One phrase kept running through my mind throughout my week with the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander: “They fucking nailed this.” I’ll admit to being skeptical prior to my test drive. Since I’d already driven the regular Highlander, which is already a family-friendly three-row SUV, I didn’t see the point in Toyota making a slightly bigger one with a slightly nicer interior and similar powertrains. Especially when the more luxurious Lexus TX can be had for not much more money. But after just a few miles in the Grand Highlander, I realized how wrong I was.
When designing any car, or any product for that matter, there’s a design brief. “Who is this for? What do they need? What extras do they want? How do we give it all to them at the best price?” Not every car feels like it has a clear-cut target audience, but the Grand Highlander does. Almost everything about it feels as if it was designed with a singular purpose: to be the best overall family vehicle on the market. That might not sound exciting—and it isn’t—but Toyota had a goal here and absolutely nailed it.
Family cars are utilitarian and that’s what the Grand Highlander is. It’s a tool with which to carry your family—spouses, kids, dogs, and all of the gear and accessories that come with them. But I love tools. And there’s an immense feeling of satisfaction when you’re using not only the right tool for the job but a good one, even if it’s a tool that would bore everyone else. The Grand Highlander isn’t exciting but it is a damn good tool.
|2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid Max Specs
|Base Price (Platinum as tested)
|2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder hybrid | 6-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
|362 @ 6,000 rpm
|400 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
|20.6 cubic feet behind third row | 57.9 cubic feet behind second row | 97.5 cubic feet behind first row
|16.9° approach | 22.3° departure
|EPA Fuel Economy
|26 mpg city | 27 highway | 27 combined
|The Grand Highlander is a masterclass in figuring out what your customers want and giving it to them. The Hybrid Max powertrain makes it even better.
Like the normal Highlander, the bigger Grand Highlander is built on Toyota’s GA-K front-wheel-drive platform. However, it looks entirely different, has a unique interior, and even more interior space. While the normal Highlander also offers a hybrid powertrain, the Grand Highlander’s is different. So while they share the same name and platform, the two cars are surprisingly distinct.
The Grand Highlander also shares its underpinnings with the Lexus TX. While the TX is a bit more luxurious, both cars have massive grilles (the Lexus’ grille is body color, oddly) and wide, tailgate-spanning rear light bars. The GH isn’t an ugly car but it’s pretty boring, easily blending into America’s sea of SUVs. Maybe that’s by design, to make it as inoffensive as possible for the average Toyota customer. Whatever the reason, though, the Grand Highlander ain’t winning any design awards anytime soon.
I do like the interior, though. Design-wise, it’s nothing revolutionary and the 12.3-inch infotainment screen is the same as you’ll find on most new Toyota and Lexus models, but that’s no bad thing. The ergonomics are great, it has physical buttons for everything, and there’s plenty of storage. The materials aren’t stellar in some places but there are some great design choices that make up for that, such as the rubberized temperature knobs that are big and easy to see and use, even with chunky gloves on. The best parts about the cabin, though, are the stellar seats: great support, rich materials on the Platinum trim, and comfy enough to drive for hours in without fatigue. I spent the better part of five hours in the driver’s seat one day and afterward, my back felt no different than when I started—this car road trips.
Toyota’s Hybrid Max powertrain was first seen in North America in the Crown sedan and it works well here. Its driven wheels are essentially split in half: the fronts are driven by a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, electric motor, and six-speed transmission, while the rears are powered by their own electric motor. There isn’t a physical connection between the axles, which means software keeps both axles operating in sync with each other. Combined, they make 362 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Toyota claims 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds and maybe that’s true but the big ‘Yota feels quicker than that and never struggles for power.
Driving the Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid Max
Having previously driven both the standard Highlander and the Lexus TX, I was curious how the Grand Highlander would drive. Would it feel more like the former or the latter? The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it’s sort of in between. For the most part, it feels like the Lexus TX, with a solid, insulated cabin, nicely weighted steering, and a composed chassis. However, it rides more like the normal Highlander, in that its suspension allows the body to roll but it isn’t luxury-soft. It’s still just a bit too choppy, unlike the much smoother TX. That’s just a minor complaint, though, as the big Toyota is mostly comfortable but you can feel its suspension crash on its bump-stops a bit over harsh undulations.
