Fresh of 2020's total redesign for its fourth generation, the new 2021 Toyota Highlander keeps the pace set with an exciting new addition - the sporty XSE trim level. For almost two decades, Toyota has been struggling behind in the competition with the Highlander, but last year's revamp and this year's new XSE trim is set to change all of that. Let's take a closer look at what is new for the model year, what is available, and how the Highlander performs on the road.
What's New For 2021?
The only real change this year is the inclusion of the XSE trim level. This trim is powered by the same 295-hp V6 engine that comes on the rest of the models, but it has some serious differences. There is an upgraded suspension, more weight to the steering, and re-tuned dampers that generate less friction. The front fascia has been more aggressively styled with larger air intakes and an inverted grille. Inside, you will find two-tone red-and-blackSofTex simulated leather and cloth upholstery, red contrast stitching, XSE-specific ambient lighting, and carbon fiber trim.
The 2021 Toyota Highlander is only available as a third-row SUV.
For 2021, the Highlander comes in six different trim levels: the base L, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Platinum. Every trim level save for the L can be ordered as a hybrid instead of having the standard gas-only powertrain.
The 3.5-L V6 engine that comes on the gas-only Highlander provides ample power to the vehicle. An 8-speed automatic transmission gets matched up with it and makes for some seriously smooth shifting capabilities. You can also take your pick between front- or all-wheel drive on any of the Highlander's trim levels, which is nice for those who will need the extra traction and stability that AWD provides.
The Highlander is surprisingly light on its feet for being a third-row SUV. In fact, it can get from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds when AWD is equipped. However, this nimble nature does not carry over to the handling unless you get the XSE. This new trim level is designed for a sportier performance with its sport-tuned suspension, the upgrades to which focus on the rear stabilizer bar and the springs. It might not necessarily make the Highlander a thrilling vehicle to drive, but it does boost the overall driving dynamics.
What about the hybrid? Well, that powertrain consists of a 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine paired with two motors for a total output of 243 hp. A CVT gets matched to this powertrain for improved fuel economy, but acceleration suffers due to this choice. This gets the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.3 seconds.
Toyota does hit the nail on the head when it comes to comfort and technology. Inside, the driver and passengers get treated to a generous amount of space in the first two rows. As is the case for most vehicles in this segment, the third row is fairly narrow and really meant strictly for kids.
An 8-inch infotainment system comes standard on each trim level save for the Limited and Platinum, as they are upgraded to a 12.3-inch display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on all trims, making it easy to sync your smartphone apps with the infotainment system. Also, you can opt for an 11-speaker JBL sound system on this line-up. Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 is standard and gives you driver aids like lane keep assist and automatic high beam headlights.
The 2021 Toyota Highlander is competitive when it comes to fuel economy, especially on the hybrid variants. The gas-powered engine can get up to 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway when front-wheel drive is equipped. AWD will drop this by a few mpg. On the hybrid, the Highlander gets up to 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. Real-world tests show that these EPA estimates are pretty accurate, which means the Highlander has a highly competitive edge when it comes to fuel efficiency on a third-row SUV.
The 2021 Toyota Highlander builds on what the 2020 rebuild improved. This large third-row offers a respectable fuel economy and a lot of leeway when constructing your model. The standard V6 serves up enough power, and the hybrid holds its own as well. The real stand-out this year is the new XSE trim level, which offers a slightly sportier, more exciting driving performance than the other trims. Its more aggressive styling is also likely to turn some heads.
Formula for Calculating Dealer Cost:
Total Dealer Cost - Rebate and Incentive + Taxes / Licensing Fees = True Dealer Cost. (You can get rebates and incentives here)
Note: All Toyota Highlander MSRP, invoice and dealer cost dollar figures above are approximate amounts. Prices are subject to change without notice.
A note about rebates: Most rebates are subtracted from the "on the road" figure. In most cases, you can have the rebate if you are arranging your own financing or you are paying cash. If you decide to use the manufacturer’s low interest financing, you do not usually get the rebate. Ask your dealer for details.