I don’t know what’s gotten into the engineers and designers at Toyota, but I want what they’re having. They’ve been on an absolute roll lately, totally rejuvenating their previously brand product portfolio with a rapid succession of home-run hits. The latest in this series of smashes is the brand-spanking-new 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum Hybrid Max.
Contrary to what its name may convey, the Grand Highlander is not a derivative of the long-standing Highlander, but rather a totally separate and fresh new thing. In a nutshell, it looks like a much more chiselled, statured RAV4 that’s been given the terrific interior appointments of the new Crown, and endowed with an extremely impressive powertrain, all upscaled for the express purpose of being a dedicated, full-size three-row SUV that doesn’t depend on a truck architecture, like the Sequoia.
The Grand Highlander has been given a very upright greenhouse, with the classic, squared-off features and proportions that have been recently re-popularized by the outstanding Kia Telluride, but with a distinct style that’s unmistakably Toyota. If the standard Highlander is too soft and the Sequoia is too truckish, this is just right. Our tester’s off-white Coastal Cream paint looks great, and is just warm enough to avoid resembling a kitchen appliance; the metallic lower air dam and 20-inch wheels on our fully loaded tester seals the deal.
The Grand Highlander is suitably grandiose in scope and scale inside, blending the warm styling cues from the Crown with the pragmatism of Toyota’s utility vehicles. First and foremost, this vehicle’s mission statement is to provide a larger space with a more usable third row than the standard Highlander, and it succeeds in spades. An adult can easily access and sit comfortably in the third row, with a healthy 586 litres of cargo space behind them, which expands to a cavernous 1,640 behind the second row of captain’s chairs when the third row is folded down.
Between those second-row chairs is a large storage cubby with nooks for tablets, along with dedicated climate controls. There’s plenty of legroom and adjustability, and lots of headroom beneath the panoramic moonroof. The bridge of this vessel is comfy and commodious too, with an attractive blend of warm Portobello synthetic leather and metallic copper-coloured trim, framing a centre console with multiple massive storage trays and a wireless charging pad.
Perched atop the symmetrical dash is a 12.3-inch touchscreen with the same attractive infotainment we’ve seen on other upper-crust Toyotas, broadcast via an 11-speaker JBL sound system. The large digital gauge cluster is all-new, and highly customizable with different layouts, readouts, and gauge faces, but learning how to use isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world. Either way, it looks thoroughly modern and works well.
Tech doesn’t end there, as our loaded Platinum tester comes with every single safety feature and driver assist in Toyota’s roster, now more fleshed-out and fully realized. The adaptive cruise control and lane-tracing works better than ever, feeling much more natural and able to adapt to other drivers lane changes without slamming on the brakes. It’s all backed up with a new system to monitor driver attention. All the features combine to deliver the new highlight of Toyota’s driver assists: Traffic Jam Assist. It provides true hands-free driving capability, so long as you’re doing less than 40km/h.
What’s most impressive is the Grandie’s Hybrid Max powertrain. I was worried when Toyota cancelled their venerable V6 in favour of this new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-banger. But after living with it in this application, it not only washes those worries away, but turns them around entirely — this powertrain is incredible, no ifs, ands, or buts. [Haha. Butts. —Ed.]
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they’re impressive on their own: 362 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque when combined with the two electric motors. It’ll sprint from zero to 100 km/h in under six seconds. Our observed fuel use during our time with it came in at 9.9 L/100 km — impressive given how much vehicle there is to move, and how much time it spent sitting in traffic.
There’s more to it than that. First off, in typical Toyota fashion, the handover between the electric motors and gas engine is impeccable, with a slick sleight-of-hand that’s matched only by the best Mercedes has to offer. Power delivery is abundant and generous, with instantaneous electric torque feeding into a fat mid-range powerband. The Grand Highlander feels mighty, and this is helped in large part by being well-tuned to sound suitably trucky, aping the meaty, deep thrum of the aging-out powerplants that used to hustle these big family haulers.
It goes without saying that the family should be comfortable while you haul them around, and the Grand Highlander excels on this front, too. It has remarkably little wind and road noise, and the ride quality is properly plush, making all but the worst parts of the road disappear, albeit at expense of being slightly floaty. This is not to say the Grandie doesn’t drive well — the steering and brakes are well-weighted and feel a cut above the humbler, non-Grand Highlander — but it’s clear Toyota didn’t even try to calibrate this chassis to be sporty. It feels good and even pretty fast, but not exactly fun.
That’s where the Mazda’s new CX-90 shines over the Grand Highlander, but at the expense of being less spacious and practical. The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are pretty clearly where Toyota set their sights, and they’ve taken a lot of time to make sure they nail their target. At $65,450 as-tested, our loaded tester is perched near the very top of the segment, but it also offers style, comfort, thoughtful design and an incredible powertrain that puts this 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum Hybrid Max well above its price class. If Mazda can build a BMW X5, why can’t Toyota build a Range Rover?