2022 Toyota Highlander continues to be the do-all family vehicle
Like nearly all the vehicles Toyota makes, it’s really hard to find fault with their mid-size SUV, the Toyota Highlander. It’s practical, comfortable, and stylish. With three-rows of seats, it has plenty of room for the entire family and it’s offered in a wide array of configurations including front or all-wheel drive and even as a hybrid. And for those that want a little bit of a sporty flair to their family SUV, Toyota offers the Highlander in the XSE, which is what I am driving around in this week.
Currently in its third year in this generation, today’s Highlander rides on Toyota’s TNGA platform which is the same one used in the popular, yet smaller RAV4. The Highlander’s exterior styling is bold with many sculpted lines, making it one of the best-looking Highlanders ever. In addition, this fourth generation Highlander is also the largest Highlander ever.
In XSE form, the Highlander gets a more aggressive look thanks to a unique fascia, grille, lower spoiler and black air intakes. Black accents can be found on the exterior such as on the 20-inch wheels and on the side-view mirror caps. At the rear, there are dual exhaust tips – a first for the Highlander. While the changes are subtle, they add up to make this Highlander appear slightly different from the others.
Inside the XSE changes are more subtle with faux carbon-fiber trim that surrounds the touchscreen and the availability of a red leather interior.
Under the hood, things remain the same for the sportier Highlander, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 3.5-liter V6 that powers this and all other Highlanders makes 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, sending that power through an eight-speed transmission to, in the case of the tester, all four wheels. The XSE does benefit from a sportier suspension that includes larger anti-roll bars and stiffening the spring rates.
Besides the XSE trim, the Highlander is available in five other trim levels. Base is the L, which is nicely decked out with 18-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, 3-zone climate control, an 8-inch infotainment system and a second-row bench seat (making it able to carry eight passengers). The LE adds in foglights, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and a blind-spot detection. The XLE really spices things up with a sunroof, wireless phone charging port, heated front seats and leather-like interior. After the XLE is the XSE. From the XSE and up, the second-row seats become captain’s chairs, lowering seating capacity to seven. Step up to the Limited and the Highlander gets a hands-free tailgate, real leather interior, vented front seats and a heated steering wheel. A larger 12.3-inch touchsreen with a 360-degree camera is available. The Platinum is the top-of-the-line Highlander and gets the larger touchscreen, a panoramic sunroof, heads-up display, digital rearview mirror and heated second-row seats.
The tester was equipped with the red leather interior mentioned above and it really makes the cabin pop. The Highlander’s interior has always been one of the most attractive in its class and the red just makes it more so. Fit and finish is top notch and the design is clean and tastefully simplistic. Thankfully a traditional shifter is used and its nicely located on the center console along with some cupholders and some other switch gear. Storage areas are everywhere including the built-in shelf on the dashboard.
Out on the road, it was hard to notice any big differences between this sportier Highlander and the others. Yes, the suspension feels slightly stiffer, but would I have noticed it if I didn’t know it was tweaked for the XSE? Probably not. The V6 engine feels adequate for an SUV of this size – never coming up short on power, but never feeling overpowered either. Shifts from the transmission are smooth and seamless. There is a Sport mode and switching it on makes the Highlander feel a little more energetic, but doesn’t turn it into a sport SUV by any means. Nonetheless, the Highlander XSE is a good driving SUV, just not a sporty one.
With three rows of seating, the Toyota Highlander continues to be the have-it-all SUV for mainstream America. Folks gotta have their SUVs. They want lots of room. And if they like the sporty look but don’t care much about performance, it’s really hard to look past the Highlander XSE.
— Christopher A. Randazzo
By The Numbers:
2022 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD
Base Price: $43,950.00
Price as Tested: $47,163.00
Layout: front-engine / all-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5 liter 24-valve V6
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 295 hp
Torque: 263 ft/lbs
EPA Fuel Economy: 20 city / 27 highway mpg
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