The Toyota Highlander has been vying for the sales leadership in the midsize SUV category for the past few years. Now, with a third row of seats, combined sales of Highlander and all-new Grand Highlander will likely put the brand ahead of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer as the top seller.
That leadership status goes with its cachet with upper-income families and even retirees as a super-handy, Toyota-reliable premium utility vehicle. Despite Toyota’s mass-brand status, the modern Highlander, even without a “woody” exterior option, has status with the country-club/junior sports travel-team/vacation house crowd similar to that of the old Jeep Grand Wagoneers, especially when you max out on the trim and features. It’s almost Toyota’s answer to Subaru.
For 2024, Toyota Highlander is getting a “Grand” treatment and new third row of seating to try and capture some of the growing millennial-family, as well as active-retiree-with grandkids, markets. It also will move up the transaction prices on the Highlander.
The Highlander was introduced in 2001 and has long been the Japanese automaker’s answer to the Explorer and now-nearly forgotten station wagons. Four generations later, the Grand Highlander stands up extremely well to the Explorer, Grand Cherokee and Honda Pilot for road trips and any kind of road slop a driver is likely to face.
“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,” says Lisa Materazzo, group vice president of marketing for Toyota. “This 3-row model takes the Highlander legacy to an entirely new space while also keeping our promise to deliver on electrification. Highlander was the first model in its segment to offer a hybrid powertrain back in 2006, and Grand Highlander further expands on our electrification leadership.”
The Grand Highlander Hybrid and Hybrid Max vehicles are among Toyota’s 10 hybrid models. The Hybrid Max combines a turbocharged 2.4L 4-cyl. with a pair of electric motors and a 6-speed automatic that’s good for 362 hp. Toyota hasn’t released torque or fuel economy numbers yet, but this powertrain will let the Grand Highlander tow 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg) of trailer.
The likely volume models will probably get the carryover engines from the regular Highlander: the base turbocharged 2.4L 4-cyl., and the optional naturally aspirated 2.5L hybrid 4-cyl. Both are available with either front- or all-wheel drive, and the base hybrid system will get a very respectable 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km) combined.
The Highlander consistently ranks among top-selling midsize SUVs in the U.S. In 2022, Toyota sold 222,805 Highlanders, just a smidge below Grand Cherokee’s 223,345, and well ahead of the Chevrolet Equinox (212,072), Explorer (207,673) and Pilot (99,567). All sales numbers per Wards Intelligence.
- There is room for seven carry-on suitcases behind the third row. A total of about 98 cu.-ft. (2,775 L) of space with the seats folded down, and an adult-sized third row.
- A 12.3-in. (31-cm) multimedia display. The configurable center console can hold a tablet (with internal tray removed) and also features a wireless charger, two USB ports and three cupholders — including one capable of holding a large water bottle.
- Across all three rows, the vehicle is equipped with 13 cupholders big enough for large water bottles and seven USB-C charge ports to keep devices charged.
- All three powertrain options come with three drive modes (Sport, Eco, Normal), while Multi-Terrain Select with Three Modes (Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, Snow) are offered on the gas AWD and Hybrid Max powertrains for on- and off-road capability.
- Buyers have the option of either a second-row bench seat or captain's chairs.
The new Grand Highlander has enough contoured exterior surfaces that doing a “woody” treatment probably doesn’t make sense. But the SUV’s premium-brand cachet in the loaded trims makes it a worthy garage-mate for mass-market brands, as well as luxury brands such as Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.