2020 vs 2021: What's the Difference?
The 2021 Toyota Highlander sees significant improvements over the 2020 model. All models are now equipped with LED headlights for starters, and extra driver aids are added as well. Most impressive is the semi-autonomous emergency steering ability used to try to prevent collisions.
A brand new XSE trim also joins the Highlander family in 2021. This model gets a sportier look that includes more aggressive exterior styling. On top of features like 20-inch wheels, the XSE model has a unique suspension for a more athletic feel.
What Do the Various Trim Levels Offer?
Now that the XSE is here, there are six different trim levels available for the Highlander. The entry-level model continues to be the L, which is decently well equipped with features like tri-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and the Safety Sense suite of features. For the LE, the Highlander gains a leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, and foglights.
The XLE has second-row captain's chairs, reducing this model's seating capacity from eight down to seven. It gets heated front seats, simulated leather upholstery, and roof rails. On top of the unique look, the XSE trim level adds navigation and ambient interior lighting.
Inside the Limited trim, buyers find genuine leather upholstery and ventilated front seats. This version of the Highlander also has a hands-free liftgate, household-style power outlet, intercom system, and a heated steering wheel. These are all features found in the top Platinum trim, along with a digital rearview mirror, heated-second row seats, a panoramic sunroof, and a head-up display.
Which Trim is Right for Me?
The base model of the 2021 Toyota Highlander is worth skipping. Instead, buyers will want to focus on the LE and XLE models. They are both in the lower half of the trim ladder but still are packed with features. Buyers after luxury can get a good deal out of the XLE, which has heated front seats, a wireless charging pad, and a power sunroof. The XSE makes mostly cosmetic changes, and the trims above it are primarily full of bells and whistles.
What Kind of Technology Does it Have?
Drivers can stick with lower trims of the 2021 Highlander and still get an impressive amount of tech features, including smartphone integration. The standard touchscreen size is 8-inches, and a Wi-Fi hotspot is included as well. Other notable technology features found on all models include Amazon Alexa capability, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and five USB ports.
Tech-enthusiasts can also be satisfied by the Highlander, which is available with a 12.3-inch touchscreen. Select models add wireless device charging and an integrated navigation system as well. For music lovers, an 11-speaker premium audio system from JBL is an option.
How Does It Perform?
The 2021 Highlander gets its power from a 3.5L V6 engine that pumps out 295-horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are standard. All-wheel drive is available for select models.
The powertrain provides satisfying acceleration and smooth shifts. The ride of the Highlander remains pleasant, even when the road conditions deteriorate. When properly equipped, the 2021 Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Is It Safe and Reliable?
Safety testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has the 2021 Highlander looking pretty good. The overall score is five out of five stars, although the SUV did get a score of four stars in both rollover and frontal crash testing. This vehicle has long lists when it comes to both standard and available safety features.
Standard driver aids include traffic sign recognition, pedestrian detection, lane trace assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. Also found on all six trim levels is a rear-seat reminder. From the LE and up, a blind-spot monitor is included. The Platinum trim adds a head-up display and surround-view camera system.
With a score of 3.5 out of five from J.D. Power, it is safe to assume that the 2021 Highlander will be reliable. This is an above-average score and a great selling point for the vehicle.
What's the Interior Like?
The first two rows of the Highlander are spacious and comfortable. The third-row, however, is too cramped for adult passengers to sit back there for any length of time. Still, the cabin of the 2021 Highlander should work for smaller families or families with smaller children.
Cargo space is about average for the vehicle class. It gives drivers 16 cubic feet behind the last row of seats. When cargo is being hauled instead of people, the Highlander can offer up to 84.3 cubic feet when the second and third rows are down.
What are the Alternatives to this Model?
The Highlander lives in a competitive segment of the market. Shoppers will also want to consider the Kia Telluride, which has a more spacious third-row. It also has an impressive number of standard features. The Honda Pilot is a favorite in the midsize three-row SUV class. Although it offers a slightly roomier third-row, it is difficult to get to. Other options out there include the Hyundai Palisade, Chevrolet Traverse, and even the hybrid variation of the 2021 Toyota Highlander.
Note: All Toyota Highlander lease prices and dollar figures above are approximate amounts. Prices are subject to change without notice.