The Toyota Highlander started life as a smaller 5-passenger midsize crossover in 2000 and has since grown nearly ten inches in length and seven inches in width while maintaining its height. Despite its growth in size, it never quite maximized the interior space needed in a third row. Rather than re-working the current Highlander, Toyota decided to introduce an all-new bigger model called the Grand Highlander at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show. The new Grand Highlander stretches 6.5" longer, grows 2.3" wider, and stands 2" taller than the current Highlander. The larger dimensions add to its interior space by providing a significant amount of extra space in the third row.
It is available in three powertrains across three grades: a 265 horsepower 2.4L turbo gas engine, an efficient 243 horsepower 2.5L hybrid and the ultimate performance-seeking, 362 horsepower Hybrid MAX. Trim grades include XLE, Limited, and Platinum. Either front or all-wheel drive is available depending on your combination choice. The 2024 Grand Highlander will have a starting MSRP of $43,070 for the gas engine models, $44,670 for the hybrid and $54,040 for the Hybrid MAX. Competition includes vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, and Volkswagen Atlas. I spent a week in the Platinum AWD Hybrid Max model that checked in at $61,705 and here's what stood out. Exterior Style
The Grand Highlander gets a differentiated look from the Highlander with sharper edges, larger wheels, and different proportions. I think it looks more like a super-sized RAV4 than the Highlander. It has a clean, contemporary look that generally plays it safe with design and aligns with the rest of the Toyota lineup. Up front it has a large trapezoidal grille / front fascia with slim LED headlights. It's aggressive yet sophisticated in its style. The bumper design varies on the Hybrid Max model from other trims. From the side you'll notice large, flattened fenders with body cladding trim that outlines the bottom of the entire vehicle. It has a traditional greenhouse with a high beltline, big windows, and chunky door handles. Around back is where I get RAV4 vibe with its wide, squared off design that utilizes LED tail lights, a large brake light across the roof, Grand Highlander badging across the center and a dual exhaust. Available wheel sizes range from 18" (XLE) to 20" (Limited or Platinum). It comes with a rich color palette of earthy tones including new colors such as Storm Cloud (seen on my test model), Coastal Cream, and Blueprint. Overall styling is pretty vanilla and lacks some personality found in competitors. Most will find it satisfying, but it blends in more than it stands out.Power / Performance
I spent time in the top end Hybrid Max equipped with a 2.4L turbo 4-cylinder that churns out 362 horsepower with 400-pound feet of torque mated to a 6-speed automatic. Toyota states this is the most powerful midsize SUV they've ever built. It's good for a 0-60 MPH time of 6.3 seconds, which is impressive for a large, heavy SUV such as this. The power also gives it the capability to tow up to 5,000 pounds. It offers more than enough power for merging on the highway, passing other vehicles, and zipping around town. It feels quick and is much more fun than many SUVs in this class. The transition between the electric motors and gas is smooth and unnoticeable for the most part.
All three powertrains come with three Drive Modes (Sport, Eco, Normal) to make driving more engaging - while Multi-Terrain Select with three modes (Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, Snow) is offered on the gas AWD and Hybrid MAX powertrains for even more on and off-road capability. Modes can easily be selected via buttons in the center console. In an area like the Midwest, these all come in handy for the varying types of roads and road conditions. Having the chance to experience the Grand Highlander in snowy weather, it proved more than capable of handling inclement weather conditions. The full-time electronic AWD on the Hybrid MAX delivers power to the front and rear wheels via a front-mounted hybrid motor and a rear-mounted, eAxle electric motor. This new AWD system enhances the drive force of the rear wheels and provides the feel of rear-wheel-drive maneuverability, straight line stability and responsive acceleration. It requires no effort from the driver, adding to the peace of mind while driving.
Despite its size and 5,000-lb weight, the Grand Highlander handles itself well around corners. There is some body lean, but it still feels composed and well grounded. It doesn't feel quite as agile as competitors from Mazda or Kia, but it does deliver a more refined ride focused on comfort. It maintains its composure as it glides over road imperfections and keeps road noise to a minimum on the highway. Overall, it makes for an easy to drive family hauler that will satisfy around town and even more so for a long road trip. Fuel Economy
When it arrived with a full 17.2-gallon fuel tank, it offered a range of around 460 miles. Surprisingly, the Hybrid Max is the least efficient model with EPA estimates of 26/27/27 MPG city/highway/combined; and after a week of suburban driving, I averaged 26 MPG. The most efficient Grand Highlander will be the 2.5L FWD hybrid model which is rated at 37/34/36 MPG city/highway/combined. Overall numbers are good for the class beating many competitors. VW Atlas gets 23 MPG combined, Kia Telluride at 24 MPG, Honda Pilot at 23 MPG, and Ford Explorer at 24 MPG.Interior
Coming from a household with three kids, interior space was at the top of our list when searching for a family SUV. As much as I've always liked the Toyota Highlander, it always fell significantly short on interior space compared to others. Thankfully, the new Grand Highlander is now a worthy competitor when it comes to the inside. Riding on a longer wheelbase and wider track give it more room to work with. The interior feels open and spacious from front to back. An available panoramic glass roof adds to that open feel by letting in plenty of natural light.
