row of the Highlander. For some reason I did not photograph the third row or the little storage console between the captain’s chairs. In contrast to the rest of the interior, that little storage section was a low rent affair. That probably doesn’t mean much and it’s debatable whether or not something like that should even be somewhat premium considering it’s likely to get trampled on and covered in liquids and other stuff. I just thought it should be pointed out. More importantly, the third row felt a bit cramped for my 5 foot six inch, 145 pound frame. If you’re in the market for a crossover than can transport 6 or 7 adults comfortably for long periods of time you may want to look elsewhere. Otherwise, the Highlander should be at the top of your list.
I also had the chance to sit in the Supra. Like the Highlander, I saw the Toyota up close at last year’s show, but only on a pedestal. This time I got to experience the Supra “in the flesh” so to speak. While I initially disliked the design I’ve since come around to it.
It’s got great proportions and an extremely distinctive design. The Toyota salesperson said a lot of BMW owners are buying them because they don’t want the Z4 since it’s only available as a convertible. That makes a lot of sense considering the climate here, and the relative location of the nearest BMW dealer, which is about ten miles north of DCH Wappingers Falls Toyota.
The interior is decent. But you sit really low in the car. With the Supra’s already low ride height, the average crossover will be quite imposing in the next lane over. And Toyota logo aside, you might as well be inside the BMW, because the infotainment system didn’t seem modified at all.
Like the Highlander, the Explorer is all-new for 2020. Ford basically botched the initial rollout of the Explorer. If you were wondering why Ford CEO Jim Hackett forced out President Joe Hinrichs, here you go:
“Fans of Farley say Hinrichs was meanwhile moving too slowly to fix what ails Ford. They point to the botched launch of the new Explorer last year that weakened North American earnings for a company that isn’t consistently making money elsewhere in the world.
When Hinrichs dispatched a vice president last year to investigate problems at Ford’s Explorer plant in Chicago, some subordinates didn’t even show up for meetings to discuss the situation, said a person familiar with the visit. For a high-ranking executive to be disrespected like that was seen as evidence that Hinrichs didn’t have full control of the situation at the plant, the person said. Hinrichs declined to comment”
This is the second time I’ve had the opportunity to sample a 2020 Explorer. My first time was when I had my 2013 Focus serviced at the dealership where this Explorer originated. Like the one I poked around in several months ago, this one doesn’t seem to have the build quality issues that affected earlier models. I couldn’t find any noticeable panel gaps or missing trim pieces.
I sat in the Explorer almost immediately after being in the Highlander. There is no question that the Toyota boasts higher quality materials in the cabin. But the Ford’s button layout is far superior and there’s simply less of them, which is a definite plus. Oddly enough, it seems that Ford and Toyota took opposite approaches when they designed the interiors of their respective three rows. Toyota outfitted the Highlander with premium materials on the things you don’t touch while Ford clearly prioritized the places where customers will twist, poke, and prod. On the Explorer, the steering wheel, center stack, rotary dial shifter and center console, and other ancillary controls feel great. By contrast, the Highlander stumbles in those areas, at least when compared to the Ford.
The Explorer’s cockpit also seemed light years ahead of the unit in the Highlander. Aside from being larger, it just looked and operated like something you’d expect from a modern vehicle. The Highlander’s display felt outdated. These characteristics also extend to the infotainment systems too. Ford’s Sync 3 is snappier and easier to use while Toyota’s system isn’t as sprightly.
The Explorer also boasted an integrated center console between their captain’s chairs, just like Toyota. Like the Highlander, it felt rugged, but not especially premium. But again, this is something that people are going to step on. I think both automakers realized this and engineered them to withstand that type of punishment. As for the second row seats themselves, they felt pretty good. A lot of reviewers criticized the Explorer’s second row seats. Personally, I thought they were fine. But they are surprisingly thin. Not in terms of bolstering, but the actual width of the seat bottoms are less wide than I think people are used to. Not a problem for my 5 foot, six inch frame. But larger adults definitely wouldn’t be comfortable in them beyond half hour trips. They seemed designed primarily for kids, which makes sense.
Similarly, the third row is clearly tailored for little ones. When sitting in the third row, my knees were higher than I’d like. But it wasn’t a torture chamber. Also, the Explorer seemed to have just as much cargo room with the third row up as the Highlander. That is a bit odd considering the Explorer has 4 inches of length on the Toyota. My guess is that Ford prioritized passenger space over cargo capacity, at least when all seats are raised.
Basically, it seems like Ford and Toyota focus grouped the hell out of their customers and developed two three rows with surprisingly different traits. The Explorer seems tailored to families who want a technologically sophisticated hauler with lively driving dynamics and a roomy cabin. Toyota instead created a decidedly premium experience for Highlander owners that might not be the most spacious vehicle in its class, but probably the most refined, inside and out. I would kill for the chance to test drive these back-to-back.
As a quick aside, I would like to highlight the Ford SecuriCode keyless entry system. I believed in the usefulness of the feature when I was a Ford salesperson. But now that I own a car with an older version of the keypad, I have become a true believer. Amazingly, it’s already become super handy in situations where I needed to unlock the doors but didn’t have the key. It now seems insane to me that other automakers haven’t copied Ford in developing their own keypads. It apparently doesn’t cost Ford that much to offer it in their vehicles. Perhaps this is the not-so-secret ingredient that has helped Ford retain customers over the years? Who knows.
I didn’t take any pictures of the 2020 Escape that I sat in, but all of you most likely already know what they look like. Since I also sampled the Rav4 at the show, I can once again share my opinions between the Ford and the Toyota. Like the Explorer and Highlander, the Escape and Rav4 share similar properties. Ford prioritized making the things customers touch feel premium and the buttons spread through the cabin are well weighted and easier to read than their Japanese counterparts. I also think Ford notches out a win in the aesthetics department.
However, unlike the two three-rows, which had acceptable materials for their price points, these compact crossovers boasted incredibly spartan interiors with essentially no pretense of luxury. And these weren’t base models either. The local Toyota dealer brought a Hybrid XLE to the show and the Escape boasted an MSRP of around $33,000. Obviously, both automakers are packing their respective vehicles with loads of tech and features that boost the overall price. But based on interior quality alone I’d say neither of them are worth more than $30k, before incentives. This is not an opinion I had with either of their previous generation counterparts. Also, the seats in the Rav4 were far too aggressively bolstered, which you can kind of see in the above picture.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which features Cadillac, Buick, Mazda, and Kia. And a whole lot more interior thrashing.