2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum
My New Favorite Among Family SUVs
This is a really great vehicle. It’s large without being stupidly large, and yet it has a whole bunch of usable space - what feels like more space than big sister Sequoia.
By J-F Wright
Thu, Jan 18, 2024 07:01 AM PST
Images by the author, edited by Erica Wright.
It seems Toyota has gotten a little better with their headrest placement for the 2024 models. For the last year or so, I’ve been commenting on the fact that they are placed too far forward for any kind of comfort. Toyota reps have told me that it’s for safety - I questioned whether that’s taking safety too far, when it creates a sore neck. Anyhow, I’m sitting pretty darn comfortably in the Grand Highlander.
There’s plenty of space throughout the vehicle. Really every part of the car - front, second row, third row, and even trunk - seems to be well thought out and generously spaced. I guess the “Grand” in the name really makes a huge difference.
Our review vehicle is not only the Grand Highlander, it’s also a Platinum (trim) - so it comes with all kinds of bells and whistles. The Platinum trim adds a bunch of great details and luxuries to this already nice car. For example, the gold/bronze interior trim which nicely offsets the otherwise dark interior is found not only up front, but throughout the cabin.
The front seats are comfortable, and there is plenty of space up front. The second row captain chairs are comfortable too - and I’m 6 feet tall - which isn’t always the case. I have enough space for my legs so that I can sit correctly in the chair - with my legs resting on the cushion. Also, my head is nowhere near the ceiling. The third row, of course, is not really meant for 6-foot tall folk, but I suppose I could sit back here for a short trip if needed. Technically, I do fit.
If you’re the type of family that can’t be without your mobile devices for more than 38.6 seconds, you’ll be happy to know that there are USB-C chargers throughout the Grand Highlander. Two in the center console. One more off to the passenger side, embedded on the front of the glove box. Two for the second row and two more for the third row. The second row even has a regular “household outlet” as well - just in case.
The front seats are heated and cooled - the heat works really well not just on your butt but also on your back. Rear captain seats are also heated and cooled, an added luxury for the second row who usually only get heated seats, if anything.
With the flick of a button the screen covering the massive sunroof pulls back, revealing this massive window to the sky. The sunroof stretches from the front seats to the second row inclusive. It really is nice and gives the already large car an even more airy feel. For a really airy experience you can open the sunroof a bit, although it definitely does not go all the way back - this is not a cabriolet.
With the rear seat in use you still have a usable amount of space behind it. Regular sized shopping bags are not a problem - even Costco‘s big insulated bags fit back there. That is one giant - or should I say grand - enhancement from the regular Highlander that really doesn’t have much in the way of trunk space if the third row is in use.
Speaking of the third row, it’s accessed pretty easily thanks to the second row captain chairs ability to slide way forward and create a good amount of space to get back there. It actually kinda felt like a minivan when accessing the third row seats.
The third row has a bunch of cupholders, at least two on each side, depending on how you count them - some of the holes are probably more meant for storage. Our family can definitely see how the third row always would be in use by a child, it’s both comfortable and roomy back here.
The Grand Highlander has a 12.3-inch multimedia system with 11 JBL speakers. You can hook up your Apple or Android device using CarPlay or Android Auto - wirelessly. The 12.3-inch infotainment screen will not only do your cell phone mirroring, it will also give you access to pretty much your entire car. With the Toyota user interface being so intuitive and user friendly, it’s easy to figure it out.
Grand Highlander vs Sequoia
I reviewed the Sequoia TRD Platinum - the big sister to the Grand Highlander - and you know what? I’d actually rather have the Grand Highlander. Not only would I be saving 20-odd thousand dollars, I actually enjoy driving the Grand Highlander even more. Yeah, the Sequoia is larger but when it comes to usable space the Grand Highlander actually felt just as large. The Sequoia is more of a beast, but I can name quite a few times when beast-mode is not what I’m going for. No, if a friend with a family - maybe with three or more kids, like us - was choosing between the two, I would have them lean towards the Grand Highlander. It’s just way more usable than the Sequoia, and practicality counts when you’re hauling around a family.
Driving & Comfort
The Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum Hybrid Max with four-wheel-drive actually has 362 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of juice. Thanks to the Hybrid Max 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo-charged engine putting out all that power, coupled with a six speed automatic transmission( with paddle shifters that nobody uses), this grand vehicle is pretty peppy - especially for such a large SUV. Also impressive is that it still manages to get an estimated combined 27mpg.
Interestingly the six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t really feel like a regular automatic transmission - it feels more like a CVT. I guess that’s a really good indicator at how fast and smooth the transmission shifts - you don’t really know it’s doing it.
The Toyota Grand Highlander is very smooth while accelerating and during breaking - even during very heavy braking. There’s not much jolting around in this car - it’s smooth, almost regardless of what you tell it to do.
362 horses come in handy when accelerating onto freeways or passing trucks on highways. It’s equally fun when just bustling around town. The Grand Highlander Hybrid Max will get up and go in a real hurry - making for a really fun vehicle.
The Toyota Grand Highlander has a bunch of different drive settings. “Mud & Sand”, Rock & Dirt”, “Eco”, “Sport”, and “Normal”. There’s also an extra - separate - button: “Snow”. Oh, and then there’s also the Downhill Assist which would come in if you’re going down very very steep hills. Which you won’t be doing. Most of us (I’d guess about 99% of us) are just going to leave it in “Normal” mode… Maybe, just maybe, will we hit the “Snow”-button when heading up the mountains for a weekend ski-trip.
