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2024 Toyota Grand Highlander First Drive: A Roomy, Luxe 3-row SUV That’s Easy on Gas

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The only question is: Which one do you buy?

If you’re one of the millions of 3-row SUV buyers who want it all — a third row and great fuel economy — it’s a tough choice. You’ve had to decide between a roomy SUV or great MPG because you couldn’t get both in the same car. Until now. The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander, priced from $43K- $58K, combines all that we love about the Highlander, hybrid SUVs and all things Toyota in a large, roomy, easy to drive, tech filled 3-row SUV.

This is the first ever 3-row, 7 or 8 passenger SUV to carry the Grand Highlander name. It’s significantly larger and roomier than the Highlander and while it’s smaller than the Sequoia, it’s roomier. Surprised? Yes, so was I.


But don’t confuse it with Highlander. It’s not just a larger version, though the hybrid and gas models share the same engines with the same Highlander version. That’s about where the similarities end. The Grand Highlander has Toyota’s new look and interior design, new features and some clever details.

Related: How does the Grand Highlander compare to the Highlander Hybrid? Here’s a look at the Highlander

The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is big, but doesn’t feel like a truck. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Top Drawer Details in a Well-Priced Family SUV

And then, there’s this: the Grand Highlander offers top drawer technology, and in the top end Platinum model you’ll see touches of Lexus design, including leather seats with microsuede inserts, rose gold trim and an elegant palm-sized gear selector (in the Hybrid Max models only). At the entry level, there are a lot of great standard features, too, including voice activated assistance, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and phone charging. If you go for one of the lower priced models you won’t miss anything important.

As a former Highlander Hybrid owner, I was excited to test drive the Hybrid and Hybrid Max models, climb into all the seats, explore all the features and learn all the advantages. Here is what this full sized, 3-row 7 for 8 passenger SUV is all about.

Related: The Grand Highlander is bigger than the Sequoia? Here’s what that truck-based SUV is all about

The front seat in the Hybrid Max Platinum Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Love

  • Easy to access, roomy third row
  • A choice of fuel-efficient Hybrid and or more powerful Hybrid Max engines
  • An elegant, comfortable cabin
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless phone charger are standard
  • “Hey Toyota” voice activated assistance
  • Driver recognition camera recognizes registered drivers; once set up it’ll return the seat, radio climate and more to your settings when you get behind the wheel; it’ll also monitor your attention and let you know when it thinks you’re too sleepy to drive
  • 7 USB ports, so one for everyone!
  • Retractable center console arm rest
  • Removable center row console
  • 3rd row air vents, USB ports and a cubby that holds cups and a phone or tablet
  • Second row bench should easily fit 3 car seats across
  • Leatherette seating in lower trims, leather in higher-end trims
  • Panoramic sunroof is standard or an option
  • AWD is standard or an option
  • 5,000 lbs. of tow capacity in the Hybrid Max, 3,500 lbs. in the Hybrid model

Related: How does the Grand Highlander compare to the Kia Telluride ?

The front face of the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Photo: Scotty Reiss

What You Need to Know

  • Grand Highlander has 3 full LATCH sets and only one full set in the 3rd row
  • Center row seats slide and fold but do not fully tilt
  • Hybrid model has the same engine as the Highlander Hybrid, gets 35 MPG
  • More powerful Hybrid Max gets 27MPG
  • Premium features (navigation, connected phone, select music streaming services, wifi hotspot) on the multimedia system are subscription only, but come with a 3 month trial

Related: How does the Grand Highlander compare to the redesigned 2023 Honda Pilot ?

The rear tail lights of the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander. Photo: Scotty Reiss

To Answer Your First Question: Hybrid or Hybrid Max?

