Off-road Adventure, TRD models on tap for 2022 Toyota Highlander?

By Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2022 Toyota Highlander different?

2021 Toyota Highlander XLE

Maybe a blacked-out Nightshade appearance package. Possibly off-road-themed Adventure or TRD trims. Aside from those sorts of trendy additions, this popular midsize crossover will return fundamentally unaltered for model-year 2022. A bigger change – literally – is coming for model-year 2023, however.

The ’22 Highlander will return with your choice of a V-6 engine or a high mileage gas-electric hybrid powertrain and the option of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Seating for up to eight will remain available. It’ll continue with the all-new design it adopted for model-year 2020, when it grew externally but lost space inside. To address a cramped third-row seat, Toyota’s expected to introduce a stretched version for model-year 2023 called the Grand Highlander.     

Even without an expansive third row, Highlander was America’s No.-2-selling midsize SUV through the first quarter of 2021, trailing only the Ford Explorer and handily beating such direct rivals as the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot, Volkswagen Atlas, and Kia Telluride.

Should I wait for the 2022 Toyota Highlander or buy a 2021?

2021 Highlander Platinum

Wait for the ’22 if you’re intrigued by the possibility of fresh takes on a familiar theme.

A Nightshade edition would almost certainly follow fashion with blacken exterior trim, badging, and wheels, without altering anything mechanical. Introduction of an Adventure or TRD Off-Road could put the ’22 Highlander in step with another movement: enhancing both the look and the off-pavement capability of midsize crossovers. The 2021 Explorer Timberline and 2022 Kia Sorento X-Line are the latest examples. Indeed, Toyota already offers Adventure and TRD Off-Road versions of its RAV4 compact crossover.

Otherwise, the ’22 Highlander should be a virtual repeat of the 2021, although it’ll almost certainly cost more. Look for V-6 models to reprise six grades: base L, better-equipped LE, volume-selling XLE, sporty XSE, luxury Limited, and flagship Platinum.

The Nightshade would likely be an option package for the XLE or Limited, while an Adventure could slot in below the Limited and a TRD below the Platinum. Expect AWD to be standard on the Adventure and TRD and optional in place of front-wheel drive on the other models.

The ’22 Highlander Hybrid will again team a four-cylinder engine with two battery-electric motors, one to assist with acceleration, the other to drive the rear wheels to provide optional AWD. The ’22 Highlander Hybrid should be back in LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels that, except for powertrain, mostly duplicate their gas-only counterparts.

If you can find something that suits you among all the carryover models, save some dough and buy a 2021 version. If you find Highlander’s third-row accommodations too tight, you’ll want to wait for the ’23 Grand Highlander. It’ll expand rearmost passenger room – and possibly enlarge cargo space, too – with a longer body than the ’21 or ‘22 Highlander. Its extra length might be accomplished with help from a stretched wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles). It would still be smaller and lighter than Toyota’s full-size, body-on-frame Sequoia SUV, though.

Arrival of the Grand Highlander should coincide with this generation Highlander’s midcycle refresh. Expect updated styling for all models, mostly to the nose and tail, revised cabin décor, and some additional features, but no major mechanical changes.

Will 2022 Toyota Highlander styling be different?

2021 Highlander XSE

Only by virtue of a Nightshade option and the possible addition of Adventure and TRD models. The Nightshade would simply blacken existing trim while the others would likely get some unique touches, such as an exclusive grille design and special wheels, plus a slightly elevated ride height.

If Toyota uses the RAV4 versions as templates, a 2022 Highlander Adventure might be offered with two-tone paint while a ‘22 Highlander TRD would get its own appearance touches, such as contrasting lower-body trim, flared wheel arches, and chunky tires on black TRD wheels. It could also feature front and rear bumpers shaped to improve off-road clearance, exhaust outlets modified for the same purpose, maybe even a heavy-duty roof rack.

Carryover models won’t change. All returning ’22 Highlanders will again have LED headlamps, with visual differentiation most evident on the Platinum and XSE. The former will have the most brightwork. The ’22 XSE will continue with its own grille, headlamps, and bumpers; larger air intakes; and exclusive wheels. For ’21, it was the only Highlander with an exposed dual-tip exhaust.

