Road Test Review – 2021 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition – Does Art Make The Highlander Better?

The Toyota Highlander is an SUV entry that largely follows the same script that has come to define many others in its segment. It’s large, has the ability to haul up to three rows of passengers, and has doubled down on its attempts to be a fuel miser with an available hybrid equipped four-cylinder. These things individually are all good traits, but we won’t be shocked if they failed to make the Highlander ring a bell in your memory bank. The Japanese auto giant thinks it might have just the thing with the all-new Highlander Bronze Edition, but is this artsy Toyota enough to make it stand out better?


Going For The Podium With New Color Scheme

As the name implies, the Bronze Edition takes the Highlander XLE Hybrid as its base and slathers it with splashes of bronze accents. That includes the model exclusive 18-inch bronze-colored wheels and other select areas of the Highlander. The unique color forced Toyota to limit the exterior hue selection for the Bronze Edition to three colors ( white, black, or the Cement hue that adorned our tester.) The wheels look toy-like when tasked with filling the Highlander’s wheel arches but they do grow on you after long-term exposure.

Look past the wheels and the rest of the look is pure Highlander and that means an interesting clash of styles with the front fascia’s large grille and headlights clashing with the bland rear end’s melting look. We like a splash of color for a model from time to time, but here in the Highlander we would’ve really liked to see Toyota put more bronze accents in the exterior to help it stand out better versus limiting the metal color to the wheels.


Art Inspired Style Defines Bronze Edition Interior

Slip inside the Highlander Bronze Edition and you’ll see bronze-hued kickplates, as well as the geometric patterned cloth insert that the first two rows of seats get. The insert also has a bronze strip of SofTex leatherette and contrast stitching, though the grey-hued third-row seats stick out like a garish cramped counterpoint to the first two rows.

In addition to trying to be a more design-focused variant, the bronze Edition is also trying to be a value-focused play too with the model bundling alot of the XLE’s popular options into one cohesive package. That means a digital rearview mirror is standard while the rear liftgate gets a power-operated push button function, and other goodies include rain sense wipers and a memory function for the driver’s seat.

The seats themselves are typical of what you see in other Toyota products with the broad flat cushions encouraging comfortable cruising versus corner-carving shenanigans despite the large side bolsters. The headroom is competent but with the Highlander having a large footprint, it’s certainly less than some of its rivals. The second row is still very good while the third row continues to be the place that’s either left for children or folded down when hauling cargo. The 8.0-inch infotainment system in the Bronze Edition is starting to show its age especially when its Entune powered software is matched up with the newer infotainment offerings in the revamped Toyota Tundra and the Sequoia. The menus are cramped together, the light from the sunroof washes out the screen, and wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are rapidly giving way to wireless versions of both in some of its rivals.


Hybrid Powered Performance Goes For Gold Medal

As mentioned, the Bronze Edition is only available with the Hybrid with all models getting a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s paired with three electric motors. Two of these motors are front-mounted while the third is mounted in the rear with the entire setup producing 243 hp. The good amount of low-end torque makes the Highlander workable in city driving and while the setup will not turn heads with its acceleration or other performance numbers, it should be enough for the bulk of buyers.

The engine is mated to a CVT but that’s fine since the Hybrid’s claim to fame is fuel economy with front-wheel drive examples getting 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the freeway. All-wheel-drive models like our tester don’t stray too far from these figures and get a balanced 35 mpg across both parameters. The setup is also capable of EV-only motoring but only for a short distance and at low speeds.


Value Quotient:

The 2022 Highlander Bronze Edition is in the middle of the model lineup and has a base price of $45,480 which reflects its design-focused theme. Our tester was lightly optioned which helped creep the sticker to a final total of $48,970 when you include the $1,215 destination charge. This pricing may seem a bit rich, but the additional equipment you get and some of the design-focused styling tweaks do make the premium you pay over a standard Highlander Hybrid worth the extra cash.

That sentiment shifts though when you look at some of its rivals. The Kia Sorento for example is more expensive than the Highlander and hauls one passenger less, but it also offers the same basic layout and it even outshines the Highlander with a PHEV configuration. Meanwhile, the Palisade and the Mazda CX-9 have better driving manners and the Hyundai will be debuting a comprehensive refresh soon.