The 2023 Toyota Highlander Ditches the V6 for a Turbocharged, 4-cylinder Torque-Monster

Fitting the 2023 Toyota Highlander with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo – the 3.5-liter V6 is now relegated to history. Is this a harbinger of the future at Toyota?

The new, turbocharged 265 horsepower 2.4-liter engine housed in the 2023 Toyota Highlander makes 309 lbs-feet of torque. That’s less horsepower, but a lot more torque than the outgoing V6. The six-banger made 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is bolted to the new engine. According to Toyota, compared with the former V6, the 2.4-liter turbo produces 50-percent less nitrous oxide and reduces carbon dioxide emissions.

This is the same powertrain we sampled in the 2022 Lexus NX 350.

Despite the displacement and cylinder loss, the turbo is rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs – the same as the outgoing V6. This powertrain can either be had with front or all-wheel drive (AWD). As of this writing, Toyota has only released the estimated MPG numbers for the front-wheel drive model. Oddly, it remains the same as the V6 FWD – which is 24 MPG combined.

Other changes coming to the 2023 Toyota Highlander

Among the package and trim updates, the most notable is the addition of the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital display. These screens come standard on the Platinum and Limited models, and is optional on the XLE and XSE models. This is (basically) the same setup we sampled on the 2022 Lexus NX, and the new Toyota Tundra. That means that, on Highlanders equipped with the new screens, there will be some changes in the dashboard design as well.

The 2023 Toyota Highlander hybrid will carry on with its powertrain, but the interior updates will be applied as well.

Toyota has not released pricing or delivery dates yet.

What are the implications of this change in engine tactics?

We could (and often do) speculate that this is just the beginning of the turbocharging of the Toyota brand. Actually, that’s not speculation given the advent of the twin-turbo V6 Toyota added to the Tundra and upcoming Sequoia. Still, this is the first time we’ve seen Toyota pull a V6 from a huge volume seller like the Highlander.

Toyota must have a lot of faith in their turbo four. It’s easy to assume that this powertrain will find its way into something like the Toyota Camry. It’s one of the last vehicles in its class to have an option for a V6. In fact: not counting the Avalon, the only other V6-powered Toyota products sold in the United States are trucks.

We know that the next generation Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner are being tested right now, and both models had V6 powertrains. On paper, the current Tacoma and 4Runner’s V6 is weak-sauce compared with the turbo-four’s torque numbers. The Tacoma makes 265 lb-ft of torque, and the ancient 4Runner’s 4.0-liter makes 278 lb-ft of torque. Remember: the 2023 Toyota Highlander’s new turbo makes 309 lb-ft of torque.

Sure, we know there’s a lot more to it than what we see on paper. Obviously, the layout of the new engine has to be taken into consideration, along with its peak power RPM. It may (or may not) jive with what a truck needs to succeed. The potential implications of sharing this powertrain are interesting – no?

What do you think?