The 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Might look Sporty But That’s Just a Disguise

The segment of the three-row SUV is a full-blown gold rush. They have become so popular that nearly every automaker wants to throw their hats in the ring. Not only that, but because there are so many, automakers are also trying to cover their three-row bases and have more specific types tailored to every type of consumer. Case in point, the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE is meant to be sportier and more aggressive, but it seems Toyota may have pulled up short. 

Is it any faster? 

According to MotorTrend, the XSE has the same V6 as the rest of the Highlander line. It has no extra power, tuning, turbos, nothing, as far as the engine is concerned. Toyota has, however, said that it tuned the suspension and steering wheel feel. Toyota says that this gives the XSE a sportier and more enhanced feel. Oh, and, of course, the “sportier” Highlander has some agro-looking bodywork

Grey 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE | Toyota

As MotorTrend points out, even though Toyota offers the zippier and more efficient hybrid engine in other models like the Rav 4 Prime, the Highlander XSE will only come with the  Even though it won’t go any faster, maybe someone it passes will think it can. 

How much does the 2021 Highlander XSE cost? 

The new XSE model will be priced right between the soft and plushy XLE and the Limited trims. The XSE trim starts at $44,630 but can be optioned up to $47,551. The XSE comes standard with front-wheel drive and has an optional all-wheel drive. The Tester used by MotorTrend was the loaded AWD model. 

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Is the 2021 Highlander XSE a good car?

The MotorTrend testers found it hard to notice much of a difference between the XSE and the XLE. Obviously, they look a little different, but outside of the new fascia and bigger wheels, the driving experience seems very similar. As we mentioned earlier, the same engine is in both SUVs, but even the “tuned” suspension and steering are said to be hard to really feel much of a difference. 

Toyota engineers stiffened the springs 18 percent and added a slightly thicker anti-roll bar to sport things up. Even though this didn’t change things too much, the Highlander XSE is still a comfy and smooth ride. According to MT, the new suspension still sucks up road irregularities quickly and without fuss. And even though it doesn’t feel that different, it was ever so slightly faster than the other version on the testing skidpad, and its 0-60 mph sprint went from 7.2 seconds to 6.8. I guess that suspension and bodywork did a little. 

This Highlander does come with a sport mode that remaps throttle and steering response which will help drive the sporty point home. A little tighter steering and throttle response can make the effect feel a little more exciting. 

Is it worth it?

Overall, as long as folks getting the Highlander XSE aren’t expecting a sports car, they will likely enjoy it. The Highlander is popular and has been proven to be a crowd-pleaser for years. The XSE might add enough fresh spark for new buyers to make the Highlander more appealing to a wider audience. It is reliable, comfortable, and roomy, and as long as your not trying to get something for track days, it will probably be a pleasing three-row.