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2024 Toyota Grand Highlander: The SUV you’ve been waiting for? [First Drive]


In the automotive world, it’s often hard to predict the future success of different models. For the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander, an all-new “real” three-row SUV, it is much easier to predict. Frankly, if Toyota dealerships can’t sell this SUV, they should close their doors, fire the staff and find a new business. This SUV is a grand slam.

The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander, a larger version of the popular Highlander SUV, but it has seating for 6-foot-tall adults in the third row, three powertrain options (gas and two hybrids), three trims levels (XLE, Limited, Platinum) and a new front and rear design to help distinguish itself from the smaller Highlander.

ALSO OF INTEREST: Toyota Grand Highlander vs. Highlander: A spec-by-spec comparison

Spacious third-row seating

Let’s start with the obvious question about the “real-adult” third row.

Basically, Toyota lengthened the Highlander by 4 inches and put all of that room in the rear (201.4 inches versus 197.4 inches). It also included a step and a perfectly placed grab handle to access this third row.

Climbing into the back myself at 5 feet, 7 inches, I found it to be pretty good. There was ample headroom, USB ports, cup holders and even a tablet slot. The third row is a practical and comfortable space for passengers. If you have car seats and don’t want to use the side entry, the available removable second-row console with the captain’s chairs allows easy access to the third row from the center. There are also a variety of handy storage areas throughout the cabin. 

This is a stark departure from the Highlander with its emergency- or kid-only rear seating. The seats are fairly comfortable as well, and while three adults will have a hard time fitting shoulder to shoulder, an adult with two kids should fit just fine.

Plus, as we showed in our comparison video with the Grand Highlander, Sienna and Sequoia video, the Grand Highlander has plenty of cargo room to compete with the minivan and is simpler to use than the Sequoia.

What’s the best engine choice?

With the third-row seating being the big highlight, and likely what you will be seeing a lot of in future advertising campaigns, shoppers are going to find themselves discussing the Grand Highlander powertrain choices. They are all good in different ways. The base model features a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine, while the hybrid model offers a 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain, and the high-performance 362-horsepower Hybrid Max pairs the 2.4-liter turbo with a hybrid powertrain. Both the gas and the base hybrid offer similar horsepower with 265 and 245, respectively.

The big news is the 36 MPG combined fuel economy for the hybrid and the big power boost from the Hybrid Max. While the latter returns 27 MPG combined, the gas version returns 28 MPG in a FWD XLE and 27 MPG in AWD. Both of the hybrids come in AWD only. If you are curious about such things for a three-row SUV, the gas has a 7.5 second 0-60 time, the hybrid is 7.8 seconds in 0-60 and the Hybrid Max has a 6.3 second 0-60 time.

Adding a bit more confusion to the mix on which one to buy, each powertrain comes with a different transmission. The Hybrid Max has a 6-speed automatic, the hybrid has a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the gas turbo has an 8-speed automatic.

Enough with the specs, how does it drive? These engines had me thinking about Goldie Locks and the Three Bears.

I found the gas turbo to be a bit laggy until I found the right groove for pushing in the throttle. Too much and it lagged. Too little and it felt like a sea turtle was going to pass me. The Hybrid Max threw me back in the seat and was, at times, a bit too much power for a family SUV IMO. I know that sounds weird, but in a cabin filled with family members, I could see a few of my elders scolding me while the kids would be laughing.

What was the just right porridge, err… powertrain? The hybrid. It eliminated the lag issue from the gas turbo with the addition of the electric powertrain component. Also, it was plenty quick for my driving needs and, hello, 36 MPG?? As a family SUV, yes please for that fuel economy.

Handling and seat comfort for 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

Another key area for families is going to be seat comfort and overall handling with the longer size.

Let’s start with seat comfort, and this is one area Toyota really nailed it. For all the trims, I found the seats to be comfortable and I wouldn’t hesitate to take a longer road trip with any of the three trim levels. Agreeably, I need to do just that to give a final determination on seat comfort, but my first butt impressions were good.

Next, the size: For many shoppers, the longer the SUV, the more it feels like a sail boat. Thankfully, this SUV drives a lot smaller than you’d assume. Sure you are still driving a vehicle that is 16.75-feet long, it just doesn’t feel that way behind the wheel. I quickly adjusted to the length and didn’t find any concerns with turning, parking or maneuvering it.

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

Intuitive technology for family road trips

The Grand Highlander boasts a range of technology features designed to enhance convenience and connectivity. From heated and cooled seats to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, the SUV caters to modern drivers’ needs. The inclusion of wireless charging and a 1500-watt plug adds further convenience for powering devices and accessories.

There are also two different digital dash setups with a 7-inch display for the XLE trims and a larger 12.3-inch dash for Limited and Platinum. All trims gets a 12.3-inch touchscreen with Toyota’s new infotainment software. There are six USB chargers and one media USB hookup for streaming from your device. Also, a head-up display is available on the Platinum trim.

After driving them all, it is pretty clear the more tech and larger screens the better, however, the XLE isn’t a slouch and is well equipped enough to meet most families’ needs.

It also comes equipped with active noise-canceling technology to reduce interior noise levels. Additionally, a new available option is a new driver profiles with facial recognition to customize settings for individual drivers. Yeah, the vehicle will literally read your face and then load a personalized, pre-set driving experience like radio presets, seating position, mirror position and more.

Finally, all Toyota Grand Highlanders come with TSS 3.0 advanced driver safety software with a full suite of safety features including the new Proactive Driving Assist system I recently tested out. The Proactive Driving Assist is going to be a surprise hit and accident saver for many families. Check out our video for more on this new system.

2024 Toyota Grand HighlanderInterior and exterior colors

For interior color options, the 2024 Grand Highlander is offered in:

  • XLE Gas and Hybrid: SofTex-trim in Light Gray or Black
  • Limited Gas and Hybrid: Leather-trim in Light Gray or Black
  • Platinum Gas: Leather-trim in Portobello, Light Gray or Black
  • Limited Hybrid MAX: Ultrasuede- and leather-trim in Light Gray or Black
  • Platinum Hybrid MAX in Ultrasuede- and leather-trim in Portobello, Light Gray or Black

Exterior color options include:

  • Storm Cloud
  • Wind Chill Pearl
  • Ruby Flare pearl
  • Midnight Black Metallic
  • Blueprint
  • Coastal Cream
  • Celestial Silver Metallic


The 2024 Grand Highlander will have a starting MSRP of $43,070 for the gas engine models, $44,670 for the hybrid and $54,040 for the Hybrid Max powertrain when it hits dealerships this summer.

It will be built at the Princeton, Indiana facility alongside the Highlander and Toyota Sienna.

In my quick math comparison, I have the Grand Highlander as just a thousand or a few thousand dollars more than the Highlander.

The bottom line

If there was ever a slam dunk of a new vehicle, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is it. Toyota’s Lisa Materazzo, Group Vice President of Toyota Marketing, told us in the presentation they still expect the Highlander to be the volume seller. I couldn’t disagree more. Unless you have a length issue fitting it into a garage or a public parking garage space, I just can’t see why shoppers wouldn’t opt for the larger Grand Highlander especially with the hybrid. The extra seating room can turn into more cargo space with the seats folded down, a few thousand dollars more than the Highlander and 36 MPG has me thinking this would not only be a great choice for my family but also yours as well.

It really is that good.

Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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