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2024 Toyota Grand Highlander first drive review: Toyota gets the hybrid 3-row formula right

In the illustrious world of three-row Toyota SUVs, you find yourself amidst a bounty of tantalizing choices. The incumbent Toyota Highlander – also available in a hybrid avatar – might catch your eye. Or perhaps, the lure of the majestic Sequoia, the new kid on the block with its full-bodied SUV flair, could tickle your fancy.

However, despite their allure, neither model has truly mastered the SUV blueprint. The Sequoia, although a valiant attempt, is the quintessential rugged SUV but its traditional body-on-frame architecture renders the third row almost redundant. The Highlander, while competent, is starting to show its age and doesn’t quite make the cut as the most refined ride in its category.

Enter the Grand Highlander – Toyota’s masterstroke that effortlessly addresses these shortcomings.

The new and improved Grand Highlander comes with a choice of two distinct hybrid powertrain options, allowing you to customize your ride based on your power preference. We spent a memorable day with the Hybrid MAX, a beast boasting 362 horsepower and an impressive 400 lb-ft of torque. Toyota promises a swift 0-60 mph acceleration time of just 6.3 seconds.

Toyota decided to showcase the model’s capabilities on the breathtakingly beautiful Big Island of Hawaii, a place where speed limits are a mere fraction of the Grand Highlander’s potential. But who said we couldn’t explore the vehicle’s prowess?

In scenarios demanding quick acceleration – say, outpacing a meandering tourist – the vehicle delivers an effortless surge of power, shifting gears with an almost poetic fluidity. If you’re an early bird racing to get your morning fix of Kona coffee, the Grand Highlander should be your companion of choice.

Though it wouldn’t be fair to label it as light or agile, the Grand Highlander does exhibit more grace than its standard counterpart. It’s adept at navigating congested parking lots and maneuvering around tight corners at low speeds.

But the hybrid performance variant isn’t solely about speed and power. Our average cruising around the island yielded a commendable 26 mpg on the onboard trip computer. When pitted against a rival like the Kia Telluride, this is a noteworthy improvement, although we can’t help but yearn for a plug-in hybrid variant. However, Toyota has made it clear that this isn’t currently in their playbook.

The interior design exudes a Toyota premium feel – meticulous construction complemented by mostly plush materials. Admittedly, there are a few corners, notably around the door bins, where the plastic quality dips but nothing that would be a deal-breaker in this vehicle category.

With an abundance of USB ports, every passenger can stay digitally connected, while Toyota’s state-of-the-art infotainment system ensures a modern, seamless user experience.

From an exterior standpoint, the Grand Highlander may resemble an amplified Toyota RAV4 photocopy – a similarity that is neither unattractive nor particularly memorable. Our most significant gripe with the Grand Highlander is the rather cautious styling. It neither offends nor captivates – it simply exists.

Three-row SUVs are now more common than ever, and the Grand Highlander is Toyota’s well-calibrated counterpunch in this fiercely competitive segment.

The standard hybrid Grand Highlanders are priced at $46,005 while the beefier Hybrid MAX models start at $55,375. You can expect to see these beauties on the roads this summer.

Written by Chad Kirchner
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