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2021 Toyota Highlander XSE: Expect a Different Drive

The all-new 2021 Highlander XSE will arrive later this year with a unique ride quality and driving experience. Learn why as we break it down.


Soon we will see Toyota’s latest addition to its current Highlander fleet of gasoline-powered and Hybrid SUVs. With its redesign for the 2020 model year, we have found sleek exterior styling, a spacious modern interior cabin and plenty of new safety features and technology.

Oh, and we have a Highlander Hybrid that gets up to 36mpg (I got better results on my test drive).

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Cockpit Red interior

Now, prepare for a new Highlander where comfort joins up with an entirely new, sportier ride.

Meet 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE.

2021 Highlander XSE Specs - Powertrain

Like most other 2021 Toyota Highlander gasoline-powered trim levels, XSE will feature a familiar engine. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 295 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. torque. It will be matched with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

READ NEXT: Exterior / interior 2021 Highlander XSE Specs

We are used to seeing this powertrain combination with current 2020 Highlander trims. And it is one reason Highlander has earned the reputation for smooth, quiet and comfortable.

However, be prepared for a new driving experience.

2021 Highlander XSE Ride

I will do a full 2021 Highlander XSE review (both in writing here and in video form on my Toyotajeff YouTube channel) when this exciting new grade arrives later this year at dealerships across the country. One thing I have learned is this XSE ride quality will be unlike other current Highlanders on the road today.

First, 2021 Highlander XSE features a unique suspension to help drivers feel more one with the road, so to speak. Look for re-tuned shock absorbers to lower friction, along with higher-rate springs and a rear stabilizer bar. This will help your Toyota Highlander while handling curves, especially those that are winding and sharper than usual.

You can also expect a sportier feel with steering due to a re-tuned electric power steering system.

VIDEO: All color choices for 2020 Highlander in my video review. What is your fave?

2020 Toyota Highlander XSE profile and front end

Highlander XSE will drive on new one-of-a-kind 20-inch wheels with black accents.

Other drive notes on 2021 Highlander XSE

A couple other features jumped out at me. Highlander XSE will be offered in both all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive. AWD capabilities are interesting because of dynamic torque vectoring. We first heard of this big buzzword with the new 2019 RAV4, and now with 2020 Camry AWD.

With dynamic torque vectoring, your Highlander will direct up to 50 percent of its available torque output to the rear wheels when it detects wheel slippage and loss of traction. From there it can divert power to specific left and right rear wheels where needed.

It never hurts to have too many tools in the toolbox. This is the case with Toyota Highlander XSE multi-terrain select. This allows you to maintain as much traction as possible based on the terrain you are driving across. Similar to 2020 RAV4, I expect Highlander controls to feature settings such as mud and sand, rock and dirt and snow modes.

Time for your thoughts on 2021 Highlander XSE

Toyota has generically offered the timetable for XSE launch as “sometime later this year”. No word yet if this will be affected by current world events.

2021 Toyota Highlander XSE trim level dual exhaust

I cannot wait to evaluate a 2021 Highlander XSE and see how it handles in city and highway conditions, as well as along winding country roads.

What do you think? Is XSE on your radar and why?

Thanks for reading everyone. See you next story when I talk about 2021 Highlander XSE interior color choices.

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tkboxer (not verified)    May 6, 2020 - 5:34PM

Does any designer at Toyota realize this 2021 high dollar Highlander looks exactly like the lowly 2005 Toyota Matrix?

Bill (not verified)    July 23, 2020 - 9:45AM

My choices are the 2021 Mazda CX9 GT and the 2021 Highlander XSE. I can hardly wait to test drive the two for comparison.