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2019 Toyota Highlander vs. 2021 Toyota Highlander: Which is Better?

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The 2021 Toyota Highlander costs between $460 and $3,350 more than the 2019 model and includes significant changes such as an upgraded standard engine, an improved safety feature suite, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, an all-new sporty XSE trim, and more.
The Toyota Highlander paved the way for capable three-row midsize SUVs that are ready for adventure. Equipped with a gas-powered V6 engine and front-wheel drive, the Highlander does best on paved surfaces but is a top off-roading contender with the available all-wheel-drive system. 
If you’re in the market for a Highlander and wondering what’s changed between the 2021 model and the 2019 version, here’s a complete guide! We’ll compare pricing, fuel efficiency, safety features, and available upgrades to help you choose which Highlander is right for you! 

2021 Toyota Highlander vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander: what’s the difference?

The Highlander is the largest of Toyota’s SUV crossovers. Larger than both the
RAV4
and
4Runner
, the spacious capable SUV competes with other three-row vehicles in its class such as the
Kia Telluride
and Jeep Grand Cherokee. 
But is the 2021 model that much different from the 2019 version, and is it worth the added cost? The 2021 Highlander comes with an upgraded standard engine and suite of safety features, an 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa connectivity, as well as a new sporty XSE trim.
Now, let’s see how the two model years compare across the most important areas to see which Highlander year is the best pick for you. 

Pricing

The 2021 Toyota Highlander is more expensive than the 2019 model year, but not by much. Replacing the SE trim is the all-new sportier XSE trim which sits between the
XLE
and
Limited
trims. You can compare the pricing information for each trim level below.
Model
2021 MSRP
2019 MSRP
$36,300
N/A
$38,500
$32,375
Toyota Highlander LE Plus
N/A
$37,880
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
$39,950
$38,000
Toyota Highlander XLE
$41,300
$40,840
N/A
$42,060
$42,895
N/A
Toyota Highlander Limited
$45,255
$44,050
$48,455
$47,140
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The only significant increase is between the base trim levels for each model year at $3,350, with less than a $1,000 jump in cost across all other trim levels. 

General specs

Manufacturers often increase the price between model years without making any noteworthy upgrades to performance, but that’s not the case here. 
An upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine comes standard in the 2021 Highlander, which is a huge improvement from the lackluster 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that came with the 2019 model year. However, both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive
Both model years have the same eight inches of ground clearance, but with an additional two inches of length and width, the 2021 Highlander is slightly roomier and comes with 16 cubic feet of
trunk space
behind the third row compared to 13.6 cubic feet in the 2019 model year. 
2021 Toyota Highlander
2019 Toyota Highlander
Base engine 
3.5-liter V6 engine (295 horsepower)
2.7-liter four-cylinder engine (185 horsepower)
Upgraded engine 
N/A
N/A
Hybrid engine
2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder engine w/ two electric motors (243 horsepower)
2.5-liter hybrid four-cylinder engine w/ two electric motors (243 horsepower)
Transmission
8-speed automatic
6 and 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain
Front-wheel drive (FWD) and optional All-wheel drive (AWD)
Front-wheel drive (FWD) and optional All-wheel drive (AWD)
Maximum towing capacity
5,000 lbs
5,000 lbs
If performance is a priority for you, then you may want to opt for the newer Toyota Highlander.  

Fuel economy

Next up, let’s see which Highlander model year is more fuel efficient in the table below.
Engine
2021 Toyota Highlander EPA Rating
2019 Toyota Highlander EPA Rating
Base engine 
21 mpg city / 29 highway / 24 mpg combined
21 mpg city / 27 highway / 23 mpg combined
Hybrid 
36 mpg city / 35 mpg highway
30 mpg city / 28 mpg highway
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Despite having a different engine, the 2021 and 2019 Highlander models have a fairly similar fuel economy rating but it should be no surprise the Hybrid trim gets outstanding mileage. 
Keep in mind that these EPA mileages are just estimates and your exact fuel efficiency will depend on where you live and how you drive. If you’re looking for a serious boost in fuel economy, you’ll want to opt for the more expensive Hybrid Highlander.

Safety ratings

The 2021 and 2019 Toyota Highlanders both received five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2021 model year comes out on top with a 2021 Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) while the 2019 model year received a 2019 Top Safety Pick, which is one step lower than the newer model.
Top-tier ratings shouldn’t come as a surprise with the robust suite of driver-assistance safety features Toyota is known for. The 2019 Highlander comes equipped with Toyota’s Safety Sense™ 2.0 which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlamps. However, Toyota upgraded the Highlander suite of safety features to Safety Sense™ 2.5 Plus in 2021, which boasts two new driver-assistance features: automated emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross-traffic alert. 
There’s only one weak spot to note in the Highlander’s safety and it's in the 2019 model year: passenger protection in small overlap frontal crashes (when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another object). The passenger side structure and safety cage on the 2019 Highlander got a Moderate rating from the IIHS for lack of structural support—which is what kept the model year from receiving the Top Safety Pick Plus rating.
MORE: Toyota paint codes

Styling and interior changes

While both 2021 and 2019 Highlander models come standard with features such as three-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, heated front seats, a rearview camera, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, you won’t be disappointed with the improvements made to the 2021 Highlander’s interior styling, comfort, and features. 
Here are some of the highlights that come standard:
  • 8-inch multimedia touchscreen 
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility
  • Amazon Alexa connectivity
  • Black SofTex-trimmed seating
  • Carbon fiber instrument panel
  • Premium JBL audio system with a 1200-watt 11-speaker system
  • Dual illuminating vanity mirrors
Looking for the ultimate luxury experience with all the bells and whistles? The 2021
Platinum
trim boasts a 12.3-inch touchscreen display, Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless device charging pad, 10-inch color head-up display (HUD), digital rearview mirror with Homelink, and an available panoramic moonroof. 

XSE

Toyota swapped the
SE
trim level with the sportier
XSE
in the 2021 Highlander lineup. This addition is for the sports-style car enthusiast turned parent and comes equipped with a twin-tip exhaust, sport-tuned independent MacPherson strut front suspension, black roof rails, chrome-finished rear bumper spoiler, and a mesh front grille. 
While the changes in the XSE are mostly aesthetic other than the sport-tuned suspension, you’ll certainly look cool while driving it. 
MORE: Every Toyota sports car you should know

2021 Toyota Highlander vs. 2019 Toyota Highlander: which should you buy?

If you’re deciding between the 2021 and 2019 Toyota Highlander, opt for the 2021 Toyota Highlander model year. With the exception of the base model, the increase in price is slight across trim levels and well worth the cost of the upgraded standard engine, the driver-assist features included in the Safety Sense™ 2.5 Plus, and improved tech. 
Keep in mind you’ll be buying both vehicles used, so you’ll get a better deal than the original MSRP we mentioned above on both model years. However, the newer 2021 Highlander may come with fewer miles and will hold its value better than the 2019 version. 
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By Talullah Blanco
Expert Insurance Writer
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett.
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