The 2023 Toyota Highlander gas models are equipped with a new, higher-torque, high-efficiency turbocharged engine. The 265-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which uses balance shafts for super-smooth performance, delivers 310 lb-ft (420 N·m) of torque. This results in a significant 17% increase over the previous 3.5-liter V6 engine’s 263 lb-ft (357 N·m).
Fuel efficiency is also improved for this higher-torque engine with an EPA-estimate of up to 25 MPG combined. The new engine, standard across all gasoline grades, is also more environmentally conscious, with more than a 50% reduction in NOx and NMOG compared to the outgoing V6 engine.
The new Highlander turbo models are equipped to tow up to 5,000-pounds and include Trailer Sway Control (TSC), which uses the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) to help control unwanted trailer movement. To help reduce fuel consumption and emissions, the standard Stop and Start Engine System allows the engine to shut off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop and instantly restarts when the driver’s foot lifts from the brake pedal.
Arriving at dealerships nationwide this month, the 2023 Highlander with the new turbo engine will have a starting MSRP of $36,420 and the 2023 Highlander Hybrid will have a starting MSRP of $40,220.
The 2023 Highlander turbo models offer a choice of FWD or two different available AWD systems. For the Highlander Gas L, LE and XLE models, the optional AWD system can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels to help counter wheel slip when necessary.
The Highlander XSE, Limited and Platinum turbo models step up to a more performance-minded system, Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Drive Mode Select and Driveline Disconnect. In addition to governing torque distribution between the front and rear wheels, this advanced system uses special couplings to actively manage torque distribution between the left and right rear wheels.
For even more control for the gasoline all-wheel drive iteration, Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is also available. When AWD is not needed, such as in steady highway cruising, rear Driveline Disconnect automatically disengages drive to the rear wheels and stops the propeller shaft’s rotation, helping to reduce fuel consumption. The system seamlessly re-engages when AWD is needed to handle road conditions.
Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD doesn’t simply react to wheel slippage. An AWD Integrated Management (AIM) system manages Electric Power Steering (EPS), throttle control, transmission shift control and drive torque distribution to continually help optimize handling.
Using the Multi-Terrain Select control dial on the console, the driver can maximize traction for prevailing conditions. Mud & Sand mode works well for beach driving, while Rock & Dirt mode optimizes AWD traction for trails. The driver can monitor, in real time, torque allocation and slip control on the Multi-Information Display (MID).
Highlander Hybrid. The Highlander Hybrid, with its 36 combined MPG EPA-estimated rating, accounts for more than a quarter of Highlander sales in the US. 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 gas engine employs Variable Valve Timing-intelligent system by Electric motor (VVT-iE) on the intake camshaft, and VVT-i on the exhaust camshaft. A variable cooling system (electric water pump, electric thermostat) and a fully variable oil pump help to further enhance engine efficiency.
The gasoline engine and Motor Generator 2 (MG2) work in concert to deliver dynamic performance, while both MG1 and MG2 charge the hybrid battery. The hybrid delivers 243 total system horsepower, EPA-estimated 36 combined MPG and a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds for all grades. The Highlander Hybrid’s battery pack is installed under the second-row seats, so it does not take away any cargo or passenger space.
The unique AWD system for Highlander Hybrid employs a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed. Like the hybrid powertrain itself, the AWD system is designed to work seamlessly.
In addition, all Highlander models, in addition to hybrid, include Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and Trailer Sway Control (TSC) for optimal on-road and off-road performance and safety.
The Highlander Hybrid offers selectable NORMAL, ECO and SPORT driving modes that let the driver choose the vehicle’s performance personality. ECO mode extracts maximum efficiency from the fuel and battery, while NORMAL mode is ideal for everyday driving. SPORT mode quickens the throttle response from the hybrid system for improved acceleration control. A bonus is the EV mode, which allows electric-only driving at low speeds for short distances.
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, similar to the engine braking effect of downshifting a manual transmission.
Highlander Hybrid’s Predictive Efficient Drive (PED) analyzes the driver’s daily driving habits and upcoming road and traffic conditions to optimize battery usage and charging. The more the vehicle is driven, the more data is accumulated, thereby helping to support fuel efficient driving patterns.