The 2020 model year saw the complete redesign of the Highlander mid-sized SUV. The Highlander is one of the more popular mid-sized SUVs with Canadians and thanks to the fresh new look, the vehicle was the most sold model in its category in the fourth quarter of 2020 according to goodcarbadcar.net. The 7125 units Canadians purchased represents an increase of 97% from the same period in 2019.
It’s not hard to see why, ether. The new Highlander is a good-looking truck that has Toyota’s legendary reliability to back it up. The L, LE and XLE trims feature a black front grille with silver surround, while the Limited and Platinum trim levels are distinguished by a black grille with chrome trim, chrome-plated lower rear fascia, premium projector headlamps and 20-inch alloy wheels. The new look is sleek and modern.
New for 2021 is the model you see here – called the XSE. The front fascia is completely different and could even pass for a Lexus. In addition to the sporty looks, it comes with a specially tuned suspension, second row captain’s chairs and other sporty cues.
The interior cabin strikes you as very high quality the minute you sit inside. Every button is firm to the touch and the materials are top notch. The actual layout is functional but has some problems. For instance, the screen is too far away and you must lean into it in order to use it. This is especially true of the volume button which is a tiny knob. The climate controls are great and within reach but for infotainment purposes, a larger screen that is closer to the driver would be welcome.
I also found Toyota’s infotainment system to be a bit complicated to use. The menu system looks antiquated and is in need of a refresh. Apple CarPlay and Android auto are handy to have as is the wireless charging in the center console. The designers did an excellent job with the amount of storage space that is available on the Highlander. There are clever spaces to fit just about anything you need all over the cabin.
The Highlander is a plausible alternative to people wishing to stay away from the dreaded minivan. Depending on the configuration, there is the possibility of seating up to eight passengers like most minivans. The front row is always a pair of bucket seats. The third row can squeeze three and the middle row has the option of either captain’s chairs or a bench with two and three spots respectively. Let’s not be under any illusion that the third row can seat three adults with any sort of comfort but children are more often than not the destined occupants there.
The middle row seats will slide forward to provide easier access to the third row but having the bench definitely adds slightly more difficultly in accomplishing this. I access to the third row very easy to accomplish.
The Highlander gasoline models all come with a potent 295-hp, 3.5L, 6-cylinder direct injection engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission (except for hybrid models which receive a CVT). I give high marks to Toyota for retaining a physical gear selector instead of the annoying electronic ones. It’s handy to rest one’s hand on and gives the occupant more of a feeling of control. The driving characteristics are excellent with a firm but comfortable ride and decent cornering ability.
Keeping the family safe are plenty of airbags inside the vehicle as well as numerous other available safety features such as a pre-collision warning system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and a standard rear-view camera.
The base price for a front-wheel drive Highlander is $40,489 but let’s be realistic because if you’re buying a Highlander you likely want all-wheel drive. The least expensive AWD Highlander is the LE which is $43,989 and comes equipped with heated front seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, backup camera, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The XSE pictured here starts at $48,450 and the top of the line Limited Hybrid with the Platinum package comes in at $56,489 just to give you an idea of the price range.
It’s hard to go wrong with purchasing a Highlander. The resale value will be high and it’s a quality piece of machinery that will serve you family well.