2023 Toyota Highlander First Look: Less Horsepower, Fewer Cylinders, More Torque
For the last six years, the Toyota Highlander has been the best-selling midsize SUV, which is no easy feat in such a competitive market. But to keep things interesting for the 2023 Highlander’s refresh, Toyota is actually scaling back the non-hybrid model’s horsepower with a new engine that instead brings a big boost in torque over the outgoing V-6.
New Gas Engine for Non-Hybrid Models
The new Highlander ditches Toyota’s old 3.5-liter V-6, which offered 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, for a new turbocharged 2.4 liter I-4 motor making 265 hp and 309 lb-ft. While Toyota is quick to highlight the 17-percent increase in torque, we wonder how buyers will respond to such a drastic cut in horsepower (and cylinder count) on paper. There are other advantages, though.
The new engine is just as efficient as the outgoing V6 at 24 mpg combined, while reducing NOx, NMOG, and CO2 emissions. The new non-hybrid Highlander can now tow up to 5,000 pounds, and features Toyota’s Trailer Sway Control system.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but there are two different AWD systems available. L, LE, and XLE trims offer an AWD system that can send 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels for limited slip situations. The sportier XSE, Limited and Platinum models get an upgraded AWD setup with torque vectoring, drive mode selection, and driveline disconnect, which can disengage the rear wheels to drive in a front-drive mode for greater fuel economy when AWD isn’t needed.
The 2023 Highlander hybrid powertrain carries over for this model year, with 243 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. It’s available with AWD and gets up to 36 MPG combined, and has a max tow rating of 3,500 pounds.
Every Trim Gets a Bigger Screen
Inside, the L and LE trims upgrade their 4.2-inch driver displays to Toyota’s larger 7.0-inch unit for the new model year, and the XLE and XSE trims will be able to option a new 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen running Toyota’s latest UX (which we reviewed on the new Tundra pickup recently), and the setup comes standard on Limited and Platinum trims. Those last two trims also get another 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that replaces the lower-grade display, and standard power-folding mirrors, too.
The Highlander Hybrid’s available Bronze Edition returns for the updated 2023 model year, and if you want a little more style on a non-hybrid, the updated XSE trim now comes exclusively with black 20 in. wheels, some exclusive styling touches, a twin exhaust tip, and sits on a specially-tuned suspension setup and with tuned steering for a sportier drive. The XSE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trims also now all come with a hands-free power liftgate.
Inside, the L and LE come standard with an 8-seater layout with a second-row bench seat, and the XLE and Limited are standard with a 7-seater, Captain’s Chair second row setup that can be swapped out for a bench if you want. The XSE, Limited and Platinum get the 7-seat layout with standard three-zone climate controls.
The XSE sports a red and black two-tone treatment that’s available at no extra cost, and on all trims, the available wireless charging pad for devices has been moved from the center console out onto the instrument panel for easier access. With all the seats folded down, the Highlander offers up to 84.3 cubic feet of cargo space, if you’re not hauling people. The cabin is also equipped with two Type-C USB ports, one Type-A port up front, and two Type-C ports in the second row.
A JBL premium audio system blasts 1,200 watts of power through 11 speakers, available on the XSE and standard on higher trims. A Wi-Fi subscription service with 4G connectivity is also available, turning the SUV into a mobile AT&T hotspot for devices to connect to. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and the vehicle comes with a three-month Sirius satellite radio subscription. Limited and Platinum models now come with standard acoustic glass on the front passenger windows, and all Highlander trims have been refined for better sound dampening and clearer conversation.
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