2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD
Class: Midsize Crossover
Miles driven: 558
Fuel used: 26.4 gallons
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||A-|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||A-|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||295-hp 3.5-liter|
Real-world fuel economy: 21.1 mpg
Driving mix: 60% city, 40% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 20/27/23 (mpg city/highway/combined)
Fuel type: Regular gas
Base price: $43,355 (not including $1175 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Premium Audio with JBL ($1680), all-weather floor mats/cargo mat ($318)
Price as tested: $46,528
The great: Long list of comfort and convenience features; classy cabin trim
The good: Pleasant driving manners; good cargo volume and passenger space in first and second rows; distinctive styling touches inside and out
The not so good: No engine upgrade over other Highlander models; sport suspension makes for a slightly stiffer ride
More Highlander price and availability information
What could the Toyota Highlander have been lacking when the 3-row midsize crossover SUV was completely redone for 2020? Maybe a “sporty” model? If that was your wish, it’s no longer an unmet desire.
The follow-up 2021 Highlander adds the XSE as a sixth gas-engine trim level. (There are four hybrids as well.) Available as either a front- or all-wheel-drive vehicle, it boasts a modified suspension and a few appearance touches for a subtly racier attitude.
Consumer Guide sampled an AWD Highlander XSE. Considering that it has the same powerteam—a 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission—as all other current gas-engine Highlanders, its performance matched our positive experience with a plush ’20 Platinum. Its most important departure from the rest of the line is a sport-tuned take on the general MacPherson-strut/trailing-wishbone suspension. Toyota has retuned the shock absorbers, raised spring rates, and added a rear stabilizer bar (to complement the standard front bar) for a ride that’s firmer but not substantially harder than the base set-up. The alterations also tweak body control for better-than-average composure—by crossover SUV standards—around bends and in snappy lane changes.
Test Drive: 2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum
Toyota mentions a lower stance for the XSE, but its own published dimensions list the same overall height, road clearance, and ramp-breakover angle as any other Highlander. At 197.4 inches, the XSE is 2.5 inches longer than its kin, no doubt a factor in respective approach/departure angles of 16.9 and 21.1 degrees that are slightly tighter and less trail-friendly than on other Highlanders.
The XSE is priced just above the midpoint of the price range for gas-engine Highlanders. The test vehicle had a starting price, with delivery, of $44,530, which is $1950 costlier than the front-wheel-drive version.
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Aside from the distinct suspension touches, XSEs have their own frontal appearance via a uniquely shaped upper grille with a wavelike black mesh, wide horizontal-bar lower grille built into the bumper, and front spoiler. In back is a chrome-trimmed gray-metallic-finish lower bumper through which a twin-tip exhaust outlet peeks. Color-keyed side rocker panels with chrome lower trim, black roof rails, black accents for the LED projector headlights, and specific machined-face 20-inch alloy wheels round out the package. The standard “SofTex” leatherette upholstery on the front- and second-row seats can be swapped out for the optional red-leather facings and red accent stitching on the dash that made for a colorful cabin environment in the test vehicle. In addition to these model-specific features, XSE is the trim level at which ambient interior lighting becomes standard equipment.
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The XSE is strictly a 7-passenger vehicle with second-row captain’s chairs and reclining 60/40-split third-row seats. The seats in the front two rows are quite comfortable, and the front buckets are heated and power adjustable—10 ways for the driver (including power lumbar support) and 4 ways for the passenger. The third-row seat is sized and shaped to hold a couple of average-sized adults—at least for a while. Enlarged body dimensions that came with the 2020 redesign boosted Highlander’s maximum cargo capacity by a little more than 7 percent to 84.3 cubic feet.
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On the tech front, standard safety features include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert and lane-keep assist, lane-tracing assist, cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, and road-sign assist, and automatic headlight high-beam assist. Wireless charging; tri-zone climate control; and an audio system with an 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, and Amazon Alexa compatibility are included as well—though the test truck was kitted out with an 11-speaker JBL sound system with navigation. Even this enhanced system is easy to grasp and program.
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CG has picked Highlander as one of its “Best Buys” on account of its fine passenger and cargo room, agreeable road manners, quiet cabin, abundant useful features and available hybrid power. The XSE just gives a few more people with slightly different tastes something to like about this Toyota SUV.
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2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Gallery
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2021 Toyota Highlander XSE
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE