Toyota ditches the six for the 2023 Highlander
By Jim Bray
The bad news? It's true that you can no longer get a V6-powered Toyota Highlander. The not as bad news is that the turbo four that replaces it puts out plenty of poop, such that you may find yourself not missing the oomph and smoothness of the old 3.5 litre V6.
I have to admit, I missed it, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. The new turbo does a very good job.
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How does its power compare to the old Six? Well, Toyota rates the new Highlander's new 2.4-litre four as cranking out 265 horses and 310 lb.-ft. or torque. That's pretty decent in this segment regardless of how big or how blown the engine is. In fact, Toyota claims it's a 17 per cent increase in torque over the outgoing V6's 263 lb.-ft., though the new horsepower figure is less than the old V6's 295 horses. Still, I'd rather have torque than horsepower (if you absolutely have to make a choice) and after my week with the new Highlander Platinum I came away quite satisfied with its get up and go.
Toyota also claims the new Highlander gets the same 9.8 l/100 kilometre (combined) gas mileage rating as the V6 – which one would think is a no brainer from a smaller engine. The manufacturer also says the turbo four (which can burn regular fuel) is also more "environmentally friendly, with more than a 50 per cent reduction in NOx and NMOG as well as an improvement in CO2 emissions compared to the outgoing V6 engine."
Isn't that nice?
One thing that's definitely nice is the lack of turbo lag. It isn't completely missing, but it's minimal.
Power gets to the road through an eight-speed automatic transmission. This is much nicer than a damn CVT and I was pleasantly surprised to see Toyota sticking with the auto tranny – though maybe one or two fewer gears would make the drive a tad more interesting (probably at the cost of fuel mileage…).
The Highlander is claimed able to tow up to 5,000-pounds, and the models include Trailer Sway Control (TSC) – which "uses the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) to help control unwanted trailer movement." I don't know why you'd haul an unwanted trailer in the first place, but I guess this will help you if you do.
All 2023 Highlanders come with all-wheel drive, but there are two different systems offered. Baser models get a system that can send up to half of the torque to the rear wheels, while XSE, Limited and Platinum models get what Toyota calls "a more performance-minded system". Called Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect, it not only sends torque to the rear wheels, but it also manages the torque between both left and right rear wheels.
This means that, when all four wheels don't need to be driven, rear Driveline Disconnect disengages the torque heading to the rear wheels as well as stopping the rotation of the propeller shaft, as a way to help reduce fuel consumption. What's left, I guess, is essentially a front drive vehicle, when conditions warrant.
Toyota's Platinum sample featured the "Multi-Terrain Select control dial" on the centre console, that you can use to tailor the vehicle's response depending on road conditions.
Besides the 11 speaker JBL Premium Audio System (which is quite good), Highlander's Limited and Platinum trim levels now come with 12.3-inch Multi-Information Displays as standard equipment. This is as opposed the eight-inch touch screen on lower trim levels. All trim levels use LCD screens as their instrument panels, higher levels getting larger units.
I'm not particularly in love with the central screen's new interface, which follows market trends toward making the things act more like a smart phone than a car interface. So, there's scrolling and poking around required to perform things like saving radio station presets and the like. You can also store via voice, and it works okay, but I like a simple touch screen rather than one that tries to be everything to everyone. Heck, if you want your centre stack's screen to emulate your cell phone, feel free to use CarPlay or Android Auto.
I'd also like to see the volume control put back on the left of the screen; it's now on the other side, which makes a long stretch for shorter drivers. Fortunately, there are volume controls on the steering wheel as well. And, unfortunately, there's no tuning knob, so you have to either use your voice or poke around the screen.
Fortunately, the Highlander doesn't whine at you to put your eyes back onto the road if it thinks you're looking at the stack too long, like at least one competitor does.
The seats are comfortable and everything (other than the damn interfaces) works as it should.
The Limited and Platinum trim levels (regardless of whether you opt for conventional gas version or the hybrid) now offer power folding outside mirrors, which is really handy if you're parking in a tight lot or a garage. The XLE and XSE trim levels now get a hands-free power liftgate, either via buttons or by kicking your foot under the bumper. I prefer the buttons, not being that graceful on one leg, but to each his/her/its own.
Highlanders have never been real lookers, but I think this latest iteration is quite a handsome unit – one of the most pleasant-looking of the three row SUV's I've seen. Access to that third row is actually not bad (though as is common with such configurations you're best served only putting small kids back there, or people you don't like very much). There's even a reasonable amount of storage space behind the third row when it's not folded into the floor.
Toyota says the Highlander is a repeat IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ recipient (the organization's highest rating) and, like other Toyotas, it comes with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ system that includes stuff like a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/ PD), Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/ SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Road Sign Assist (RSA), and Automatic High Beams (AHB).
You also get a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) – the latter of which is a wonderful feature. The Front and Rear Parking Assist system, with Automatic Braking is only available on Limited and Platinum trim levels, and the Platinum model also gets a "Bird's Eye View Camera with Perimeter Scan" that gives you a live rotating 360-degree view around the vehicle. I didn't really care for this system, but it's there – and like most of the nannies, you can shut it off.
My sample also had Toyota's nifty LCD TV rear view mirror option. It gives you a very cool panoramic look behind you, though as an automotive curmudgeon/nerd, I appreciate the technology but prefer the old way, that gives the perspective that you're in a vehicle (the TV version gives you a view as if the Highlander isn't there).
2023 Highlanders come with eight airbags, and of course, Toyota's Star Safety System – which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Smart Stop Technology (SST).
Highlanders start at 49,286.18 CAD, and range up to a starting price for the Platinum model (which gives you stuff like Rain Sensing Wipers, Platinum Coloured Front Bumper & Rear Skid Plate, a Digital Display Rear View Mirror with Homelink, Platinum 20-inch Alloy Wheels, Unique Seat Design, the Bird's Eye View Camera and Heated 2nd Row Seats) of my test of 59,396.18 CAD.
I liked driving the new Highlander. It's pleasant, mostly, efficient and designed and constructed well. It'll probably provide owners with many years of quality motoring.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray