The school run needn’t be a chore when your SUV crossover packs as much style and comfort as the newly redesigned Toyota Highlander. Adding new trims, including a downright sporty XLS model, the range strikes a balanced bargain between convenience and performance.
The range is very flexible too, offering everything from the stripped-down simplicity of the L, which is available for a shade over $36,000, to the all bells and whistles Platinum edition, which includes such extravagances as leather upholstery, heated front and, second-row seats and surround-view camera system, and will set you back $48,000.
The result is a great all-rounder, which does a good job managing the necessary trade-offs when a large vehicle aims to be cool, smart, or sporty.
Features and Specs
All Highlanders come with 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 engines and 8-speed automatic transmission. You can choose between four or two-wheel-drive models, depending on the type of weather and terrain you’re likely to encounter. There’s also a fuel-efficient and clever Hybrid model, whose combination electric and the fuel-sipping engine gets 35mpg to other models 28mpg.
Six different trim styles are available, with exteriors about as aerodynamic as crossovers can be, with a slightly forward-leaning body shape to improve airflow. The XLS has an unusual front bumper design, but most models are smart and angular. The high wheel arches are an unusual design feature that may take some getting used to.
There are variants with seven or eight seats in 2-2-3 or 2-3-3 configurations, depending on whether you want a captain’s chair styled second row. Even in bench configurations, second row passengers enjoy 40 inches of legroom although larger adults might avoid the more cramped rear seats.
On most trims, you’ll find an 8-inch infotainment system for music and GPS. Upgrade to the Limited and Platinum models for a more generous 12.3-inch display. Integrated within you’ll find a SiriusXM satellite radio and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. The system can be controlled using Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or Amazon Alexa. AM/FM and Satellite radio come as standard alongside USB charging ports for your devices. Six speakers distribute your music evenly throughout the cabin.
Mechanical and Safety Specs
The Highlander’s automatic transmission is highly effective, and the vehicle handles smoothly for a two-ton crossover. For a bit more excitement, the XSE trim adds a touch livelier suspension.
The Hybrid’s powertrain is worthy of note, utilizing a continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than an 8-speed transmission, meaning the engine is always operating at maximal efficiency. This explains in part its improved fuel consumption too.
This model also provides a choice of two-wheel or four-wheel drive in one car. In four-wheel drive mode the Hybrid uses a separate electric motor to power the rear wheels, giving you extra traction and control when you need it.
Clever safety features include automatic emergency braking, a lane-drift warning indicator, and automated steering correction to help prevent collisions. You can also add blind-spot monitoring to some trims. These are important additions to any vehicle carrying up to eight souls.
Five Reasons to Buy the 2021 Toyota Highlander
- A high-level of comfort, with generous features for a seven or eight-seater SUV
- The Hybrid model offers improved control and better fuel efficiency
- Excellent safety features come as standard
- The XSE model combines sporty style and handling with SUV reliability
- Lower spec models come in at around $10K cheaper than close competitors.
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