2023 Toyota Highlander Limited
Larger than many, smaller than a couple
A well-rounded mid-size SUV that'll be around forever - updated with todays toys and bling.
By J-F Wright
Fri, Mar 31, 2023 11:02 AM PST
All images by the author.
The Toyota Heritage
Let’s get one thing out of the way: We - my wife, mainly - drive a 2008 Toyota Highlander Limited. It’s got over 500,000 miles on it. That’s over twenty trips around the world, along the equator. It’s always been well taken care of, sure, but I think the fact that it still runs so smoothly is a testament to Toyota’s reputation of creating solid vehicles that will stand the test of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has another 250,000 miles to go.
In our Highlander, the seats are still comfortable and the leather is still holding together. The interior electronics all seem to work, and most buttons still do what they are supposed to do. Sure, technology has progressed in the last 15 years, but that’s to be expected.
The second row has an interesting stowaway solution where you can switch between having a center console or a middle seat. Whichever is not in use is instead hidden in a storage compartment between the two front seats. Smart. And switching between the two still works.
But, enough about my car, after all this is not a review of the 2008 Highlander. The point I want to make: Toyotas built in 2008 seem to hold up really well. And I expect to see a bunch of 2023 Toyota Highlander Limited vehicles still driving around in 2038. (Yeah, 2038 sounds a lot further away than 2008.)
The 2023 Toyota Highlander Is Large
“What’s model creep?”, you may ask. Well, it’s when a car model - like a Highlander, Camry, and so on, slowly grow a little for each new model year. So, compare the old Camry your folks drove with the new one in your neighbor's garage and you’ll see that the new one is a bit bigger. The same goes for the Highlander. Compare the 2023 model with my 2008 and it’s definitely put on a few pounds. Not only in length, but it’s also bulged out a bit all around.
Is it big like a Suburban? No. Tahoe? Not really. But, it’s definitely a large vehicle. And, for $50k it’s a lot of car for the money. That’s for the Limited trim - if you don’t need all the bells and whistles you can get one for a lot less than that.
And yes, I know that the Highlander does not compete with the Suburban, or really the Tahoe either - that’s up to the Toyota Sequoia. But, the Highlander is a large SUV and might get confused with even larger ones, so it’s worth it to make sure we all understand the difference.
Interior & Comfort
Let’s start from the back. With the third row folded away, you have plenty of space for all your stuff. For normal family usage you should have no problems lugging kids to/from practice, pretty much regardless of what sport they play.
Open up the third row and you magically have more space for people. Obviously you’ll be sacrificing space for gear, but the easy transition is definitely convenient for those of us who sometimes find ourselves hauling around lots of kids.
Moving forward one row: The rear seat (second row) is massive. With the seats pushed as far back as possible there is an insane amount of space for legs and/or a buffer between kids and parents. Width-wise the Highlander is large enough for three kids to sit comfortably in the second row, and it seems that the vast legroom makes it easier for the kids to not feel crammed.
The seats up front are classic Toyota seats. Comfortable, durable, and sturdy. You’re sitting high, with a great view of the road up ahead. Visibility is actually great in all directions, and the rear window gives you a great view backwards as well.
I personally had a hard time finding a great position for the headrest, but none of my co-testers had this problem so I guess it’s just my neck. Front seats are adjustable in every which way, with a good lumbar support added as well. The memory function is included in the Limited trim, which is alway nice when multiple people share the vehicle.
I recently reviewed a Lexus with “Nori Green Pearl” exterior paint. I haven’t been too fond of green cars, but the Nori Green had me rethinking my color preferences. Our 2023 Toyota Highlander test vehicle is green - like really green - and it’s getting a wide variety of responses from onlookers. Green still seems to be a “hate it or love it”-color. The good news is that the Highlander, like most vehicles, is available in a myriad of color option - you’re guaranteed to find one that fits your style.
The exterior of the 2023 Highlander is both bulgy and rounded - in a great way. The front has a certain smoothness to it - the roundedness of the swooping headlights combined with the inset elements on the hood. The rear lights bulge out a bunch - maybe too much for some - and give the back-end of the Highlander a signature look and feel.
It’s physically impossible to get a large vehicle to magically drive like a compact sedan, although with current technology car manufacturers are getting closer. The Highlander is no exception - it handles and feels like a modern large car in this price class is expected to. Does it feel like a truck? Kinda. But not as much as some full-size SUVs have a tendency to.
It’s definitely not a sedan though, that quickly becomes evident… You’ll feel the classic truck-bounce when you turn through an intersection and take the road-crossing gutters at an angle.
Interestingly, the Highlander is a large vehicle, but by most standards classified as a mid-size SUV. This segment has the widest spread of vehicles, and with that the widest spread of drive handling. In my opinion, the Highlander sits on the more truck-feely side of the segment when it comes to driving characteristics - without being a full-size SUV.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is something you might not have a use for during your normal driving routine. But, when you happen to get stuck in an unexpected snowstorm, you’ll be glad you have it. The AWD of the Highlander - which I had a chance to test with 8 inches of fresh powder on city streets - does well in getting the car moving. Push the accelerator a bit too hard when in a corner and you’ll push the rear end out a bit before the safety systems catch up and get a handle on things. The same goes for a accelerating in what might seem like a straight line, the rear end will jiggle a little - mainly depending on if the road is slightly slanted and/or if one of the rear wheels get more grip than the other. Since it’s a large vehicle though, there’s a lot more momentum - going in the wrong direction - to stabilize, and the Highlander does a good job.
Adaptive Cruise Control with Active Lane Keep Assist
Another feature available in most cars is an adaptive cruise control. The one in the Highlander does a good job, as expected. The safety - or convenience - system helping keep the car in one lane is also a nice addition. It does not, however, replace the need for you to drive. The Lane Keep Assist does a good job in good driving conditions - but there are multiple situations where you’ll need to get involved, both in the best of conditions and, obviously, when the road is covered with snow. The cameras and radars have no clue where the lane is, just like you don’t either.
What is the Toyota Highlander, and who needs one? A 2023 Highlander is a great choice if you are the type of family who either lives somewhere with inclement weather, or who does road-trips on the less traveled, more rugged, roads. It’s a definite option for those who need the extra space, and who sometimes need to be able to carry more than five people in their car. It’s definitely overkill for the adventurous couple without kids, you’d be fine with a smaller SUV - unless you plan on sleeping in the car or hauling an insane amount of gear.
Just like the previous Highlanders (my personal car included), I expect to see a bunch of the 2023 Highlanders all across the country - taking on all sorts of adventures well into the 2040s.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.