2024 Toyota Grand Highlander First Drive Review: Toyota’s Telluride Hits All Its Marks
With a spacious third row and punchy hybrid powertrain, Toyota’s answer to the Kia Telluride isn’t messing around.
One of the most eye roll-worthy pieces of automotive industry lore has got to be how Kia employees supposedly took to calling the Telluride “Selluride” in reference to how amazing the SUV is at printing money. Evidently, Japan’s biggest automaker caught wind of this and wanted in on the action too, because it's now trotted out the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander, a three-row shot across the bow against the Tellurides and Hyundai Palisades of the world.
Yet a couple of hours behind the wheel of the Grand Highlander across three available powertrains shows that while Toyota may be a little late to the party, it isn't messing around. Capacious, well-built, agreeable to drive, and—in Hybrid Max form—even a little fun, Toyota’s new big-big crossover might just put an end to Kia and Hyundai’s semi-aspirational three-row SUV gravy train.
2024 Toyota Grand Highlander XLE Specs
- Base price: $44,405
- Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | front- or all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 265 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 1,700 to 3,600 rpm
- Seating capacity: 7 or 8
- Curb weight: 4,300 pounds
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- Cargo volume: 20.6 cubic feet behind third row | 57.9 cubic feet behind second row | 97.5 cubic feet behind first row
- Ground clearance: 8.0 inches
- Fuel economy (Toyota est.): 21 mpg city | 28 highway | 24 combined (FWD) or 21 mpg city | 27 highway | 23 combined (AWD)
- Quick take: Three proper rows of seats and an efficiently pleasant driving experience combine to make a superb family hauler.
- Score: 8/10
2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid Max Specs
- Base price: $55,375
- Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbo four-cylinder hybrid | 6-speed automatic | full-time electronic all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 362 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 3,000 rpm
- Curb Weight: 4,920 pounds
- Fuel Economy (Toyota est.): 26 mpg city | 27 highway | 27 combined
Slotting in between the regular Highlander and the body-on-frame Sequoia, the Grand Highlander might share a name with that aforementioned Sean Connery-inspired SUV, but style-wise it looks more like a bulked-up RAV4. Where the Highlander is softer, flowier, and more rounded in the edges, the Grand Highlander is chiseled and butch. The grille is big, but then again, it’s a big car. It may not be quite as luxury-mimicking as its Korean competitors, but it’s a handsome vehicle that won’t offend many eyeballs.
Inside, Toyota has blessed the Grand Highlander with its new, more subtle and dignified cabin design language. No Camry-style swoops or reg-Highlander-esque screen prongs, it’s all simple shapes, muted colors, and reasonably pleasant materials. Controls are intuitive with plenty of hard buttons and knobs that control climate. There are also hella cup holders throughout—13 total, to be precise—and lots of storage nooks and crannies including an extremely deep center armrest cubby and the big dash slot carried over from the non-Grand Highlander that’s perfectly sized to hold a front passenger’s phone.
Speaking of phones, there are seven USB-C ports, but no support for USB-A. This means if you’re the sort of person who stubbornly hangs onto wired earbuds, you’ll probably have to get new charging cords if you’d like to juice up in the Grand Highlander. For those with sufficiently newer devices, there’s a standard wireless charging pad up front, although the area is big, flat, and features no guardrails or ledges of any kind to keep your phone in place. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and are projected from a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen running Toyota’s latest UI. The software here is a marked improvement over what came before but still not quite as snappy or intuitive as most competing systems.
This bigger Highlander’s whole raison d’être is, of course, that big third row. The Grand’s 33.5 inches of last-row legroom is precisely 5.5 inches more than what you get in the normal Highlander’s backmost quarters. And before you accuse Toyota of achieving this through sleight of hand and shrinking down second-row space, those middle-row passengers get 0.8 inches more legroom over the regular Highlander as well.
Having sat in the third rows of both vehicles, I can report that the Grand Highlander is indeed grander than the non-Grand Highlander. While the regular Highlander’s third row is very much reserved for babies and small children, the Grand Highlander can actually fit most adults quite comfortably. For reference, I am five-foot-eight—five-nine with shoes on, five-ten if you measure from the tip of my hair, five-eleven adjusting for “everybody else lies” inflation, six-three on Hinge—and I can sit back there with both head- and legroom to spare, but I suspect those who are six-three in reality will still very much prefer a seat in this SUV’s first or second rows.
And while we’ve got the measuring tape out, the Grand Highlander boasts precisely 2.1 inches more legroom in the third row than both the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride.
There are three powertrains to choose from: the regular volume-selling gas version uses a 2.4-liter turbo-four making 265 horsepower while the more efficient Hybrid uses a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter and an electric motor making 245 hp combined. The one you want, though, is the Hybrid Max which combines the turbo 2.4 and electrification to deliver 362 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. For those keeping track, that’s only 20 hp shy of and 32 more lb-ft than Toyota’s own six-cylinder Supra sports car.
