2021 Toyota Highlander

#2
in Suvs
2021 MODEL
$34,600 - $48,800
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2021 Toyota Highlander Complete In-depth Review & Buying Guide

Updated on: July 13, 2020
John Bedrow's image

John Bedrow

Automotive Journalist

Launched back in 2001, the Toyota Highlander was one of the first members that laid the foundation of today’s highly competitive SUV market. Undergoing several revisions throughout the years, the Highlander slots itself today between the premium and luxury midsize seven-seater SUV. Owing to its strong reliability and great overall value, the Highlander has also been one of the best-selling products in its segment. Thanks to its consistent promise of comfort, near luxury fit and finish, potent engine and plentiful standard features.  With its recent redesign for its fourth-generation in 2020, it further polished its essential attributes.

See detailed review »

Pros

Comfortable ride

Near-luxury cabin appointments

Great outward visibility

Plenty of standard tech

Nice blend of power and efficiency

Cons

Meager cargo space

Cramped third-row seats

What's New?

All new XSE model for 2021


Pictures

Exterior
Interior

Styles

2021 Toyota Highlander in Celestial Silver Metallic color 2021 Toyota Highlander in Opulent Amber color 2021 Toyota Highlander in Midnight Black Metallic color
Celestial Silver Metallic

Vehicle images are guides only and may not reflect the model's exact specifications/features– exact specifications/features should be confirmed with the seller.

Trims and Configurations

MSRP


2021 Toyota Highlander L

L

power
TBD
fuel
TBD
mpg
TBD

$34,600 - $36,200


Style Prices MPG Engine Transmission Drivetrain Seats Colors
L 4dr SUV (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $34,600 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD
L 4dr SUV AWD (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $36,200 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD

2021 Toyota Highlander LE

LE

power
TBD
fuel
TBD
mpg
TBD

$36,800 - $38,400


Style Prices MPG Engine Transmission Drivetrain Seats Colors
LE 4dr SUV (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $36,800 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD
LE 4dr SUV AWD (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $38,400 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD

2021 Toyota Highlander XLE

XLE

power
TBD
fuel
TBD
mpg
TBD

$39,600 - $41,200


Style Prices MPG Engine Transmission Drivetrain Seats Colors
XLE 4dr SUV (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $39,600 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD
XLE 4dr SUV AWD (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $41,200 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD

2021 Toyota Highlander Limited

Limited

power
TBD
fuel
TBD
mpg
TBD

$43,650 - $45,600


Style Prices MPG Engine Transmission Drivetrain Seats Colors
Limited 4dr SUV (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $43,650 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD
Limited 4dr SUV AWD (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $45,600 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD

2021 Toyota Highlander Platinum

Platinum

power
TBD
fuel
TBD
mpg
TBD

$46,850 - $48,800


Style Prices MPG Engine Transmission Drivetrain Seats Colors
Platinum 4dr SUV (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $46,850 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD
Platinum 4dr SUV AWD (3.5L 6cyl 8A) Starting at $48,800 MSRP TBD TBD
TBD TBD TBD

Expert Review


The current 2020 Toyota Highlander is more grown-up, stylish, premium and comfortable as well as more engaging to drive. It also gets a complete suite of tech and connectivity features with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto finally on board. With bud-fresh revisions, the Highlander is expected to carry over unchanged when it enters its 2021 model year, sometimes later this year. However, for the update factor, the 2021 Toyota Highlander will get an all new sport-oriented XSE model which we can't wait to get our hands onto. For the time being, let's take a quick look at what the 2021 Toyota Highlander might have to offer.

2021 Toyota Highlander Front View
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear View

2021 Toyota Highlander Features

Along with severe changes throughout, the fourth-gen 2020 Toyota  Highlander also saw streamlining of its trim levels. The popular SUV today is available in five different trim levels; L, LE, XLE, Limited and Platinum. All trims powered by a soul powertrain with standard FWD with an optional AWD on tap as well. On the 2021 Toyota Highlander, we are very likely to get the same trim structure and configuration. 

