The big three-row crossover segment has been around for more than a decade, but until recently it didn't have many players. The Ford Taurus X (nee Freestyle) was the first, the Flex the second, but neither was a smashing success. Chevrolet's Traverse, along with its corporate siblings, ruled this rugged minivan replacement class for almost 10 years until Hyundai and Kia brought the heat in a big way in 2018. Volkswagen is here now and Mazda launched a big triple for drivers earlier this year, but now it is Toyota's turn. So say hello to the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander.
It shares a name with the long-running Highlander but that's about all. The Grand has almost nothing in common with its namesake. Even the styling of the Grand Highlander is more rugged 4Runner than it is its stylish shorter sibling.
So what is Grand? 96 mm of extra wheelbase and 234 mm more overall length. Cargo space jumps from 453 to 583 L behind the third row, enough for seven carry-on bags. Fold the rearmost seats and you get 1,640L while with all of the seats folded you get 2,761. That leaves it just about four litres behind the class-leading Chevrolet Traverse and well ahead of everything else.
There's more than just rear cargo space, space for people is also up. Six-foot adults can sit in the back row (and a handy step and grab handle helps them get back there. 851 mm of legroom is a rounding error away from a tie with Traverse for best in class.
Third-row legroom is up 140 mm from the standard Highlander
. It's the difference between coach and business, and it will leave anyone back there feeling a lot grander than the smaller ute.
Headroom is up in all three rows thanks to the more upright roofline that makes this crossover look more like a rugged body-on-frame unit. It's enough of a change that the Grand Highlander's third row offers nearly as much as the standard Highlander's front seats. After sitting in both, it's bigger and more comfortable than even Toyota's mammoth Sequoia
and buyers looking at that unit should definitely give this Grand Highlander a look.
Of course, there is one more thing about this model that is Grand, and that's the addition of Toyota's new power-focused hybrid system. It's badged as Hybrid Max, like in the Crown, though Max is more of a name than a specific product. Tundra, Sequoia, and Tacoma all have various Max systems, all of which are quite different.
Grand Highlander Hybrid Max means the same 2.4L turbo-four as in the base model (I'll get back to the engine) but with two hybrid motors. Total system output is an impressive 362 hp, a huge figure for the segment. It makes the Grand Highlander positively quick, with torque steer and everything.
Toyota's usual hybrids use its fancy virtual CVT (called e-cvt it's actually not a belt and pulley transmission). This Max system has a six-speed automatic and that transforms the feel of the system.
It's more direct and it's quick. The Hybrid Max blasts out of intersections and makes quick work of passing maneuvers. We weren't able to test it fully loaded, but it should still perform strongly when you take advantage of the 5,000 lb towing capacity thanks to all of that torque.
Hybrid Max will hit 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds, 2.3 quicker than the normal hybrid and it should still hit 8.8 L/100 km. I saw 8.4 on my winding route that took me up (and back down) the pass between two of Hawaii's Big Island's biggest volcanoes.
It's just a shame that most buyers won't be able to get it. In Canada, Hybrid Max is exclusive to Platinum grade Grand Highlanders. It's the only powertrain on that trim because Toyota told us it expects only its high-end buyers will want the extra performance in Canada.
Not that the rest of the drivelines are lacking. Gas versions get the 2.4L turbo-four without all the electronic extras and it makes 265 hp. That makes the Grand Highlander perfectly adequate in this segment.
Gas models can still tow 5,000 lbs thanks in part to the eight-speed automatic. This transmission feels a bit more sluggish than the six-speed in the Max, but with more gears to pick from that isn't much of a surprise. It's tough to match a six with eight much the same as it's tough to make a V6 feel like a V8.
Fuel mileage for the gas four isn't as good as the Hybrid, with the official numbers at 10 L/100 combined for XLE or a much worse 10.7 combined for Limited. But in a Platinum trim gas (these were US-spec cars) I saw 9.8 L/100 km showing that the official figures should be achievable.
Toyota expects the standard hybrid grade to be the most popular though it is the least powerful with just 245 hp. This is not the quick version of the Grand Highlander, and I dare say that it would be a slug with a full load of people and cargo. But most people won't drive like that most of the time.
It returns 7.0 L/100 km combined, and that's what you should care about. A three-row crossover that can match the fuel economy of a subcompact is an impressive bit of engineering. It can also still tow up to 3,500 lbs, should you need to move small trailers or campers around.
Toyota uses both lithium-ion and the "older" nickel-metal hydride battery chemistries in its hybrids, and this one gets the latter instead of the shiny and fancy former. The reasons make sense, and those are that NimH cells cost less but thanks to continued development still deliver solid power-to-weight ratios. The chemistry also doesn't need some of the rare metals that are tough to find and are better used in full EVs.
