If you’ve got a family to move around, chances are you’ve at least looked at the 2021 Toyota Highlander as a contender. If you’re slightly more adventurous, maybe you’ve even looked at the Land Rover Defender. However, if both SUVs offer all-wheel drive, is the Defender truly worth its premium? To test this, The Fast Lane Car recently ran both SUVs through its slip test to test out just how capable they truly are.
Why is the 2021 Toyota Highlander a good AWD SUV for families?
As far as three-row SUVs go, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is one of the segment favorites. Aside from offering plenty of space for large families, the Highlander is also extremely reliable. With a starting price of $34,810, it is also one of the most affordable options in its segment. However, The Fast Lane car conducted this test with a Highlander XSE, which starts at $41,405.
Under the hood of the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE lives a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine developing 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive comes as standard, although you can option all-wheel-drive for just over $1,500. All in, you’re looking at a base price of around $43,355.
Why would I pay extra for a Land Rover Defender?
While the 2021 Toyota Highlander carries a relatively accessible price tag, the Land Rover Defender is undoubtedly more expensive. The cheapest defender you can buy starts at $46,100. While this base price does offer all-wheel-drive as standard, this is for the smaller 90 models.
If you want the four-door Defender, you’re looking at the 110 model, which starts at $50,500. You get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 296 hp or about the same as the Toyota Highlander for that base price. If you go a bit mad with options and engine configurations, the Land Rover Defender can start at up to $83,000 for the 110 X trim.
However, the Land Rover costs more than the 2021 Toyota Highlander for a reason. Aside from offering AWD as standard, the Defender also offers a host of other off-roading tech such as a complex camera system, adjustable air suspension, and its terrain response system, to name a few. In short, the Highlander can go off-road while the Defender is primarily designed to do so.
The Highlander put up a great fight
To see if the Land Rover Defender is truly an upgrade over the 2021 Toyota Highlander, The Fast Lane Car tested these SUVs on its slip test. In short, the test places these SUVs on rollers to test how well their AWD systems cope in low-traction scenarios.
The first basic tests had TFLC placing the rollers on just the rear tires than just the SUVs’ front tires. This tests how well the Highlander and Defender send power to either the front or rear wheels when needed. As you’d expect, both SUVs aced these simple tests.
To spice things up, TFLC began placing the rollers on diagonally opposed wheels. This means one roller on the front left tire and one on the rear right. Despite this unusual configuration, both SUVs managed to excel. This likely means that the Highlander is more than capable of handling most low traction scenarios you’d experience while out on the road.
Things got a little tricky when TFLC placed the rollers under three of the 2021 Toyota Highlander’s four tires. When only one of the front wheels was left on the ground, the SUV struggled to pull forward. When just one rear tire was left with traction, the Toyota got completely stuck. The Land Rover Defender and its locking differentials, on the other hand, aced both tests. In the end, when the going got very tough, the Highlander got stuck as the Defender drove off.