Working in reverse and starting in the third row, it's finally suitable for passengers regularly and no longer a penalty box. Accessing the third row is easy thanks to sliding seats and a lowered floor that extends beyond the second row. There are seat belts for three in the third row making it either a seven or eight passenger vehicle if needed. Also for third row passengers are two left/right individual USB ports, smartphone/tablet storage space, and two cup & bottle holders.
Second row seats can be had as either captain's chairs or as a bench seat. There are two complete sets of LATCH connectors for the outboard seats and a tether anchor for the second-row middle seat in the bench version. If not used by a car seat, these seats are comfortable with plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room. As expected, the front seats offer the most space for the driver and passenger with comfortable seating positions and the flexibility to adjust to various size adults. Synthetic leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat and an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat come standard. A 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated and ventilated front seats and heated second-row seats are available. Exclusively in the Hybrid Max are Ultrasuede and leather trimmed seats with bronze-colored accents throughout the cabin adding to the comfort and enhancing the luxurious vibe.
From a functionality perspective it offers plenty of cupholders (13) including the ability to hold larger water bottles and offers various storage spaces ideal for long trips. One thing that carries over from the standard Highlander is the tray design in front of the passenger seat. It offers a great space for passengers to utilize for sunglasses, phones, or keys. It gives purpose to an otherwise useless area. There are USB ports at every seat for device charging among other amenities that make this a great family vehicle. Also included are two power outlets with a combined 1500 watts of power. These come in especially handy for families on the go. With a focus on comfort, functionality and better space management Toyota finally has an SUV alternative to the spacious Sienna minivan.Technology
Hopping inside, one of the first things you'll notice is a massive 12.3" touchscreen at the center of the dash. With its size and placement, it's like the fireplace focal point in a living room. It utilizes Toyota's latest multimedia system that is intuitive and easy to read. It integrates wirelessly with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, offers an intelligent assistant, cloud-based navigation, Wi-Fi connectability, and the ability to turn into an AT&T Hotspot (with subscription). Toyota also includes physical buttons and knobs for audio and climate controls. As with all vehicles equipped with Toyota Audio Multimedia, Grand Highlander drivers will have the ability to download Over-the-Air updates, augmenting the multimedia experience. Behind the steering wheel is a 7" digital gauge cluster with the ability to personalize the display. Also available is a head-up display on the windshield and a digital rearview mirror with HomeLink. Connected to a camera in the rear, the digital rearview mirror casts a clear, wide view of what is behind you. You can zoom in, zoom out, and adjust to give you a better perspective. At night it will brighten dark scenes and reduce glare from headlights.
For the audiophile, Grand Highlander offers an available JBL Premium Audio system with 11 speakers, creating a mobile concert from any music genre. Standard on the Limited and Platinum grades, with the use of Clari-Fi technology, the system is also able to breathe life into compressed digital music formats, enhancing the audio experience.
Another great tech feature is the panoramic view monitor in the center display. It provides a full picture of your surroundings thanks to four different cameras around the vehicle. When parked and using the moving view setting, it will even create a virtual view from above to give you a better view of what's surrounding you. The cameras and guidelines make it much easier to park and navigate your vehicle's positioning. Cargo Space
The Grand Highlander has an impressive amount of cargo space among competitors. There is 21 cubic feet of space behind the third row, 58 cubic feet with the third row folded flat, and 98 cubic feet with both rows folded down. The third row has a 60/40 split to further offer versatility in space usage and the seats all fold completely flat. An available hands-free power liftgate also proves useful when your hands are full, and the large tailgate opening makes it easy to load or unload. Safety
The 2024 Grand Highlander will come standard with the latest Toyota Safety Sense generation, TSS 3.0. The TSS 3.0 system adds the new Proactive Driving Assist system. When system operating conditions are met, using the vehicle's camera and radar, this system provides gentle braking into curves or gentle braking and/or steering to help support driving tasks such as distance control between a preceding vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Proactive Driving Assist is not a substitute for the Pre-Collision System and operates in different circumstances.
Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 also includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, road sign assist, automatic high beams, and more.
Other available features include traffic jam assist which eases the burden of stop-and-go driving by providing control of the Grand Highlander's steering, braking, and acceleration at speeds under 25 MPH. Also available are blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and front & rear parking assist with automatic braking. Final Statement
The Grand Highlander is a welcomed vehicle into the Toyota lineup that fills a void left for those wanting to abandon the minivan life, but still wanting space and utility. It offers a blend of styling elements on other models for a sophisticated, but not over-the-top exterior look. Inside it maximizes space for comfort and convenience from front to back. With three available powertrains, buyers can choose their preference from fuel economy to overall power. It is refined on the road and easy to drive. It's highly worth a test drive for anyone in the market for a 3-row crossover and is a worthy competitor to segment leaders like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade.
Pros: Interior passenger space, cargo space, standard safety features, Hybrid Max power
Cons: Vanilla styling, average handling, high price
Test Vehicle: 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander
Hybrid MAX 2.4L turbo 4-cylinder* Exterior Color:
Storm Cloud* Interior:
Portobello Ultrasuede* Notable Options:
Tow Hitch ($849), logo side puddle lamps ($175), dash cam ($499), mudguards ($149), door edge guards ($155)* Price as tested:
$61,705 (with destination & delivery)