- The Grand Highlander is a more spacious version of the Highlander.
- It brings more cargo capacity and an adult-suitable third row.
- Despite its mass, it's composed on the road.
Driven: The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Proves Bigger Is Better
Grander than the Highlander in many ways
The Toyota Highlander is one of the most popular midsize three-row SUVs on the market, but two things prevent it from being an absolute must-have: a cramped third row and meager cargo space behind the back seat. But don't despair just yet, large Toyota families, as the 2024 Grand Highlander is here to be a solution to both drawbacks.
The new Grand Highlander is much more than just a tweaked version of the standard Highlander. It's really a stand-alone model to the extent that Toyota considered giving it an entirely different name. This is a rival for the Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas with accommodation for seven or even eight full-sized people, and at least some space for their luggage.
Three powertrains in the mix
The 2024 Grand Highlander is available with three powertrains, one of which doesn't appear in the standard Highlander at all. The base engine is a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that produces a stout 265 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. It debuted on the Highlander last year as a replacement for the previous V6, with the aim of giving the Toyota a bump in fuel efficiency while also offering plenty of power on tap. It's teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission and Toyota expects this version to account for around 70% of sales.
There's also the Grand Highlander Hybrid. As on the regular Highlander, it pairs a non-turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor hybrid system and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a combined 245 hp. Both the standard engine and the hybrid are available with front- or all-wheel drive.
Up until now, buyers have had to choose between performance and efficiency. The Grand Highlander answers "why not both?" with the addition of the new Hybrid Max powertrain. This AWD model matches the turbocharged engine with a different hybrid system and a more traditional six-speed automatic in place of the CVT. Total output is listed at 362 hp, and Toyota says the Grand Highlander with this combo can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. For reference, the Highlander Hybrid is nearly 2 seconds slower.
How does the Grand Highlander drive?
The straight answer is: sensibly. Toyota has a carefully honed understanding of the needs of American families and the Grand Highlander follows a familiar formula. It's an easy, composed drive with well-judged steering and pleasingly consistent braking. Body roll is also well contained on twistier terrain. It doesn't have any sporting pretensions but nor is it likely to induce complaints from the back seats.
So far, we've only been able to drive the regular Grand Highlander and the Hybrid Max version. The former is a little sluggish even when it's not fully laden. This means it will have to be worked hard on freeway ramps, for example, which will have a negative impact on fuel consumption. The Hybrid Max carries a significant premium over the gas alternative ($10,970) but it's certainly a more pleasurable companion, with the easy mid-range push feeling ideally suited to a vehicle of this type.
Handling its weight
The Grand Highlander does a good job of managing its considerable bulk. The suspension successfully suppresses surface imperfections without the floaty feeling that can make rear passengers queasy. Wind and road noise are also notable by their absence, with only the somewhat strained vocals from the standard gas engine disturbing the quiet ambience.
All-round visibility is also impressive with the driver enjoying a commanding position. Passengers in the third row of seats benefit from a slightly raised seating position that allows them to look over the top of the middle-row occupants, helping to avoid the claustrophobic feeling that some three-row SUVs can induce. That Toyota has achieved this while still maintaining sufficient headroom for adults is impressive.
More room, and a sizable third row
The Grand Highlander's brief was to provide enough space for seven or even eight passengers and thus wrestle back the customers that Toyota has been losing to Kia and Hyundai. Compared with the standard Highlander, third-row legroom grows by 5.5 inches, and there's an extra inch of headroom, too. In person, the difference between non-Grand and Grand Highlanders is significant. While the back row is pretty much kids-only in the standard Highlander, 6-foot adults will have no problem relaxing in the Grand Highlander's third row, even if their knees will feel a little close to their chest. Wide rear door apertures also help access to the third row. Although we've yet to compare the two side by side, the Toyota feels just as accommodating as the rival Telluride.
The Grand Highlander's cockpit is distinctive from the regular Highlander's but follows familiar Toyota trends. There's a 12.3-inch touchscreen with the latest Toyota interface and a nice assortment of physical controls, with volume, climate and drive mode functions represented with knobs that require very little attention to operate effectively. As you'd expect from a family-oriented Toyota, the cabin is also littered with cupholders and USB-C charging points to help keep everyone entertained.
In the best Toyota tradition, it's practical and sensible, but some of the plastics feel a little cheap and the overall ambience is that of a mass-market alternative. The Kia Telluride does a more convincing job of offering a pseudo-luxury vibe for mainstream money.
User-friendly infotainment and other tech
Toyota's touchscreen infotainment systems have improved immeasurably in recent times. The system is intuitive and user-friendly, but it also supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you'd rather Silicon Valley take care of your entertainment, calls and navigation.
There's also a pleasing array of electronic driver assist systems to help protect you on the move. Standard on every model is Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 that includes such niceties as automatic cruise control and high beams to help reduce stress and fatigue on longer journeys. A blind-spot warning system is also a great feature on such a large vehicle.
The numbers on cargo space and towing
Cargo capacity behind the third row increases from 16.0 cubic feet to 20.6 cubes compared with the standard Highlander. That's a useful increase on paper, though keep in mind that the smaller Toyota RAV4 still has almost twice the trunk capacity. It's fine for a weekend away or shopping expeditions, but if seven people are going on a week's vacation, you'll need a roofbox ... or maybe just a smaller family. Fold down the third row and you'll have 57.9 cubes to work with, which is considerably more than the Honda Pilot's 48.5 cubic feet.
Interior storage options are plentiful and the tablet holders are a nice touch. Toyota has clearly put plenty of thought into how American families will actually use their SUV, especially on a road trip.
The Grand Highlander's maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, a little less than the Telluride's 5,500 pounds.
Hybrid fuel economy is a winner
This is really the Grand Highlander's trump card, but only if you choose one of the hybrid options. Toyota estimates that the Hybrid with either front- or all-wheel drive will get 34 mpg in combined city/highway driving, which is a big improvement on the 24 mpg of the equivalent gas version. The Hybrid Max achieves an estimated 27 mpg combined, which is still impressive given its performance. It's also a notable improvement on the rival Telluride (21 mpg combined), which has a thirsty V6.
The Grand Highlander is a classic Toyota SUV. Hybrid options aside, there's little here that's truly a standout, but it's both well conceived and executed. Anyone shopping for the standard Highlander but bemoaning its third-row and luggage capacity will find much to like about the Grand Highlander. But we'll have to wait until it's subjected to a full Edmunds test to discover whether this thoroughness of execution is enough for it to topple the Kia Telluride as our favorite midsize three-row SUV.