2023 Toyota Highlander Review

2023 Toyota Highlander - Luxury level quality paired with proven reliability and efficiency.


The Toyota Highlander started life as a smaller 5-passenger midsize crossover in 2000 and has since grown nearly ten inches in length and seven inches in width while maintaining its height. The current Highlander is the biggest ever and it is noticeable both inside and out. Like the previous generation, it continues to offer third row seating making it a 7 or 8-passenger midsize crossover. It received a major overhaul in 2020 and for 2023 the Highlander hybrid generally carries over. And just announced at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show... there will be a new 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander coming to market later this year that is bigger with more interior passenger space. The Grand Highlander will be a separate model from the current Highlander.

The 2023 Highlander Hybrid, offered in both FWD and AWD, combines a high-efficiency 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine with two electric motor-generators. The hybrid engine is offered with in five trims that include the LE, XLE, Bronze Edition, Limited and Platinum models. Prices range from $40,220 for a Hybrid LE and can climb as high as $50,675 starting MSRP for a Platinum AWD Hybrid model.

Competition includes vehicles such as the Chevy Traverse, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid, Kia Telluride, Kia Sorento Hybrid, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas. I spent a week in a 2023 Highlander Hybrid Platinum and here's what stood out...

Hybrid Styling (+)
At first glance, the Highlander Hybrid looks like any other Highlander. The only obvious way to spot one is the blue trimmed Toyota emblem on the front and back or the Hybrid badges on either front door.  Not much has changed since the 2020 model's redesign. The front hood is sculpted with an indentation dip down the center of the hood adding some character. The headlights feature standard LED lighting that wraps around to the front fenders. The fenders have a prominent flare which is emphasized by a swooping character line up the rear doors. The side profile will highlight the longer nose of the Highlander and a more traditional rear roofline.  Around back Toyota has added LED lighting in the taillights which look great at night and a bumper that consists of two different finishes which vary with trim level. Wheel options vary to include 18" painted alloys on LE models, 18" machined alloys on the XLE, 18" bronze-finish alloys on the Bronze Edition, and 20" alloys on the Limited and Platinum models. Overall, the Highlander offers a simplistic style that is well built, there are minimal gaps, and the overall fit & finish has a Lexus vibe to it. For 2023, a new elegant Cypress Green exterior color is added to the palette.

Powertrain (+/-)
Under the hood of the Highlander Hybrid is a 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid engine that pairs the gas engine with a pair of electric motors to deliver a combined 243 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. It is available with either front or all-wheel drive and is mated to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission with sequential shift mode. AWD versions feature an electronic on-demand system that will automatically supply power to the rear wheels when needed for added traction. The availability of AWD is a nice option in the Midwest with unpredictable weather year-round. The Highlander Hybrid also offers multiple drive modes and the flip of a switch in the center console.  Drive modes include normal for your everyday driving, ECO for the most fuel-efficient ride, EV Mode for short electric driving only trips, trail which improves traction and sport which adds a little boost to the acceleration. In addition, all Highlander hybrids now include Hill Start Assist Control and  Trailer Sway Control for optimal on-road and off-road performance and safety. Regenerative braking captures the energy of the turning wheels as the vehicle slows, sending it to the hybrid battery. To foster greater control when driving in hilly areas, the driver can manually control regenerative braking in steps, like the engine braking effect of downshifting a manual transmission.

Handling (+/-)
It weighs in at 4,595 lbs with the panoramic roof so it's a fairly heavy crossover (similar to the VW Atlas weight). The hybrid engine felt somewhat underpowered off the line but handled well in passing once cruising at highway speeds. It will get from 0-60 in approximately 8 seconds., slower than many competitors. The ride is very quiet and smooth.  Steering is light to the touch but quick enough to give the Highlander some decent agility.  It is also noticeably quiet on the road which is the result of sound-damping glass and soundproofing materials used in the build of the Highlander. Overall, the ride is soft and competent with a proven track record for reliability.

Fuel Economy (+)
The Highlander Hybrid comes with a 17.1-gallon gas tank which will get you in the ballpark of 400 miles when full. It's rated at 35 MPG city, 34 MPG highway and 36 MPG combined. After a week of suburban driving, I averaged 33 MPG in generally decent winter weather. And as if the fuel economy wasn't good enough, Toyota recommends regular grade 87 octane fuel making this crossover the most fuel-efficient in the class.

