– Northridge, California
The Toyota Highlander was one of the first three-row crossovers to market, and as one of the segment’s elder statesmen, it’s a popular choice for buyers. This mid-size offering may be shorter and less spacious than the Honda Pilot and Kia Telluride, but luckily, the 2023 model has a new, turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder that offers more torque than both its predecessor and some key rivals.
The 265 horsepower underhood may seem like a letdown relative to the 2022 Highlander’s 295, but the turbo makes a healthy 311 pound-feet of torque, a number that the groaning old V6 could only dream of. The new crossover also gets Toyota’s latest infotainment system – another massive upgrade compared to 2022 – with carryover interior quality and driving refinement. But it’s hard to ignore the Highlander’s relatively high price, as well as the scant rear-seat headroom and iffy cargo capacity with all seats in place.
|2023 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD
|Turbocharged 2.4-Liter Four-Cylinder
|265 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
|16.0 / 48.4 / 84.3 Cubic Feet
|Price As Tested
Despite a drop in power, the 2023 Highlander’s new turbocharged four-banger is much more enjoyable.
The Good: Although I liked the pre-facelift Highlander’s styling and quality interior, its dated V6 and indecisive eight-speed transmission made it a frustrating mount for freeway inclines and two-lane passing zones. That’s no longer the case. Despite a drop in power, the 2023 Highlander’s new turbocharged four-banger is much more enjoyable. It has an 47 extra units of torque. Best of all, the engine hits that 310-lb-ft peak at just 1,700 rpm, which gave me more confidence when merging than the old Highlander did. It’s also more efficient and cleaner-burning than the old V6, and a 5,000-pound tow rating is standard.
The transmission, retuned to take advantage of the new engine, also exhibits better behavior. Smoother downshifts on acceleration and less hunting when climbing a grade make the new Highlander a lot more comfortable.
Speaking of comfort, the Highlander retains its impressive fit and finish relative to the class, with soft-touch cabin materials everywhere I was likely to contact. The padded knee bolsters and lower door panels are an especially nice touch – some cars cheap out down low, but not the Highlander. There are also lots of places to stash phones and wallets, including two slim shelves on the dashboard and hearty, Stanley-sized cupholders.
And the old Highlander’s Entune infotainment system is finally dead, with the newest Toyota software taking its place. In the case of my Limited tester, the new multimedia system shows up on a crisp, bright 12.3-inch center touchscreen, with an identically sized digital instrument cluster. The steering wheel buttons used to control the gauges are a bit confusing, but the center display is responsive and much improved over Entune. One complaint: I wish the toolbar on the left side of the screen didn’t disappear when using wireless Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Better yet, just give me a home button.
Headroom for anyone in the second or third rows is a bit tight due to the Highlander’s slinky-for-its-class roofline.
The Bad: There’s just 16.0 cubic feet of cargo room with all seats in place, which is down on the Kia Telluride by 5.0 and the Honda Pilot by 2.6. Headroom for anyone in the second or third rows is a bit tight due to the Highlander’s slinky-for-its-class roofline. The sleek design also pinches the side windows to the detriment of both outward visibility and passenger claustrophobia.
That wouldn’t be a huge deal if the Highlander weren’t also one of the most expensive offerings in the segment. Its $38,015 starting price with destination is right in line with the likes of the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Kia Telluride, but prices go up precipitously as you add features. The Limited I drove cost $50,210 with an optional 360-degree camera, which is more you’d spend on the Telluride SX that comes with niceties like heated and ventilated second-row seats and dual sunroofs.
The Verdict: Toyota knows the Highlander is a bit too small for families that use their third rows regularly, which is why the Grand Highlander exists. But some folks may value the smaller crossover’s more parking-friendly size and flowing design. Add in a pleasant interior, much-improved technology, and newfound everyday muscle, and it’s not hard to see why the 2023 Toyota Highlander is such a stalwart.
Gallery: 2023 Toyota Highlander Review
2023 Toyota Highlander Limited AWD