The latest example is Toyota Highlander, which has ditched the company’s V-6 engine in favor of a new 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 2023. The new engine, some new interior multimedia displays – and a new Cypress green paint color – range the model’s changes The popular Highlander for the new model year, but that should probably be enough to keep it at the top of the sales charts for its class. We recently got a spin of the 2023 Highlander at a media event in Nashville, Tennessee, and were curious to see how the new turbo engine compares to the smooth V-6 that was so popular on large midsize SUVs.
2023 Toyota Highlander Quick Spin: New Heart, Same Pulse
Is the motor important?
I used to think it was, that customers and shoppers care about the engine that drives their car and that it was a big factor in making purchasing decisions, but that certainly varies from vehicle to vehicle. In a Dodge Challenger, yes, the engine matters. In the three-row family SUV that will never stop? Unless they are routinely towed or looking to maximize fuel economy, I suppose it doesn’t really matter to most people what’s under the hood. Customers are more likely to be particularly interested in performance than actual engine specifications. Is it fast enough? Is it quiet? Is it effective? Is the price reasonable?
Replacing the 3.5-liter V-6 with the new turbocharged four isn’t likely to go unnoticed by the typical Highlander shopper unless they’re well versed or trade in an old car for a new one. It will probably be less of a problem after they drive it. The new engine produces 265 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is 30 hp less than the outgoing V-6 but 47 lb-ft of torque. Given that this engine is “boostered,” meaning it has forced air into agitation through the turbocharger, it has a different torque curve than the outgoing V-6. Torque is instantaneous and available over a wider rpm range than the old engine, so while the new Highlander isn’t faster than the outgoing model, it feels lively, lively and responsive. It also doesn’t lose any towing capability, with the gas-only model still being able to tow 5,000 pounds off the rear bumper — plenty for a small camper, a pair of jet skis, or a trailer full of motorcycles.
Still driving like a Highlander
The new engine comes to life with a less resonant tone, and looks more like a diesel thanks to the direct injection fuel system. It’s not as quiet or refined as the V-6, especially under full throttle acceleration; It’s a fairly loud engine, with plenty of noise making its way into the cabin. But under normal operation around town, it is well suited to moving large SUVs with ease and confidence. At highway speeds, it cools down a bit and still provides useful, immediate passing power on demand.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, driving either the front wheels or all four wheels, depending on the options and trim level. The transmission shifts smoothly, but it will keep the Highlander in lower gears when you really put your foot on it, speeding off the little four-cylinder. This prepares the cabin for some important engine-engined drones, more than we remember from the V-6 version, and with the engine note that is decidedly less flattering.
So, if it doesn’t provide much better acceleration or traction, why would Toyota make this switch? Well, it does get better EPA fuel economy, according to Toyota, up to 25 mpg from the 2022 model’s 24 mpg. If you want to maximize fuel economy, you’ll still want to choose the Highlander Hybrid, which combines a 2.5-liter non-turbo four-cylinder engine with an electric drive system for an EPA-rated 36 mpg, without A change from 2022. But the new engine also reduces gas-only Highlander emissions significantly, reducing nitrous oxides and non-methane organic gases by up to 50% compared to the V-6, and lowers CO2 emissions as well. So it may not give you much of a different driving experience, apart from being a little noisier off the line and a lot louder when you put it on the ground, but you can feel better about the fact that it’s a lot less polluting than the model it replaces.
The rest of the Highlander’s driving experience has not changed from the previous model. It rides very smoothly, with a nicely cushioned suspension that provides a good balance between confident (if dope) steering and minimal body roll. There isn’t a lot of road or wind noise either, with the chassis being pretty quiet from plenty of insulation (apart from the firewall, apparently, which lets engine noise in). There is plenty of room for passengers, front and rear, and although the third row is a little small, it would be fine for families with children.
2023 Toyota Highlander Quick Spin: New Heart, Same Pulse
New screens inside
The other big news for the Highlander for 2023 comes in terms of its multimedia technology. There’s a new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, reconfigurable to some different shapes, and a new 12.3-inch touchscreen powered by the latest Toyota Audio Multimedia system, both of which come in two top trim levels, Limited and Platinum; Everything else gets an 8-inch touchscreen. The 2023 Highlander is the latest model in Toyota’s lineup to get the new multimedia system as the company rolls out across the showroom, a scheduled upgrade from the old Entune that Toyota stuck for road Very long. It doesn’t offer the same level of functionality, customization, or features as top systems from brands like Hyundai, Kia, Jeep or Ford, but I put it on a par with other Japanese systems from Nissan or Honda. It’s definitely big and bright, which is great for using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, because it takes up the full screen space. I just wish the original systems had made better use of all of this screen, providing a home screen with multiple functions rather than requiring frequent changes between screens like phone, audio, and navigation whenever you wanted to check something.
However, the overall user experience of the Highlander 2023 has been improved compared to the last one, and this kind of continuous improvement is a strong factor in keeping the SUV at the top of the popularity charts. If you loved the latest Highlander game, it’s a strong bet that you’ll love this update a bit too. You’re not likely to miss the V-6 (if you even notice it left), since the four-turbo engine works as well, and the comfortable and versatile interior with enhanced multimedia functions is also likely to be a crowd pleaser. Toyota took the non-minivan family pickup truck and made some solid improvements, and that doesn’t take into account the very nice new Cypress Green paint for 2023.