Interior (+)
Inside, the layout for the front passengers is well thought out, comfortable, and includes high quality materials. Most prominent was the available 12.3-inch touchscreen display at the center of the dash which is easy to reach. Toyota's infotainment system integrates wirelessly with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and is also compatible with Amazon Alexa. The system is rather easy to use but only takes up about three quarters of the large screen when in use. Below the large screen is a split level in-dash storage tray that provides the perfect place to set your mobile device or sunglasses.   The design is very functional and even stretches across to the passenger side for added storage. I found this small touch very convenient and something often missing in many vehicles.

And new for 2023, the available wireless charging feature is now located on this in-dash shelf which used to be in the center console. This is a huge improvement over the prior location which I found to be a fault in 2021. Toyota also includes wi-fi connectivity and five USB ports throughout the Highlander making it very functional for all passengers and their devices. And as technology continues to advance, Highlander drivers will be at the ready thanks to a wide range of enhanced connectivity and convenience features, including being Over-the-Air updatable. Users can interact with the system through intuitive touch and voice activation controls. With the available Connected Service Drive Connect, drivers and passengers have access to Intelligent Assistant, Cloud Navigation and Destination Assist.

Seating - Rows 1 & 2 (+)
The seats in the Highlander are extremely comfortable and are available both heated and ventilated.  Heated second row seats are also an available option on higher trim models. The comfortable seats reminded me of being in a Lexus with premium feeling finishes all around. Up above the front two rows was a larger panoramic moonroof that has a significant opening portion that is likely one of the bigger ones in the class outside of the Volkswagen Atlas roof. There is plenty of head, leg and shoulder room for the first two rows. Toyota nailed the fit and finish of the first two rows but climbing back to the third row, it seems they dropped the ball.  The Highlander's third row seats are tight, even for kids. This test vehicle had captain's chairs in the second row which I prefer over the bench seat (which completely blocks visibility of the third-row passengers). The captain's chairs in the second row allow for better visibility to the third row, but make the Highlander a 7-passenger vehicle as opposed to 8.  

Third Row (-)
My biggest complaint is the third-row space. As a family of five, the Highlander still falls short to competitors like the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade and Volkswagen Atlas which all have much more spacious third rows. As an average height adult (5'9"), my knees were at my chest in the third row and my feet were pointed sideways. The third row is closer to the floor (I assume to maximize cargo volume when folded flat) which doesn't leave much room. Even the kids complained that the third row felt a bit like the penalty box. Access to the third row, however, is relatively easy. This has been a common complaint for Highlander owners and reviewers.... hence the recent introduction of the 2024 Grand Highlander which will solve this issue.

Cargo (+/-)
The Highlander Hybrid has less cargo space than most three-row SUVs but more cargo room than many rivals in the hybrid SUV class. There is 16 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row, 48.4 cubic feet with the third row folded down and 84.3 cubic feet with both rear rows folded. A power liftgate comes standard, and a hands-free power liftgate is available.

Safety (+)
Toyota continues to offer Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ standard on all Highlanders. This includes features like the pre-collision system with low-light pedestrian detection that utilizes a camera and radar for maximum range paired with both audio and visual driver alerts. Other features include full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, road sign assist and automatic high beams. Features like the available blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and the front & rear parking assist with automatic braking will add to the overall safety package making you feel quite comfortable and safe behind the wheel. The standard backup camera features a projected path.

Final Statement:
Toyota did a nice job when it updated the Highlander in 2020 that carries over int0 2023. The hybrid is a fuel-efficient option that many competitors don't currently offer. It's a well-built, high-quality crossover that does everything well inside... except the third-row accommodations. The technology continues to advance, is intuitive, and moving the wireless charging to the in-dash shelf shows that they're paying close attention to consumer needs and behaviors. The Highlander hybrid continues to be a great offering from Toyota and the new Grand Highlander will supplement the model well.

First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle:
2023 Toyota Highlander Platinum Hybrid AWD
Exterior Color: Moon Dust
Interior Color: Glazed Caramel Leather
Notable Options: Special Color ($425), Running Boards ($599), Dashcam ($375)
Price as tested: $55,647 (with destination charge)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.