To drive, the Grand Highlander lives up to its name in handling like a slightly larger version of Toyota’s existing Highlander. That’s to say inputs are accessibly light and the ride is really smooth, agreeable, and quiet—the level of refinement here, in fact, would not feel out of place in an entry-to-mid-level Lexus. It also feels substantial moving down the road but not overly bulky.
Steering and suspension are both expertly calibrated for simple, everyday driving and the former even exhibits a surprising crispness that makes taking a corner fairly enjoyable. The brakes do what they’ve been hired to do, bringing all 4,000-plus pounds of Toyota SUV to a stop smoothly.
Of the three powertrains, the regular gas is, naturally, the most “regular” feeling. Its 265 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque mean it accelerates reasonably well while the conventional eight-speed automatic transmission puts up no fuss and can keep the revs low for better fuel efficiency. The non-Max hybrid model trades in any semblance of excitement for outright efficiency, scoring up to 34 mpg combined while being the least pleasant version to drive. 175 lb-ft of torque doesn't sound like a lot on paper, and out on the road it, er, still isn’t. Not only is the Hybrid slow, but the CVT means it’s droney. On the brighter side, it is nice to be able to navigate parking lots on electricity alone.
The Grand Highlander’s flagship powertrain is, of course, the 362-hp Hybrid Max. Boasting more than double the torque of that more pedestrian Hybrid—a whopping 400 lb-ft, to be exact—it combines turbocharging with electrification to make the top trim GH a bit of an incognito speed demon on highway on-ramps. Toyota claims a respectable zero-to-60-mph time of 6.3 seconds and, having been behind the wheel, I believe it. It even sounds quite nice getting up to speed with acceleration coming with a low and gravelly noise. Toyota later confirmed that some artificial noise is indeed being piped in through speakers, but it could’ve fooled me. The company may indeed be sunsetting its middle-class-shmancy 3.5-liter V6 especially when it comes to family vehicles like this, but that engine’s go-faster spirit lives on in the Hybrid Max.
Toyota Grand Highlander Features, Options, and Competition
Toyota offers the Grand Highlander in three trims: XLE, Limited, and Platinum. In base XLE gas form, prices start at $44,405 while the top Platinum Hybrid Max model begins at $59,460. Standard on the XLE are 18-inch wheels, power and heated front seats, the big 12.3-inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, and a power liftgate. Limited adds 20-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, fog lamps, leather seats, ventilation for the front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, rain-sensing wipers, a hands-free power liftgate, and an 11-speaker JBL audio system. That upgraded sound system, by the way, is better than the base system, I guess, but still quite tinny. Opting for the top Platinum trim gets you different 20-inch wheels, ventilated seats in the second row, a pano roof, goddamn paddle shifters and a terrain-select dial (provided you go for the AWD gas or Hybrid Max), a head-up display, digital rearview mirror, and traffic jam assist.
There are a lot of three-row unibody family SUVs out there such as the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Volkswagen Atlas, and, of course, this car’s own Little Highlander brother, but the two vehicles that compete most directly in spirit with the Grand Highlander are arguably the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride. Like those two, that third row doesn’t feel like a complete afterthought and, like those two, the finishes and design are just a teeny bit more upscale than what most people expect out of their respective brands.
When it comes to that last bit, I think the Hyundai and Kia still have the Toyota beat on design and budget-Range Rover energy but the ‘Yota closes the gap with its more efficient, powerful, and interesting Hybrid Max powertrain. While the Toyota offers four-cylinders across the board in varying states of electrification, the Korean twins are staunchly 3.8-liter V6-only.
Buyers would also be wise to cross-shop the Grand Highlander with the few remaining minivans out there—the Toyota Sienna ($38,220), Honda Odyssey ($38,835), and Kia Carnival ($34,465)—which all fill a similar brief at a lower price with just a bit less ground clearance. Though it's not like me pointing that out is going to stem the flow of people choosing SUVs over vans on looks alone.
Value and Verdict
Those modern, efficient powertrains and that Toyota reliability don’t come cheap. But if you can swing the payments, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is a great family hauler. Perhaps one of the greatest family haulers in its price range. It looks nice, it drives well, and its sheer space will gobble up all of the kids and gear one will reasonably throw at it, while the Hybrid Max’s sheer pace will deliver decent everyday thrills once those kids have been dropped off.
Provided Toyota can get enough of them on dealer lots, the company has a winner on its hands. All that’s left to do is give it its own cheesy “Selluride”-esque internal nickname. My nominee is Grand ROI-lander.
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