The 2023 Toyota Highlander now features a 2.4-liter turbocharged I4 engine as its base model powertrain.
The engine replaces the 2022 model’s 3.5-liter, naturally aspirated V6, and makes 265 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque.
The 2023 Toyota Highlander will start at $37,755 and should be hitting dealer showrooms this month.
Toyota’s Highlander has been chugging along for over 20 years, kicking off its fourth generation in 2019. At that time, Highlander offered new styling to Toyota’s crossover devotees but stuck with tried and true powertrains, launching with the prerequisite 3.5-liter V6 and Toyota’s bread-and-butter hybrid system. For 2023, in an effort to reduce the Highlander’s emissions, the 3.5-liter is out, and in its place is a turbocharged 2.4-liter I4.
The turbocharged four-cylinder is down 30 hp compared to the larger V6, with the base Highlander sending 265 hp through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder cranks up the torque, however, and bests the 3.5-liter’s 263 lb-ft at 4700 rpm by 47 lb-ft at a lower 3000 rpm in the rev range. Turbochargers work.
While you’d expect this to translate into a markedly different driving experience, it’s really not that different. The turbo-four might not be quite as smooth as its V6 predecessor, and the some extra noise in the cabin was occasionally noticeable (easily resolved by the soundtrack to Encanto or playing your favorite podcast), but the folks at Toyota avoided an aggressive throttle tip-in and made the driving experience close to the same as the outgoing 3.5-liter V6.
If you’re wondering why Toyota would go through all of the trouble to swap out its stalwart 3.5-liter V6 and incur the costs to make this happen, the answer is simple: emissions. Though the turbocharged I4 doesn’t blow away the V6 in fuel efficiency and nets only one more mpg combined, Toyota says that the turbocharged mill cuts harmful NOx emissions in half. That means this machine is considerably greener than last year’s base model.
As for the rest of the Highlander: It’s still good! Aside from the engine, the Highlander is effectively unchanged dynamically from our time in it at launch. It handles dips and dives well, has solid sightlines and offers sound creature comforts for family-minded crossover shoppers. Almost as important as a new powertrain for the base model, the Highlander Hybrid’s system is also unchanged.
It’s worth noting that the Highlander’s interior is still welcoming. It does feature a revised infotainment system, which feels snappy and has solid native navigation, though many will likely jump straight to using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. With seating for seven or eight depending on configuration, the Highlander will undoubtedly still fit the bill for minivan-averse shoppers with a need for lots of seats.
Toyota bumped up the base price of its 2023 Highlander just a tad, to $37,755 from the current model’s $37,190 starting price. The new Highlander should be hitting school pickup lines across the country this month.
Do you think Highlander customers will even notice the new powertrain? Tell us your thoughts below.