The Toyota Highlander is understood for being a dependable, handsome three-row SUV, however among the many listing of adjectives used to explain it, sporty is just not on our listing. New for 2021 is the Highlander XSE, which swaps its elegant strains for a extra dynamic look. With a novel grille, fascia, decrease spoiler, wheels, and blackened particulars just like the mirror caps and faux air vents, the XSE distinguishes itself from the remainder of the Highlander lineup. However the XSE is greater than a badge and an look package deal—Toyota engineers made modifications beneath the pores and skin to ship a extra linked driving expertise. Amongst these trades are stiffer spring charges, a thicker anti-roll bar, and retuned shock absorbers, whereas the steering really feel is extra pronounced.
Earlier this 12 months we examined a 2021 Highlander XSE however could not discover any main variations between the common three-row SUV and the brand new trim. To get a greater perspective, we requested Toyota to lend us the XSE again together with an XLE—the preferred Highlander trim—for a back-to-back comparability.
How Sporty is Sporty?
Normally, we affiliate the phrase sporty with further energy and dynamic dealing with, however that is not the case right here. All Highlanders—whatever the trim—are powered by a 295-hp, 263 lb-ft 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed transmission. Our XSE and XLE each got here with the non-compulsory all-wheel drive system, which might ship as much as 50 p.c of the torque to the rear wheels. In addition to the suspension and steering settings, the XSE comes with stickier tires and 20-inch wheels (as a substitute of 18s).
Driving the Highlanders back-to-back uncovered the distinction we did not see earlier within the 12 months. In comparison with the XLE, the XSE’s steering felt a bit extra weighted, however in need of what we might describe as sporty. The distinction was like turning Sport mode on—the XSE felt extra alert whereas the XLE appeared to be in consolation mode on a regular basis. The response was a bit sharper and higher balanced and supplied a tad extra suggestions than the XLE. Nonetheless, it wasn’t an evening and day distinction, because the XSE’s steering continues to be tuned to on the consolation aspect of the spectrum.
The case is similar with the trip. On our take a look at loop that mingles by means of curvy roads, damaged pavement and freeway parts, the Highlander XSE’s physique felt a bit extra managed than the XLE. On the damaged pavement, the XSE’s suspension felt prefer it was tuned to work in a one-and-done trend versus making an attempt to dissipate the vibrations within the cabin in a cushier manner, like we felt within the XLE. On twisty roads, the XSE felt sharper, extra managed and a tad grippier—the latter largely due to the Goodyear Eagle Touring tires in comparison with the XLE’s Michelin Premier LTX. Trip high quality wasn’t impacted by the XSE’s greater wheels.
At our observe in Fontana, California, the pair felt fairly shut to one another in our acceleration and dealing with checks. Within the 0-60 mph run and the quarter mile, the XLE was 0.1 second sooner, however on our braking take a look at the XSE’s tires confirmed off, stopping in 116 ft in comparison with 122 ft for the XLE. “Comparable really feel to the XLE: Numerous entrance dive, softly sprung entrance suspension,” stated affiliate highway take a look at editor Erick Ayapana after driving them back-to-back.
Issues had been minimally totally different on the skid pad as properly, the place highway take a look at editor Chris Walton managed to shave 0.2 second within the XSE for a time of 26.5-seconds at 0.65 g (the XLE took 26.7 seconds at 0.64 g). “Numerous physique roll within the corners, and the steering appears heavy for heavy’s sake. The transmission wasn’t very clever on the skid pad, so I needed to downshift manually,” stated Walton on the XLE. His emotions had been nearly replicated within the XSE, noting the identical foibles as within the XLE however much less so. “There’s nonetheless various dive and roll, however not as extreme. The transmission behaves the identical, and maybe the tires are somewhat sportier, so it was simpler to brake in the identical spot persistently,” he added.
So, how sporty is sporty? The Highlander XSE falls in need of what we might name sporty or spirited. However like Walton stated after driving the XSE on the skid pad, “that is how the common Highlander needs to be.” The stiffer springs and weighted steering assist it preserve its physique beneath management when driving aggressively, and nonetheless have that stage of consolation that the three-row Toyota is understood for.
Are the Interiors Totally different?
