Quick Spin: 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE

We fist experienced this generation Toyota Highlander back in May 2020 and we came away thoroughly impressed. It offers a great blend of practicality, comfort and features that made it a standout three-row SUV. Now though, Toyota has introduced the XSE trim which they say is sportier than the rest of the lineup. We jumped behind the wheel of a 20201 Highlander XSE to see if the difference is actually noticeable.

The Highlander XSE’s exterior is the most obvious change. The front bumper, grille, and blackened headlights are a tell-tale sign, but there’s a new rear bumper and a new wheel design as well. Inside, a red leather exclusive to the XSE and some faux carbon fiber trim set the cabin apart. Unfortunately that interior trim is some of the worst fake carbon fiber we’ve ever seen. Everything else unique to the XSE trim is under the skin, but it’s definitely not in the engine bay. The changes come with the suspension and steering. Allegedly, Toyota made changes to the anti-roll bars and stiffened the suspension. We couldn’t really notice, nor could we notice the sharper steering rack ratio. The only thing seemingly sporty for this particular variant is how it looks both inside and out.

Inside the Highlander XSE is typical Toyota fare, except the touchscreen is the 8-inch unit rather than the 12-inch screen we tested in the Platinum trim. It’s fine, and the technology is easy to use, but the piano black plastic trim surrounding the screen makes it look like you’ve opted for a cheaper model. Everything else inside the XSE trim is similar to others, including the innovative parcel shelf in the dash. Toyota’s excellent driver assistance systems, Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, are standard. That includes features like pre-collision assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Overall, it was a pleasant week with the Highlander XSE. The mechanical changes afforded by electing the XSE trim aren’t readily apparent, which means the XSE is more of an appearance package. So if you’re wanting a Highlander that looks more sporty than it is, the XSE trim adds the flair that you may require without any potential drawbacks of making sporty.

-Scott Villeneuve

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE$44,150
Premium Audio w/ JBL$1,680
Destination Charges$1,215
As-Tested MSRP$47,045

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.