So what does the Grand Highlander feel like? In a word, good. I've been critical of Toyota over the last decade for delivering vehicles that felt like the automaker was riding on its reputation rather than delivering solid ergonomics (it was still doing solid reliability and adequate performance) but its last few models and new infotainment system showed that the brand was turning around.
Like the Corolla Cross hybrid and the latest Prius, the Grand Highlander is a return to classic Toyota. Not too flashy but just right. The Goldilocks of the auto world, it is a smooth and comfortable large crossover. The steering is heavily weighted (but ok for parking) and that is the only thing notable about it.
Need to turn into a curve? Fine. Hit a heavy bump? Sure, why not. Throw it into a corner with some extra speed? Well, ok, maybe you shouldn't do that. You're more likely to hear "Are we there already
?" than "Are we there yet?"
Inside, Grand Highlander is well laid-out with controls that are intuitive and, for the most part, easy to use. Yes, it has Toyota's typical button pad on the lower left dash, but these are features you're not going to use often.
There is a center console that can probably swallow a carry-on suitcase and three cup holders for the front seats. Toyota's only miss here is the steering column, which in typical brand fashion doesn't have nearly enough upward tilt or telescope movement for my liking.
Front and centre is the standard 12.3-inch infotainment screen. It uses Toyota's latest software with excellent voice commands and points of interest from the cloud. It has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, too, and standard wireless device charging.
There are loads of USB ports, with one for each passenger and one conveniently located beside the phone shelf in the dash. That one is perfect for front-seat passengers. Below the big screen, Toyota has physical buttons and dials for almost everything. They aren't as fancy as the ones Hyundai is using these days, but they feel more rugged. And, frankly, more durable.
Toyota won't have cloth-seat Grand Highlanders in Canada. Our range starts with the XLE trim that comes with Softex faux leather. It also has heated front seats and steering wheel as standard, a power hatch, and blind spot monitoring.
The company usually holds back Blinds spot monitoring for top trims, including only Toyota Safety Sense for the basic models, so here the basic ones won't be missed. TSS 3.0 gets goodies like pre-collision assist, adaptive cruise (and adaptive regen on the hybrids), and new for this year Proactive Driving Assist.
Proactive Driving Assist is designed to slow the car down if it thinks you're coming into a corner too quickly. Especially when using adaptive cruise. It will also help slow and/or steer to avoid pedestrians and cyclists.
XLE comes as gas ($50,490) or hybrid ($53,790). Next up in the range is Limited, which will also come with both drivelines ($57,690/$61,190). Limited trims add ventilation to the front seats and heat to the second row, both of which are now leather. Limited seats seven instead of eight thanks to captain's chairs in the second row. It will also get parking sensors, ambient lights, and a digital dash.
At the top of the line is Platinum ($65,450) which is, somewhat ironically, finished with bronze accents inside. This one comes only with the Hybrid Max driveline and it adds terrain modes, ventilated second-row seats, a digital mirror, and a head-up display.
Hybrid Grand Highlanders have a little bit of the market to themselves. The crossover is notably larger than the only other hybrid in the segment (Ford's Explorer
) and the similarly-sized Mazda CX-90
is a PHEV.
Price-wise, the Grand Highlander slots into the middle being slightly above the Kia and Hyundai twins and well below most trims of the larger Chevrolet Traverse. Again it offers hybrid power, something none of those competitors do.
Grand Highlander is more of a minivan replacement than ever. Offering nearly the interior space of a Sienna along with a better driving experience and more capability both for off-pavement driving and for towing. With Hybrid and Hybrid Max drivelines, it doesn't even suffer the fuel penalty that normally goes along with something this big.
Toyota says it expects this "long-trip" crossover segment to grow over the coming years. This Grand Highlander should no doubt help the company snag a healthy piece of the pie. The 4Runner styling, hybrid power, and loads of interior space make this a solid choice amidst healthy competition.
2024 Toyota Grand Highlander
: Five-door full-size CUV
: front-engine, all-wheel drive
: 2.5L I4 hybrid 245 hp; 2.4L turbocharged I4; 265 hp; 2.4L turbocharged I4 Hybrid Max 362 hp
: 2.5L (e-CVT), 2.4L Turbo (eight-speed automatic), 2.4L turbo hybrid (six-speed automatic).
FUEL ECONOMY CITY/HIGHWAY/COMBINED
: XLE Gas 11.2/8.6/10.0 L/100 km; XLE Hybrid 6.6/7.4/7.0l; Hybrid Max 9.0/8.6/8.8
: 583 L behind rear seat, 1,640L with rear seats folded, 2,761 with all seats folded
: 3,500 lbs (2.5 hybrid); 5,000 lbs (2.4T, Hybrid Max)
: XLE $50,490, Hybrid $53,790; Limited $54,690, Hybrid Max $61,190; Platinum $65,450