On that note: My eight year-old daughter asked what all the settings were for. I told her what they were meant to do. This naturally piqued her interest and set off more questions about off-roading in the Grand Highlander… And questions regarding its off-road capabilities. Can we drive through deep water? Can we go up really steep hills? (She’s been to one of these off-road events where manufacturers show off a car’s capabilities by driving you up the side of a dirt mound on a what seems to be near vertical path.
The answer to all her questions is, of course, maybe. Yeah the Grand Highlander probably is fairly capable off-road. Will it do what a beefed-up Jeep can, probably not. But, I argued, how many Grand Highlanders Platinum are you going to see climbing up muddy mounds or crawling around boulders?
None. The Grand Highlander Platinum will be driven around town and on freeways, and the only time the “Mud & Sand” or Rock & Dirt” -settings will be turned on is when you’re heading up that dirt road leading to that summer cottage in a ski-resort that you found on AirBnB. And, ladies and gentlemen, you probably would have done just fine in a 10-year-old Volkswagen Passat (which is probably what the owner of said AirBnB drives, to not mess up their nicer cars). But, nonetheless, having all these options is of course great fun, whether you use them or not. It also adds to the whole outdoorsy feeling of the Grand Highlander - it’s more rugged this way.
Safety, Convenience, And Technology
The Grand Highlander Platinum comes with Toyota Safety Sense 3.0, which means it’s kitted with pretty much all of Toyota’s safety and convenience features. The adaptive cruise control does a good job adjusting the speed - not only based on the cars in front, but also slowing down just a bit when coming into turns. The Lane Keep Assist will keep you in your lane, almost error-free when it comes to highway/freeway driving - which is great, but you can’t get overly confident since twisty roads or the sudden turn will throw it off. It’s not going to keep you from falling off a cliff… But for regular driving - both around town and on the highway - the Lane Keep Assist does a great job with smooth adjustments to keep you centered.
Toyota Safety Sense includes a myriad of great safety features - actually one of the most impressive packages available in cars meant for the general population. If you’ve never driven a car with all this technology and tools, it’ll take a while to get used to them - but once you do, you’ll love having the added safety and convenience.
Two of my favorite features, apart from Safety Sense, is the Panoramic View Camera and the Head-up Display. The Panoramic View Camera is a top-down view of the car, used when slowly maneuvering around obstacles - like when parking or, I guess, rock crawling. The Grand Highlander gets extra points for having an easy-access button that toggles this system on - there are may cars where you either have to dig through a menu or stick the car into reverse to get the system to turn on. The Grand Highlander might not be the largest vehicle on the road - or the hardest to park - but this system still makes the whole procedure a breeze.
When it comes to Head-up displays, people seem torn if it’s worth it or not. Those who have never used one might feel that it sounds like a superfluous system - and thus an unnecessary cost - but in my opinion this is, after the adaptive cruise control and the top-down view camera, the third tech-feature on my list of must-haves. Spend some time in a vehicle equipped with a head-up display - you’ll quickly get used to not ever looking down at your dashboard. Then, when you find yourself in a car lacking the feature, you’ll have a hard time adjusting back.
Another great feature, also available with many other manufactures, is the interior mirror that can change to a screen projecting a live stream from a camera in the rear window. It takes a while to get used to it - physically, as your eyes are used to adjusting in a totally different way when glancing up at a mirror. But once you get past that learning curve you’ll probably enjoy the fact that you suddenly can see much better, and your view is much wider. An added bonus is that the rear occupants - or stuff - doesn’t obstruct your view backwards.
I really like the swipe-a-foot system for opening the trunk. I know it’s becoming more and more of a standard feature in a lot of different cars, but I just want to make a note that this is a really nice luxury that we didn’t have when I was growing up. Wonder if my kids will know how to open a trunk? Will they just stand there and wave their foot under an old car wondering why it’s not opening?
The Toyota Grand Highlander Platinum not only feels good on the inside, it looks really good on the outside, too. No, it’s not as beastly as the Sequoia - which some folks seem to like - but it isn’t meant to be either. The Grand Highlander is more grandeur - it has a much more dignified and refined look on the outside.
The front headlights are thin and wrap around the sides in a classic Toyota fashion - classic meaning that it’s on par with other current Toyota models. The massive grill, of course, follows with the current Toyota lineup too.
The extra inches that are added to the Highlander to make it a Grand are all visible towards the rear of the vehicle - they give the Grand Highlander that extra space for storage behind the third row. But it doesn’t make the Grand Highlander look huge from the outside. No, definitely not - this is still looking sleek and manageable.
Since I get to test a lot of cars, I’m often asked for my opinions. I have to be careful to adjust my comments based on the person asking the question. What type of car they are looking for and how they see themselves using it are great starting points. But in the case of the Toyota Grand Highlander I’ll just look to myself. We’ve got three kids - 10, 8, and 6 years old - and we spend a lot of time in the car exploring new places. Like most families we also spend a lot of time shuttling kids around town.
We’ve spent time in a bunch of cars - roughly fifty cars per year - and the Grand Highlander ticks all the boxes when it comes to what we’re looking for. There are of course other cars, with astronomical price tags, that are way more fun, exciting, luxurious, and so forth - but the Grand Highlander fits with a lot more families’s wallets, and still offers pretty much everything they need.
The Grand Highlander has enough usable space for really big road trips, without being clunky around town. It has all the bells and whistles you can ask for, making it a safe and comfortable vehicle. And, with the added juice from the Hybrid Max, the Grand Highlander is a pretty fun car to drive.
About The Author
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.