Toyota Highlander XSE

By: Tim Plouff

Spring showers brought more than May flowers. They also created buds for native fruits, like Maine’s vast blueberry barrens with its luscious low-bush—and very healthy—wild berries.

It only seemed fitting to photograph our equally luscious Blueberry Blue (actually, Toyota calls it Blueprint Blue) Highlander XSE in the middle of a blueberry field awaiting the bees that will sustain a mid-summer’s crop. And, adorned with a visually festive feast for the eyes red leather interior—just like the blueberry barrens look in the fall, after harvest—our sample Toyota can also boast that it is growing like a berry. The three-row Highlander is the best-selling crossover in its class so far in 2022—every automaker hopes their crop of precious fruit earns such accolades.

With graceful proportions and supple accents all around the mid-level XSE trimmed Highlander, buyers could easily be forgiven for asking; why buy a Lexus? The Highlander is less expensive, uses the same 3.5-liter V-6 powertrain as its similar sibling Lexus RX, and the concerted effort to enhance the interior accommodations, successfully executed too, as well as the additional features now available, one could easily agree with the reasoning behind favoring the top-selling Highlander. 

The controls are elegantly efficient. They are where you want them, expect them to be, and perform like buttons, knobs, and dials that we grew up driving with. Why confuse basic functions with expressive new designs that create driver distraction?

Fuel mileage fell in the middle of the EPA estimates, 20/27-mpg, for our AWD sampler, that also featured several off-road and traction selections. The doors wrap-around the thresholds to keep occupant’s ingress and egress clean, the doors are large and conveniently easy to utilize for all passengers, but the third row seat is best reserved for the under-12-year-old population. Toyota has a pending remedy for that too; a longer Grand Highlander is in the wings and should appear by 2023. Given the immediate success of Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee L, Toyota should kick that effort up a notch.

Polished on the road, pleasant to use, and perfect for a budding blueberry farmer’s family, the Highlander XSE should appeal to a lot of buyer’s taste.

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