The Grand Highlander comes in three engine types: gas, Hybrid and Hybrid Max. Honestly, even though this is a beautiful car with great style, technology and features, I would skip the gas model (which I did not test drive). It has average fuel economy and none of the benefits of the hybrid engines, though you can get it fully loaded. I’d go with either the Hybrid or Hybrid Max. Here’s the skinny:

  • The 4 cylinder gas model produced 265 HP and gets about 24 MPG in the front wheel drive model (and I’d guess about 23 MPG in the AWD model).
  • The Hybrid model combines a gas and electric motor to produce 245 HP, getting about 36 MPG. It has a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which some people find annoying. I don’t; I find it performs fine and I appreciate the fuel savings.
  • The Hybrid Max produces 362 HP, 27 MPG and has the same 6 speed transmission as the gas model.

The Hybrid Max is the latest in Toyota’s strategy of creating hybrid engines that deliver more power rather than more gas savings. These engines are in the Toyota Tundra, Sequoia and will soon be in the new Tacoma. The Hybrid Max models are priced about a $3,000-$4,500 more than the other models for all this performance. In the Grand Highlander you can have your pick: more HP or more MPG.

So, how do you tell which one is for you? The reduced power and enhanced MPG of the Hybrid makes it ideal for daily routines, school pickups drop offs, commuting, grocery runs and occasional road trips. The Hybrid Max, with 5,000 lbs. of towing, is better for full time 3rd row use, especially if larger people (i.e. teenagers) sit in the 3rd row, if you drive longer routes with the car fully loaded, especially on the highway, and if you tow. Under those conditions you’ll really appreciate the Hybrid Max power. You will also really appreciate the higher power if you live in a hilly or snowy climate; more power is always better then.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk good stuff: space and passenger amenities.

Me, Brian in the 3rd row and Mercedes at the wheel. We all found the 3rd row to be easy to get in and out of, and comfortable to sit in. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Is the 3rd Row Large Enough?

Yes. Plenty. There’s room for 3 passengers, though it’s better for two and best for one; that person can stretch out in comfort. Here’s what I found:

The 3rd-row cubbies hold cups and an iPhone so you can see the screen. Photo: Scotty Reiss

  • The 3rd row is easy to access both via the center row pass-through (with captains chairs) or by lifting the tab on the seat shoulder and sliding the seat forward
  • When the center seat slides forward it creates a nice, wide space to step into the third row. There’s a grip on the wall of the 3rd row area to hold on to, too. I found it easy to climb in and out, even in a dress (!)
  • Center row seats slide forward and back so you can create more legroom for 3rd row passengers
  • Once in the 3rd row, center row seats pull back into position and left me plenty of legroom. Even with the seats positioned all the way back I was still pretty comfortable
  • The 3rd row floor is not overly high making my seating posture comfortable and my knees nearly level with my hips
  • 3rd row passengers have lots of head room, air vents, USB ports and there are novel cup holders that hold 2 or 3 cups or bottles, a tablet or a phone. You can even position your phone in this cubby so you can see it while you sit back and relax. I really liked this feature

Center consoles side by side: Hybrid Max Platinum (left) and XLE Hybrid (right). Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Grand Highlander’s Interior: Refined, Elegant, Modern

I really loved the interior of the Toyota Grand Highlander in both the XLE and Platinum models. Toyota has modernized the center console and materials so it looks as great in the lower-tier model as it does in the Platinum model. Then, there is a 12” multimedia screen, the same we have seen in other of Toyota’s newly redesigned models including the Tundra and Sequoia. And, there is flexible space such as the retractable armrest console, the passenger seat shelf and the double-wide phone cubby that holds two phones and wirelessly charges one.

There are ample —ample!— cupholders, seven USB ports and in our Platinum test model, two household outlets and one cigarette adapter style 12V outlet in the center arm rest. One detail I really liked is the removable cup and phone holder console between the center row captains chairs. You don’t need to remove it to access the third row, really; but it’s nice to take out if you’re loading things into the car or if you just need to wash it.

I also liked the all weather mats in our test models; these were in all of the Grand Highlander’s three rows and I can see how I would be grateful for them in the snow, mud and rainy seasons, not to mention keeping sand out of your carpets.

