Toyota Highlander: Chronicling the Changes

Revised: October 16, 2023

The Toyota Highlander is a midsize, three-row crossover utility vehicle with room for seven or eight. Launched in 2001 as a five-passenger SUV model, the Highlander eventually transitioned to the people mover it is today. It remains a top seller in a highly competitive segment.

Toyota logo

Chronicling the Changes

2024 – Toyota adds a Nightshade Edition, available on the LE and XLE grades.

2023 – The 2023 Highlander gas models feature a new 265-horsepower, 2.4-liter turbocharged engine, delivering 310 pound-feet of torque. This new engine also significantly reduces emissions and is equipped for towing up to 5,000 pounds. Larger multi-media screens are also included.

2022 – The 2022 Highlander offers no significant changes. Check out our review here.

2021 – After a full redesign, the 2021 model is unchanged. A sporty XSE grade joins the model range.

2020 – Fully redesigned to launch this model’s fourth generation. The 2020 Highlander is slightly larger than before, with the additional room benefiting the cargo compartment. A sharper style, new touchscreen displays, and smartphone compatibility are among the highlights.

Fourth-Generation Toyota Highlander

The fourth-generation Toyota Highlander
The fourth-generation Toyota Highlander

2019 – Light styling updates accompany this year’s model.

2018 – Following significant updates the previous year, the 2018 model is unchanged.

2017 — The 2017 Highlander benefits from several updates, including a new 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. A refreshed exterior, expanded standard driver-assist features, and an available start-stop system round out the top changes.

2016 — A towing package is now standard on all V6 models.

2015 — The 2015 Highlander offers no major changes.

2014 — The third-generation Toyota Highlander debuts, a larger model with room for eight. Four grades, LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited, are available. Available safety features include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, frontal collision warning, and automatic braking.

Third-Generation Toyota Highlander

The third-generation Toyota Highlander
The third-generation Toyota Highlander

2013 — A new Plus grade debuts.

2012 — The 2012 Highlander offers no major changes.

2011 — A refreshed Highlander debuts with updated front and rear ends as well as equipment changes.

2010 — Light equipment changes mark the 2010 Highlander, including an available rearview camera on some models.

2009 — The 2009 Highlander gains a base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine on front-wheel drive models only. This engine comes paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

2008 — An all-new Highlander debuts, coming in larger than the outgoing model. Base, Sport, and Limited grades along with three rows of seating for seven, full power accessories, and a CD audio system with an auxiliary input jack are among the top features found in the 2008 Highlander. A 3.5-liter V6 is the only engine choice and comes paired with a five-speed automatic transmission.

Second-Generation Toyota Highlander

The second-generation Toyota Highlander
The second-generation Toyota Highlander

2007 — Updates for 2007 include new headlights, front airbags and side-curtain airbags.

2006 — The 2006 Highlander offers no major changes. A Highlander Hybrid rolls out.

2005 — New features for 2005 include keyless entry, a roof rack with cross bars, and a cargo department cover.

2004 — For 2004, Toyota replaces the Highlander’s original V6 with a new engine displacing at 3.3 liters. Electronic stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system come standard. Other changes include updated exterior styling, a refreshed instrument panel, and a slight boost in power for the four-cylinder engine. A third-row seating option debuts.

2003 — The 2003 Highlander offers no major changes.

2002 — For its second model year, the 2002 Highlander is unchanged.

2001 — The first-ever Toyota Highlander debuts, a midsize five-passenger SUV with available all-wheel drive. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard; an optional 3.0-liter V6 powers some models. Both engines come paired with a four-speed automatic transmission with a lockup converter.

First-Generation Toyota Highlander

The first-generation Toyota Highlander
The first-generation Toyota Highlander

Toyota Highlander Considerations

Toyota offers a one-two punch in the family-carrying segment with the Highlander and the Toyota Sienna minivan. Both models are worth exploring for anyone needing exceptional passenger room and utility.

The three-row midsize segment contains numerous competitors for consideration. These models include the Chevrolet Traverse, Hyundai Palisade, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Honda Pilot, and the Ford Explorer. Also, the Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Dodge Durango, Subaru Ascent, Buick Enclave, Volkswagen Atlas, and the GMC Acadia.

See AlsoIntroducing the Fourth-Generation Toyota Highlander

Photo Attribution

Image by SsmIntrigue – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia.

Image by Kevauto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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