Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Toyota Grand Highlander

Toyota Grand Highlander is indeed a Grand Highlander

By Jim Bray
March 28, 2024

Toyota's enhanced Highlander SUV is not only a really nice three row vehicle, it's also snagging honours including the prestigious "2024 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year" from the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada.

It's quite flexible, too. Toyota Canada will let you have a 2024 Grand Highlander with one of three different powertrain setups. Toyota's sample, the Hybrid MAX, generates a most lovely 362 combined horsepower and boasts a 5,000-pound towing rating for high-performance adventures. The other hybrid option offers 243 "system horsepower", while the base non-hybrid comes with a turbocharged gas engine that cranks out 265 peak horsepower.

I've only tried the Hybrid MAX and its power is really nice – and the engine sounds almost as if you're standing on the gas pedal of an old fashioned V8. I loved it!

Click on the image to open an image gallery.

Part of that love comes from the fact that the Hybrid Max comes with a very nice six-speed automatic transmission. The others get either an Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (hybrid) or an eight-speed auto (non-hybrid). I think six speeds – okay, maybe seven – is optimal because it doesn't require the excessive hunting and pecking to find the optimal gear for the circumstance that other, more "gear laden" automatics.

I can live with an eight-speed, but find that the nine and 10 speed trannies I've driven upshift too quickly (in the name of fuel economy, not driving pleasure) and then, when you want to pull out to pass someone, they have to downshift a bunch of gears to get where you want.

Every Grand Highlander in Canada comes with all-wheel-drive and a bunch of driving modes including a sport mode that isn't particularly sporty but which does make the Grand Highlander wallow a tad less, not that its inherent wallow is really off-putting. 

The Grand Highlander is a big vehicle, not surprisingly, and it drives like a big vehicle. That's one way in which I find it not as exciting as the Mazda's CX-90, but most people probably won't care. What's important is that it drives well (soft suspension notwithstanding) and you feel right at home in its comfortable, efficient and handsome cabin.

All that room means there's lots of room for windows, and I must say the Grand Highlander's greenhouse is bloody terrific. It didn't hurt that the sample also had a panoramic sunroof, as well. 

The exterior is a tad bricklike, but that also means there's plenty of room inside for the three rows of seats the vehicle offers. Toyota's sample had lovely Captain's chairs in the second row and they move out of the way nicely to let you in and out of the third row. Even short and fat old men (I managed to find one, merely by looking in a mirror) can get in and out pretty easily; I even spent about half an hour back there on a trip with my wife, kids and grandkids and didn't mind it at all, except for the lack of grab handles for helping you stay upright during spirited cornering.

In fact, the grandkids positively loved the Grand Highlander and we had to use an electric cattle prod to get them out. It was fun!

Okay, that's a joke. But they did love riding in it!

If you don't want Captain's chairs for the second row, you're limited to the lower trim levels, unfortunately, but if you can afford it the Hybrid Max is really the way to go, thanks to its more compelling powertrain and many extra features.

Before the trip with the grandfamily, my wife and I sallied forth to Banff for a quick visit and the GH was terrific. It handled highway speeds (even the "excessive" ones I'm known for) and traffic beautifully, took all the curves nicely (again, it's no Mazda, but it's a heckuva Toyota!) and we got there and back without any issues whatsoever, other than the usual parking issues when you're trying to pry a bigish vehicle into a typically small parking space. But that ain't the Toyota's fault; it's the fault of the folks designing parking lots so they can cram in as many vehicles as possible and therefore maximize their income.

The driver's seats in all models are adjustable 10 ways, with eight-way adjustment for the front passenger. Higher trim levels get driver's seat memory and depending on the trim level you can get heated and ventilated seats front to rear.

The instrument cluster is straightforward and Toyota's sample also had a head's up display. As with at least some other Toyotas, the inside rear-view mirror can be flipped to show a panoramic video view of the world behind you. I find this a tad distracting because it takes you right out of the vehicle, but it also looks really cool to see a widescreen view of the Rocky Mountains shrinking in the background (just remember not to revel in the view for too long, lest you run into something!).

Toyota rejigged its centre stack interfaces a while back to make them work more like a smart phone's does. I didn't like it back then but now that I've used it a few more times I find it works quite well. So, as for my earlier criticisms: "Never mind!"

On the other hand, today's suites of "safety nannies" continues to get more egregious, seemingly with every model year. Toyota's are pretty much consistent with the state of the industry right now – blind spot, lane departure, etc. etc. – and while I can't stand most of them, a couple of such features are really great.

This includes a rear-view camera with rear cross traffic alerts. I love this feature because it can be really handy when you're angle parked and want to back out. Alas, Toyota seems to think this can be enhanced by doing the same thing for front cross traffic, which is really stupid.

What happens is that the system hoots and hollers at you as you're waiting for traffic to cross in front of you – at an intersection, stop sign, parking lot, etc. In my experience, it would go off right after I've already seen the cross traffic (because, you know, I have things called eyes), and it causes me to take my eyes off the road. I cussed the darn system out twice between the time I first got into the GH and drove around the front of the dealership to take it home.

I fail to see the logic. Is Toyota now pandering to blind drivers? Or stupid drivers?

As with most of the annoying nannies, it can be shut off. But unlike most of them, you have to shut it off every time you start the damn car, and to do that you have to navigate though layers of menus on the instrument panel. Really, really, really annoying.

And you get to pay for it in the vehicle purchase price! What a deal!

On the upside, the rearview camera gets cleaned when you wash the rear window, and that's a really great feature! I also love the heated steering wheel.

The Grand Highlander probably deserves its award as top Utility Vehicle sold in Canada this year. It's a fine vehicle overall and should serve its owners faitlfully.

On the other hand, I must admit that I haven't driven all the competitors. The closest I have sampled in the past year is the Lexus RX 350 (which was nice but with the same annoying nannies) and the terrific new Mazda CX-90, which I loved and probably would have voted for. But that's not because I think the Mazda is so much better; in fact, I think the Toyota is a better all-round vehicle – hence the award.

I just have a thing for Mazdas, whose every vehicle I find a very compelling drive – and that's important to me; I'm a driver, not a passenger who just happens to be in the driver's seat. If you don't care about "Zoom-Zoom", however, you probably can't go wrong with this excellent new Toyota.

Pricing for the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander starts at $54,116.19 for the XLE AWD model. The base hybrid lists on Toyota's Canadian website for $57,456.19, and it goes right up to the Hybrid MAX AWD's list of $69,106.19.

That's a serious chunk of change, but you do get an awful lot for it. Just remember to keep your eyes closed at intersections so you can get full "safety" value from your purchase or lease dollars!

Copyright 2024 Jim Bray

Contact Us | About Us | Privacy Policy | Toyota History | Copyright 2024 Pandemonium Productions