Crossover & Midsize

The Toyota Highlander Falls Just Short of This Major Award

There are plenty of SUVs available these days, and they come in every size, from subcompact to large, plus different shapes and platforms too. The fourth-generation 2021 Toyota Highlander is a midsize SUV with seating for seven or eight. It’s one of the plenty of great SUVs for buyers to choose from, but it wasn’t quite picked for the 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year award. Here’s a look at the winners and the Highlander.

2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year award

MotorTrend recently announced its 2021 SUV of the Year award. The group tested out 30 different SUVs across all the different types, sizes, and abilities. The 2021 Land Rover Defender got the win for the 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year.

Six SUVs, including the Defender, were selected as finalists, and the 2021 Toyota Highlander was included as one of the 16 contenders. Each vehicle went through a 10-day evaluation, which considered the six key criteria of design, engineering excellence, fuel efficiency, safety, value, and performance of its intended function.

The SUVs named as finalists

Five SUVs were named as finalists behind the 2021 Land Rover Defender. In alphabetical order, the five finalists were the Cadillac Escalade, Genesis GV80, Land Rover Defender, Kia Seltos, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota Venza.

The finalists cover many of the SUV categories. The Cadillac Escalade and Genesis GV80 represent the large luxury SUV and midsize luxury crossover SUV categories. The Kia Seltos and Nissan Rogue represent the subcompact SUV and compact SUV categories. The Toyota Venza represents the crossover SUV category. MotorTrend pointed out it judges the SUVs on their own merits rather than by comparing them in the six key criteria.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander

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The 2021 Toyota Highlander landed as one of a number of contenders for the award, which is the category below the finalists. MotorTrend points out that the Highlander has both pros and cons. On the plus side, it offers plenty of cargo room, a huge infotainment screen, and great fuel economy in its hybrid.

On the other hand, it does have a snug third row, its hybrid doesn’t have a great ride, and its V6 doesn’t have much “low-end punch.” However, not all of the MotorTrend reviewers were in agreement about the feel of the powertrains.

The Highlander got a new design for 2020 plus two powertrain options. There is a hybrid option with a 2.5-liter I-4 and two coaxially mounted electric motors and a CVT. The hybrid works with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. It leads its class in fuel efficiency. The gas-engine option is a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 hp and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

There are also six trim levels for the Highlander. All provide the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver-assist features, which includes automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, radar cruise control, lane-departure assist, lane-keep assist, and road sign assist.

The large touchscreen also includes the climate controls, which MotorTrend’s editors liked. Most trims have an 8-inch touchscreen, but higher trims include a 12.3-inch screen. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility are included on all trims.

The Limited and Platinum trims provide the most comfort, although the Highlander doesn’t offer as much as the Hyundai Palisade or the Kia Telluride, according to Car and Driver. Seating in the third row is best for kids though.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander comes in as a solid and respectable SUV option. However, it doesn’t stand out in its class, leading MotorTrend to list it as a contender but not a finalist for the 2021 SUV of the Year award.