The three-row SUVs are the perfect companions for a large family and the Toyota Highlander has been one of the favorites for the Americans for the better part of the last two decades ever since it was first introduced. In spite of rising competition in this segment from the fellow Japanese and the new Korean brands, the Highlander is a best-selling SUV of its class and the extensive list of features and great value is what has helped it achieve this feat.
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Pricing and Features
Engine and Performance
Expert Review, Pricing Analysis and Buying Guide
The 2021 model year sees no changes as the SUV recently received a complete overhaul just the previous year and only sees an addition of a new sporty-looking XSE trim. The striking design is what attracts buyers first and the comfortable and well-insulated cabin loaded with plenty of creature comforts make all the difference. The 2021 Highlander starts at an MSRP of $36,260 as it competes against the likes of the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Hyundai Palisade.
7.9/10 Engine and Performance
7.8/10 Fuel Economy
2021 Toyota Highlander Features
The 2021 Highlander is now offered in 6 different trims with two drivetrain options to better suit each and every budget of the buyers. The base L trim comes packed with plenty of features with the LE and XLE trims adding a few more convenience functions. The newly introduced XSE trim gets an aggressive exterior design with black exterior accents and unique 20-inch wheels, along with a sportier calibration for the suspension. The Limited trim gets most of the latest technology and creature comforts while the Platinum trim takes it a notch further.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Front Fog/Driving Lights
Universal Remote Transmitter
Black Roof Rails
Automatic Parking Assist
Adaptive Self-Leveling Headlights
Lane Departure Warning
Blind Spot Warning
Multi-Level Heating Front Seats
SofTex Cloth / Leatherette Seat Trim
11-speaker 1200W JBL audio system
Reverse Tilt Passenger Mirror When Vehicle In Reverse
6-speaker audio system
Leather Steering Wheel
20-inch Alloy Wheels
Front And Rear Parking Sensors
Multi-Level Heating Rear Seat
3 Months Of Paid Satellite Radio
Pre- & Post-Collision Safety System
Sliding & Tilting Glass Sunroof
Heated Steering Wheel
Rain-Sensing Windshield Wipers
Three Zone Climate Control
Ventilated Front Seats
8-Way Power Driver Seat
Front, Side, And Rear View Camera
18-inch Painted Alloy Wheels
20-inch Chrome Alloy Wheels
Which trim should you buy?
Although the Highlander offers an abundant number of creature comforts and features, the prices rise considerably as well, and hence it is better to opt for the XLE trim with AWD that gets plenty of usable features and practicality while also keeping the prices in check.
2021 Toyota Highlander Engine and Performance
The 2021 Highlander does not see any changes to the powertrain and continues to be powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine under its hood which produces 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission as standard with the power being sent to the front wheels only. There is an option for an all-wheel-drive setup that improves practicality in slippery and snowy conditions.
The performance is pretty strong for a midsize SUV as it manages a 0-60 mph sprint in 6.7 seconds and crosses the quarter-mile marker in under 16 seconds. The performance is linear and the engine does not feel strained in most circumstances but one has to work the gears to keep the engine in the meat of its powerband. The 5,000 lbs towing capacity is one of the best of the segment and the Highlander offers a wholesome performance overall.
Toyota Highlander L
Ford Explorer Base
Honda Pilot LX
Hyundai Palisade SE
3.5L, Naturally Aspirated V6
2.3L, Turbocharged Inline-4
3.5L, Naturally Aspirated V6
3.8L, Naturally Aspirated V6
295 hp @ 6,600 rpm
300 hp @ 5,500 rpm
280 hp @ 6,000 rpm
291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
263 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
310 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
0-60 mph (sec)
Quarter Mile (sec)
Top Speed (mph)
Towing Capacity (lbs)
In terms of performance, the Ford Explorer with its turbocharged Ecoboost engine is the stand-out performer in the segment. It not only achieves a blisteringly quick 0-60 mph acceleration but also manages to tow upto 5,300 lbs. The Honda Pilot is pretty quick as well but lacks in the towing department, whereas the Hyundai Palisade is the slowest of the pack with the towing prowess on par with the Highlander, which is also the priciest of the lot.
How does the 2021 Toyota Highlander SUV handle?
