2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

Plenty to offer, but falls
behind leaders in its class

By Jim Prueter

(January 25, 2023) In the automotive world of suburban America, the mid-sized Toyota Highlander is omnipresent, a vehicle that seems to appeal to countless American households. And why not? It’s practical, family-friendly, easy to drive with styling that doesn’t offend, comes in a wide variety of configurations with a generous number of standard features and driver-assistance niceties. 

The ride is smooth, acceleration decent and fuel economy in our hybrid test Highlander returned an average of 35 miles per gallon. But overall, it lacks the driving engagement, enthusiasm and spiritual appeal of class competitors like the excellent Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee and others.

Offered in a choice of eleven different models, we tested the range-topping Hybrid Platinum AWD with a starting price of $53,760 including shipping and handling fees. Power comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors connected to a continuously variable automatic transmission that combines for a total of 243 horsepower.

We found the engine delivered peppy acceleration from a standstill, but we wished for more power when merging onto the interstate or when passing another vehicle. Patience is a virtue here. Ride and handling is unexciting but serviceable, body roll around corners is minimal with a secure feeling. Visibility is excellent but the cabin is noisy under full acceleration and at highway speeds.

Inside our Platinum had seating for seven with a second-row captain’s chairs arrangement. Base L and midrange LE models can seat up to eight if more passenger space is required. The first two rows of seats in our Highlander are roomy but the third row is very tight. Materials in are satisfactory but fall short of those in Telluride, Palisade or Grand Cherokee.

There’s a 12.3-inch display screen for the infotainment system and a secondary 12.3-inch screen that serves as the gauge cluster. An 11-speaker JLB sound system, Sirius XM, wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, 10-inch head-up display and wireless Smartphone charging all standard. Ditto for 20-inch alloy wheels, panoramic view moonroof, leather-trimmed seats with the first two rows heated, and Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+ suite of safety features.

Overall, Highlander has plenty to offer in this fiercely competitive mid-size SUV segment of more that 25 vehicles but ranks as only a mid-pack player by comparison. It’s thoroughly competent to be sure, but less compelling and behind the leaders of three-row family SUVs.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $52,425
Price as Tested: $53,760
Engine/Transmission: Hybrid combined 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and two electric motors paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 35/34/35 – mpg, City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 7

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Highest possible 2023 Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and overall, 5-star from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Where Built: Princeton, Indiana

Competes With:
Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Palisade
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Kia Telluride
Nissan Pathfinder
Volkswagen Atlas

Impressive fuel economy
Well equipped with standard features
Excellent crash test safety scores

“Fun to drive” isn’t part of the package
Extremely small third-row seating
Noisy engine