A Bit More Brutal: 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE Arrives in Chicago

With the next-generation 2020 Toyota Highlander now riding atop a new platform, the manufacturer has decided to grow its sport-adjacent XSE trim level by throwing it into mix for the 2021 model year. The model took a bow at the Chicago Auto Show on Wednesday.

Settling between the XLE and Limited trims, XSE uses the same 3.5-liter V6 (295 horsepower, 263 lb-ft of torque) that’s now found in all non-hybrid Highlanders. The performance boost come by way of suspension upgrades and a few tweaks to the electrically assisted power steering unit. Everything else is cosmetic, but Toyota believes it will all come together to create a sportier driving experience.

The automaker says it’s giving the model the “XSE treatment,” adding it’s aimed at “people who need SUV practicality but really miss driving sport sedans.” While we’re not sure how much overlap exists between Highlander shoppers and sports-sedan enthusiasts, semi-sporting packages and trim lines are standard practice these days. They must hold some level of appeal, or manufacturers wouldn’t insist on dangling them in front of us.

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