The Toyota Highlander was designed with family usage in mind that includes daily driving to the schools and office with weekend getaways for the family with a trunk full of luggage. And although the Highlander is no Mazda in terms of driving dynamics, the SUV surprisingly feels planted and stable when switched to Sport mode that tightens up the throttle response, and the chassis remains flatter and more agile.
That is with the standard model, the sportier XSE trim with stiffened suspension setup should do even better in the high-speed corners. The car feels comfortable at both low and highway speeds and takes on broken pieces of roads rather well. The AWD system offers enough grip to take on the dirt and slippery wet roads comfortably but the limited ground clearance means one can only venture off the road only to a certain extent in the Highlander.
2021 Toyota Highlander Braking Performance
The lightweight construction of the Highlander and the modern-day safety systems assures a good and confident feel behind the wheel in a panic braking scenario. The 13.3-inch front and rear disc brake rotors do a great job of stopping the car at a braking distance of 116 feet in the 60-0 mph braking test.
Brake Rotors - Front (in)
Brake Rotors - Rear (in)
Curb Weight (lbs)
60-0 mph (ft)
The Ford Explorer weighs a bit more and employs a larger set of front and a smaller set of rear brakes and hence travels farther than the Highlander. The Hyundai Palisade takes over 10 feet more than the Highlander to stop while the Honda Pilot which weighs the least has the longest stopping distance here.
2021 Toyota Highlander Fuel Economy
Toyota is known for building dependable and frugal vehicles and in spite of its large dimensions, the Highlander manages an overall fuel efficiency of 24 mpg as rated by the EPA. Opting for the AWD reduces the fuel economy by 1 mpg in each aspect but the sizable 17.9-gallon fuel tank does a decent job of offering around 400 miles of driving range on a single tank of gas.
Fuel Tank Capacity (gal)
Range (City / Highway / Combined) (miles)
376 / 519 / 430
376 / 501 / 430
390 / 527 / 449
357 / 489 / 414
The turbocharged engine under the hood of the Explorer returns pretty fuel economy ratings as that of the Highlander and also has an identical gas tank capacity. The Honda Pilot on the other hand is marginally less frugal but employs a much larger gas tank which translates to a class-leading driving range. The Hyundai Palisade has the highest fuel consumption and in spite of the larger fuel tank, struggles to offer a decent driving range.
2021 Toyota Highlander Interior
The cabin of the Highlander isn’t as striking or appealing as its exterior and instead offers a simple and logical layout of controls that are well within the reach of the driver but sometimes feel cluttered. The materials aren’t as premium as many of its rivals but feel robust and utilitarian with no compromise being made in terms of fit and finish quality.
In terms of space, the front and second-row have ample amount of space wherein 5 adults can be seated comfortably even on longer journeys. That being said, managing to fit 8 occupants and not making any compromise in the first two rows means the third row is best only suited for young kids. The 16 cu-ft of trunk space can be extended to 48.4 cu-ft with the third row folded while folding down the second row opens up 84.3 cu-ft of space.
Front Row (Head / Shoulder / Leg) (in)
41.2 / 59.0 / 42.0
40.7 / 61.8 / 43.0
40.1 / 62.0 / 40.9
40.7 / 61.2 / 44.1
Second Row (Head / Shoulder / Leg) (in)
39.4 / 58.7 / 41.0
40.5 / 61.9 / 39.0
40.2 / 62.0 / 38.4
40.1 / 60.8 / 42.4
Third Row (Head / Shoulder / Leg) (in)
36.1 / 55.0 / 27.7
38.9 / 54.6 / 32.2
38.9 / 57.6 / 31.9
37.8 / 55.2 / 31.4
Trunk Capacity (cu-ft)
The Ford Explorer and the Hyundai Palisade have the most spacious front row of seats and also offer a much larger trunk at the rear. The Palisade is in fact the most spacious amongst all the SUVs present here. The Honda Pilot offers a more balanced layout with plenty of space in all three rows while the Explorer has the most spacious third row but compromises a bit in the second-row legroom.
10-way power-adjustable driver's seat including power lumbar support and 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat
Heated/Ventilated Front Bucket Seats w/seat memory function
Fixed 60-40 Split-Bench 3rd Row Seat w/Manual Recline and Manual Fold Into Floor
Leather Upholstered Dashboard and Seat Trim w/Leatherette Door Trim Insert
Tilt/Telescoping Heated Leather/Piano Black Steering Wheel
Three-Zone Automatic Air Conditioning w/Separate rear seat controls
Digital Rearview Mirror w/HomeLink
What’s there to keep you entertained?
