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2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Revealed: What’s Different?

Toyota has unveiled seven new trims and special editions at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show. Unsurprisingly, all of them are for the company’s crossovers, SUVs and trucks.

The Tacoma, Tundra, Highlander and the 4Runner have all received their respective special editions. But the one that caught our eye, with good reason, is the Highlander XSE. Just a couple of months after the debut of the 2020 Toyota Highlander, the Japanese giant has already added a special edition to the SUV’s lineup.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota Highlander Review

There are a few reasons the XSE stands out from the rest of the special editions. For one it is a sportier trim compared to the off-road centric ones on the Tacoma, Tundra and the 4Runner. Secondly, the changes and upgrades are not just skin deep.

Here are the key differences between the standard Highlander and the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE.

A Different Face. Already?

Yes, already. The Highlander XSE features an almost completely different front fascia, the headlamps notwithstanding. In addition, the new grille and massive finned front bumper are elements unique to the XSE trim. These elements will not feature on any other trim in the Highlander lineup. Toyota has clearly done this to set the XSE trim apart and reassure customers that they are at the helm of something special.

Also, the different look helps justify the premium XSE trim will inevitably command over the other trims.

And a New Badge

For ones familiar with Toyota’s nomenclature, the XSE badge is nothing to scoff at. Any Toyota adorned with the XSE badge states that it is a vehicle with sportier driving dynamics, format immaterial. It also means that Toyota has put in a significant amount of work into upgrading the vehicle. The Highlander XSE is no different.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Review

The Highlander XSE features higher-rate springs and rear stabilizer bar for added stability. It also gets re-tuned shock absorbers for lower friction and a retuned steering geometry for a “sportier steering feel”. According to Toyota, the TNGA platform was the perfect chassis to base a sportier version of the Highlander on. That’s why it has received the XSE treatment for the first time in its 20 year history.

Sportier Cabin

Toyota’s press release states “the Highlander XSE rocks black softex trimmed seats with fabric inserts.” We think the red and black leather-upholstered cabin with an instrument cluster finished in carbon fiber looks way cooler even if a bit gimmicky. That paired with the ambient lighting is sure to grab some eyeballs.

As far as features go, the XSE trim sits between the Limited and the XLE trims and will be similarly equipped. It will get Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Alexa and a 3-month trial of Sirius XM as part of the standard kit. It will also get the 8.0-inch touchscreen as standard while the 12.3-inch unit should be available as an option.

Some Things Remain the Same

The 3.5-liter V6 paired to the eight-speed automatic transmission will be the only powertrain available with the XSE trim. The engine will push out 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque just like the standard car.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Review

Also, like on the standard Highlander, Toyota will offer the XSE in both front- and all-wheel drive. The dynamic torque vectoring of the AWD system is capable of sending up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels if required.

Different Cost Too?

The Highlander XSE will go on sale by this fall and as we mentioned before, slot between the XLE and the Limited variants. Expect it to be priced from around $42,500, including destination.