The Highlander has plenty to offer, but in a brutally competitive mid-size SUV segment of more than two dozen vehicles it’s only a mid-pack player. 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 driving demeanor could use a jolt of caffeine. The interior is nicely equipped, even on the base L, with modern conveniences, easy-to-use infotainment, and a host of driver-assistance features standard. The Limited and Platinum models do a good impression of a Lexus, with handsome leather upholstery, a premium JBL stereo system, and additional tech features. Despite all that, rivals such as the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade deliver more luxury and third-row room, the Mazda CX-9 offers a nicer interior and better driving dynamics, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee L brings that brand’s off-road capability. The Highlander, while thoroughly competent, is a less compelling alternative in comparison.
What’s New for 2023?
The Highlander’s standard V-6 has been replaced by a new turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder for 2023. The new engine makes 265 horsepower and 309 lb-ft of torque; Toyota says the combined fuel economy rating of 24 mpg is equal to that of the outgoing V-6, making us wonder why the switch to fewer cylinders was made. A new 12.3-inch infotainment display is available and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster now comes on Limited and Platinum trims. Those high-end models also gain power-folding exterior mirrors while the XLE and XSE trims add a hands-free power-operated rear liftgate.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
In our view, the midrange XLE is the one to get. It has heated front seats, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and a power sunroof, among other niceties. We’d also spring for the Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation package, which brings in-dash navigation and an upgraded stereo system.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Highlander comes standard with a 265-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. We haven’t driven this version yet, but when we do we’ll be able to comment on its performance. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder and two electric motors team up for a combined 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 provides buyers with something considerably more fuel efficient than the standard model without giving up much in terms of performance; at our test track, the last hybrid model we tested made it to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Handling is unexciting but stable, and the ride is perfectly suitable for family-chauffeur duty. Potential buyers in this segment will perhaps know that the Ford Explorer comes in hybrid form, too. But pitting these utes against each other, the Toyota comes out on top in terms of fuel economy.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
So far, Toyota has only said that the new turbocharged engine is good for 24 mpg combined, so we don’t know what its city and highway ratings are. Hybrid models will undoubtedly carry higher ratings than the gasoline-only version, with front-wheel-drive variants earning 36 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. When the Highlander visits our office, we’ll be putting its fuel efficiency to the test on our 75-mph highway fuel economy test route and updating this story with results. For more information about the Highlander’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Base L and midrange LE models can seat eight passengers using bench seats in the second and third rows, but a seven-seat arrangement with second-row captain’s chairs is available on higher trims. Passenger space is more generous here than in the CX-9, but not as spacious as in the Chevrolet Traverse, especially in the third row, which is on the tight side for adults. Materials throughout the cabin are much improved over those in the last-generation Highlander. Upscale Limited and Platinum models provide the most creature comforts, but compared with the features proffered by the Palisade or Telluride, they fall short. The cargo area behind the third row fit a mere four carry-on suitcases; the Traverse fit 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 screen serving as the gauge cluster. Mid-range XLE and XSE can be optioned with the larger 12.3-inch infotainment display but continue to use the analog gauges from lower-end models. An 11-speaker JBL audio system is available. Toyota provides SiriusXM satellite radio, a 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 and Driver-Assistance Features
As is the Toyota way, the Highlander offers a standard suite of driver-assistance features. The package includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and automatic high-beam headlamps. For more information about the Highlander’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection
- Standard blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross-traffic alert
- Standard lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Toyota’s warranty coverage adheres to the norm of the segment; however, buyers get two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance, which is a nice perk that most rivals 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
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 25,000 miles
2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum AWD
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 7-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED
$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
continuously variable automatic
Suspension (F/R): struts/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 13.3-in vented disc/13.3-in vented disc
Tires: Goodyear Eagle Touring, 235/55R-20 102V M+S
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Length: 194.9 in
Width: 76.0 in
Height: 68.1 in
Passenger volume: 135 ft3
Cargo volume: 16 ft3
Curb weight: 4615 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 7.3 sec
100 mph: 21.9 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 7.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.9 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.2 sec
1/4 mile: 16.0 sec @ 87 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 118 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.82 g
Standing-start accel times omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 29 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 35/35/35 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
More Features and Specs