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Toyota has upsized the Highlander SUV nameplate with the all-new Grand Highlander, a larger, more powerful midsize SUV it calls the “ultimate family SUV.” With three rows of seats sized for actual human adults, a selection of turbo and hybrid powertrains, and the full raft of driver safety and convenience tech, the Grand Highlander is a very attractive new option for drivers looking for more space without giving up efficiency or everyday drivability.
Toyota may be formulating grand EV designs, but it’s still very much pushing other emissions-reducing solutions, including hybrids and fuel cells. It labels the strategy “Beyond Zero” and believes it essential toward fitting the average driver with an efficient vehicle that best matches their needs and lifestyle. The Grand Highlander becomes the second vehicle to wear the “Beyond Zero” badge, following the all-new fifth-generation Prius Toyota introduced just a few months ago, and it’s aimed at those looking for an extra-roomy SUV that still offers respectable fuel economy.
“There is definitely a need in the market for a midsize SUV that prioritizes interior comfort in all three rows, and Grand Highlander is the ultimate option,” sums up Lisa Materazzo, group vice president of Toyota Marketing. “This three-row model takes the Highlander legacy to an entirely new space while also keeping on our promise to deliver on electrification.”
Toyota says the third row offers 6 inches (15 cm) of additional legroom as compared to the standard Highlander, sizing more closely to the third row of a full-size SUV. This rearmost row is designed to keep adults comfortable on long trips while still maintaining enough tailgate space to carry up to seven pieces of carry-on luggage. The Grand Highlander seats up to eight people in all, but we’ve quickly become partial to the seven-seater with second-row captain’s chairs shadowing the front seats.
The Grand Highlander’s seats also fold readily when owners need more cargo space. With all second- and third-row seats folded flat, the 21 cubic feet (595 L) of tailgate storage nearly quintuples to 98 cubic feet (2.8 cu m). Toyota also makes sure that each passenger has enough storage and available charging, loading the Grand Highlander with a total of 13 cupholders and seven USB-C ports. The configurable center console up front is sized to fit a tablet and includes wireless charging, two USB ports and three cupholders.
The Grand Highlander further keeps passengers comfortable and safe with a full suite of standard and available tech. Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 comes standard, bringing driver-assistance features such as proactive driving assist, pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane departure with steering assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, and driver monitoring with emergency stop.
Inside, the standard 12.3-in multimedia touchscreen includes voice control, dual Bluetooth connectivity, and wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Available Wi-Fi Connect delivers 4G connectivity for up to five mobile devices, and an available 11-speaker JBL audio system enhances the soundscape.
The Grand Highlander looks the part of a mid/full-size-splitting SUV thanks to its long, strong design. The front and rear ends have been tipped ever-so-slightly more upright as compared to the standard Highlander and the roofline made longer and flatter. The simplified flanks highlight the extra length via strong, level character lines and contrast-black rocker panels. Up front, the Grand Highlander shows an identity all its own, with a large trapezoidal lower grille and a long, thin upper grille connecting the headlights and Toyota badge.
Toyota gives the Grand Highlander three powertrain options in hopes of attracting a wider variety of buyers. Those looking to keep things simple and economical can stick with the 2.4-L gas turbo, while those seeking out the best mileage will want to opt for the 2.5-L hybrid drive with up to 34 mpg combined, as estimated by Toyota. For more oomph and performance, the only option worth looking at is the 362-hp Hybrid Max that makes the Grand Highlander Toyota’s most powerful midsize SUV ever. The Max pushes towing capacity up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) while dropping 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) down to 6.3 seconds … though definitely not at the same time.
Both the 2.4-L turbo and 2.5-L hybrid are available in either front- or all-wheel-drive configuration, while the Hybrid Max brings AWD as standard. Gas AWD and Hybrid Max models include a Multi-Terrain Select system with mud & sand, rock & dirt, and snow modes for added traction boost.
Toyota will launch the Grand Highlander as a 2024 model in XLE, Limited and Platinum trims. Its world premiere event just ahead of the start of this week’s 2023 Chicago Auto Show did not mention a launch date, but Toyota plans to release that information and pricing this summer (Northern Hemisphere).