Amy Plemons is the Executive Producer of CarPro and an experienced car reviewer.
This week I’m back behind the wheel of the Toyota Highlander and once again, I find myself compelled to extol its family-friendly virtues. I am certainly not alone in this thinking, as Toyota recently shared that the Highlander is currently the No.1 selling midsize SUV in America for the 7th year running.
My review vehicle is the Limited, slotting below the top-of-the-line Platinum and it's equipped with all-wheel drive.
New for 2023
2023 feels like the most notable year for the Highlander since its 2020 redesign for several important reasons. For one, the Highlander lineup welcomes a new-for-2023 Turbo engine. The Highlander also gets a major multimedia upgrade. Additionally, I can offer my first comparison of third-row roominess between the standard Highlander and its newly introduced larger sibling, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander.
The Highlander, redesigned in 2020, really shines Ruby Flare Pearl - which, yes, will cost you extra. The Limited grade rides on 20-inch chrome-finished alloy wheels and features a chrome-plated surround around the grille along with and color-keyed side rocker panels and lower molding. Up front, the Limited sports LED headlights, LED-strip daytime running lights and high-output LED fog lights.
New for 2023, the Limited and Platinum are equipped with power-folding side mirrors. They're also heated with puddle lamps.
The tail end sports LED taillights in the rear along with a rear lower bumper in dark gray metallic finish. My model also has an optional chrome rear bumper protector. On top you'll find a moonroof and silver painted roof rails. The Limited is also equipped with front and rear mudguards.
My test vehicle's optional running boards are, to me, must on a vehicle with 8-inches of ground clearance in case you ever have passengers with mobility issues.
New for 2023, gas-only Highlander models swap out a V6 for an all-new 265-horsepower turbocharged powertrain. Toyota says the new 2.4-liter turbo engine offers more torque and fewer emissions. Torque gets a nice 17 percent boost over the outgoing V6 engine: 310 pound-feet up from 263. The engine which features stop/start technology is mated to an 8-speed transmission.
My Limited model is also equipped with Toyota's performance-minded Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect. The advanced system manages torque distribution not just between the front and rear wheels but also the left and right rear wheels.
The Highlander's cabin is both well-designed and user-friendly. The Limited features soft-touch materials along with chrome plated interior door handles and faux wood door trim.
My model sports an all-black interior with leather-trimmed perforated heated (and ventilated) power front seats. The driver's seat is 10-way power adjustable and the leather-trimmed steering wheel is heated.
A soft-touch in-dash offers a split-level shelf on the passenger side.
A wide center console provides easy access to the leather-trimmed gear shift knob, the Drive Mode control and Multi-Terrain Select Dial.
New for 2023, Toyota made the wireless charger easier to get to by taking it out of the center console box and integrating it into the center console. The roll-top center console bin has a removable utility tray.
The Limited grade features leather-trimmed, comfortable 2nd-row Captain's chairs. (A bench seat for 8 passenger seating is a no-cost option.) The 2nd-row is roomy and passengers can keep cool with their own A/C controls and manual sunshades.
Standard Limited features also include nice front doorsill metal scuff plates, one 120V outlet and ambient cabin lighting.
Third Row Seating
The standard Highlander is impressively roomy until you get to the third row -- which unlike the new 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander -- is suited just for kids.
I recently had a chance to check out the Grand Highlander and can share some pics for comparison:
The larger Grand Highlander has a much roomier, adult-sized third row.
The standard Highlander's reclining third-row seats aren't power-operated, but they slide and fold-down easily when the touch of a button.
Technology is a major enhancement for 2023. Limited and Platinum grades are both equipped with two new 12.3-inch displays as standard.
Toyota did an outstanding job on its new 12.3-inch multimedia display which is really terrific for its glare-reducing screen, nice graphics and quick responsiveness. Toyota's new Multimedia system is also fantastic, easy to use and intuitive, and is compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, and can host over-the-air updates. The display also houses a backup camera with gridlines and an optional panoramic view. (An 8-inch screen is standard on XLE and XSE trims.)
One thing did cause some head scratching - and that's the placement of the volume button. Located on the right side, it's much more in reach of the passenger which would seem to encourage the driver to use steering wheel or voice commands. I came to the conclusion that it's a tactic to cut back on driver distraction.
For instance, driver's can use voice command. Saying "Hey Toyota" wakes up the system (as does a button on the steering wheel)- and you can ask it to do things like change stations, change the cabin temperature and mute the audio. Note, some features are subscription based.
An 11-speaker JLB premium sound system is a carryover from 2022 and sounds great.
Also new for 2023, an also terrific 12.3-inch digital driver display which replaces a 7-inch digital cluster. Toyota did a wonderful job with the new, large, colorful graphics
Connectivity-wise, the Highlander lineup comes with one USB port and four USB-C charging ports and two 12V outlets.
The Highlander offers a lot of utility and cargo space. The Limited model's height-adjustable hands-free power lift gate operates at a nice speed and reveals a roomy cargo area with a standard cargo tonneau cover. You'll also find extra storage space underneath the cargo mat as well as a temporary spare. A cargo floor mat is optional.
Ride and Drive
The Highlander delivers a smooth and comfortable ride and drive that's on the quieter side. It's easy to get around in and offers nice acceleration along with confident braking. You'll get Sport, Eco, Normal and Snow drive modes. I enjoyed the heavier steering feel afforded by Snow mode when I was doing my highway testing.
If you're planning to take the Highlander on the trail, you'll want to use Multi-Terrain Select's Mud & Sand or Rock & Dirt Mode option that maximizes AWD traction for driving conditions.
All Highlanders have Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and Trailer Sway Control (TSC).
2023 Highlanders come equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ which includes Pre-Collision with Low-Light Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Road Sign Assist. Rear seat reminder and rear seat seatbelt reminder are also standard.
The Limited is also equipped with available Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Front and Rear Parking Assist with Automatic Braking is available on Limited and Platinum. A Panoramic View Monitor with Perimeter Scan is available on Limited and standard on Platinum.
What You'll Pay
Options on my test vehicle include the special color ($425), the Panoramic View Monitor ($850) Carpeted Floor Mats/Carpet Cargo Mat ($358), Tow Hitch ($759), Illuminated Door Sills ($345), running boards ($599), chrome rear bumper protector ($135), and cargo cross bars ($350).
Total MSRP as equipped will run you $53,181 including destination.
The 2023 Toyota Highlander ups its game considerably in 2023 with a new more efficient engine and terrific new available multimedia system, proving once again it's a winner in the family-friendly SUV department if you don't need a huge third row that fits adults.
- What I liked most: The roominess, overall quality and new multimedia system and digital display upgrades.
- What I would change: Can't think of a thing.
- MSRP: Base price: $48,025. As equipped: $53,181.
- Fuel Economy: 21 MPG city/ 28 MPG highway/24 MPG combined.
- Odometer reading when tested: 9,716 miles.
- Weight: 4.453 pounds
- Spare Tire: Temporary spare.
- Length-Width-Height: 194.9" long/76.0” wide /68.1” high.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 17.9 gallons with fuel tank on the driver's side.
- Official Color: Ruby Flare Pearl ($425).
- Towing Capacity: 5,000 pounds.
- 2023 Toyota Highlander Limited Turbo in a few words: An SUV lineup that ups its already solid game with upgraded technology and powertrain improvements.
- Warranty: 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty, 60-month/60,000 mile powertrain warranty, 60-month/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty.
- Final Assembly Location: Princeton, Indiana.
- Manufacturer's website: Toyota