Look for the ’22 L, LE, and XLE to return with 18-inch alloy wheels, the other Highlanders (including the possible Adventure and TRD) with 20s.

The 2022 Highlander Hybrids will again mirror the appearance and features of gas-only trim levels except for exterior badging, wheel designs, and some hybrid-specific dashboard readouts.

2021 Highlander XSE with red-and-black leather and second-row captain’s chairs

Eight-passenger seating with a 60/40 split/sliding second-row bench should remain standard for the 2022 Highlander L and LE and a no-cost option for XLE and Limited. Second-row captain’s chairs for seven-passenger capacity should be standard otherwise. A 60/40 split/reclining third-row bench should remain standard across the board, although if there’s a TRD Off-Road model, Toyota might underscore its rugged persona by offering it with five-passenger seating.

Upholstery will again be fabric on the L and LE, Toyota’s imitation-leather SofTex on the XLE, and genuine leather on the Limited and Platinum. The ’22 Highlander XSE will return with a SofTex/fabric combo or optional red-and-black leather, plus carbon-fiber-look and red-stitched dashboard trim. A Highlander Adventure might get SofTex with orange interior accents. A TRD could get a black-themed SofTex/fabric cabin with TRD logos and red stitching on dash, doors, and seats.

You’ll likely need to wait for the model-year-2023 refresh to learn whether Toyota will improve the quality of Highlander’s cabin materials to match class benchmarks set by the Telluride and its Hyundai Palisade cousin. For ’22, unpadded surfaces are likely to remain far too conspicuous, even in the full-zoot 2022 Platinum, with its embossed perforated leather and ambient LED lighting.

2021 Highlander Platinum

On all ’22 Highlanders, instruments and controls will again be logically arrayed, although the glossy plastic buttons and the dashboard infotainment touchscreen are apt to remain sensitive to reflections and fingerprints. Expect the ’22 L, LE, XSE, and XLE to return with an 8-inch touchscreen and support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa.

That setup — incorporating imbedded navigation that works independent of a cell signal — should again be standard on the XSE and Limited and an option for the XLE and XSE (and probably the Adventure). For ’22, that option cost $1,040.

A 12.3-inch touchscreen with imbedded navigation and an 11-speaker JBL-audio upgrade should return as standard on the Platinum (and TRD) and an option, at around $1,050, for the Limited and Adventure.

Highlander’s third-row seat is cramped and difficult to access (2021 model shown)

The 2020 redesign added a significant 2.4 inches to Highlander’s wheelbase. That ought to have resulted in a noteworthy increase in passenger and cargo space. It didn’t. In fact, this fourth-generation Highlander has marginally less passenger volume than its 2014-2019 predecessor. In practice, there’s plenty of adult-friendly room in the first and second rows on comfortable, supportive seating.

The third row will remain suitable for small kids only. It’s flat, thinly cushioned, and has little space for feet or legs. That’s a fail in a family vehicle pitched as transportation for more than five people. The Pilot, Telluride, Palisade, Chevy Traverse, Nissan Pathfinder, and Volkswagen Atlas are among rivals with grownup-worthy third-row seating. They also have superior outward visibility. Highlander pinches the driver’s view aft, forcing reliance on the backup camera or, exclusive to the Platinum (and maybe a TRD), the video-view mirror.

The dashboard of every ’22 Highlander will retain handy oddments shelving. Cabin bins, cubbies, and cupholders are sufficient if not abundant. Credit Toyota with providing the same cargo volume in both the gas-only and Hybrid Highlanders. But at 16.1 cubic feet behind the third row, 40.6 behind the second, and 73.3 with both rear rows folded, carrying space for model-year 2022 will remain below average for the segment. Expect a power liftgate to again be standard on all but the L model, with hands-free operation on the Limited and Platinum (and probably a TRD).

Any 2022 Toyota Highlander mechanical changes?

2021 Highlander Hybrid Platinum

Don’t expect any changes to engines or transmissions, although if an Adventure or TRD model joins the 2023 lineup they’d get suspension modifications – and the TRD could also get an upgraded AWD system.

All gas-only ’22 Highlanders will reprise a 3.5-liter V-6 with 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque (torque’s the key to acceleration). They’ll again use an eight-speed automatic transmission and include driver-selectable Snow, Economy, Normal, and Sport modes.

