Exclusive Content
Original Shows, Motorsports and Live Events
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit www.motortrend.com for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • |
  • |
  • 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE First Look - Chicago Auto Show

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE First Look - Chicago Auto Show

Slight Performance Updates and Aggressive Styling for Toyota’s Popular Family Crossover

Feb 7, 2020

On sale for less than a year, Toyota is nevertheless keeping its largest family crossover fresh with a new performance variant. The 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE, which hits dealers this fall, will add a few performance upgrades to go along with aggressive new styling.

Power and Poise

Equipped with a standard 3.5L V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission, the Toyota Highlander XSE routes its 295 hp and 263 lb-ft to the front or all four wheels. In the case of the latter, the XSE gets Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel drive that can send up to 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels, then vary that split from side to side on the rear axle. The company says the all-wheel-drive system improves control in slippery conditions, and we have to assume it adds some sportiness in aggressive driving as well.

Photo 2/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Exterior Front View
Photo 3/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Exterior Rear View

The Toyota Highlander XSE also includes a trim-specific suspension setup, entailing higher-rate springs and a stiffer rear stabilizer bar, both of which should neutralize some of the crossover's propensity to understeer. Lower-friction shock absorbers also join the party, and the electric power steering has been retuned for a sportier feel behind the wheel. Machine-faced 20-inch wheels with black accents are standard.

Plastic Surgery

In the transformation from mild-mannered crossover to parental plaything, the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE receives a significant restyling. A new front fascia with a more aggressive grille and deeper front spoiler are exclusive to the XSE, giving the family wagon a much sportier stance when viewed from the front. Black-accented headlamps with LED daytime running lights give the Highlander a slightly meaner glower.

Photo 4/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Exterior Side Profile
Photo 5/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Exterior Front Clip

Deeper side rockers wouldn't look out of place on the set of the original The Fast and the Furious. And Toyota is amusingly proud of the XSE's chromed, exposed dual-tip exhausts, a "first-ever" appearance on a Highlander. Good for you, Toyota. Way to love yourself. Black roof rails, mirror caps, and body trim are more subtle and slightly more aggressive than the normal Highlander's chrome bits.

The interior of the Toyota Highlander XSE receives some attention as well, foremost with the optional two-tone leather upholstery done in red and black. The available interior is bold and daring, two adjectives we don't usually ascribe to Toyota-branded crossovers. The standard Softex-and-fabric upholstery is similarly sporty and grippy, though with far less wow factor than the contrast-colored seating. Both upholsteries are matched with standard ambient lighting and a carbon-texture finish on the dashboard trim.

Photo 6/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Interior Front Cabin
Photo 7/13   |   2021 Toyota Highlander Xse Interior Rear Seats

Is the Toyota Highlander XSE for You?

Toyota is getting bolder every year, with sporty XSE variants of the Camry, Corolla, Avalon, and RAV4 (as well as a surprisingly outrageous Avalon and Camry TRD lineup). The Highlander XSE is yet another example of the company's willingness to get aggressive and take risks. Although the bone-stock powertrain and slightly altered suspension won't give the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT any guff, the Toyota Highlander XSE nonetheless shows that the company is willing to throw a little Supra-inspired fun at its bread-and-butter customer base. Nothing wrong with that at all.

POPULAR TRUCKS

MOST POPULAR

CLOSE X
BUYER'S GUIDE
SEE THE ALL NEW
NEWS, REVIEWS & SPECS