The forecast for the Windy City looks sporty and outdoorsy, with a touch of nocturnal mischief as Toyota debuts seven new SUV and pickup truck variants at the Chicago Auto Show. All will arrive later this year as 2021 models.
The sporty element is the first-ever Highlander XSE, which brings nimble moves and bolder styling to this three-row family SUV. Meanwhile, new Trail Special Editions of the Tacoma and Tundra pickups and 4Runner SUV come prepped for even more outdoorsy adventure. And, for people who like dark shadows, dark matter, and maybe even dark chocolate, Toyota is adding new Nightshade Special Editions of the Tacoma and Tundra pickups and the Sequoia SUV. These join five other Toyotas already available with the cool, dark Nightshade treatment.
In the Toyota world, the XSE badge signals a drive on the sporty side with specially tuned handling suspension, unique exterior styling, and exclusive interior trim. For 2021, and for the first time in its 20-year history, the Highlander family SUV gets the XSE treatment. The fourth-generation Highlander, just introduced for 2020 and built on the Toyota New Global Architecture, offers the ideal platform for an athletic transformation.
Designed for people who need SUV practicality but really miss driving sport sedans, the Highlander XSE combines bold exterior design with more agile driving reflexes. Positioned between the XLE and Limited grades, the 2021 Highlander XSE is briskly motivated by a 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that’s teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s available with either front-wheel drive or Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive.
In addition to being able to send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, this advanced AWD system can control the left/right torque distribution to the rear wheels for a more engaging driving experience. In addition, the Multi-Terrain Select feature, controlled by a dial on the center console, allows the driver to adjust drivetrain responses to prevailing road and weather conditions.
The Highlander XSE handles curves as well as its design takes compliments. In addition to exclusive machined-faced 20-inch wheels with black accents, the XSE model is equipped with higher-rate springs and rear stabilizer bar, and the shock absorbers have been re-tuned for lower friction. Electric power steering has also been re-tuned for a sportier steering feel. These carefully calibrated new parts boost handling agility for the XSE while preserving Highlander’s renowned ride comfort.
To make the XSE grade, Highlander received a bumper-to-bumper style makeover. The front fascia, grille, and lower spoiler are exclusive to this model and impart a more aggressive stance. The restyled upper grille joins a much larger lower air intake integrated into the new bumper, with a spoiler below that. Unique headlamps feature black accents and light-strip DRLs.
In profile, unique rocker panels add an edgy accent to the Highlander XSE’s sculpted lines. Around back, there’s a shocker: the first-ever exposed dual-tip exhaust on a Highlander – and chromed, no less. Black roof rails, mirror caps, and window moldings dial up the subtle cool factor.
Inside, the Highlander XSE rocks black Softex-trimmed seats with fabric inserts, while ambient lighting and carbon-fiber finish on the instrument panel sets the mood. A striking two-tone red and black leather-trimmed interior with red-stitched instrument panel is available and is sure to incite a bit of carpool envy.
The 2021 Highlander XSE comes ready to take on all devices with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa compatibility, as well as five USB ports and an all access 3-month trail of SiriusXM®.
The Highlander XSE will also offer an available Premium Audio 1200-Watt, 11-speaker JBL sound system with dynamic navigation, breathing new life into old hair bands.
Toyota anticipates that about 12 percent of Highlander buyers will opt for this edgier family hauler. Other updates to the 2021 Highlander will be announced later, but the XSE is slated for launch this fall.