The Highlander has a lot to offer, but in the highly competitive midsize SUV segment with more than two dozen vehicles, it is simply a mid-range performer. There are eleven trims to choose from. Hybrid or nonhybrid powertrains are available, front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional. All trims provide competent handling and a smooth ride, but the Highlander’s way of driving could use a jolt of caffeine. The interior is well-equipped, even at the base of the L, with modern conveniences, easy-to-use infotainment and a host of standard driver-assist features. The Limited and Platinum models make a good impression of the Lexus, with great leather seats, a premium JBL stereo system, and additional tech features. Despite all that, rivals like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade bring more luxury and third-row space, the Mazda CX-9 offers a nicer interior and better driving dynamics, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee L brings the brand’s off-road capabilities. Highlander, while very competent, is a less attractive alternative by comparison.
What’s New in 2023?
The standard Highlander V-6 has been replaced by a new 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 2023. The new engine produces 265 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque; Toyota says its combined fuel economy rating of 24 mpg is the same as the outgoing V-6, making us wonder why the switch to fewer cylinders was made. A new 12.3-inch infotainment screen is available and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is now available on the Limited and Platinum trims. The high-end model also gets power-folding exterior mirrors, while the XLE and XSE trims add a hands-free rear liftgate.
Price and Where to Buy
In our view, the mid-range XLE is the best. It has heated front seats, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and a powered sunroof, among other things. We’ll also be using the Premium Audio package with Dynamic Navigation, which features dashboard navigation and an improved stereo system.
Engine, Transmission and Performance
The Highlander comes standard with a 265-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which is paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and front or all-wheel drive. We haven’t ridden this version yet, but when we do, we’ll be able to comment on its performance. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors work together to produce 243 horsepower in the Highlander Hybrid. This model comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and a choice between front and all-wheel drive. Leveraging Toyota’s hybrid expertise, this powertrain gives buyers something far more fuel efficient than the standard model without sacrificing much in terms of performance; on our test track, the last hybrid model we tested managed to hit 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. The handling is unattractive but stable, and the ride is perfect for family-driver duties. Potential buyers in this segment may find that Ford Explorer comes in hybrid form, too. But pit these against each otherToyota comes out on top in terms of fuel economy.
Real World Fuel Economy and MPG
So far, Toyota has only said its new turbocharged engine is good for a combined 24 mpg, so we don’t know what the city and highway ratings are. The hybrid model will undoubtedly carry higher ratings than the petrol-only version, with the front-wheel drive variant delivering 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. When the Highlander visits our office, we will test its fuel efficiency on our 75-mph highway fuel economy test route and update this story with results. For more information on Highlander fuel economy, visit EPA website.
Interior, Comfort and Cargo
The Base L and midrange LE models can accommodate eight passengers using bench seats in the second and third rows, but a seven-seat arrangement with second-row captain seats is available in higher trims. There is more passenger space here than on the CX-9, but not as spacious as in Chevrolet Traverse, especially in the third row, which is on the narrow side for adults. Materials throughout the cabin are much better than those in the last generation Highlander. The Limited High-end and Platinum models provide the most comfort, but compared to the features offered by the Palisade or Telluride, they fall short. The cargo area behind the third row only fits four suitcases; Traverse matches six.
Infotainment and Connectivity
An 8.0-inch infotainment system comes standard on most trims, but the Highlander Limited and Platinum get a 12.3-inch display with a secondary 12.3-inch display serving as the gauge cluster. The mid-range XLE and XSE can be opted for with the larger 12.3-inch infotainment screen but retaining the analog gauges of the lower-end models. An 11-speaker JBL audio system is available. Toyota provides SiriusXM satellite radio, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration for all models. A wireless smartphone charging pad is optional and is integrated into the dashboard below the infotainment display.
Safety Features and Driver Assistance
Like the Toyota way, the Highlander offers a standard range driver assistance feature. The package includes adaptive cruise control, lane maintenance assistance, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and automatic high beam headlights. For more information on Highlander crash test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) website. Key security features include:
- Standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard blind-spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert
- Standard lane departure warning with lane guard assistance
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Toyota’s warranty coverage follows the segment’s norms; however, buyers get two years of free scheduled maintenance, which is a nice advantage that most competitors don’t offer. The electrified Highlander comes with a separate hybrid component warranty that provides eight years or 100,000 miles of coverage.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Hybrid component warranty covers eight years or 100,000 miles
- Free maintenance covered for two years or 25,000 miles
Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD 2020
front engine, all wheel drive, 7 passenger wagon, 4 door
PRICE ACCORDING TO TEST
$51,068 (base price: $49,975)
DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.5 liter inline -4, 186 hp, 175 lb-ft + 3 permanent magnet synchronous AC motors; combined output, 243 hp
automatic continuous variable
Suspension (F/R): struts/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 13.3-inch ventilated disc/13.3-inch ventilated disc
Tires: Goodyear Eagle Touring, 235/55R-20 102V M+S
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 194.9 inches
Width: 76.0 inch
Height: 68.1 inches
Passenger volume: 135 feet3
Cargo volume: 16 feet3
Curb weight: 4615 lb
CD TEST RESULT
60 mph: 7.3 seconds
100 mph: 21.9 seconds
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 seconds
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.2 sec
1/4 mile: 16.0 seconds @ 87 mph
Top speed (limited by governor): 118 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 feet
Road handle, 300 ft diameter skidpad: 0.82 g
Stand-start axle timing eliminates 1 foot launch for 0.3 seconds.
CD FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 29 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 35/35/35 mpg
CD TESTING EXPLAINED
More Features and Specifications