2021 Toyota Highlander

Toyota delivers sensible, well-designed crossover

Roseville, Calif. – Looking for a comfortable, quiet ride from a midsize SUV? The venerable Toyota Highlander fits the description.

The fourth-generation Toyota Highlander got lots of attention last year, thanks to a smart full redesign that included exterior styling updates, improved performance, additional safety features, and some technology additions.

The Highlander also installed a more rigid platform that Toyota says will improve ride quality,

The Highlander has always received praise for its driving capabilities. It handles the daily commute with ease and also performs well when negotiating challenging, twisting roads.

It’s very safe as well. This year’s safety features include lane tracing assist, frontal collision mitigation, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign reader.

Due to last year’s redesign, not much changed with the unveiling of the 2021 Toyota Highlander. One thing that did was adding a new sporty XSE trim. The Japanese auto manufacturer said it tuned the suspension and steering to deliver an even sportier ride.

Highly rated

Traditionally one of the most highly-rated midsize SUVs, the Highlander is a sensible, well-designed crossover. It’s a three-row, family-friendly SUV that is offered in six trim levels (L, LE, XLE, XSE, Limited, Platinum) and a hybrid version.

Introduced in 2007, the Highlander has been a consistent seller for Toyota. It topped out with sales of 105,856 in 2018 and a year ago remained steady at 95,304.

Whether shopping for a compact SUV or a super-sized model, there is something in the Toyota lineup for seemingly everyone. The Toyota SUV list includes the CH-R, RAV4, 4Runner, Highlander, Land Cruiser, and Sequoia. And if one desires a more upscale SUV, Toyota’s luxury division (Lexus) has a variety of SUV options as well.

The Highlander is a versatile SUV that can serve as the family hauler, thanks to its three rows of seating for seven or eight people, depending on the configuration. Note that the XSE is only available as a seven-passenger SUV, which means buyers can’t get a bench seat for the second row.

The Highlander is also suitable for a smaller family that likes to have the third row folded down to create a larger cargo space (48.4 cubic feet). With the third row up, the storage area is dramatically different – a smallish 16 cubic feet.

AT A GLANCE – 2021 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER

  • Performance: 3.5-liter, V6, 295 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 21-29 mpg
  • Estimated price: $35,100 to $49,300
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain: 5 years/60,000 miles; roadside assistance: 2 years/unlimited; corrosion: 5 years/unlimited

Interior

A smartly-designed cabin includes some thoughtful dashboard storage cubbies and a convenient spot for a cell phone – atop the center console.

An 8-inch infotainment screen is standard and so are Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa incorporation. The Highlander employs satisfying technology, yet goes old-school as well with a convenient tuning knob.

Long drives in the Highlander won’t be a problem for people in the first two rows, which deliver comfort and ample leg and head room. A definite weakness is the third row, where seating is only suitable for small kids. Some rivals offer a larger third row.

After abandoning the underpowered four-cylinder engine last year, the Highlander now provides strong performance from its standard 3.5-liter, V6 that produces 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. It goes 0-60 mph in 7.2 seconds and the fuel economy ranges from 21-29 mpg. Towing capacity is listed at 5,000 pounds.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander continues its long tradition of being an SUV that provides considerable comfort and a smooth ride. The technology could use a modest upgrade, but other than that, the Highlander still received high marks in most categories.