Is the Toyota Highlander a Budget Lexus RX?

The Lexus RX is one of the best-selling midsize SUVs, thanks to its peaceful driving experience. But as a luxury model, the RX isn’t among the most affordable midsize SUVs you can buy. Say you wanted this Lexus’ offerings at a discount. Could you consider the Toyota Highlander as a budget RX? 

Driving the 2021 Lexus RX vs. the 2021 Toyota Highlander 

if you have your eye on a new car like this 2021 Lexus RX, a low mileage lease might seem more financially accessible than buying.
2021 Lexus RX | Lexus

Right off the bat, the 2021 Lexus RX 350 and the 2021 Toyota Highlander have a lot in common. Both of these midsize SUVs feature a 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 linked to an eight-speed transmission. Front-wheel drive is the standard for both models, with all-wheel drive available as an option. 

Critics virtually recognize the RX 350 and the Highlander for similar reasons since they have the same powertrain. The RX 350 and Highlander earn praise for their smooth V6 engines and ample passing power. However, the RX gets a few more points for its velvety ride quality and extra quietness. 

A silver 2021 Toyota Highlander parked between two trees
The 2021 Toyota Highlander | Photo via Toyota

Additionally, the RX and the Highlander are decent options for fuel economy. If fuel-efficiency is a bigger priority for you, you might want to consider the RX Hybrid or the Highlander Hybrid. Generally speaking, many reviewers say that the RX and the Highlander are among the most well-rounded SUVs. 

The main downside to these models is that they aren’t incredibly agile. You can get a slightly sportier experience on the RX F Sport trim, which adds a sports-tuned suspension. The Highlander doesn’t offer such an option. 

Comparing cabins 

A 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with brown leather seats.
2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid with leather | Toyota

The Highlander has an upscale interior, especially for a mainstream model. This Toyota can seat up to seven or eight, depending on the configuration you pick. Cloth upholstery is standard for the Highlander, while synthetic leather and genuine leather are available as options. 

Regular RX models are five-seaters, but you can add a third-row to accommodate up to seven. The RX comes with fancier trimmings than the Highlander does, including synthetic leather. You can customize the RX with premium leather and other frills, such as a driver’s position memory system. 

The driver and front passenger seat interior shot of the Black Line trim level of the 2021 Lexus RX
2021 Lexus RX SE Black Line interior | Lexus

Both the RX and the Highlander offer lots of in-car tech. They come with advanced safety equipment, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. Though, the RX has more freebies here, including blind-spot monitoring, as U.S. News notes. 

Regarding infotainment, the RX and the Highlander come with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and a wifi hotspot. Once again, the RX presents more gadgets such as voice recognition. However, the Highlander’s standard 8-inch touchscreen gets more points for its user-friendliness. Most critics say that the Lexus’ optional Remote Touch system is one of the worst-rated infotainment systems

So is the Toyota Highlander a budget Lexus RX?

A silver 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE on display.
2021 Toyota Highlander XSE | Toyota

Expect Even More Safety in the 2021 Lexus NX

The 2021 RX begins at $45,170, while the 2021 Highlander starts at $34,910. You might favor the RX for its flashier sense of style and slightly more distinctive amenities. Still, the Highlander can definitely be considered as a budget RX. A fully-loaded Highlander is only about $3K more than the base RX.