The Toyota Highlander practically sells itself on the premise of quality, long-term reliability, and strong resale value. But with countless competitors flooding the three-row SUV market with newer and fresher options, plus Toyota themselves making some pretty big changes on their own, does the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid have what it takes to stay relevant?
For 2023, Toyota has dropped the smooth, efficient, and reliable V6 engine option, now making the Highlander lineup four-cylinder-only. Gas-only Highlanders are powered by a new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines, while our Highlander Hybrid tester uses a 2.5-litre normally aspirated inline-four paired to two electric motors — three, if you count the rear motor on all-wheel-drive models, which is standard in Canada.
With the V6 no longer available, those who want more than four cylinders will have to turn to competitors like the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, and Kia Telluride. While the Highlander Hybrid puts out a respectable 243 horsepower, it’s significantly less than most competitors and sounds strained when pushed, but performance is adequate for an efficient three-row SUV. All Highlander Hybrids use a CVT.
As expected, the Highlander Hybrid is comfortable and composed, with only the roughest of roads managing to filter through the suspension. Steering felt a bit too light for my liking, but this is par for the course in the segment. There is also a bit of body roll when taking an on-ramp at speed, but again, this is to be expected from the segment.
Fuel economy is where the Highlander Hybrid shines. It will happily take regular-grade gas, and with official fuel economy ratings of 6.6 L/100 km city, 6.8 highway, and 6.7 combined, the Highlander Hybrid jumps to the head of the class. I averaged 7.3 L/100 km over the course of our test; it’s slightly higher, but considering I kept the Highlander Hybrid in Sport mode and spent a lot of time on the highway, it’s nonetheless quite good. However, EV mode is nearly useless; the Highlander Hybrid only stays in fully electric mode at low speeds. Tip the throttle a bit too much and the gas engine kicks in anyway.
Considering what Toyota has done with the all-new Prius and Crown, the Highlander Hybrid is plain and boring-looking by comparison. This is even more apparent when you park it beside a Telluride or a Mazda CX-90; Toyota certainly played it safe.
Inside, the Highlander Hybrid continues to play it safe. Materials feel good to the touch, but the overall design isn’t as flashy or upscale as the CX-90 or Palisade. For 2023, Toyota has added a new, all-digital instrument cluster and updated the infotainment with new software and a 12.3-inch display. The new system is responsive and looks more modern overall, plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Thankfully, Toyota has also kept the physical switchgear under the the touchscreen.
Lower-spec LE and XLE trims use a second-row bench for seating for up to eight passengers, while our Limited tester has second-row captain’s chairs, so it’ll only sit seven. Note that the third row is best suited for children, and when in use, cargo space virtually disappears. Those looking for more usable space and wanting to stick with the Toyota family should consider the Sienna or Grand Highlander.
Pricing for the 2023 Highlander Hybrid starts at $52,834 for the base LE. Our Limited tester receives a panoramic sunroof, an 11-speaker sound system, and genuine leather upholstery as opposed to the faux stuff on the base LE, plus ventillated front seats and a power liftgate for an as-tested total of $61,074. The only option on top is the Platinum package, which adds features such as heated second-row seats, a heads-up display, 20-inch wheels, and more for an extra $1,870.
The 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers a comfortable ride and good fuel economy, but it does lag behind most competitors such as cargo space, tech, and overall design inside and out. Still, most buyers don’t seem to care: Toyota sells each and every Highlander seemingly without even trying.