September 28, 2023

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander lives bigger

You’d think Toyota would have figured out the sport-utility formula long ago, given the many popular models. But there’s been a gaping hole in Toyota’s SUV lineup for some time now, with the step up from the Highlander crossover to the body-on-frame Sequoia being particularly significant.

While it’s a wildly popular car (over 3.3 million units sold to date), the Highlander’s mid-tier isn’t exactly world-famous, and its puny third-row is no match for the likes of the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, and Kia Telluride. Meanwhile, the product gap grew into a chasm when the new Toyota Sequoia debuted, moving in a truck-like direction to fill the vacuum left by the outgoing Land Cruiser. The change from independent to solid-axle rear suspension certainly improved towing and off-road capability, but ride comfort and third-row passenger/cargo space suffered.

Enter the Grand Highlander

The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is an all-new vehicle that isn’t just another extended-wheelbase Highlander. The Grand Highlander certainly has a longer wheelbase, but it’s significantly taller in every other dimension as well. It also looks different from the Highlander, with slick flanks that don’t evoke the Highlander’s Supra-wannabe swoopiness. The GH was built specifically to take on the aforementioned competition in what Toyota calls the “long-haul three-row SUV”. That it uses a derivative name is a calculated strategy, as Toyota freely admits that it “derives success from the Highlander” simply by sticking “Grand” on the nameplate.

Toyota grand highlander from 2024


And why not? The Grand Highlander shares its namesake’s core mission, but is simply better at it, especially if you’ll be using the third row of seats more often or for longer trips. In numerical terms, the Grand’s 116.1-inch wheelbase is 3.9 inches longer than the Highlander’s. It’s also 4.0 inches longer than the tallest Highlander XSE, 2.3 inches wider and stands 2.0 inches taller. But it remains considerably more garage- and parking lot-friendly than a Sequoia, because the overall length is 6.7 inches stiffer, the roof crouches 4.4 inches lower and the body is 1.3 inches narrower.

Made for the long haul

The extra interior space of the Grand Highlander is put to good use, and we’re lucky that chief engineer Craig Payne cut his teeth on the Sienna before being assigned the Grand Highlander project. The now roomy third row is easy to enter, and our six-foot-tall tester, yours truly, was able to sit there comfortably, with the second row preset to account for his own custom riding position. You could say that the Grand Highlander can carry a Dans conga line. At the same time, there’s 21 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row — enough, by Toyota’s estimation, for seven carry-on suitcases.

Meanwhile, the Highlander offers just 16 cubic feet behind a third-row seat that’s utterly off-putting for adults, with 1.1 inches less headroom and 5.5 inches less legroom. Things are surprisingly undersized in the Sequoia, which offers either 22 cubic feet of rear cargo space or Grand Highlander levels of third-row legroom, but not at the same time. You have to slide the seat forward to the point of uninhabitability to get the former or slide it back to get the latter, at which point you have just 12 cubes of cargo space – and 1.6 inches less headroom than the Grand.

Toyota grand highlander from 2024


We like that every seat has a USB-C outlet on the outside, and the Grand Highlander’s numerous cup holders have adjacent slots for smartphones and tablets. The second-row mini console quickly folds out to create an aisle, and the front console has a thoughtful roll-back top between fixed armrests that lets you fish around without disturbing your seatmate. Do you want to fold down seats and transport luggage? The Grand Highlander has 58 cubic feet behind the center lane and 98 behind the front, surpassing the Sequoia’s efforts of 49 and 87 cubic feet and about 10 cubes better than the competition in both sizes.

Up front, the driver’s seat is extremely well-shaped and the dashboard has a layered and interesting look, especially when accentuated with the Portobello brown leather and bronze trim from our Hybrid Max Platinum sample vehicle. Piano black is used sparingly and many controls are set to matte black surfaces that look and feel surprisingly high-quality. A 12.3-inch touchscreen is standard across all classes, and pairing our phone with wireless Apple CarPlay was painless. This is indeed a comfortable and welcoming place to go for miles.

