2022 Toyota Highlander XSE V6 AWD Review – Not Flashy, Not Fussy

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2022 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD Fast Facts

3.5-liter V6 (295 horsepower @ 6,600 RPM, 263 lb-ft @ 4,700 RPM)
Transmission/Drive Wheels
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy, U.S.
20 city / 27 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
Fuel Economy, Canada
11.8 city / 8.6 highway / 10.3 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$43,950 (U.S) / $49,950 (Canada)
As-Tested Price
$47,951(U.S.) / $52,632 (Canada)
Prices include $1,215 destination charge in the United States and $1,190 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
2022 toyota highlander xse v6 awd review not flashy not fussy

Extremes are easy to write about.

Just as sportswriters would prefer to cover either contending teams or basement dwellers instead of those that win about as much as they lose, most auto writers find it easier to describe sexy sports cars or to lampoon rolling failures.

This is why writers who are itching to show you how well they can use a thesaurus are almost as happy to see a Mitsubishi Mirage arrive at their home as they would be a Ferrari. Almost.

With that in mind, maybe this is just preemptive excuse-making, but pardon me if I struggle to elevate my prose when it comes both to praise and criticism of the 2022 Toyota Highlander. Like so many of today’s utility vehicles, it does a lot well – enough to be better than the average lumbering crossover – while also being otherwise utterly unremarkable.

Indeed, one of its biggest flaws is also one of its biggest draws, depending on the buyer – the relative lack of personality. For some, it will induce naps. For others, the Highlander’s relative anonymity is a plus – some folks just want to move through the world without drawing undue attention to themselves.

It’s not that Toyota’s design folks didn’t try with the Highlander. It has some curves – it’s not just a slab-sided box on wheels. But the design is neither beautiful nor ugly enough to truly turn observer’s heads. Example: I am trying to picture a Highlander in my head as I write this, and the image is fuzzy, despite the vehicle’s ubiquity. It’s not as hard to conjure up a vision of Kia’s Telluride, Hyundai’s Palisade, or even Ford’s Explorer, even though two of those three have cleaner lines that lead to looks that are arguably blander than what the Toyota offers.

Maybe there’s some brand stereotyping at play here – Toyota is still trying to shake the image of beige it got slapped with ages ago. Nevertheless, the Highlander’s styling blends.

Toyota has set the XSE as a “sporty” trim, and the steering feel is meant to be along those lines. The springs have a higher rate and the XSE has a rear stabilizer bar. The shocks are retuned for lower friction compared to other trims. The all-wheel-drive system can send up to 50 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and also divide from left to right as needed.

With all this, the driving experience is pure contemporary Toyota, as well. The Highlander’s 3.5-liter V6 has guts enough for the city, but you feel its weight when you really press on the go pedal. It has handling that’s best described as “decent”, especially relative to the class/type of vehicle it is. That it is to say it’s not really “sporty”, but at least you feel some connection to the road. The steering has some heft to it, which is nice, and the ride, while erring on the side of firm most of the time, doesn’t jar you. The Highlander feels heavy but not ponderous.

The cabin is a mixed bag. Toyota is working hard to play catchup in the infotainment game, and while some models show improvement, the Highlander runs the UX that has become a bit too familiar. I credit Toyota for using knobs, and the HVAC controls are easy enough to use, but the infotainment screen is as awkward as two teens on a date. Little horizontal buttons on the screen’s side are meant to be helpful but their diminutive size makes them hard to press quickly.

XSE models do get unique interior appointments like carbon-fiber finishes and ambient lighting. A two-tone red and black setup is a no-cost option.

Safety is always a priority in this family-oriented class, and Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+ is standard across trims. It includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control, road-sign assist, lane-tracing assistance, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and a sway warning system.

XSE is a mid-level trim and as such comes standard with features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, five USB ports, and available premium audio. 

XSE also has a bit of a unique appearance, relative to other Highlanders, with 20-inch wheels with black accents, unique front fascia, grille, and lower spoiler. The air intake is larger than on other trims, and the headlamps have black accents and light-strip DRLs. The rocker panels are also unique, and this trim gets dual-exhaust tips. There are black roof rails, mirror caps, and window moldings.

My test unit cost a base price of $43,950, with the as-tested price ringing over $47K thanks to the premium audio with navigation and a bunch of interior/exterior appearance features such as all-weather floor and cargo liners, mudguards, and a chrome rear-bumper protector.

The Highlander remains a strong contender in the three-row crossover class, though its role can be hard to define. It’s not as stylish as the Hyundai Palisade and not quite as well-packaged as the Kia Telluride. It seems ready to duke it out with Ford’s venerable Explorer for the next place in the three-row crossover pecking order.

I found fault with very little about the Highlander, except the infotainment UX and the interior design choice made regarding the infotainment screen itself. It does everything as well as you’d expect.

It’s not the segment’s best, and not the segment’s worst. At least it’s good enough to not fall in the muddled middle. It may not be extremely good or extremely bad, but, while it can be unremarkable, it’s at least above average. In sports parlance, it’s better than .500.

That’s not exactly a glowing recommendation, but the Highlander is more good than bad, especially if head-turning style doesn’t matter to you. The Highlander may be a bit anonymous, but it works well enough that you likely won’t care.

What’s New for 2022

Hybrid versions get an available Bronze Edition. Otherwise, changes are minor.

Who Should Buy It

The three-row crossover buyer who likes quiet, understated style. 

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC, Toyota]

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2 of 32 comments
  • Zipper69 Zipper69 on Aug 31, 2022

    "XSE also has a bit of a unique appearance"

    You are too kind.

    That front end is a direct steal from "Hangdog Expressions for Sad Guppies"

  • Sckid213 Sckid213 on Aug 31, 2022

    Maybe it's the angle of the pics but I never noticed how much the front end styling on this gen channels the Matrix.

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.