The V-6 is dead. Long live turbo-4.

The 2023 Toyota Highlander the midsize crossover will no longer come with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine that suburban families across North America have come to expect in their three-row SUV. This year, the top engine is a new 265-hp 2.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 310 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels or all four.

The Highlander has offered a V-6 since its launch in 2001, but increasingly stringent corporate average fuel economy and tailpipe emissions regulations deemed it too powerful. The benefit in combined EPA fuel efficiency estimates is just 1-2 mpg, from 23 mpg in 2022 for the V-6 with front- or all-wheel drive to 24 mpg this year for the new turbo-4 paired with the all-wheel drive AWD , or 25 mpg in base FWD form. The 36 mpg Highlander Hybrid is virtually unchanged.

Although up 30 horsepower from the V-6, which was rated at 295 hp, Toyota says peak torque from the turbo-4 is up 17 percent from 263 lb-ft of torque. Even with the smaller engine, Toyota emphasizes that the Highlander’s towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds remains unchanged — an important feature for buyers, according to the report. The hybrid can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Not much has changed for the Highlander this year, with 2023 models now featuring two 12.3-inch screens: one for the instrument cluster, which replaces the 7.7-inch digital display, and the other for the center touchscreen for multimedia. These trims now also have electric folding exterior mirrors as standard. A larger digital cluster is optional on XLE and XSE grades, while entry-level L and LE models upgrade to a 7.7-inch cluster from last year’s 4.2-inch version. For 2023, the base front-wheel-drive Highlander starts at $37,755 and the Highlander Hybrid starts at $41,555; both prices include a mandatory $1,335 shipping fee.

2023 Toyota Highlander

Don’t mess with success

Frankly, many 2023 Highlander buyers may never know they’ve lost the V-6 unless they ask, and they probably won’t. The new turbo-4 responds pleasantly above 3000 rpm, although only on average lower. In other words, parents who keep a leg up can quickly move their children to extracurricular activities.

They will find turbo Toyota Highlander gets noisy above 4000rpm, however. At least in part, this is a result of the great strides many automakers, including Toyota, have made in suppressing noise, vibration and harshness at low engine speeds. The difference between a near-silent idle and full acceleration is much greater than it was 10 years ago. This prevents the Highlander from being driven hard, which should, if nothing else, maintain efficient gas mileage.

Toyota quotes 0-60 mph for our 2023 AWD test car at 8.1 seconds, or 0.3 second slower than last year’s V-6. The difference in the front-wheel-drive model is even smaller, just 0.1 seconds faster than last year’s 7.6 seconds. Surprisingly, this year the turbo-4’s peak torque comes at a much lower engine speed: 3,600 rpm versus last year’s 4,700 rpm for the V-6. We didn’t feel like it had much torque below 2,000 rpm, but drivers will get used to the new engine.

The company now produces about a quarter of a million Highlanders a year in Indiana and exports them around the world. It knows the SUV market, and we’re pretty sure this new engine won’t upset buyers or worsen the demand curve.

Our test car was a 2023 Toyota Highlander XSE AWD in a rich white metallic called Wind Chill Pearl with a Cockpit Red interior. As the top model in the Highlander SE/XSE trim line with a “sporty look”, it included 20-inch alloy wheels, a host of electrical gadgets and an optional 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment interface with an 11-speaker JBL audio system. The return on our car was $48,075, including the delivery fee. Dealers across the country are now adding significant markups to suggested sticker prices, so shop with caution.

Toyota provided the airfare, room and board to allow The Car Connection to bring you this test drive review.