We Were Not Prepared To Love The Toyota Grand Highlander As Much As We Do

In the realm of three-row SUVs, the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Limited AWD emerges as a surprise contender, defying expectations and capturing the hearts of enthusiasts. From its capacious interiors and winter prowess to the refined driving dynamics, explore why this SUV stands out in our detailed review. Get ready for a revelation in family-friendly SUVs with Toyota's latest masterpiece.

HOME POPULAR We Were Not Prepared To Love The Toyota Grand Highlander As Much As We Do

Adam Allen Writer - Carpages.ca

Words by: Adam Allen

Well, this certainly came as a surprise.

Enthusiasts like us are not supposed to be infatuated by mainstream cars and SUVs- especially not one with three rows designed for families, the butt of so many jokes and snide remarks from the card-carrying gearhead community. It just isn’t in our DNA. Yet here we are, positively swooning over the Toyota Grand Highlander. To find out why, we reached for our judicial robes and gavel and took our seat as Chief Justice of the Automotive Supreme Court. We will hear arguments making the case for the Grand Highlander’s excellence while entertaining any counterpoints and demerits. But first, we need to understand the newest SUV from Toyota on a more intimate basis. So, without further ado, all rise- court is in session.

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Meet the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Limited

Most folks know that when you add the ‘Grand’ prefix to any model that it’s going to be a plus-sized version of the original. We have had the opportunity to drive the current Highlander on numerous occasions and came away neither impressed nor disappointed- it was fine, meaning it packed typical flawless Toyota reliability and that it was screwed together with the kind of precision that Tesla engineers would die for. Our one complaint- but a major one- was that it was too small, seeing as it does battle with many other three-row SUVs which offer a vastly larger cargo holds, not to mention better accommodation for all those passengers on board. Toyota was keenly aware of the gaping hole in a lineup chockablock with SUVs of all sizes and purpose and filled it with the Grand Highlander you see here. Toyota freely admits that they are ‘drafting off the success’ of the Highlander model and frankly, we don’t blame them since that model has sold millions since its debut. This is a good strategy not only for returning Highlander shoppers who have outgrown their ride while making the distinction for those buyers new to the Toyota brand who may have been underwhelmed with the smaller version. Let’s explore the details and what we learn below will help us formulate a proper verdict.  

The Highs

One of the things that must be front and center on the mood board of any three-row SUV is transporting seven people in comfort with their gear in tow. The Grand Highlander absolutely nails this must-have because not only is the cargo hold amongst the most commodious in the segment but passenger comfort is first rate too. No matter where you’re perched, there are charge ports, cubbies and cupholders galore- and that’s including the third row, folks. Your humble author spent some time back there in the name of case law research and can confirm that a long journey for most adults is entirely doable. Then there’s the ride quality- oh, the ride quality! It is simply sublime, and we cannot recall enjoying the same level of decadence from some of the more premium offerings we’ve driven of late. It soothes over even the harshest bumps and yet does not feel floaty whatsoever.

The excellent suspension tuning dovetails nicely with the impressive levels of refinement which helps isolate those on board from unwanted road and wind noise. Lexus makes their own version of the Grand Highlander that we will test at a later date, but we cannot fathom how it could ride better than the silky Grand Highlander- stay tuned for that one.  Our tester had the 2.4 litre turbocharged inline four under the hood and moved the Grand Highlander around with ease- we honestly didn’t miss the V6. There are also two hybridized versions of this drivetrain, one that emphasizes fuel efficiency and one that packs the most power you can get for the impatient types who crave more speed. Either way, this drivetrain is an absolute honey; why you’d want to rush such a pleasant driving experience is beyond us, especially when there is so much to enjoy. Our tester wore Limited trim which is a middle trim level and came so well equipped that we question the need to upgrade higher up the ladder. Heated and cooled seats, Toyota’s slick new infotainment system and the Safety Sense suite of driver assistance features both active and passive are just some of the features that provide equal parts enjoyment and peace of mind.

Another layer of reassurance the Grand Highlander brings to the table is something we Canadians will surely appreciate- its winter weather mastery. The week we spent with the Grand Highlander was during a bone chilling deep freeze and while that sucks when you have to take the dog out for a walk, it gave us a chance to see how it fare in those extreme conditions. It passed with flying colours, offering sure-footed traction through snow and ice. When the mercury plunges below forty degrees Celsius, interiors can emit a cacophony of creaks and groans until everything comes up to temperature (which it does commendably fast with its toasty heated steering wheel and seats) but not the Grand Highlander which remained demurely quiet. Those overseeing its build quality are likely due for a raise.

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The Lows

Our praise of the Grand Highlander’s winter slaying game seems like an odd way to segue into one of its demerits, but we noticed something strange during that cold snap. While patiently waiting for the engine to come up to operating temperature, we set the climate control to fully blast the heat- the kind that dries out your eyeballs. Laugh if you will, but when it’s so cold you can barely type a text message on your phone, you want the most warmth you can get. We did the very same with the Grand Highlander, and those dry eyeballs we were anticipating never materialized; that’s because the fan, when cranked to its highest setting, simply doesn’t blow with the gale force wind we’d hoped for.

While on the subject of praise, you’ll correctly recall that we heaped a whole lot of it on the polished driving dynamics the Grand Highlander brings to the table. The only fly in that ointment is tuning of the steering feel. The steering is exceptionally light both in effort and on delivering meaningful feel which is fine in most cases. But when you need to ask it to flex its agility game, like when navigating a tight parking lot full of other families in their massive SUVs and minivans, it can feel a bit disconcerting. When you consider the Grand Highlander’s size- we often heard it being described as ‘massive’- a little less sensitivity in lieu of the fingertip levels of power steering it has would go a long way in allowing you to better and more accurately place it where you want.

The last gripe we have is levied at the engine. But wait, you may be asking- didn’t you just lavish a keyboard’s worth of glowing prose on it earlier? You are correct, and we stand by our love for the engine and transmission tandem. The only issue is that when you ask the Grand Highlander for brisk acceleration, the engine doesn’t’ sound too happy about it, grumbling throughout the upper reaches of the tach. Around town and on the highway you’ll barely notice it, but we never failed to notice when showing the SUV more aggressive throttle positionings.

The Verdict

Now that all the evidence has been heard, we shall retire to our chambers to deliberate.  Just kidding, we’re going to see what’s on Netflix. But seriously, we have, and will always have reached a verdict after we have left no stone unturned in the quest for truth. You’ve heard that the Toyota Grand Highlander is an unlikely conveyance that hit us right in the feelings and that we fell hard for something that would normally elicit a yawn and a wave of ambivalence. Yes, the G.H. is that good and while we didn’t think it would be a stinker, we were not prepared for how much of an impression it made on our automotive psyches. Sure, there’s some stuff that ain’t nothing to write home about- and we didn’t even touch on the ho-hum styling which, depending on your point of view is a good/bad thing. Yet suffice it to say, Toyota’s Grand Highlander is a home run with its first trip to the batter’s box. It is a sensational alternative to a minivan and is just sensational, period.

Now that all the evidence has been weighed, perhaps it had become clear why our love for the Toyota Grand Highlander caught us off guard. Take one for a drive and you just might find that you too are smitten with Toyota’s newest entry into the hotly competitive three-row SUV segment. Case closed.

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2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Limited AWD - Specifications

  • Price as tested: $59,885
  • Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger SUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine:  2.4-litre turbocharged inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 265 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 310 @ 1,700 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 2,035 kg (4,486 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel consumption: 12.5L/100km (19 mpg)