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2021 Toyota Highlander: Toyota Gives Us a Heavy Hitter

Steven Mitchell

The 2021 Toyota Highlander is like an NFL lineman who can run 40 yards in 4 seconds from a three-point stance. You would never expect it.

What’s New in the 2021 Toyota Highlander?

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE - toyota.com

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE – toyota.com |  Shop 2021 Toyota Highlander on Carsforsale.com

If you’re looking for a new all-inclusive SUV, the 2021 Toyota Highlander might be the one. Even though you can’t toss a Venti Latte cup and miss hitting an SUV in a parking lot these days, the 2021 Toyota Highlander makes itself known while driving down the street. Last year, a redesign gave it sweeping lines on the exterior and interior that are echoed throughout the entire Toyota line. Thankfully, in-person, the design works.

For every trim, except the base L version, you’ll be able to choose either a V6 engine or an optional hybrid engine for an additional $1,400 to help pull you down the highway. Each Highlander comes with the option for a four-wheel-drive plus more standard and optional safety equipment than seems possible, but we’ll take it. Let’s see how the 2021 Toyota Highlander goes about its job as a competent 7+ passenger SUV.

Body Style

Starting Price

MSRP $49,015

Drivetrain

Drivetrain

FWD or AWD

Drivetrain

Fuel Economy

21 City / 29 Hwy (MPG)

Number of Seats

Seating

Seats 7-8

The Breakdown

Appealing all-around styling

Plenty of standard features

Comfortable seats at every level

Lots of great technology at every level

Extensive list of driver-assist features

The dash is oddly designed

Information overload on the 12.3-inch screen

2021 Highlander Specs

Trims & Pricing

L - $34,810
LE - $37,010
XLE - $39,810
XSE - $41,405
Limited - $43,765
Platinum - $46,965

2021 Toyota Highlander Powertrain

2021 Toyota Highlander V6 - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander V6 - pressroom.toyota.com

With a curb weight of 4260 lbs, it’s good that you have a 295hp 3.5L V6 engine. However, in the all-wheel-drive version, we felt like there needed to be even more powerful. Powering up to speed from the on-ramp caused the usually silent V6 to bark back with some unpleasant engine sounds, but not a lot of movement-or so it seemed.

Recent tests have shown that the 0-60 time of the Highlander is 6.7 seconds, that’s some rapid acceleration for such a heavy vehicle, but maybe it’s the size that deceived us. The 2021 Toyota Highlander is like an NFL lineman who can run 40 yards in 4 seconds from a three-point stance. You would never expect it.

2021 Toyota HIghlander XLE - toyota.com
2021 Toyota HIghlander XLE - toyota.com

The 8-speed transmission, however, is so smooth and silent that you don’t feel the shifts. This Highlander carries a big stick when you need it and seems as if it can handle as much as we can fill into its cavernous interior.

The Hybrid Powertrain

2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5L I4 - carsforsale.com
2021 Toyota Highlander 2.5L I4 - carsforsale.com

Instead of the standard V6, you can choose the optional 2.5L four-cylinder plus two electric motors that produce 243 horsepower. It also includes a CVT, which isn’t always a buyer’s first choice, but it’s your only choice.

Toyota has a long history of hybrids, so you can trust it to work seamlessly and efficiently. You do pay the price in acceleration that’s a more leisurely 7.3 seconds from 0-60 and may feel it more when passing on the highway, but the tradeoff is that you get better gas mileage.

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum Hybrid - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum Hybrid - pressroom.toyota.com

Even though the hybrid is a $1400 option, it’s considerably less than the optional price from other carmakers that are up to $11,000 more than the Highlander hybrid. Cost efficiency is also what a history of technological advancement will give you.

2021 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy & MPG

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE - toyota.com

The EPA estimates 29 miles per gallon while driving your V6 on the highway and the Platinum trim with AWD gets two mpg less. Although, other tests have shown between 28 and 30 mpg averages depending on how deep you like to press the accelerator pedal.

Hybrid models get 35 mpg on the highway in FWD trim. Like most hybrids, tooling around town will get you a higher mpg since the electric engine is often put to work instead of being powered by the gasoline engine. In this case, you get 36 mpg running errands and making local stops in the city.

Interior, Comfort, & Cargo Space

Everything below the XLE trim has van-like bench seats in the 2nd and third row. Like the captain’s chair and rear bench on the other trims, these can fold flat to allow a huge 84.3 cubic feet. Toyota’s redesign of the Highlander gave it more width to handle larger suitcases side-by-side, and it’s a little longer too. With the third seat up for passengers, you lose quite a bit of space, but we found it more than adequate for grocery pickup and delivery for a large family.

We love the 2021 Toyota Highlander’s quietness on the road and the comfort of its seats. The dash looks like it was put together at the last minute though. I’m sure Toyota consumer tested everything, however we feel that it is more like a pickup than an SUV. Some materials don’t seem to work together and parts, especially to the instrument panel’s left, looked added on, as did the JBL speakers.

As nice as the 12.3-inch infotainment screen is on the Platinum trim, there’s so much information on it that it becomes overwhelming. Just because there’s space doesn’t mean it needs to be filled. Maybe it can be simplified and tailored to your own preferences. Most impressive are the numbers of places to store things. The center console, for instance, can hide an entire medium-sized and full purse. That thing is a cavern. Bravo Toyota.