While the lower trims could do well with your everyday driving necessities, the higher models unravel some overwhelming jingles. However, the party-trick for 2021 is the all new 2021 Toyota highlander XSE model. With aggressive styling, revised interiors and re-tuned mechanics, the XSE would place itself as the “sportiest” Highlander one could get. Apart from the regular model, the 2021 Highlander Hybrid and its four-trim lineup shall also remain unchanged. 

Trims

L

LE

XLE

Limited 

Platinum

MSRP

$34,600

$36,800

$39,600

$43,650

$48,800

Engine

3.5-liter V6

3.5-liter V6

3.5-liter V6

3.5-liter V6

3.5-liter V6

Features

LED headlights

Adds to L - 

Adds to LE - 

Adds to XLE - 

Adds to Platinum - 

 

18-inch wheels

Power liftgate

Roof rails

20-inch wheels

Surround view camera system

 

Automatic emergency braking

Fog lamps

Power passenger seat

In-built navigation

Power panoramic moonroof

 

8.0-inch touchscreen

Blind-spot monitors

Power sunroof

JBL premium audio system

12.3-inch touchscreen

 

Power driver seat

Leather steering wheel

Heated front seats

Cooled front seats

Heated rear seats

*2020 model trims and features used here for reference

Expected price and release date

No final word on the release date by Toyota, but we do expect the 2021 Highlander to hit the stores toward the tail-end of 2020. We won't be getting to see a significant price bump as well and the 2021 Highlander is expected to start around $35,000

2021 Toyota Highlander Engine and Performance

Along with the complete head-to-toe revision, Toyota also reshuffled the powertrains of the fourth-gen 2020 Highlander. The previously available 2.7-liter 4-cylinder in the base model was scrapped and the 3.5-liter V6 solely handled the revised Highlander’s power needs. The formula was reversed for the hybrid though. The fourth-gen Highlander hybrid’s electric motors betrayed the previous 3.5-liter V6 for a smaller and efficient 2.5-liter inline-4. With the reshuffling only months back, the 2021 Toyota Highlander should carry the same powertrain configuration.

The sole 3.5-liter V6 available with the Highlander now makes 295 hp and 263 ft-lbs of torque. While those numbers might not be very intense but feel adequate enough for spinning the highlander all day long. The engine never feels short of power and its strong mid-range makes highway passing an easy task. However, the engine does feel a tad relaxed down the lower rpm range. Courtesy goes to its 8-speed automatic transmission. The transmission is not the most smooth and obedient in its business and it does respond at times with a noticeable lag. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Engine Bay

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

MSRP

$35,000 (est)

$32,765

$29,800

$31,995

Engine

3.5-liter V6

2.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder

3.6-liter V6

2.4-liter turbo flat-4

Transmission

8-speed shiftable automatic

10-speed shiftable automatic

9-speed shiftable automatic

CVT

Horsepower (hp @ rpm)

295 @ 6600

300 @ 5,500

305 @ 6800

260 @ 5600

Torque (ft-lbs @ rpm)

263 @ 4700

310 @ 3,500

260 @ 2800

277 @ 2000

In a class that emphasizes comfort and daily-driveability, all the cars in the lot here are similarly powered. However, for the sake of numbers, the Chevrolet Traverse seems to be the most promising with its 305 hp output. Despite identical power figures, the Highlanders rivals offer comparatively better driving feel. Thanks to their more disciplined and engaging transmissions.

Acceleration

If you plan to indulge in some rapid sprints with the Toyota Highlander, you might be leading towards disappointment. With a comfort-oriented relaxed powertrain, this segment of cars is not ideally meant for that purpose. Try pushing a 2020 Toyota Highlander harder across straight lines and it does a 0-60 mph in a humble 7.2 seconds. With no mechanical tweaks, the number should be very identical with the 2021 Highlander as well. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Side View

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

0-60 MPH

7.2

6.8

7.1

6.9

Quarter mile

15.6

15.3

15.5

15.5

Top Speed (mph)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Engine

3.5-liter V6

2.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder

3.6-liter V6

2.4-liter turbo flat-4

For its class, the Highlander’s acceleration cannot be termed poor for sure. However, its rivals do offer a better start-off. Among the lot here, the Ford Explorer turns out to be the quickest with its 6.8 seconds 0-60 mph run. Apparently, the other cars are not too far behind. Had the Toyota Highlander been blessed with a smoother and faster transmission, the story would have been very different.

