Toyota Highlander Trim Comparison: XLE vs Limited

Toyota Highlander XLE vs Toyota Highlander LimitedArguably, the most significant change that the Toyota Highlander has undergone since its introduction some 22 years ago has been its evolution to a lineup that wholly embraces the 4-cylinder engine, including hybrid variants.

Of the available trims, the Toyota Highlander XLE is the most popular. Meanwhile, the upmarket Limited easily makes a good case for itself without busting the budget. So, I decided to test both trims to see the difference.

Does it make sense to stay with the XLE crowd, or can you make a better choice by stepping up to the Limited?

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Toyota Highlander XLE Trim vs Limited Comparison

SpecificationsToyota Highlander XLEToyota Highlander Limited
Length / Width / Height
194.9 / 76 / 68.1 in.
194.9 / 76 / 68.1 in.
Curb Weight (FWD)
4,199 lbs.
4,265 lbs.
Max. Cargo Volume
84.3 cu. ft.
84.3 cu. ft.
Max. Payload
Max Towing
5000 lbs.
3500 lbs. (Hybrid)
5000 lbs.
3500 lbs. (Hybrid)
Net Horsepower
265 HP - 2.4L I4 Turbo
243 HP Net - Hybrid System
265 HP - 2.4L I4 Turbo
243 HP Net - Hybrid System
Fuel Economy
City / Hwy.
22 / 29 FWD; 21 / 28 AWD
36 / 35 FWD; 35 / 35 AWD (Hyb.)
22 / 29 FWD; 21 / 28 AWD
36 / 35 FWD; 35 / 35 AWD (Hyb.)

Tale of the Tape and Beyond

Toyota-Highlander-XLE-Tale-of-the-Tape-and-BeyondAt first glance, a Highlander XLE exterior looks deceivingly like the Limited’s. Not only are they the same size, but both offer the same exterior color choices, and both feature silver finish roof rails.

When I looked closer though and I noticed that the black painted grille on the XLE gets a silver painted surround while the Limited’s is chrome plated. Plus, the black rear lower bumper on the XLE is clearly different than the dark grey metallic one on the Limited.

If you’re especially observant, you might notice the 18-inch alloy wheels vs. the 20-inch alloy wheels. But, if you still have any doubts, click the key fob to unlock the vehicle. If it’s the Limited, you’ll notice puddle lights with the Highlander logo. That’s not featured on the XLE.

This all may sound like window dressing and somewhat trivial, but it points to a quality of experience that has more than a simply posh, feel-good value. For example, the Limited provides convenience features such as a hands-free height-adjustable power liftgate that will come in handy the next time you approach the vehicle with an arm full of groceries. Unless, of course, you prefer to fumble for the key in your pocket or handbag while jostling the eggs and bread you just bought.

Other less obvious step-up exterior features with the Limited include power folding exterior mirrors and daytime running lights that use LED strip lighting. Both trims in this comparison get LED fog lights but the Limited features high-output ones. Among the few premium equivalencies, though, is a moonroof with a sunshade. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds in all Highlander trims except the hybrid editions, which manage 3,500 pounds.

The Takeaway: When looking at the specification figures you might not find many differences between the Highlander XLE and Limited, but the 66-pound difference in curb weight speaks to a ton of convenience.

Cabin Quality and Design

Toyota-Highlander-Limited-Cabin-Quality-and-DesignThree-row seating has long been a Highlander staple and underscores its inherent family-friendly nature. Standard seating for either the XLE or the Limited is seven with second-row captain’s chairs and a three-seat third row, but a no-cost 2nd-row bench is offered as an option to increase passenger capacity to eight.

In each of these trims, cabin climate control extends through all three rows, and front bucket seats feature 10-way power adjustments, including lumbar support for the driver and 8-way power adjustments for the front passenger. First and second-row seating is roomy and comfortable, but the third row is a bit cramped even though entry and exit is easy. Meanwhile, cargo volume is ample with 2nd- and 3rd-row seats folded out of the way, topping out at 84.3 cubic feet. With just the 3rd-row seats folded, there’s 48.4 cubic feet available.

Where the XLE and Limited part company is in the level of premium niceties. The XLE gets leatherette seating material while the Limited gets leather, and it’s heated fronts seats versus heated and ventilated ones. Plus, the Limited provides two memorized driver settings and its headrests can be adjusted in multiple directions instead of just up and down.

All Highlanders enjoy the convenience of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but that's where I saw the similarities end. The Limited comes with a 12.3-inch infotainment display and premium JBL audio with eleven speakers plus a subwoofer to manage and enjoy your listening. Meanwhile the XLE gets an 8-inch display with standard 6-speaker audio - the larger display and premium audio is a $735 option.

In addition, the Limited gets a heated steering wheel, and a 12.3-inch instrument cluster display with compass (versus a 7-inch one minus compass). Also, the Limited also gets s 120V AC outlet (1500W) located on the bottom rear of the center console, a cargo area tonneau cover and front doorsill metal scuff plate. If you’re wanting a panoramic view monitor, it’s available as an option, but in the Limited.

Finally, there’s the difference in ambiance. The XLE gets painted door and dashboard trim, whereas the Limited enjoys an ornamental dash and faux wood door trim with ambient interior lighting. Both trims benefit from Toyota’s efforts to minimize noise in the cabin, but more so with the Limited, which features acoustic noise-reducing front side windows.

The Takeaway: The XLE is a fine trim that step-ups from the base L and LE with noteworthy features such as roof rails, a moonroof and heated front seats. Even so, if comfort and convenience are at the top of one’s list of priorities, the Limited goes the distance to satisfy those needs offering a plush and quieter experience that includes leather seating, a refined audio system and better cabin noise reduction.

Performance & Powertrains

Toyota-Highlander-Limited-Performance-&-PowertrainsFor the 2023 model year, Toyota dropped the 3.5-liter V6 engine in favor of a more efficient turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 265 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. All gasoline-only trims come equipped with this engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Hybrid models continue to employ a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine coupled with two electric motors in front-wheel drive editions or three motors in the all-wheel drive configuration. Also, a continuously variable transmission is standard for the hybrids. Net hybrid output is 243 horsepower, 186 horsepower of which comes from the gasoline engine.

If one is looking for performance differences between the XLE and Limited, one needs to consider the all-wheel drive versions. There the Limited gets a better grip on things by actively distributing torque between left and right rear wheels (dynamic torque vectoring). Plus, the system automatically disengages from the rear wheels when cruising steadily to reduce fuel consumption. All-wheel drive in the XLE is a bit less sophisticated, routing 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels when wheel slip is detected.

Drive Mode Select (Eco, Normal, Sport) plus Snow Mode functions come standard in gasoline-only trims. Optionally, they offer Multi-Terrain Select that enables drive modes for road conditions such as mud/sand and rock/dirt.

The Highlander hybrids maximize fuel economy but reduce towing capability to 3500 pounds. In addition to standard gas/electric hybrid performance, AWD hybrids utilize a rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels as needed. Drive Mode Select (Eco, Normal, Sport, EV) is standard while a Trail mode is optional.

(Editor’s note: Of all the Highlander gasoline-only trims, only the XSE offers a notable performance variance with its sport-tuned suspension)

The Takeaway: If anything, important performance differences between the gasoline-only Highlander XLE and Limited exist solely in the AWD equipped models with the Limited getting the benefit of dynamic torque vectoring. In the AWD hybrids, there’s slightly lower highway fuel economy in the Limited, likely due to additional weight and larger tires.

Safety Equipment and Scores

Toyota-Highlander-Limited-Safety-Equipment-and-ScoresThe Highlander gets an advanced Safety Sense 2.5+ system that includes intersection support to help avoid collisions when making turns and provides emergency steering assist to stabilize the vehicle when suddenly veering around obstacles, pedestrians, or bicyclists. Also, the vehicle can take corrective action if the driver doesn’t respond to alerts when drifting out of a lane. Trailer Sway Control is standard, too.

Plus, there are the comprehensive full-speed dynamic radar cruise control and road sign assist systems. Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are provided at the LE grade and higher.

I noticed the XLE and Limited deviate in their safety features with the depth of their driver assistance. For example, in the Limited, the driver can park a bit more easily courtesy of front and rear parking assist with automatic braking, plus there’s an automatic tilt mirror function on the passenger side for curb view when in reverse. In addition, the backup camera integrates dynamic gridlines instead of merely a projected path.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Highlander a Top Safety Pick Plus designation, its highest recommendation.

The Takeaway: What shakes out when analyzing safety features on the XLE and Limited is the way in which the more premium sensibilities of the Limited provide the driver with more piece of mind particularly in high-incidence collision situations such as parking and backing up.

Current Toyota Highlander Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2023ToyotaHighlander2.99%$559/month for 36 months, $3,999 due at signing1/2/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals here.

So, Which Highlander Trim Is Better, the XLE or Limited?

In my opinion, if you’re willing to pay the premium price, the Limited is better. It offers a superior ambiance, more comfort, and a bit more safety technology.

Overall, though, it’s really a close call. Both provide a wealth of convenience in a versatile three-row family vehicle that’s safe and efficient.

Frequently Asked Questions

Would it make better financial sense to buy the Highlander XLE or the Limited?

That depends on what you’re looking for in a three-row family vehicle. If it comes down to a better infotainment and audio system, then getting the XLE with the optional upgrade to the 12.3-inch display and JBL audio would be a good call and save thousands over the Limited. On the other hand, if you’re inclined to prefer niceties such as leather seating and a quieter interior, as well as the better audio and a bit more safety tech, then the Limited certainly will not give you any remorse.

Why has Toyota retired the V6 engine?

Stricter emission standards forced Toyota’s hand on this, although the automaker had already been moving in this direction. Environmentally, the new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine reduces harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and non-methane organic gas (NMOG) emissions by more than 50 percent according to Toyota.