Just like the outside, the cabins are a bit totally different. The largest change is the crimson leatherette within the XSE, which you’ll select for gratis. (On a aspect be aware, the crimson leatherette solely covers the primary and second rows; the third row will get black seats.) In the event you choose one thing extra conventional, black leatherette seats are additionally commonplace, which is how our mannequin got here geared up. Fake carbon-fiber trim could be seen throughout the dashboard. The XLE, alternatively, trades the crimson leatherette for a premium enchantment, particularly with the Harvest Beige inside, which mixes beige and brown supplies. And as a substitute of getting the pretend carbon-fiber, the XLE will get a shiny grey plastic.
The opposite minor distinction inside is the design of the Multi-Terrain selector, which is managed by a knob within the XSE as a substitute of buttons like within the XLE. Each SUVs have the identical three modes—Mud & Sand, Regular, and Rock & Filth—solely the way in which to pick them is totally different.
Choosing the XLE permits you to select between a seven- or eight-passenger inside for gratis; the XSE arrives with seven seats solely.
Every little thing else is similar throughout the board. Each SUVs include 5 USB ports (three within the entrance row, two within the second row) and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The XSE is accessible with navigation and a JBL premium audio system (a $1,680 possibility), whereas the XLE affords navigation and a premium audio possibility (no JBL audio system) for $1,040. Each programs sounded good; we did not discover any main distinction between them.
Inside area is similar in each Highlanders, with the third row feeling cramped for adults. Not too long ago, Toyota trademarked the “Grand Highlander” identify, which suggests we’d see a much bigger three-row SUV quickly, which may amplify inside area.
Which Highlander Ought to I Purchase?
The XSE is positioned between the XLE and Restricted grades, which suggests it begins at $42,680 whereas the XLE is priced at $41,085. All-wheel drive is an additional $1,950 for both mannequin. Our XLE, which solely added the navigation and audio package deal, crossed the checkout counter at $43,625. Our XSE added the JBL package deal and different equipment just like the cargo cross bars on the roof, all-weather ground mats, and illuminated door sills (amongst others) that elevated its value to $47,451.
In the long run, all of it comes right down to the appears and practicality. In the event you assume the Highlander’s design is boring, the XSE undoubtedly brings extra emotion. But when your finances is tighter, the XLE is an efficient possibility. The stiffer suspension and steering settings doubtless will not have an effect on your choice, because the expertise behind the wheel is nearly the identical when both Highlander is just not pushed to its limits, one thing the overwhelming majority of householders will steer clear of.
If it had been our cash, we might in all probability go together with the XSE, as we choose its dealing with on the highway and its stickier tires. We might somewhat have the XLE’s exterior design, however we might get the crimson leatherette seats if we had been shopping for the XSE. We will not have the most effective of each worlds right here, however we’re glad Toyota is giving prospects extra choices to select from.
Appears good! Extra particulars?
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2021 Toyota Highlander XLE AWD||2021 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Entrance-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Atkinson-cycle 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, Four valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||210.9 cu in/3,456 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||295 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.7 lb/hp||14.9 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.3-in vented disc; 13.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.Zero x 18-in solid aluminum||8.Zero x 20-in solid aluminum|
|TIRES||235/65R18 106V Michelin Premier LTX (M+S)||235/55R20 102V Goodyear Eagle Touring (M+S)|
|TRACK, F/R||65.3/65.Four in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||194.9 x 76.Zero x 68.1 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.Zero in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||17.9/23.Zero deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.Four ft|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,341 lb (56/44%)||4,394 lb (55/45%)|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5,000 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/M/R||38.4/39.4/36.1 in|
|LEGROOM, F/M/R||40.4/41.0/27.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||59.0/58.7/55.Zero in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/M/R||84.3/48.4/16.Zero cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.Four sec||2.Four sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.5||3.6|
|QUARTER MILE||15.Three sec @ 92.Eight mph||15.Four sec @ 92.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-Zero MPH||122 ft||116 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.7 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)||26.5 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$43,900||$47,726|
|AIRBAGS||8: Twin entrance, entrance aspect, driver knee, front-pass thigh, f/m/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||Three yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||2 yrs/25,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||17.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||20/27/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/125 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.86 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded common|