Ride and Handling

Similar to the overall aesthetics, the ride and handling in the 2021 Toyota Highlander shall be no different than the present 2020 model. Speaking of the 2020 fourth-gen Highlander, well, it's a mixed bag of several experiences. No outright fun and it does behave like a conventional family SUV. In its new generation, the Highlander does benefit from its light and rigid platform, but it has some shortcomings as well. While the new architecture does add to its comfort and stability with easily glides over potholes, interactions with larger obstacles are more pronounced than before. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Handling

Even with multiple available drive modes like comfort, eco, sport and snow, there's not a vivid difference in its overall character. Also, the new steering column does gain some directness over the previous generation, maneuvering the Highlanders still remains a caution stack. Sharp turns need planned execution and the Highlanders still constantly reminds you of its proportions with significant body-roll. Overall, the fourth-gen Toyota Highlander does have a smooth ride quality but is more of a chauffeur-driven thing that needs to be driven with some caution. However, we are extremely optimistic about the upcoming Highlander XSE that boasts of a  stiffer and re-tuned suspension, a new rear stabilizer bar and revised electrical steering. 

Braking

Toyota’s are known for their great braking duties and the fourth-gen Highlander is no exception. With 13.3 inch rotors at the back and front, the Highlander has the largest set of discs in its segment. The braking apparatus is also accompanied by 4-wheel ABS and Emergency braking Assist. With such a strong braking mechanism, the 2020 fourth-gen Toyota Highlander stops from 60-0 mph in just 116 feet which is best in its class. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Wheel

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

Brake Front (in.)

13.3

12.8

12.6

13.1

Brake Rear (in.)

13.3

12.8

12.4

13.0

Curb Weight (lbs)

4145

4345

4362 

4430 

60-0 MPH (ft)

116

121

127

118

Apart from a larger set of discs, the Highlander also gains its stopping prowess from its aerodynamic and lightweight body. However, surprisingly though even with the most heft among the lot, the Subaru Ascent closely follows the Highlander with its 118 feet braking distance. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy

Envision the Highlander’s performance in the purview of its efficiency and the humble Toyota doesn't seem disappointing at all. With a comfort and efficiency tuned powertrain, the fourth-gen 2020 Toyota Highlander delivers a 24 mpg combined which is more than adequate for the segment. With no tweaks in componentry, the 2021 Highlander should also serve you with a similarly overwhelming efficiency. 

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

MPG (city)

21

21

18

21

MPG (highway)

29

28

27

27

MPG (combined)

24

24

21

23

Fuel Tank Capacity (gallons)

17.9

19.2

N/A

19.3

Driving Range ( city, highway, in miles)

375.9/519.1

403.2/537.6

N/A

405.3/521.1

Compared with its rivals, the Highlander’s 24 combined mpg turns out to be the best in segment. Though, the Ford Explorer too offers similar mpg to the Highlander, noteworthy is the fact that it uses a much smaller engine than the latter. The very same fact further pronounces the Highlander’s efficiency.

2021 Toyota Highlander Interior

Except for some red-accents, contrast stitching and some badging on the upcoming XSE, the interior of the 2021 Toyota Highlander should be a familiar ambience. That's not a bad thing at all since the cabin of the new fourth-gen Highlander is a very happy place to be in. The cabin feels spacious and its neat layout that can be had in dual-tone theme looks very upscale. 

The rich vibe is further highlighted by a minimalistic dash and soft-touch materials on most contact surfaces. The leather upholstery feels very soft and comfortable while the wood and silver accents around the dashboard and door panels remind you if it's Lexus lineage. A power panoramic sunroof and thin pillars offer great outward visibility and airiness as well. Above all, being a Toyota, the build quality just feels impeccable as usual. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Front Seats

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

Front (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)

41.2/59.0/42.0

40.7/61.8/43.0

41.3/62.1/41.0

41.3/61.1/42.2

Second (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)

39.4/58.7/41.0

40.5/61.9/39.0

40.0/62.2/38.4

40.0/60.3/38.6

Third (Head/Shoulder/Leg) (In.)

