What is it? Toyota is following the footsteps of Hollywood by playing the ‘spin-off’ game. Following the Venza, itself derived from the RAV4, we now have a bigger and arguably better version of the three-row Highlander SUV. Instead of a new name, Toyota opted to simply add a ‘Grand’ prefix. However, there’s a likelihood that the Grand Highlander will soon become the only Highlander in the years to pass. When it comes to moving mass numbers of people, the Grand Highlander is one of the best for the job.
What’s good? As the name suggests, the Grand Highlander is a vast utility vehicle bearing oodles of space inside. By stretching the overall length six inches, and the wheelbase by four, Toyota has made an SUV that rivals a minivan for interior volume. The third-row of seats, for example, which are decisively cramped in a normal Highlander, can actually even be used by adults. In the simplest terms, this is one of the largest SUVs you can currently buy and poses a real alternative to a minivan in this metric.
I also found the packaging to be thoughtful for families and occupants, with USB ports scattered about in reach of each seat, even in the very back, and convenient storage spaces. All the usual Toyota technologies are present as well, with the obligatory safety systems and a large touchscreen display in the center that’s easy to navigate and use. Most drivers will appreciate the quality in this Limited model, a big step forward from Toyotas past, but it still is a little behind what Mazda has aspired to.
While the Grand Highlander doesn’t set the world alight when it comes to driving dynamics and excitement, it’s a confidently competent driving machine in the real world that belies its shear size. The controls are all easy to modulate, the steering is direct and accurate, and the ride quality remains comfortable over a variety of road conditions. It’s no dynamic superstar like the Mazda CX-90 when it comes to the bends, but as for a perspective of real world driving, the Grand Highlander nails the brief through its rounded ease of use and operation.
An area where the Grand Highlander truly shines above all is when it comes to gas mileage. This Hybrid model achieved an amazing 29.5 MPG during our week together, a stupendous number considering the massive road presence. Performance isn’t exactly noteworthy, with 0-60 MPH needing nearly eight seconds, but its perfectly serviceable in the real world and with a linear and smooth shove from the hybrid powertrain, exhibiting none of the coughs and hiccups that the recently tested Mazda CX-90 Hybrid showed. If you want extra pop, there’s a Hybrid Max option that brings the horsepower from 243 here, to a whopping 362, though expect economy to suffer as a byproduct.
What isn’t? Apart from some bland rather plain styling and a general lack of driving enthusiasm, there’s very little to dislike or bag on about the Grand Highlander Hybrid. As said earlier, though, the shortcomings dynamically make it mass appealing to the right audience. If there’s anything to knock, it’s the fact that a fully-loaded Hybrid Max model will cost you over $60,000, with this more mundane Limited example stickering for $53,238. I am a little disappointed that, at that price, it doesn’t include any kind of sunroof as standard, let alone a big panoramic item.
A grand win? Toyota has delivered one of the most well-rounded big SUVs on sale today. It’s to the point where, if you’re already going big and wanting a normal Highlander with three rows of seats, you might as well pony up and get the biggest one for only just a smidge more dough. Yes, this is me saying the Grand Highlander kind of makes the standard Highlander somewhat obsolete.
A Mazda CX-90 might look nicer inside and out and drive better, but the Grand Highlander is more spacious and delivers the MPG goods. For most, that’s probably the reason why this Grand Highlander will quickly become commonplace on your local roads.
2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Limited Hybrid
As-tested price: $53,238
Pros: Huge interior; Excellent MPG
Cons: A little bit boring; CX-90 is more luxurious
Photos by Mitchell Weitzman. For more automotive stories, visit www.TheRoadBeat.com