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How We'd Spec It: 2023 Toyota Highlander

From affordable or efficient to speedy or upscale, there is a 2023 Highlander for you

2023 Toyota Highlander XSE White Front Quarter View
  • The 2023 Toyota Highlander gets a new standard turbocharged engine.
  • Toyota also makes additional improvements to its popular family-friendly SUV.
  • There are four drivetrains and seven different trim levels from which to choose.
  • Edmunds recommends three to help you narrow the decision.

Toyota is no stranger to the concept of crossover SUVs. The automaker was a pioneer in the space with the original 1996 RAV4 and was among the first to extend crossover characteristics to the midsize segment with the first-generation 2001 Highlander. More than 20 years later, the 2023 Toyota Highlander remains popular among people seeking a midsize three-row SUV. But which one should you buy?

Before we dig into our recommendation, it's important to know that the for this year, the Highlander gets a number of key updates. Chief among them is a new standard engine, a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder that replaces the previous 3.5-liter V6. It makes a little less horsepower and a little more torque, so performance should remain the same while fuel efficiency increases mildly. The Highlander Hybrid continues with the same thrifty drivetrain it used before.

In addition, the 2023 Highlander is available with a new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a handful of other updates to help keep it competitive. And soon, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander joins the lineup, adding more interior room to address one of the SUV’s few significant shortfalls: a lack of third-row passenger space.

In the meantime, the 2023 Highlander comes in numerous trim levels ranging from the basic L and the popular XLE to the upscale Limited and Platinum. Toyota even has a sporty version known as the XSE. So, which versions does Edmunds recommend? Let’s find out.

The recommended spec

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2023 Toyota Highlander in green, driving on a street

Whether you choose the standard turbocharged engine or the available hybrid drivetrain, we recommend the Highlander XLE. It comes with numerous appealing upgrades that won’t bust your budget. Highlights include Toyota’s SofTex synthetic leather upholstery, an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, second-row window sunshades, wireless smartphone charging and appearance enhancements.

If we built ourselves a 2023 Highlander XLE, we’d spend the extra $1,400 to get the hybrid powertrain, which will ultimately pay for itself through savings at the gas pump. And, since one of the reasons to own an SUV is added traction in dirt, mud or snow, we would get the all-wheel-drive system.

Whether extra-cost paint is worth it is a decision only you can make. Toyota also offers a no-cost second-row bench seat option to replace the XLE’s standard captain’s chairs. Beyond that, we recommend upgrading to the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the accessory carpeted floor mat and cargo liner set, bringing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price to $47,248, including the $1,335 destination charge.

The luxurious alternative

2023 Toyota Highlander interior

If you can spend more money on your new three-row midsize SUV, the 2023 Toyota Highlander Platinum is like a Lexus without the Lexus premium. This top-of-the-line trim equips the SUV with upscale design details, terrific-looking 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, dual 12.3-inch digital instrumentation and touchscreen infotainment systems, leather seats, heated second-row seats, a premium sound system and much more.

Again, if we’re building a 2023 Highlander Platinum for ourselves, we’d start with the hybrid all-wheel-drive powertrain. To this, we’d add one of the extra-cost paint colors (Moon Dust is a favorite) and add the accessory carpeted floor mats and cargo liner package. This loaded Highlander Hybrid Platinum would be $54,743, including destination charges.

The fun one

2023 Toyota Highlander XSE in white, parked on a driveway

Sometimes, driving enthusiasts need a family hauler like the 2023 Highlander. For people who enjoy the journey as much as the destination, Toyota offers the Highlander XSE, but only with the standard engine. That new turbocharged motor makes 265 horsepower and a robust 310 lb-ft of torque, and it's rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.

The 2023 Highlander XSE pairs the turbo engine with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. In addition, Toyota adds an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, 20-inch wheels, and styling modifications to give the SUV a racy-looking appearance.

For a build, we recommend the torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, the eye-catching Cockpit Red interior treatment, the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with JBL premium audio upgrade and, you guessed in, the accessory floor mats and cargo liner package to keep the carpet clean. A Highlander XSE with these options would run $48,433, including the destination charge.

Edmunds says

Toyota makes a 2023 Highlander to fit nearly any need. From the affordable Highlander L to the upscale Highlander Platinum, this midsize three-row SUV can meet tighter budgets or offer luxurious indulgences. If you don’t need all-wheel drive, you can save some money by choosing front-wheel drive. And if you want to swap the new turbocharged engine’s power for the hybrid drivetrain’s efficiency, the fuel savings can ultimately pay for the required upcharge.

However, if you need a third-row seat habitable by adults in addition to children, you’ll want to choose one of the Highlander’s many rivals or wait for the 2024 Grand Highlander to arrive.