36.1/55.0/27.7

38.9/TBD/32.2

38.2/57.5/33.5

36.3/57.2/31.7

The seats are wide and comfortable with very good bolstering and you also have the option of picking up either a 7 or an 8-seat configuration. The lower L  and LE models get a three-seat bench in the middle-row while the higher trims can be configured with captain chairs at the back. 

No dearth of creature comforts and based upon your trim of choice, you can get power front seats with heating and ventilation along with power-adjustable lumbar support. 

The first and second-row seats also offer ample all-around room for occupants to ease themselves on longer journeys. In fact, the Highlander has the best in class rear-seat legroom. However, it has the most cramped third-row in the class which is good only for children or some shopping carts.

Infotainment

The fourth-gen 2020 Toyota Highlander saw an updated pair of infotainment screens as well. An 8.0-inch touchscreen in the lower models and a 12.3-inch unit in the higher ones. The biggest update though was the introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the feature list. Finally. The system gets Amazon Alexa compatibility, satellite radio, USB, and Bluetooth connectivity alongside a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. 

2021 Toyota Highlander Infotainment System

There's also in-built navigation as well as an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system on tap in the higher models. The infotainment screen itself is sharp and crisp with a clean interface. However, it does get laggy at times while operating it on the go. Also, its positioning feels like it's placed a bit too far from the driver’s reach. 

Infotainment Features

  • 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • USB and Bluetooth compatibility
  • Amazon Alexa integration
  • Satellite radio and in-built navigation
  • 11-speaker JBL premium audio
  • 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. 

Cargo

One particular aspect where the Highlander has been particularly disappointing is its cargo area. Even with stretched proportions for its fourth-generation, it did not address the issue very efficiently. The 2020 Toyota Highlander’s 16.0 cu-fts of cargo space is still the smallest among its rivals. The same situation shall prevail even in 2021 as well.

2021 Toyota Highlander Cargo Space

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

Cargo Volume (cu.-ft)

16.0

18.2

23.0

17.8

Maximum Cargo capacity (cu-fts)

84.3

87.8

98.2

86.5

Among its class, the Toyota Highlander’s rivals offer much better cargo space. While the Ford Explorer and Subaru explorer offer somewhat similar sized trunks, the Chevrolet Traverse takes the segment lead with its 23.0 cu-fts. Thanks to the Chevy’s proportions which are significantly larger than the other three cars. 

Interior Features

  • 8-way power driver's seat and 4-way power passengers seat
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Interior air filtration
  • Three-zone automatic climate control
  • Leather steering wheel
  • Dual illuminating vanity mirrors
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Heated steering
  • Leather upholstery
  • Reclining rear seats
2021 Toyota Highlander Dashboard
2021 Toyota Highlander Dashboard
2021 Toyota Highlander Gear Shifter
2021 Toyota Highlander Gear Shifter
2021 Toyota Highlander Infotainment
2021 Toyota Highlander Infotainment
2021 Toyota Highlander Front Seat
2021 Toyota Highlander Front Seat
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear Seat
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear Seat

2021 Toyota Highlander Exterior

When finally launched toward the end of this year, the 2021 Toyota Highlander would barely flash any visual differences over the present 2020 model. Not even needed though, since the fourth-gen redesigned Highlander was revealed just a few months back. But, we have to admit, the new Highlander is a handsome looking thing. It is now not only longer and wider than before but also flaunts a more stylish and mature outfit.

2021 Toyota Highlander Rear Angle View

The somewhat Subaru inspired new grille along with new slim headlights and bolder front bumper with deep cut-outs adds some anger on its face. The more curvy and dramatic roofline along with more pronounced and muscular body lines give it a bold yet sleek profile. The sophisticated trendy theme is visible at the rear as well. The rear end is highlighted by a more angular rear-windshield, slim new tail lamps, roof-spoiler and a metallic bumper.

