Opinionated at any speed . . . Silvio Calabi

Toyota Grand Highlander AWD Platinum

Tue, 05/14/2024 - 11:15am

The new-for-2024 Grand Highlander is a thoroughly modern Toyota. Interestingly enough, the same characteristics can be good and bad at the same time, to different sorts of drivers. For starters, there’s the whole “grand” thing.

The Highlander is Toyota’s popular two-row crossover SUV. Modern thinking goes, if two rows of seats are good, three must be 50% better! Hence grand! Other carmakers have done this too, and it seems to be working. For all our pious talk about living lightly on Mother Earth, downsizing, reducing consumption and all that, bigger always seems to be better. And the Grand Highlander is for-sure bigger, a shiny McMansion on wheels—only six inches longer bumper-to-bumper, than the less-grand Highlander, but visually statuesque and approximately a quarter-acre bigger inside, especially around the third row of seats.

Bigger family vehicles are meant for bigger families, and the G-Highlander fills this need not only with extra seating but also with more space in those seating areas—head, shoulder, leg and foot room. