What Is Power (PWR) Mode In Toyota Highlander? Explained

If you own one of the latest Toyota Highlanders, then I’m sure you are not new to the drive modes. These are preset driving instructions designed to alter the driving experience depending on the driver’s current driving condition and preference. The Toyota Highlander offers three drive modes, these are; Sport, ECO, and Normal. For the hybrid variants, you’ll see something slightly different. 

Instead of the three drive modes above, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid offers four preset drive modes. These are; Normal, EV, ECO, and Power. Normal is the default driving mode and efficiently balances battery and engine to deliver the best performance. EV and ECO modes equally aim for maximum fuel efficiency. The power mode is different from the other three. 

On one hand, it can be very useful and on the other hand, you may not want to use it all the time. Before I explain my reasons for saying this, let’s talk about the power mode. 

What is the power mode on Toyota?

The power mode is one of the drive modes designed for the Toyota Highlander Hybrid variants. Unlike other modes, the power mode ensures one thing: faster and smoother acceleration. That is to say, in this mode, your vehicle response time is faster, and you don’t have to push the accelerator down (pedal to the metal) to get it up to speed. 

While other driving modes are significantly different from the power mode, many drivers are usually confused about the difference between the normal driving mode and the power mode. But apart from being more responsive, the power mode is not as fuel efficient as the normal mode. I’ll talk more about this later. 

How does the power mode work?

When in normal mode, the vehicle switches between the battery and the ICE for maximum fuel efficiency. That is to say, sometimes, the vehicle will be powered by the engine (when driving at cruising speeds), and at other times, power will come from the electric motor (when driving at low speeds). Recall that this feature is only available in the hybrid with a gasoline engine and an electric motor. 

As a result, the vehicle can be powered by either one. When you flip the power mode switch on, you may not notice any difference at first. But inside the hood, something is going on. Instead of switching between the gasoline engine and the electric motor, the power mode ensures that your vehicle’s engine stays on while you drive. So there is no switching between the engine and electric motor, even when the vehicle is decelerating (usually, the electric motor will kick in at this point). 

Because of this, the vehicle feels more responsive. Also, the ECU (the vehicle’s electronic control unit) optimizes the accelerator pedal, giving it more juice. When this happens, you will notice that your vehicle will reach its full power when the accelerator is barely halfway down. Hence the pedal-to-metal reference I made earlier. 

When and where should you use the power mode?

This depends on the driver and the driving conditions. You can decide to drive all day using the power mode or reserve it for specific conditions when additional acceleration is needed to get the vehicle moving. One example of such conditions is driving on snow (for more stability), winding mountain roads, going from in-city driving to highway driving, or towing. 

Towing is perhaps an ideal situation where you should apply the power mode. While most people won’t like the idea of using their trendy-looking highlander as a tow truck, it is good to know that if such a need arises, your vehicle can get the job done. In the power mode, the Toyota Highlander’s 243 horsepower engine (and 186 ft-lb torque) is available at your disposal.

Related Toyota Highlander guide: 5 Toyota Highlander Off-Road Mods You Should Have (With Pictures)

How do you turn on the power mode?

Activating the power mode on your Toyota Highlander is as easy as flipping on a switch. However, the location of the switch will depend on which Toyota Highlander model you own. You can find it near the radio, beside the shift, or on the steering wheel. In some models, you may not see a dedicated power mode button. 

Instead, you get a drive mode button on the shifter’s right side. In these newer models, the power mode is hidden in a console menu that is accessible by first pressing the DRIVE MODE button. After doing this, you will be greeted with several drive mode options on the dashboard. Locate the power mode option and select it. That is all. 

One caveat, though, turning off your vehicle resets the power mode. So you will need to review the activation process once you restart your vehicle. Also, you can not combine two modes – like power and ECO modes at once. Activating any other drive mode will deactivate the power mode and vice versa. 

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What are the CONS of always driving in Power Mode?  

A lot goes into delivering the powerful response you get from your Toyota Highlander when in Power Mode. But if you intend to always drive in the power mode, there are some compromises you must be willing to make. The power mode is made possible because of two things: the engine is “always on” to provide the instant acceleration needed. Secondly, the ECU optimes power to make the accelerator pedal more responsive. The issue isn’t the optimized power but the constant engine revving. 

In an internal combustion engine, more power means that more fuel must be injected into the combustion chamber. A higher fuel-to-air mix is referred to as a rich mix. While burning a rich mix may not be detrimental to the engine, it is bad for fuel economy and the environment. Rocketing gas prices and the looming recession spells doom for owners of gasoline engines (which is why the hybrid is a good compromise). 

If the economy doesn’t give you any reason to worry, then the environment should. Of the four drive modes found in the Toyota Highlander, the Power Mode gives up the most emission. EV mode gives off zero emissions because the vehicle runs solely on battery power. ECO and Normal modes are on par in terms of emissions, while the Power mode ranks highest. 

What are the advantages of using Power Mode?

The Power mode packs a punch, and although the CONs seem to outweigh the PROs, there are some advantages to using the Power mode. If you have been following me so far, you must have spotted some advantages, but if not, let me reiterate. Using the power mode:

  • Unlocks the full power of your Toyota highlander
  • It makes it feel more responsive and steady in the hand
  • It comes in handy when navigating rough terrains (like mountain roads) where that extra power is needed
  • Helps when towing

Is the Toyota Highlander faster in Power mode?

There is no doubt that when in power mode, the Toyota Highlander has more torque which makes it ideal for towing. But many users have asked the question, “does power mode increase the speed of the vehicle?”. Technically speaking, it shouldn’t. The Toyota Highlander is not a sports car. However, it has a decent speed, and you can reach this speed using any of the Four drive modes. The difference is in how fast you can attain that speed. This is where acceleration comes in. In power mode, acceleration is faster than, say, the ECO mode, which may give the impression that the vehicle is faster. 

What are some common problems with the Power mode in Toyota highlander?

The power mode is supposed to be deactivated when you turn the car off. But some drivers have reported that the vehicle automatically enters power mode when restarting the car. There are two reasons why this might happen.  First, the power mode button is broken, creating a connection that signals the ECU to turn on the power mode. If this is the case, you would have to get the button replaced. If you are having a similar experience with a model that uses a digital menu (not a physical button), the culprit is most likely a software glitch. 

Resetting the ECU may solve the problem, but you will need to recalibrate the brake system after doing so. Other drivers also reported that the power mode will not turn on after pressing the button, and a few complained about a delay in acceleration when in power mode. There are several reasons why this will happen. For instance, a faulty power switch, problems with the throttle, or the ECU require a visit to the mechanic if a simple reset fails to solve the problem. 


The Toyota Highlander is feature-packed to give you the best driving experience possible. In this article, I have talked in-depth about one of the many features of the Highlander, the power (PWR) mode. To recap, it is one of four drive modes found in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Most people will prefer to always drive in power mode because it delivers the most optimized driving experience. This isn’t a bad idea, but there are a few points to note, as discussed in the article. Overall, the power mode is a nifty feature to have in the Toyota Highlander.