Toyota offers all sorts of amenities and technology that one would expect from a modern-day family SUV. The base model gets an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system which also features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard along with Amazon Alexa, Wi-Fi hotspot, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The higher trims feature a larger 12.3-inch head unit which also gets the dynamic navigation system as standard. The standard audio system lacks depth and feels brash but the premium JBL audio system available on the higher trims is flawless and enhances the drive during both, the family on weekend trips and the daily boring office drives.
The 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system
Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa integration
11-speaker 1200-Watt JBL Clari-Fi Premium audio system w/subwoofer
HD Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio w/3-month All Access trial
Wi-Fi Connect mobile hotspot w/up to 2GB within 3-month trial
Dynamic Navigation w/up to 3-year trial and Destination Assist w/1-year trial
Dynamic voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth
Safety Connect & Remote Connect w/1-year trial and Service Connect w/10-year trial
The exterior of the Toyota Highlander is nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd of midsize SUVs with the same old large and aggressive grille and chunky bumper with chrome embellishments. No doubt the 2021 Highlander looks striking and appealing but there is very little that would distinguish it radically from its peers and siblings.
The overall design is pretty sleek and has a pretty low drag coefficient which aids it in the fuel efficiency department. The standard 18-inch wheels are first for the segment and look really good while the optional 20-inch wheels have their own appeal, makes the ride a bit harsher but doesn’t make it uncomfortable by any means.
Curb Weight (lbs)
Ground Clearance (in)
The Ford Explorer is longer, wider, and taller than most of its competitors and hence has a more spacious cabin to offer. The Honda Pilot and the Hyundai Palisade on the other hand are pretty identical in terms of exterior dimensions but the Pilot rides much lower to the ground which limits off-road abilities. The Explorer has the highest ground clearance but the difference between the ride heights of the Highlander, Palisade, and Explorer is minuscule.
Toyota is known for providing a safe haven for its buyers and their families and the 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA and the “Top Safety Pick+” accolade from the IIHS is a clear testament to that. A number of safety functions and features are available as standard right from the base trim while the higher trims add even more driver aids to make it a complete package. A highlight of the most prominent safety features available with the 2021 Highlander is listed below.
Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA)
Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warning
Blind Spot Monitor
Front and Rear Parking Assist w/Automatic Braking
Tire Specific Low Tire Pressure Warning
2021 Toyota Highlander Competition
2021 Toyota Highlander vs Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer not only costs much less than the Toyota, but it also offers a blistering performance without any compromise in the efficiency and towing departments. The cabin is very spacious and feels a bit more premium than the Highlander. The base Explorer isn’t as loaded as the Highlander but overall feels a lot more valuable than the Explorer. Therefore, we would recommend Explorer for its spacious and premium cabin and potent powertrain.
2021 Toyota Highlander vs Honda Pilot
The Honda Pilot is also one of the more popular products of the segment and similar to Toyota’s Highlander, is also a large volume seller for its manufacturer. That being said, the 2021 Highlander has a higher towing capacity and fuel economy while the braking performance is better than Toyota. The Pilot may have a more usable third row of seats but it compromises space for the front two rows to make it happen. Therefore, it is better to opt for the feature-loaded Highlander over the Pilot on any given day.
2021 Toyota Highlander vs Hyundai Palisade
The Hyundai Palisade is a striking-looking SUV that makes sure to stand out from the crowd with people turning around to have a second look at it. It is one of the most affordable products in the segment and also offers plenty of features. Although the towing capability is on par with the segment, the acceleration and braking performance is sedate while the fuel economy is below par as well. The cabin is very spacious and feels premium with no compromise made for either the passenger or luggage space. Therefore it is a tie for us and we feel it depends on what you want from your family SUV, Toyota provides frugal comfort while Hyundai offers premium and spacious appeal to its cabin.
2021 Toyota Highlander Final Verdict
There is a reason why the Toyota Highlander is one of the best sellers for Toyota in the market. The 2021 update has made it an even more exciting prospect with many of the goodies baked right into the base trim onwards. The performance is pretty decent while the fuel efficiency is pretty high. The cabin lacks premium appeal but feels solid and built to last. Thus, if you are on the lookout for a three-row family SUV, the 2021 Toyota Highlander is one of the best you can buy at this price point.