Road Test Review: The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is the Brand's Biggest Crossover Yet
In the past, if you wanted to go big with a Toyota SUV you had to step over to the truck-based side of the showroom and subject yourself to the middling charms of the Toyota Sequoia, a body-on-frame brute that feels like overkill for the those who don’t need its substantial towing capacity.
That all changes for 2024 with the introduction of the Toyota Grand Highlander, which as the model name suggests presents an even larger take on the three-row Highlander sport-utility that’s served as the people mover of choice for brand fans for two decades now. Stretched in every dimension, the Grand Highlander aims to improve on the modest back bench comfort of its namesake and dial up cargo capacity, all without sacrificing the smooth drive that the smaller model has become known for.
It’s a difficult balancing act, with the 6 inches it gains over the Highlander placing it smack dab in the middle of somewhat shorter rivals like the Ford Explorer and Hyundai Palisade, and bigger-still fare like the Chevrolet Traverse. For the most part, however, the Toyota wears its newfound bulk well, making it a legitimate alternative for Highlander haulers whose plus-size driving needs have them looking to go Grand.
The Toyota Grand Highlander isn’t just longer than its sibling—it also picks up 2 inches of height and the same measure in terms of width. Visually, much of the Grand Highlander’s mass settles over its rear haunches, in particular the upward-thrust of the panel sitting just behind its back axle. While not a particularly pretty shape, the SUV does its best to minimize the impact of its bulk by creasing and curving its sheet metal wherever possible.
It makes sense that the back of the Grand Highlander’s bustle is where all the action is, because that’s also true of its interior. Nearly all of that 6-inch length increase is given over to the leg room afforded those relegated to the rearmost confines of the vehicle, which gives it a considerable boost over the less comfortable, more crushing bench found in the standard Highlander.
As an added bonus, there’s roughly 25 percent more room to stuff groceries between the rear seatback and the hatch with (up to) eight passengers taking their seats. The model—a Limited trim—featured a pair of captain’s chairs in the middle row that dropped passenger capacity to seven. Nevertheless, with a little voodoo involving the multiple levers and grab-handles on those buckets I was able to flatten them to take an enormous load of moving boxes to the local recycling center, making full use of the nearly 100 cubic feet of total storage space available aft of the driver (which, incidentally, betters the Sequoia as well).
Fast Or Frugal, Pick One
Since they both share the same platform, it makes sense that the Highlander and the Grand Highlander feature more than a little crossover under the hood. Base models of both are motivated by turbocharged, 2.4L turbo four-cylinder that’s good for 265 hp, while the Hybrid models (like the one I drove) drop that to 245 hp. There’s also the 362 hp Hybrid Max model available for both Limited and Platinum trims that leverages its electric motors for performance rather than all-out fuel economy.
Although the standard Hybrid isn’t exactly a muscle machine, the instant-on torque from its pair of electric motors (one on each axle for all-wheel drive editions like mine) does a decent job of masking its lack of top-end speed. This is a heavy vehicle, but one that doesn’t strain in daily driving (although if you floor it to pass you’ll be subject to the noisy revs engendered by the CVT automatic gearbox its saddled with).
Fuel mileage is also fair, depending on how it’s driven. My best stretch of highway saw 28-mpg in fairly cold weather, which isn’t far off from its 32-mpg official estimate. At no time did the Grand Highlander have any difficulty parsing the snow-covered gravel roads I subjected it to, not did it squirm when asked to muddy itself during a late-week thaw that splashed its sides a deep brown.
A Welcome Upgrade
The Toyota Grand Highlander does everything it needs to: it’s big enough to haul you and everyone you know through challenging, and if you leave your human cargo at home you can do some serious damage at an antiques sale or big box store thanks to its capacious character. In some ways, this is perhaps the 3-row that the regular Highlander should have been, especially since the smaller model’s back bench is really only usable by the smallest of humans during the shortest of pinches.
Still, not everyone likes a vehicle as large as the Grand Highlander feels from behind the wheel. Just a bit bigger than its Ford, Hyundai, and Kia competitors in terms of its overall dimensions, it’s certainly less nimble than any other Toyota SUV save the lumbering Sequoia, which could be a turn-off for customers who don’t truly need to fill every seat on a daily basis. Nor do all customers want to pay the premium associated with tacking on the "Grand" badge, with the larger version's MSRP of $44k (and top-tier window sticker of just under $60,000) tacking on between $4,000 and $7,000 to the Highlander's price.
That being said with the availability of the Hybrid Max drivetrain for those who don’t want to sacrifice passing power, and the relative thrift of the regular Hybrid for drivers less concerned with swiftness than frugality, the Grand Highlander presents a compelling choice in a somewhat crowded sea of similarly-sized SUVs.