The center row bench seat in the XLE Hybrid. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What’s the Car Seat Configuration Like?

Pretty good, but not comprehensive. There are full LATCH sets in the two outboard or captains chairs and in the 3rd row on the passenger’s side. There are upper tether anchors in the center row and two in the 3rd row — the passenger side and center seat. There are no upper or lower LATCHes in the 3rd row on the driver’s side.

Center row seats with forward facing car seats LATCH-installed can slide forward for 3rd row access, though we didn’t get to try it with car seats installed. Rear facing car seats and infant seats will be a bigger challenge, as always, but may work with LATCH installation. Families with two or three kids in car seats may want to opt for a model with a second row bench; the bench seats are wide and you should be able to fit three across if you need to. And, you should be able to access the third row by sliding one of the seats forward.

The 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander interior with all the seats folded flat has 96 cubic feet of space. Photo: Scotty Reiss

How’s the Cargo Space?

In a word, awesome. With 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row and nearly 58 cubic feet behind the second row (96 with all seats folded down!), it has a lot of room.

We also loved other storage details:

  • There’s a nice storage console between the captains chairs, and it easily pops out for additional pass through space, though it’s easy to step over, so you can climb into the back even with it in place
  • Toyota brought back the center arm rest console with a retractable cover. While I couldn’t get my large tote bag inside, I could get everything in my tote bag in with room to spare
  • There’s a shelf for the front seat passenger on the dashboard. I not only liked that it’s there, but also, that it has nice finish details so it looks more elegant than utilitarian.

The live view mirror in the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What is it Like to Drive?

I really loved hopping behind the wheel of this SUV and taking off. The Grand Highlander is powerful — even in the Hybrid model — it’s agile and easy to drive. Sport mode in both the Hybrid and Hybrid Max gives you that extra power and more responsive steering and suspension to make you feel more in control.

The Hybrid model delivered ample power for merging onto the highway, as I did during rush hour, and without passengers it’s as enjoyable behind the wheel as the Hybrid Max model.

All models offer Eco mode, which I recommend; I didn’t find it slow or sluggish. Normal mode was a bit more responsive and Sport mode let out a more throaty performance. AWD models offer some level of off-road mode; the Hybrid Max model we drove had sand, mud, rock and snow modes; the Hybrid AWD model had one simple Trail mode to cover all wheel drive needs. For most drivers, it’s probably all you need.

Though, I highly recommend going easy on Sport mode when you have rear seat passengers. During our test drive I rode in the center row as we climbed into the hills; the roads got curvy and our driver was enjoying the drive. I (stupidly) opened my laptop to quickly answer an urgent email and found myself feeling queasy. As a parent I’d never advise reading or looking at electronics on hilly, curvy roads, so I chalk that up to my own poor decision. One of my co-drivers, Brian, rode in the 3rd row and found it to be comfortable and he did not get motion sick.

Rear seat legroom is amazing and comfortable. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What Grand Highlander Costs

  • XLE gas model, $43,070
  • Limited gas model, $47,860
  • Platinum gas model with standard AWD $53,545
  • XLE Hybrid $44,670
  • Limited Hybrid with AWD standard, $51,060
  • Limited Hybrid Max with AWD standard $54,040
  • Platinum Hybrid with AWD standard $58,125
  • Add AWD, $1600

The interior of the Hybrid Max Platinum edition with captains chairs. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Decisions, decisions

Toyota fills a hole in its lineup for buyers who need a third row and want true hybrid fuel economy. For those who want a more powerful engine, it outpaces its competition; the similarly sized Chevrolet Traverse generates 310 HP.

And, you won’t have to make any compromises in terms of creature comforts, even in the lower-end trims, since Toyota offers SofTex leatherette and a great selection of standard features.

If I’d had the option of the Grand Highlander Hybrid when I bought my Highlander, it would have been an easy choice. Maybe. Until I started to think about the more fun to drive Hybrid Max. But either would have worked. I’m just glad the Grand Highlander is finally here. We needed this.

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