The gas-only models’ available AWD system will again default to front-wheel drive and respond to tire slip by automatically sending up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels. AWD XSE, Limited, and Platinum grades – and likely any Adventure and TRD model — should again get side-to-side rear-torque vectoring to improve cornering grip.

2021 Highlander AWD models have Multi-Terrain Select modes

All AWD Highlanders will return with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select that allows the driver to choose Mud, Sand, Rock, and Dirt modes. The Adventure could add to that another mode, say, a specific Trail setting designed to manage off-road traction. And along with any TRD model, it’s apt to have more ground clearance than Highlander’s standard 8 inches. (TRD, by the way, stands for Toyota Racing Development and the automaker uses it to identify uprated versions of its cars, trucks, SUVs, and crossovers.)

Of course, the body-on-frame 4Runner (which seats 7 with an optional third row) will remain Toyota’s midsize-SUV off-road headliner. However, a 2022 Highlander TRD not only could answer the Explorer Timberline, Jeep Grankd Cherokee L, Kia Sorento X-Line, and Atlas Basecamp but provide more away-from-the-pavement capability than most owners will ever use. Along with all-terrain tires and the beefed-up suspension, it could add yet another drive mode, something like a Crawl setting, to bolster off-road control.

The 2022 Highlander Hybrid will return a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an electric-motor for a net 243 horsepower (Toyota doesn’t publish net torque). A continuously variable automatic (CVT) will again be the sole transmission. Normal, Eco, and Sport driving modes are joined by an EV mode for electric-only driving at low speeds for no more than a mile or so.

2021 Highlander Hybrid 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine

This is a conventional hybrid, with sensors determining the best mix of gas, electric, or combined power to optimize performance and fuel economy. It recharges by recapturing energy otherwise squandered in braking and coasting. AWD is furnished by a dedicated electric motor automatically powering the rear wheels to quell tire slip. It includes a Snow mode. 

Both the gas-only and hybrid Highlanders should remain able performers. In our tests, the V-6 was quicker away from a stop and reached 60 mph in around 6.8 seconds versus 7.5 for the Hybrid. But the Hybrid was just as responsive from around-town speeds and like the V-6, took care of highway-speed merging and passing with minimal strain. 

Any 2022 Highlander will remain your ally on curvy roads, with good balance, minimal play in the steering, and laudable composure in changes of direction. The XSE will continue with firmer steering and tauter suspension tuning, differences that are subtle but satisfying to drivers looking for a whiff of sportiness in their family crossover.

Ride quality is generally good, although the 20-inch tires allow impacts from tar strips and the like to infiltrate the cabin. Occasional intrusion from wind rush, road roar, and sometimes the engine – particularly in the hybrid during rapid acceleration — will likely remain the 2022 Highlander’s most notable refinement shortfalls.

Will 2022 Toyota Highlander fuel economy improve?

2021 Highlander XLE

Expect carryover ’22 Highlanders to repeat their model-year-2021 EPA ratings. That’s a good thing. The gas-only models should remain above class average. The ’22 Highlander ought to repeat as one of the most fuel-efficient midsize three-row crossovers in any class that’s not a pure electric.

With the V-6, look for ratings of 21/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive (20/28/23 for the LE model) and 20/27/23 with AWD. Ratings could be a bit lower for a possible Adventure or TRD model, depending on the effect their tires or raised suspension may have on mileage calculations.

Highlander’s V-6 will continue to employ automatic stop/start, but unlike many in this class, it’ unlikely to get fuel-saving cylinder deactivation. AWD models will again have an automatic driveline disconnect to save fuel when power to the rear tires isn’t required.

Expect the ’22 Highlander Hybrid to again rate 36/35/36 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 35/34/35 (35/35/35 for the LE) with AWD. To compare that with other hybrid three-row crossovers in this class, the 318-horsepower Explorer Hybrid rates 27/28/28 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 23/26/25 with AWD; the 227-horsepower Kia Sorento hybrid rates 39/35/37 mpg but comes only with front-wheel drive; and the 261-horsepower Sorento plug-in hybrid, which comes only with AWD, rates an estimated 33 mpg city-highway combined and can drive an estimated 30 miles on electricity alone.