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Entertainment & Technology

2021 Toyota Highlander - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander - toyota.com

The 2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum has a 12.3-inch infotainment display that looked amazing. In the XLE trim, the 8-inch infotainment system was less-impressive, but we appreciated it. Pro tip: If you stay away from seeing the Platinum trim, you’ll be okay. There wasn’t anything wrong with the standard 8-speaker system, but it’s hard to beat JBL’s 11-speaker audio system. You won’t regret getting that option for your sweet beats.

Safety Features

Government-mandated driver-assistance technology comes standard on every Highlander, and it’s comforting to know that you’re driving an NHTSA five-star safety rated SUV. The safety package also includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and automatic high-beam and adaptive headlamps.

2021 Toyota Highlander Trims & Pricing

2021 Toyota Highlander L - carsforsale.com
2021 Toyota Highlander L - carsforsale.com

L – $34,810

The 2021 Toyota Highlander L seats eight passengers protected by Toyota Safety Sense™ 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+), including pre-collision, and pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, lane tracking, and road sign assist. Inside, you get the comfort of three-zone climate controls, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility with an 8.0-inch touchscreen.

2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE - carsforsale.com
2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid LE - carsforsale.com

LE – $37,010

Moving up to the LE gets you color-keyed mirrors with blind-spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic alert system, and LED fog lights. Convenience upgrades include leather-wrapped steering, and gearshift as well as a height-adjustable power liftgate with jam protection.

2021 Toyota Highlander XLE - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander XLE - pressroom.toyota.com

XLE- $39,810

The 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE’s top features include machine-finished alloy wheels, power tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, and SofTex-trimmed front and second-row heated seats. We think that XLE, in hybrid and gas-powered form, is the one most people will find that meets their needs. It includes a larger 7-inch LCD multi-information display, 10-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar support, and a 4-way adjustable passenger seat. You’ll also get second-row fold-down captain’s chairs and more chrome on the inside.

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE - pressroom.toyota.com

XSE – $41,405

The XSE is Toyota’s sport-oriented version of the Highlander and surely looks more aggressive with its 20-inch machine-faced allow wheels, spoiler, and racing inspired body cladding. Although, it won’t be mistaken as a Dodge Durango SRT, as it has the look of a sport-tuned SUV. The Highlander XSE rides on a re-calibrated suspension that’s oriented towards performance. Inside you’ll get your choice of SofTex or leather-trimmed front seats and captain’s chairs in the second row.

2021 Toyota Highlander LImited - carsforsale.com
2021 Toyota Highlander LImited - carsforsale.com

Limited – $43,765

The Limited is loaded with leather, heated front, and rear seats and cooled front seats that add comfort your drive. You’ll appreciate Toyota’s JBL premium audio system with the expected Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Alexa compatibility while on those long family trips. You have power-folding mirrors with puddle lights, bright LED projector headlights, and DRL’s on the exterior that enhances safety. At the back, you’ll appreciate the hands-free liftgate with height adjustability and jam protection on those days when your hands are full.

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum - pressroom.toyota.com

Platinum – $46,965

The Highlander Platinum is packed with every convenience you’ll need and represents the best of what the Highlander has to offer. Inside you’ll get a massive 12.3-inch touch screen infotainment system with JBL audio and dynamic navigation, plus the 360 bird’s eye view camera. The Highlander is a big SUV and having the power panoramic view moonroof with sunshade lightens up the interior for everyone. With storage everywhere, comfortable seats, and the beautiful sound of the audio system, you’ll want to take short and long trips in the 2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum.

Warranties

Toyota has very similar warranties as it’s competition, such as a 36,000-mile limited warranty and a 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. But a standout is the 2 years of complimentary scheduled maintenance, which helps offset some of the initial cost of purchase. The Highlander’s hybrid version has an additional eight years or 100,000 miles of coverage for the EV powertrain.

What We Think

2021 Toyota HIghlander Platinum Hybrid - toyota.com

2021 Toyota HIghlander Platinum Hybrid – toyota.com |  Shop 2021 Toyota Highlander on Carsforsale.com

We do like it as a family hauler and daily worker with extra points in the comfort and quality section. You’ll enjoy that this SUV can do almost anything you ask of it. The 2021 Toyota Highlander is a standout in the parking lots full of SUVs.

We loved and were surprised by the look of the 2021 Toyota Highlander SUV. It’s handsome and unique exterior looks great. Inside, you can carry your friends and family in comfort and silence without hearing a squeak or rattle, and everyone will want to go on a trip in your SUV.

Although it’s priced like a European SUV, some things look a little out of place in this luxury themed version. However, we can overlook that because one of the biggest luxuries is reliability and confidence. You can be assured that those features will be with you for a long time in this Highlander.

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Steven Mitchell
Steven Mitchell

Steve's first car had pedals, and he's been filled with passion for four wheels ever since. He lives and breathes the car life as a technologist, futurist, and writer while keeping up with the whys, hows, and plans of the automotive industry. His automotive journey began with a fully restored Triumph TR3b that he sadly never appreciated until decades later. Ownerships of X-1/9's, BMW's, an SVT and a Dodge Ram Hemi have given way to the house of Audi Sport. You'll also find him as an endurance athlete on the bike in SoCal, but you'll know he's thinking about cars.

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