Multiple ways of motivation

Under the hood you have a choice of three powertrains. The turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four is good for 265 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, and it’s available with front or all-wheel drive. The V-6-powered Competition makes between 20 and 28 horsepower more, but the Grand Highlander sends an extra 48 to 50 pound-feet through its eight-speed automatic. Manufacturer-estimated combined fuel economy is 24 mpg for the front driver and 22–23 mpg with all-wheel drive. That’s about 1-2 mpg better than the aforementioned competition.

Toyota grand highlander from 2024


Next up is Toyota’s trusted hybrid with twin electric motors that work together to recover braking energy, harvest excess engine power and control the drive ratio of the seamless electronic continuously variable automatic transmission. The system’s 2.5-liter engine produces 187 horses and 177 pound-feet on its own, with the electric motors boosting that to 245 horsepower. All-wheel drive versions
add a third motor between the rear wheels. Estimated fuel economy ranges between 33 and 34 mpg combined, depending on trim.

Although the top-tier powertrain is called Hybrid Max, it shares nothing with the hybrid described above. It combines the base four-horsepower 265-horsepower turbo with a single electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, which has six gears instead of eight, as the added torque from the electric motor helps bridge the larger gaps. All-wheel drive is standard, so there’s a second engine in the back. All told, this powertrain puts out 362 horsepower and 400 pound-feet, surpassing the Jeep Grand Cherokee L’s 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in both sizes. Fuel economy is estimated at 27 mpg combined, which is 10 mpg better than the Jeep.

Rides like a bigger Highlander

On the road, the base drivetrain has no qualms about forcing the bigger and heavier Grand Highlander into insert lanes and steep hills. The transmission shifts smoothly and while the base Grand isn’t fast, it isn’t a slug either. We think 60 mph will arrive in about 7.5 seconds. The engine noise tends to rumble under load, but dies down while cruising. It also carves a willing arc through corners, although the steering is a bit light for our taste.

Toyota grand highlander from 2024


We haven’t driven the base Hybrid, but the Hybrid Max feels much more eager, as it should be with almost 100 more horsepower. Toyota says 60 mph will come in 6.3 seconds, but we think it will get better. Meanwhile, it’s never apparent that the transmission has two sprockets less, and the feel of the combined brakes is impressively consistent and reassuring. The steering is just as light as the standard GH, but the build-up in the center is a little more muted here, possibly due to the sharper response of the standard 20-inch wheels.

Both versions generally deliver a smooth ride without any semblance of float, but the base model 18-inchers came across smoother on cracked surfaces, as smaller-diameter wheels often do. But we’re not ready to be final, because the roads on Hawaii’s Big Island don’t have the variety of those back home, and the low 55 mph speed limit is enforced by unmarked patrol cars.

Available soon and at attractive prices

When it arrives this summer, the Grand Highlander’s three-powertrain lineup will be available in XLE, Limited and Platinum trims. All-wheel drive is optional on the first two for $1600. All three grades are available with the base engine, starting with the XLE for $44,405, which is only $1050 more than a comparably equipped 2023 Highlander. That’s a steal. The XLE Hybrid costs $46,005, which is only $1050 more than a comparable Highlander. Higher up the four-wheel drive Limited Hybrid Max, which has no Highlander equivalent, costs $55,375, and the four-wheel drive Platinum Hybrid Max sits on top of the pile for $59,460.

With the new Grand Highlander, Toyota has neatly closed a gap in its line-up that had recently widened with the new realignment of the Sequoia. It finally gives Brand T what it needs to take on the likes of the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride in the so-called three-row long-haul SUV segment. Does it stand a chance of a comparative test? That’s not clear yet, but it’s sure to win over new converts who have bypassed the Highlander because it wasn’t quite up to the mark.

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