2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Arrives With Sportier Styling, Sharper Handling

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Toyota has given the Highlander the XSE treatment at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show.

It's been nearly a year since the all-new 2020 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid debuted at the 2019 New York Auto Show. Now, Toyota's mid-size crossover has been given the sporty XSE treatment. Debuting at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE has been upgraded with a specially tuned suspension for a more spirited drive, unique exterior styling, and exclusive interior trim. It's one of several special edition Toyotas debuting at this year's Chicago Auto Show, including Nightshade versions of the Tacoma, Tundra, and Sequoia.

Toyota says the Highlander XSE is "designed for people who need SUV practicality but really miss driving sport sedans." Positioned between the XLE and Limited grades, the 2021 Highlander XSE is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 producing 295 horsepower paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power can be sent either to the front wheels or an all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring.

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This advanced AWD system can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, and also control the left/right torque distribution to the rear wheels for a more engaging driving experience. A Multi-Terrain Select feature controlled by a dial on the center console also allows the driver to adjust how the drivetrain responds to different road and weather conditions.

Visually, the Highlander XSE is distinguished by a unique front fascia, grille, and lower spoiler, giving the crossover a more aggressive look. Other visual changes include a restyled upper grille and a larger lower intake integrated into the front bumper, as well as unique headlights with black accents and light-strip daytime running lights. Elsewhere, unique rocker panels have been added to the side profile and dual exhaust tips finished in chrome have been fitted to the Highlander for the first time. The roof rails, mirror caps, and window moldings are also finished in black.

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To improve the handling agility, the new Highlander XSE model is equipped with higher-rate springs and a rear stabilizer bar, and the shock absorbers have been retuned for lower friction. The sporty crossover also rides on exclusive machined-faced 20-inch wheels with black accents and the power steering has been retuned for a sportier steering feel.

Inside, the Highlander XSE is equipped with black Softex-trimmed seats with fabric inserts, ambient lighting, and an instrument panel finished in carbon-fiber. If this doesn't suit your taste, a striking two-tone red and black leather-trimmed interior with red-stitched instrument panel is also available.

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In terms of tech, the Highlander XSE offers Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa support, as well as five USB ports and a three-month trail for SiriusXM. For audiophiles, a premium JBL sound system with 11 speakers will also be available.

The 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE will launch this fall, with pricing to be confirmed at a later date. Since it's positioned between the XLE and Limited trims, it should cost between $39,600 and $43,650. Toyota expects the sportier XSE to account for around 12 percent of Highlander sales. More updates for the 2021 Highlander will be announced later this year.

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