2021 Toyota Highlander XSE

Photo via: Toyota

The Toyota Highlander has always been a strong contender for any growing group in need of a big, safe, reliable midsized SUV. Its 3.5L V6 engine offers strong acceleration. The cabin quality is impressive, and good ground clearance and high safety score makes you feel secure and confident on those long stretches of driving. 

New for 2021 are LED projector headlights. Now standard equipment. A new XSE trim model debuts this year as well. From the outside, this new trim can be identified by the black accented LED headlights, 20” machine-face alloy wheels, black mesh front grille with sporty front bumper and lower spoiler, dark finished roof rails and chrome trim all around. These additions create a darker, edgier overall effect. Especially when finished off with that twin-tip exhaust. 

On the inside, the XSE package adds ambient interior lighting to a cabin that already has a reputation of striking the right balance between utility and luxury. In the higher XSE model, soft-touch panels, faux wood and leather trimmings abound. Toyota’s excellent built quality takes center stage and will be a comfort to any consumer, no matter what the trim level is. The 2021 Highlander will seat up to eight people. However, much like many mid-sized SUV’s, you’ll find legroom in the third row to be a bit of a pipe dream. Optional second-row captains chairs will reduce total seating to seven, but offer a much more comfortable experience to the second row occupants.

Strong as the Highlander is, the Kia Telluride especially has proven to be stiff competition. Not just for Toyota, but pretty much everyone else at a similar price point. With a more refined cabin and a roomier third row. Many SUV competitors, Telluride included, will also out-accelerate and out-maneuver the more sloppy driving mannerisms found in the Highlander. A few big improvements are coming up due if the Toyota Highlander is to remain a viable option in the increasingly crowded SUV market. Even with its shortcomings, the addition of a more upscale XSE trim will help it keep pace until more substantial improvements manifest.

Price as tested: $47,451.00

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