2023 Toyota Highlander Review - Choices

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

Fast Facts

2023 Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD

2.4-liter turbocharged four (265 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM, 310 lb-ft @ 1,700 RPM)
Eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Fuel Economy, MPG
21 city / 28 highway / 24 combined (EPA Rating)
Fuel Economy, L/100km
11.0 city / 8.4 highway / 9.9 combined. (NRCan Rating)
Base Price
$52.560 US / $60,323 CAN
As Tested
$54,372 US / $62,695 CAN
Prices include $1335 destination charge in the United States and $2062 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Minivans are better than crossovers. Period. In a roughly similar package, a minivan gives a family more space for both people and cargo than a three-row crossover, as the floor is lower. And yet there are but four automakers building minivans these days, whereas just about every company has something to fit the Biggie-sized tall wagon envelope.

Toyota is one of the few with both. They’ve recently brought us the Grand Highlander and the Sienna minivan is a shining monument to soccer parents past and future. This 2023 Toyota Highlander may not be as grand as either, but can it Goldilocks its way into your garage?

For the 2023 model year, Toyota has dumped the venerable 3.5-liter V6 that has powered so many of their vehicles over the years and replaced it with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unusually, peak power drops from 295 horsepower in the six to 265 hp in this turbo four, though peak torque is better at 310lb-ft at a low 1,700 rpm where you had to wind the sixer out to 4,700 rpm to find the 263 lb-ft last year. 

I can’t say that the power differences are significant either on paper or in use. I suppose if you’re irresponsibly racing a three-row crossover across a state or two at triple-digit speeds, the old six-cylinder might manage to eke a few more notches on the speedo, but in everyday use the extra low-end torque of the turbo powerplant is welcome. Towing capacity is unchanged at 5,000 pounds. Realistically, fuel economy isn’t really changed either - both the old V6 and the new turbo four manage around 24 mpg in mixed driving as rated by the EPA. 

So you get a bit of extra scoot off the line for metered on-ramps or tight merges with the newest four-cylinder. In the long run, there might be a case to be made for slightly higher maintenance bills simply due to the extra heat generated underhood by a turbo, but that’s probably something that would be noticeable once you’re well over a hundred thousand miles. That’s second or third-owner territory, and by that time the layers of french-fry grease on the third-row cupholders and caked-on Cheeto dust on the upholstery will be more pressing concerns.

This drivetrain seems to only exist for two reasons - hybrid component availability and towing capacity. The Highlander Hybrid yields half again better fuel economy as this turbo four - 36 mpg versus 24 mpg combined - but with the hybrid powertrain, the Highlander Hybrid can only tow 3,500 pounds versus 5,000 pounds with the standard gas engine. The hybrid drives just as well otherwise and is the only powertrain available in the mechanically-similar Sienna minivan. 

Styling of the Highlander is aggressively unoffensive. It’s largely unchanged from the Highlander we’ve seen for several years, which is to say I keep having to go back to my file of photos to remember what it looks like. Roughly 10 percent (source: Chris Tonn’s Wild-Ass Guesstimates) of every retail parking lot in the country will soon be populated with these, so get used to the look. And choose a distinctive color like this lovely deep metallic green so you’re less likely to try and get in the wrong one.

In this top-of-the-line Platinum trim, the interior is a nice place to spend some time. Seats are supportive, the leather-trimmed upholstery feels quite good (though not Lexus quality of course), and the layout of the controls is mostly great. I say mostly to note the placement of the audio volume knob over to the right side of the 12.3-inch infotainment screen - it’s a bit of a stretch to get over there while driving. The thumb control on the steering wheel is a decent alternative, and I guess I shouldn’t bemoan a slightly out-of-reach volume knob. At least it has a knob.

Head and leg room in the front and middle rows are excellent - the third row is still only for shorter folks or people you hate. Upgrade to the Grand Highlander or the Sienna if you plan on using the third row frequently for human-sized humans. While the middle row captain’s chairs in this Platinum trim are comfy - and heated! - I’d probably spec a trim with a bench seat in the middle to give a five-passenger-and-all-their-crap-for-a-lengthy-roadtrip capacity in a Highlander. With the third row erect, rear cargo space is at a premium. Don’t expect to pick up six or seven friends from the airport unless they flew one of those budget airlines that don’t let you have luggage.

My tester was fitted with an optional dash camera, which sits against the windscreen to the left of the rearview mirror. I’d thought it would be more distracting than it really was, but it faded from my view very quickly. I didn’t get to test it however by no fault of Toyota - when I tried to extract the MicroSD memory card so I could play back my drive, the memory card physically broke in two. And I couldn’t quite figure out how to format a second card in the time I had left with the Highlander…so stay tuned for future reports on this $375 option.

It drives well enough. It’s not fast, nor is it thrilling in the corners. It shouldn’t be. It’s a minivan with a high floor. Road trips and hauling of people and their stuff are what it is meant for, and for those functions, it excels. Ride quality is well-damped and quiet.

But if I’m shopping for a Toyota family hauler, I don’t know that I’d be buying this 2023 Toyota Highlander - unless I needed something that can tow a 5,000-pound camper. Otherwise, show me to the 36 mpg Highlander Hybrid, or, really, the Sienna hybrid minivan. They both do the same job as this gas-only Highlander, but better.

[Images: © 2023 Chris Tonn/TTAC.com]

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Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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4 of 48 comments
  • Bocatrip Bocatrip on Jul 12, 2023

    As mentioned before... Too bad no more V6. Nothing to consider now. Unfortunately many manufacturers have also dropped the V6 for the 4 cyclinder turbo. Sad.

    • See 1 previous
    • Ajla Ajla on Jul 13, 2023

      If anything Toyota going 4-cylinder only with the Highlander and G.Highlander is a bit of an outlier in this class. There are the ones bd2 listed but then also the Grand Cherokee L, Durango, all the GM three row CUVs, and Explorer offering a standard or optional 6-cylinder.

  • John John on Jul 14, 2023

    I'd consider the hybrid if they would pair the hybrid drivetrain with the 2.4l turbo. The 2.5 currently in there is inadequate for the Highlander and the Sienna. Of course the Sienna still has minivan fail with the middle seats, which can't be removed.

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