 All ’22 Highlanders will again use 87-octane gas.

Will there be new 2022 Toyota Highlander features?

Screens sensitive to reflections: 2021 Highlander Hybrid Platinum shown

If Toyota adds an Adventure model or a TRD they’ll likely get the sorts of off-pavement-oriented tweaks already discussed. Otherwise, the ’22 Highlander will reprise an extensive array of standard and optional amenities.

Every model will again come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+. TSS 2.5+ consists of autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the crossover to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. It’s also designed to help you avoid hitting an oncoming vehicle or pedestrian when you’re making a left turn by sounding an alert and, if necessary, applying the brakes. And Toyota says the system’s Mistaken Pedal Application technology can suppress acceleration if the driver unintentionally applies the throttle.

TSS 2.5+ includes adaptive cruise control designed to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go congestion. Lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction is also part of the system, as is steering assist to keep the crossover centered in its highway lane. All ’22 Highlanders will also return with standard automatic high-beam headlamps.

Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection should again be standard on all but the L model. Look for rear cross-traffic autonomous braking to again be standard on the ’22 Highlander Limited and Platinum grades, and probably on a potential TRD model.

2021 Highlander Platinum video-view rearview mirror

Bird’s-eye video with a live rotating view around the vehicle should again be included with the 12.3-inch infotainment system. Same for Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak, which utilizes a microphone in the overhead console to amplify the driver’s voice and broadcast it through the rear speakers. A head-up instrument display is likely to remain standard for the Platinum model and could be included on the TRD.

In addition to features already covered, all ’22 Highlanders will return with three-zone automatic climate control and automatic up/down for all door windows. The LE will again include a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, LED fog lamps, and heated mirrors. To that, expect the 2022 XLE to again add power front seats, a heated driver’s seat, second-row sunshades, and a power moonroof. That equipment will again be standard on the XSE and probably on an Adventure trim.

The ’22 Highlander Limited should return with memory driver’s seat, ventilated front seats, and faux-wood interior trim. To all that, the Platinum would again add steering-linked headlamps, heated second-row seats, a panoramic moonroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a video-view inside rearview mirror. Expect the TRD’s standard equipment to mix and match that of the Limited and Platinum, as appropriate to its active-lifestyle mission.

Will 2022 Toyota Highlander prices be different?

2021 Highlander Platinum

An increase is a safe bet. Even if it’s modest, ’22 Highlander base prices are likely to remain a bit higher than those of direct competitors. Still, while several rival midsize crossovers offer more powerful top-line versions that breach the $50,000 threshold, only TRD and Platinum versions of the 2022 Highlander are likely to have base prices that touch or top $50K.

For reference, here are 2021 Highlander base prices, including Toyota’s $1,175 destination fee.

For models with the V-6, the ’21 Highlander L started at $36,260 with front-wheel drive and at $37,860 with AWD. The LE was priced from $38,460 and $40,060, respectively. Base price for the ’21 XLE was $41,260 with front-drive and $42,860 with AWD. For the ’21 XSE, it was $42,855 and $44,805, respectively.

If there’s a 2022 Highlander Adventure model and Toyota slots it in above the XSE, look for a base price around $46,900, with AWD standard. Continuing in the gas-only range, the 2021 Highlander Limited was priced from $45,215 with front-drive and from $47,165 with AWD. If there’s a 2022 Highlander TRD model and it slots it in above the Limited, figure a base price around $50,000, with AWD standard. The ’21 Highlander Limited started at $48,415 with front-drive and at $50,356 with AWD.

For 2021 Highlander Hybrids, base prices were $39,910 with front-drive and $41,510 with AWD for the LE, $42,710 and $44,310 for the XLE. The ’21 Hybrid Limited started at $46,665 with front-drive and at $48,615 with AWD, the Hybrid Platinum at $49,865 and $51,815, respectively.

Options should again be limited to those already mentioned, plus $425 for certain exterior colors.

When does the 2022 Toyota Highlander come out?

2021 Highlander XSE

Look for a 2022 Highlander release date in fall 2021.

Best 2022 Toyota Highlander competitors

Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Kia Sorento and Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]