2023 Toyota Highlander AWD 3 Row SUV: The Goldilocks of SUVs?

This mid-size 3-row SUV gets it just right: The Toyota Highlander AWD has flexible space for passengers, or cargo, or some of both. So, bring all the things.

2023 Toyota Highlander Awd Review
2023 Toyota Highlander AWD. Photo: Erica Mueller

With 3 rows, flexible space and lots of comforts for passengers of all sizes, it’s just right.

The Toyota Highlander has long been one of my favorite 3-row SUVs and one that I recommend to families who are upgrading from a sedan or crossover, but aren’t quite ready for a minivan.

With flexible seating for 7 or 8, this midsize SUV comes with all-wheel drive as a standard feature and an optional –but standard-setting – hybrid engine version. It has a spacious and comfortable interior, making it an ideal vehicle for families and long road trips like the one I just took with my three kids. We drove the Highlander from North Texas to Southeast Kentucky and back. Here’s what we thought of it.

2023 Toyota Highlander Awd

Huge props to Toyota for drink holders large enough for big water bottles. I also really liked the digital driver’s display. Photo by Erica Mueller

Mom Car? Scratch That. This is a FUN Car.

Under the hood, the Highlander AWD is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque for a thrilling ride whether you’re on the highway or driving curvy mountain roads like we did on our road trip.

It has an an eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers smooth and responsive shifts – we didn’t even notice the constant shifting that happens when you’re changing elevation every few seconds in the Appalachians. We were all comfortable in the Highlander AWD thanks to its suspension system that absorbs bumps and rough surfaces.

Related: Ask the Car Chick: Which are the Best Cars for a Teen, and Which Mid-Sized SUV Is the Best Family Car?

2023 Toyota Highlander Awd Third Row

I’d call that a decent 3rd row. The second-row seats can move forward to provide more legroom and kids would be comfortable back there. I also like that it’s a 3-across 3rd row unlike some of its competitors which only have 2 seat belts. Photo by Erica Mueller

Not Oversized, But Not Cramped Either.

What’s that Goldilocks says about the little chair that fits just right? The interior of the 2023 Toyota Highlander AWD is spacious and can comfortably accommodate up to eight passengers if you have a bench for the second row, but the model we drove had captains chairs, so it sat 7.

The seats are well-cushioned, making them comfortable for long drives and while the kids and I were super comfy, I could see my husband wishing the seats were just a bit wider.

Between the second-row captains chairs there’s a drink holder console on the floor. It’s easy to step over, or you can disregard it and put a handbag or backpack there, but we found it really nice for storing extra drinks on the trip and while I think it looks a little funny, it seemed more practical than a full center console.

Space for 3rd Row Passengers, or Cargo, Or a Combo

While this SUV vehicle seats 7 or 8, the cargo space behind the third row leaves a lot to be desired. I get that this is a mid-size SUV with what is called a “convenience” 3rd row that is on the small side; and with the 3rd row seats up, the cargo area is tiny. This is probably the only area where the Highlander doesn’t sparkle for me. In order to take all our backpacks and snacks with us we had to put the third row down for the entire trip.

However, this opened up a whole new world of possibilities for things to take… everyone’s favorite pillow, a bag for toys, books, and games, and the consignment shop haul I acquired when my sisters and I went shopping.

But I had to wonder how I’d manage things on the daily, if I had my husband and all three kids with me and wanted to travel, or just go to Costco. Something to keep in mind for sure when you’re shopping mid-size SUVs.

 Related: Toyota Grand Highlander Luxury 3 Row SUV: Bigger, More Spacious and … More Powerful Hybrid!

2023 Toyota Highlander Awd

Only about half our luggage. This is with the third row folded down. Photo by Erica Mueller

The Toyota Highlander Has All the Right Tech in All the Right Places

It has been my experience that Toyota really does their research when it comes to user-friendly design of the driver’s space. You get the perfect blend of tactile buttons and touch-screen goodness, plus all the most-used stuff like volume control, media selection, cruise control settings, etc right on the steering wheel.

The 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the 2023 Toyota Highlander is easy to navigate, and the vehicle comes with a wide range of tech features such as Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. In terms of safety, the 2023 Toyota Highlander AWD comes with a range of advanced safety features, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring.

The Highlander AWD also received a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

2023 Toyota Highlander Awd

This new Highlander is sporty, has a great roof rack, drives really nice on the highway and in the mountains, and impressed us with its comfortable seats. Photo by Erica Mueller

What You Need to Know About the 2023 Toyota Highlander AWD

The 2023 Toyota Highlander AWD is available in several trim levels, including the base LE, the mid-level XLE, and the top-of-the-line Limited. The LE starts at $37,010, the XLE starts at $42,540, and the Limited starts at $47,090.

It’s easy to see why the Toyota Highlander AWD midsize 3-row SUV is so popular with families. It provides a comfortable and smooth ride, a flexible interior, and advanced safety features. And can be the ideal companion for long road trips.

Related: Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition 3-Row SUV Is Built for Adventuring Families

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Highlander AWD for a family road trip so that I could get a taste for how it fit into our lifestyle. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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A web developer, digital marketing consultant, auto journalist, truck expert, photographer and lover of gadgets, Erica is a textbook... More about Erica Mueller