Not all SUVs are created equal – that much is obvious.
But in some cases it goes beyond size or market position and applies to the very essence of the vehicle itself. That doesn’t necessarily amount to some sort of wow factor, but it can on occasion mean the sum of its parts is enough to make it an outstanding entry in its designated segment.
Such is the case with the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid Max – a sport utility that exists as an unassuming appliance intent on making family life as easy as possible, and at the same time as one of the finest entries like it on the market.
The secret to the success of this particular version of Toyota’s newest three-row is that it takes all the good parts of the Grand Highlander and pairs them with an especially impressive powertrain. It starts with the same turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder as the gas-only model, which is then teamed with a small battery pack and electric motors front and rear. The result is one of the punchiest three-row SUVs on the mainstream market, with net output of 362 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque.
Perfection eludes the powertrain, with its conventionally geared six-speed automatic transmission feeling at times like the continuously variable type, taking at least some of the sting out of this turbo unit as a result; but there’s rarely a time this Toyota doesn’t feel like it’s up to the task of any passing or merging manoeuvre that’s asked of it – and this setup even sounds good in the process.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The conventional hybrid version of the Grand Highlander isn’t nearly as hearty, but it hits back with serious efficiency. This so-called Hybrid Max model isn’t too far behind when it comes to fuel consumption, however, with an official combined rating of 8.8 L/100 km compared to its sibling’s 7.0. And while the trip computer’s indicated average of 10.9 L/100 km was alarming, the actual number landed at exactly its official average after a manual calculation.
This Toyota’s raison d’être is to provide the kind of space its namesake sibling is missing. In particular, it’s third-row room that’s lacking in the Highlander – and this grand version delivers a little bit more of it. By the numbers, there’s 851 mm (33.5 in) of legroom in the Grand Highlander’s rearmost row – 140 mm (5.5 in) more than its sibling’s, and 53 mm (2.1 in) more than that of the Hyundai Palisade. While headroom back there isn’t exactly generous, passengers relegated to those seats shouldn’t feel like they’re being punished.
When it comes to moving stuff, there’s 586 L of space with the third-row seats upright and 1,640 L with them folded. That number grows to 2,761 L with the second-row captain’s chairs stowed. Meanwhile, towing capacity is 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) – competitive with the likes of the Palisade and its corporate cousin, the Kia Telluride, among others. In fact, only the Nissan Pathfinder is rated to pull more amongst SUVs this size, leading the segment at 2,722 kg (6,000 lb).
The Grand Highlander may borrow part of its name from another three-row SUV in the Toyota lineup, but its looks are all RAV4. The angular aesthetic works well with these larger proportions, providing good parking-lot presence even in an understated tone like this tester’s Coastal Cream finish. The lone oddity outside is the embossed wordmark on the tailgate that’s finished in the same colour as the body rather than chrome to match the rest of the badging. It leaves it looking like it was mindlessly sprayed over in the paint shop.
The cabin prioritizes form over function – just as it should in a family-friendly SUV like this. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a stylish space, with gold accents punching up this top-of-the-line interior, but the emphasis here has been placed on practical touches like the assortment of strategically located USB-C ports, as well as the various shelves, cubbies, and cup holders throughout.
Areas of the interior that aren’t especially pleasing to the eye include the dull black plastic finishes front and back that diminish the aesthetic appeal of the space. While they don’t stand out quite as much when set against an all-black interior – at least aesthetically; the plastic still feels cheap – this tester’s caramel-coloured scheme leaves the climate controls, centre console, and window switch panels entirely out of place.
In a similar vein, that the interior door handles are finished in silver rather than gold to match the rest of the interior accents is something of a glaring mismatch. This Platinum trim comes far too close to $70,000 before tax to have little issues like these.
Looking past the scratch-prone surfaces inside, the leather- and suede-wrapped driver’s seat offers all-day comfort and support, with 10-way power adjustability, plus three-stage heat and ventilation. (The front passenger seat is eight-way adjustable while featuring the same temperature controls.) Instead, it’s the seating position itself that could use improvement. The way it combines with a steering wheel that doesn’t tilt high enough leaves something to be desired for tall drivers.
The cabin remains reasonably quiet at highway speeds, with little more than the dull roar from this tester’s winter tires making its way inside, while the suspension does an impressive job of soaking up most of what it encounters on the open road. If anything, this 2,876-kg (6,340-lb) sport utility is a little softly sprung, with a bit too much body roll when changing direction.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The on-road character is satisfying and free of drama, and it’s easy to forget just how much sheet metal is being shuttled around in the best ways possible. No, it’s not like the rear end is at risk of being ripped off absent-mindedly; however, the Grand Highlander drives like a smaller sport utility. Criticisms from behind the wheel are limited to a slightly tippy suspension setup that’s noticeable when cornering, and a steering system that lacks much in the way of feel and feedback.
Beyond being easy to drive, the Grand Highlander is a straightforward sport utility to live and interact with. Features and functions are where they should be, with labels that are easy to read and understand, while the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, both of which are easy to pair.
Wide door openings make accessing the cabin easy, while large steps inside the ones in the back help when climbing into the third row or accessing roof-mounted cargo and accessories. It’s just another part of the functionality-first theme here, with plenty of small-item storage front and back, rear door-mounted cup holders, and a removable centre console between the second-row seats.
Sitting at the top of the lineup, there isn’t much to be desired with the Grand Highlander Platinum. As the only trim available with this high-output hybrid powertrain, it comes equipped with everything from seven USB-C ports strategically placed throughout the cabin to an 11-speaker stereo, leather and suede upholstery, a camera-based rearview mirror, and heated and ventilated front and second-row captain’s seats. The steering wheel is also heated, while it rides on 20-inch alloy wheels and comes with a panoramic power sunroof, among others.
A full advanced safety and driver-assistance suite is standard, including a proactive braking feature that can automatically slow the Grand Highlander in response to what’s happening ahead of it. It works like adaptive cruise control without a preselected speed set, even functioning at city speeds. It’s fine in concept but a bit flawed in its execution, with the automatic braking disengaging below about 20 km/h, at which point the driver must take over. Graciously, the system can be shut off.
Otherwise, features like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with keeping and tracing assistance, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic are all included. So, too, is forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, as well as junction turn assist that warns of oncoming traffic when turning left, and automatic high-beam control.
While the full Grand Highlander lineup consists of five trims in Canada, only one of them is paired with this Hybrid Max powertrain. That’s the range-topping Platinum trim, which starts at $65,450 plus a non-negotiable freight fee of $1,930. While there aren’t any other SUVs like it in terms of the way it’s powered, a top-of-the-line Honda Pilot is priced similarly, as is the Kia Telluride X-Pro. The Hyundai Palisade Ultimate Calligraphy is cheaper still, and so is the Subaru Ascent Premier.
That’s a lot of money for a mainstream SUV; but looking past the price, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid Max comes as close to perfection as any of the other popular offerings in this segment. It’s hard to ignore how expensive it is, but taken as a whole, this is a well-rounded entry that delivers the right amount of space in a stylish and comfortable package.
|362 hp @ 6,000 rpm
|400 lb-ft @ 2,000–3,000 rpm
|9.0 / 8.8 / 8.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|586 / 1,640 / 2,761 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
|2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum Hybrid Max
|Price as Tested