The 2020 Toyota Highlander XSE Is For The Parents Who Want To Feel Less Dead Inside

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All image credits: Toyota

Ah, children. A necessary evil if society is ever to advance. Between their constant demands, screams, messes and inane questions, their parents must soldier on (or else they go to jail). It’s a thankless existence I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but at least the 2021 Toyota Highlander XSE is here to make these parents feel a little less dead inside.

Unveiled yesterday at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, this is the first time a Highlander has ever been subject to XSE treatment, like you’d get on a Corolla. It’s “more fun for the parents,” Toyota says graciously in its press release.

“Designed for people who need SUV practicality but really miss driving sport sedans, the Highlander XSE combines bold exterior design with more agile driving reflexes,” the automaker gushes. Indeed, the Highlander XSE will be offered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and have a 3.5-liter V6 that’s mated to an eight-speed transmission. Available horsepower comes to 295—more than enough to get Cayden to clarinet class, Brayden to soccer practice and Hayden to well, wherever Hayden goes.

At the PTA meetings, it can be so hard to get a word in when Stacy, the supermom who is effortlessly juggling her high-power career, twin girls, three bathroom renovations and still managed to bring gluten-free brownies to the bake sale, is loudly talking about how she can effortlessly juggle her high-power career, twin girls, three bathroom renovations and still manage to bring gluten-free brownies to the bake sale. Maybe if you just put in more of an effort, Lauren.

You, on the other hand, need much smaller victories. Like compliments. These are little cough drops for the soul. Toyota knows this.

“The Highlander XSE handles curves as well as its design takes compliments,” Toyota offers helpfully. The car has 20-inch wheels, higher-rate springs and rear stabilizer bars. The shocks have also been tuned for lower friction.

All of that adds up to more handling-ness. How much handling-ness? Hard to say. Let’s just assume less than a Lotus Exige, more than a Chevy Suburban.

In between school, extracurriculars and long commutes to a job you hate but still have because you need the health insurance, there’s zero time left in the day for any self-care. But don’t worry, because the Highlander XSE looks fab when you never do. (Dry shampoo, honey. Give it a try.)

Toyota just loves to talk about how “aggressive” it is now:

To make the XSE grade, Highlander received a bumper-to-bumper style makeover. The front fascia, grille, and lower spoiler are exclusive to this model and impart a more aggressive stance. The restyled upper grille joins a much larger lower air intake integrated into the new bumper, with a spoiler below that. Unique headlamps feature black accents and light-strip DRLs.

Around back, there’s a shocker: the first-ever exposed dual-tip exhaust on a Highlander—and chromed, no less.

EXPOSED dual-tip exhaust, you say? This is a car for families. Ain’t nothing should be exposed.

“Black roof rails, mirror caps, and window moldings dial up the subtle cool factor.” Everyone knows no parent is cool. A baby is not an accessory. Good thing this Highlander can be cool for you.

It isn’t enough you have to deal with your own screaming spawn on a day-to-day basis, because if you want them to turn out as quasi-functional members of society at all, you have to socialize them. This means friends. This means occasionally putting up with someone else’s screaming spawn. This means carpooling. Doesn’t that plastic bottle of bottom-shelf vodka you picked up last Tuesday start looking real friendly during times of duress such as these?

But again, the Highlander XSE has got you covered:

Inside, the Highlander XSE rocks black Softex-trimmed seats with fabric inserts, while ambient lighting and carbon-fiber finish on the instrument panel sets the mood. A striking two-tone red and black leather-trimmed interior with red-stitched instrument panel is available and is sure to incite a bit of carpool envy.

So what are you supposed to do while ferrying these greasy and paste-filled meatballs around? Listen to them talk?

Heavens, no. Don’t be absurd.

The car comes with a “Premium Audio 1200-Watt, 11-speaker JBL sound system.” So the next time a reedy little voice calls from that back that your music is “boring” or “bad” or “not the Frozen soundtrack,” just turn that volume up, drown it all out and “[breathe] new life into old hair bands.” Haha! Because you’re old! And you have an Old’s taste in music!

Toyota says it expects about 12 percent of Highlander buyers to go for this “edgier family hauler.” The figure isn’t higher, I suspect, because too many people in this demographic have already become comatose while packing a brown paper bag with Lunchables. They haven’t moved from in front of the kitchen sink in three weeks.

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