Models

2021 Toyota Highlander (Expected)

2020 Ford Explorer

2020 Chevrolet Traverse

2020 Subaru Ascent

Length (in)

194.9

198.8

204.3

196.8

Width (in)

76.0

78.9

78.6

76.0

Height (in)

68.1

69.9

70.7

71.6

Ground clearance (in)

8.0

7.9

7.2

8.7

Wheelbase (in)

112.2

119.1

120.9

113.8

Curb weight (lbs)

4145

4345

4362 

4430 

Overall, the fourth-gen Toyota Highlander has quite a unique presence among its segment. Unlike its more conventional looking rivals, the Highlander has a trendy yet angular crossover-ish design. It's neither dull nor overly done. For 2021 though, we are particularly interested in the upcoming XSE model. The XSE gets a new redesigned front end with more aggressive grille and bumper, new wheels and significant dark-cladding. 

Exterior Features

  • Heated mirrors
  • Hands-Free Entry
  • Daytime Running Lights
  • LED headlamps
  • Roof rail and roof-spoiler
  • Remote Keyless Power Door Locks
  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
  • Standard 18 inch and optional 20-inch wheels
  • Rear window defroster
  • Hands-free power rear liftgate
2021 Toyota Highlander Front
2021 Toyota Highlander Front
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear
2021 Toyota Highlander Side View
2021 Toyota Highlander Side View
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear angle View
2021 Toyota Highlander Rear angle View
2021 Toyota Highlander Wheel
2021 Toyota Highlander Wheel

2021 Toyota Highlander Safety

You barely need to think even once about safety and reliability while buying a Toyota product and the Highlander is no different. Regarded as one of the safest machines in its segment, the Highlander further raised its safety bar with its 2020 redesign. Thanks to its new rigid architecture and Toyota’s upgraded Safety Sense 2.0 that brings in more standard safety features. Yet to be rated by NHTSA, but the 2020 Toyota Highlander has been recognized as a Top Safety Pick by IIHS. Its uncompromised safety bar should remain firm and strong in 2021 as well. Some of the notable safety features of the 2020 Toyota Highlander are listed below.

Highlighted Safety Features:

  • 4-wheel ABS
  • Pre and post-collision safety system
  • Blind spot and lane departure warnings
  • Radar cruise control
  • Automatic emergency braking
  • Lane Tracing Assist System
  • Seatbelt pretensioners
  • Traction and stability control
  • Rear cross traffic alert with pedestrian detection

2021 Toyota Highlander Competition

Toyota Highlander vs Ford Explorer

The Ford Explorer is one of the closest competitors of the Highlander. The Explorer is roomier, more punchy as well as more efficient than the Highlander. Important of all, the popular Ford also gets better driving character and a more refined and engaging transmission. The highlander on the other hand outshines the Explorer with its premium interiors, ride comfort, stylish and aggressive looks as well as superb build quality.

2021 Ford Explorer

Toyota Highlander vs Chevrolet Traverse

The Chevrolet Traverse too, is one of the best selling products in its class. It might not be as premium or feature-rich as the Highlander but offers a more comprehensive overall package. The Traverse is the quickest in its class, is the most spacious and practical, and also offers a very nice balance of comfort and driveability.

2021 Chevrolet Traverse

Toyota Highlander vs Subaru Ascent

While the Subaru Ascent might not be as stylish, comfortable, and premium as the Toyota Highlander, it means pure business. Its raw character and high ground clearance make it the most capable SUV in the competition here. The Ascent is also quicker, practical, and spacious than the highlander. Important of all, the Ascent feels more engaging and refined to drive than the stylish Toyota. 

2021 Subaru Ascent

 

2021 Toyota Highlander Final Verdict

The Toyota Highlander is a good family SUV for you if you happen to be an executive and prefer it being driven by your chauffeur. While it certainly is not the most tempting to drive, it checks all the boxes that a premium family crossover should. It’s spacious and comfortable, efficient, premium and comfortable on the inside along with a potent powertrain as well. Above all, it also offers one of the richest safety and tech packages in its class. The only thing which lets it down to some extent is its uninviting driveability.