2021 Toyota Highlander XSE shows its fun side at Chicago Auto Show

The fourth-generation 2020 Toyota Highlander is an all-new model. But at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, the 2021 Highlander XSE is showing the fun side of Toyota. People around the word know Toyotas as well-rounded, durable, and reliable machines. However, Toyota vehicles are generally tepid to drive, but all of this is about to change.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE is proof that the spark is finally back. Did you know Toyota used to love rallying? The Japanese carmaker is echoing the past by releasing the 2020 Toyota GR Yaris in Japan and Europe. It’s a two-door compact vehicle with a turbocharged three-cylinder motor, manual gearbox, and all-wheel-drive. Sounds good? Too bad, the GR Yaris won’t probably make it to American shores, but never say never, right?

Have you also seen the 2020 Toyota Camry TRD? We’re telling you, Toyota is definitely bringing the fun back, and the new Highlander XSE is leading the assault in the profitable land of three-row crossovers.

The XSE is a new trim model for the Toyota Highlander

Don’t be misled. The XSE is a new trim variant for the 2020 Highlander and is NOT merely a special edition model. True to form, the XSE badge signals Toyota’s sporting intent in its bevy of road cars. But it’s not just about having spoilers, side skirts, and blacked-out exterior elements. As it turns out, the Highlander XSE has been thoroughly reworked to genuinely deliver a more sporting ride.

It’s the first time ever for the Highlander to receive the XSE treatment

The Toyota Highlander is currently in its fourth iteration. But for the first time in 20 years of existence, the XSE treatment is now available for the Highlander. Slotting nicely between the XLE and Limited trim, the new Highlander XSE receives a complete styling makeover with a new front grille, front bumper, and lower chin spoiler. This exclusive look is only available to the Highlander XSE and is purposely designed to give the vehicle a more aggressive vibe.

Also new are the headlights with unique black accents and new DRLs. The vehicle also receives unique rocker panels and blacked-out roof rails, mirror caps, and window moldings – all of which are also unique to the Highlander XSE.

Toyota’s not done. Sportier vehicles need sportier exhaust tips, and the Highlander XSE obliges with exposed dual exhaust tips finished in bright chrome – again, the first time for such a thing to occur in a Highlander SUV. Also new for Highlander XSE are exclusive 20-inch wheels with black accents to complete the exterior makeover.

It purportedly handles better, too

As previously mentioned, the Highlander XSE is not a mere cosmetic upgrade. There’s real substance beneath that sporting new look. Toyota installed higher-rate springs and a new rear stabilizer bar along with new low-friction shock absorbers.

Toyota also fiddled with the electric power steering system to deliver a firmer, tighter feel. The result of all this is better stability and a sportier handling while preserving the Highlander’s supple ride quality.

It has a powerful V6 motor

Motivating the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE is a 3.5-liter V6 producing 295-horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. The engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic with standard front-wheel-drive or an optional all-wheel-drive system with dynamic torque vectoring.

Inside, the Highlander XSE receives ambient lighting, carbon-fiber accents, and optional two-tone red and black leather seats. Standard equipment includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, five USB ports, Amazon Alexa compatibility, and a three-month all-access trial of SiriusXM.

The new Toyota Highlander XSE arrives this fall as a 2021 model.