What steals the show, though, is its powertrain. The Hybrid Max setup packs a surprising amount of shove given the Grand Highlander’s size, weight, and purpose. It feels strong in any gear, at any time, likely due to the electric assistance. Speaking of electric assistance, the Grand Highlander handles better than it should if you can tolerate the body roll, and its rear motor is a big factor, as it pushes the rear end around admirably for something so big.
The Highs and Lows
In such well-rounded vehicles, it can be difficult to pick out certain traits that stand above the rest. Jack of all trades, master of none-type deal. Not so with the Grand Highlander. There are a few standouts, such as its hybrid powertrain. It isn’t just quick and decently fuel-efficient, it also pulls off a smoother transition from gas to electric than any other hybrid I’ve driven. When you’re stopped, it switches to electric mode, which is how it takes off if you’re gentle enough on the throttle. Then, just a few seconds in, the engine will kick on but the only way you could tell is by the tach needle waking up. Seriously impressive stuff, Toyota.
On the flip side, there are few negatives to counteract the positives. Its relatively choppy ride can be a little annoying and its off-road mode controls are among the most bizarrely designed interior controls I’ve ever seen. Aside from those minor things, there isn’t much to complain about.
Toyota Grand Highlander Features, Options, and Competition
Toyota offers the Grand Highlander with three different powertrains: gas-only, regular hybrid, and the Hybrid Max tested here. The regular hybrid model uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes a combined 245 hp. The 362-hp Hybrid Max, with its 2.4-liter turbo-four, is about $10,000 more expensive but I’d say it’s worth it for the newer, more potent powertrain.
As for its competition, I think the Grand Highlander Hybrid Max really only has two main competitors: the Jeep Grand Cherokee L and Mazda CX-90 PHEV. They’re the only hybrids that offer similar space and comfort at the same price point. The Jeep does have the advantage of being more capable off-road, though.
If it were my Grand Highlander, I’d spec it almost exactly the same as my test car. The Hybrid Max truly is the best version of this car because it packs the best powertrain and enough luxury to truly make it feel “grand.” There are two Hybrid Max trim levels: Limited and Platinum. The latter is only around $4,000 more expensive so it’s probably worth the extra few bucks per month. None of the exterior colors tickle my fancy, so I’d probably just roll with black. However, I’d absolutely stick with the same brown Portobello interior as my tester because it’s lovely.
In my week of mostly around-town driving, I averaged about 23 mpg, which isn’t too bad given how big and heavy this car is. One odd thing I noticed is just how quickly the Hybrid Max powertrain depletes and charges its battery. There’s a small battery gauge in the instrument panel and I was always shocked to see how quickly it would deplete when silently cruising in stop-and-go traffic but also how quickly it’d charge back up when using the gas engine more. The hybrid system is constantly working and switching back and forth to maximize efficiency.
Value and Verdict
Normally, I’d say 60 grand for an extra-big Highlander is pretty bad value but two things are keeping me from doing so. One is the simple fact that cars are expensive nowadays. You can’t get into a decent Honda Accord for under $30,000. The other is the Grand Highlander’s sheer goodness. If you don’t want something sporty—and let’s be real, 90% of SUV buyers do not—there’s nothing the Grand Highlander can’t do. And when you pair it with the Hybrid Max powertrain, it has both the punch to satisfy speedier drivers and the efficiency to keep you from feeling guilty about it.
Big, comfy family haulers aren’t sexy. They aren’t fun or exciting and they aren’t what kids dream about owning. But neither are tools and getting the right tool for the job just feels so damn good. There lies the appeal of the Toyota Grand Highlander. There’s nothing crazy about it, nothing to make people stop and stare. But living with it feels like owning the right tool, something that just does its job perfectly. And it feels great.
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