An American family favorite receives a heart transplant for 2023, as the Toyota Highlander ditches its 3.5-liter V-6 for a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
The new driveline produces 265 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s a 17% increase in torque from the V-6’s 263 lb.-ft., but a 10% reduction in horsepower from the Six’s 295 rating.
The Highlander Hybrid’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and two electric motors return unchanged, producing 243 horsepower through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes come standard.
Towing is rated at 5,000 pounds for the turbo 4, 3,500 pounds for the hybrid. Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist Control is standard on all models.
About the new driveline
The new turbo 4 returns the same fuel economy as the V-6, according to Toyota, at 25 mpg in combined driving. The new mill also sees a 50% reduction in nitric oxide and nonmethane organic gas emissions compared to the outgoing V-6. It’s available with front-wheel drive or one of two all-wheel-drive systems.
Highlander L, LE and XLE turbo model all-wheel drive can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels. Highlander XSE, Limited and Platinum turbo models get a more performance-minded system, with torque vectoring all-wheel drive, selectable drive modes and driveline disconnect. That last item automatically disengages the rear wheels to save fuel, while torque vectoring all-wheel drive monitors throttle control, transmission shifting and torque distribution to continually optimize handling.
The screens get larger as well, as Limited and Platinum models now get two standard 12.3-inch screens; one an instrument cluster with Casual, Smart, Tough and Sporty display modes, and the other a center-mounted multimedia touchscreen. The 12.3-inch multimedia screen is optional on XLE and XSE, which come with standard n 8-inch screen. L and LE models have a 7-inch instrument cluster. An optional 11-speaker, 1,200-watt JBL audio system carries over unchanged.
The multimedia touchscreens use Toyota’s new infotainment software that’s Over-the-Air updatable. Available with Toyota’s connected services, the new system offers voice activated controls. By saying, “Hey Toyota” drivers can search for directions, change climate control temperatures and more, Navigation is cloud-based, ensuring the most up-to-date routing.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, 4G connectivity for up to five devices is available through an AT&T Hotspot. Thoughtfully, the new system allows you to link your Apple Music and Amazon Music subscriptions through the vehicle. And Toyota moved the Qi wireless charger from the center console to a spot below the multimedia screen. Up front, there are two USB-C ports and one USB-A port, while two USB-C ports are provided in the rear. Also, power folding exterior mirrors are now standard for 2023.
Have a seat
Highlander L and LE come with a standard second-row bench, which provides the Highlander with overall seating for eight. XLE and Limited trims have standard second-row Captain’s Chairs, cutting total seating capacity to seven. A second-row bench is offered on XLE Gas, Hybrid and Limited Gas models.
Behind the Highlander’s third row is 16 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 48 cubic feet with the third row folded and 84 cubic feet with the second and third rows stowed.
Highlander L and LE grades come with graphite or black woven cloth seat surfaces. Highlander XLEs come with SofTex “imitation leather” in beige, graphite or black, while the Limited offers the same hues in perforated leather trim. XSE models come with black SofTex-trimmed seats with fabric inserts, but a red and black leather option can be specified.
Highland Hybrids are fitted with what the company calls “mid-century modern-inspired SofTex-trimmed seats.” They’re imitation leather (very mid-century) with fabric inserts and bronze stitching. Platinum models come with beige, graphite, brown or black perforated leather.
Toyotas have been known for their comfort, so it’s no surprise that Limited and Platinum grades have acoustic glass on the front side windows. Ambient LED cabin lighting is standard on XSE and above trims.
As for style, little changes for 2023, aside from a new green paint color. The Bronze Edition returns for 2023 with its bronze-colored accents, as does the XSE with a specially tuned suspension with high-rate springs, rear stabilizer bar, low-friction shock absorbers and 20-inch black wheels. It also receives a unique front fascia and revised exterior trim.
Prices for the 2023 Highlander start at $36,420 for the L gas models, topping out at $51,025 for the Platinum. For hybrids models, prices start at $40,220 for the base LE, and top out at $52,425 for the Platinum. Prices do not include destination charge, taxes or options.
The Highlander ranks as Toyota’s third most-popular vehicle in the U.S. during the first half of 2022, selling 117,403 units, according to Automotive News. It was outsold only by the RAV4 at 200,885 units and the Camry at 135,925 units.