Twenty years and it just keeps on going. Despite a total revamp of the Highlander just last year, Toyota isn’t resting on its laurels. For 2021, the carmaker has released an all-new sporty XSE model of its popular midsize SUV.
Our all-wheel drive test drive was equipped with a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine putting out 295 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 263 pounds-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. A VVT-i and variable intake manifold assist in fuel saving. The Highlander is mated to an easy-to-engage, eight-speed auto transmission. A sport-tuned suspension handled via an independent MacPherson strut front and multilink rear does a super job of soaking up road bumps. The electric power steering is razor sharp with a firm on-center feel. If venturing off-road, the multi-terrain select control permits you to pick mud/sand or rock/dirt modes.
The sport mesh front grille joining a large, lower air intake integrated into the bumper is bordered by black-accented LED headlights and fog lamps. The Highlander offers cavernous cargo and passenger capacity, allowing for 13.6 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40 third row, 48.3 cubic feet behind the second row captain’s chairs (which go aft and forth by 3 inches for easy access to the third row) and 84.3 cubes with both seats folded. The embossed leather seats, especially the alluring two-tone red and black, are plush.
There also is a huge underfloor bin in the cargo hold. The overhead sunglasses holder and conversation mirror add to the list. An 8-inch touchscreen for nav, phone and audio controls is simple to operate. Other niceties include a tri-zone auto AC, 10-way driver and four-way power heated/cooled front passenger seats, heated second row seats with window shades, faux-wood trim and silver-painted satin and chrome accents, fold-flat third row seat, and power liftgate and moonroof.
Dual front airbags, side curtain airbag, front knee airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability and traction controls, 360-degree camera view, blind-spot and rear-cross traffic alerts, Smart Stop Technology, front/rear parking assists, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system come at no cost. The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 includes a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane-departure alert with steer assist and dynamic cruise control.
With a good balance of comfort and performance, the Highlander is eminently practical, spacious and a pleasure to drive. If you’re in the market for a family hauler that can seat up to eight, we highly endorse this Toyota for a test drive. Or opt for the hybrid version. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.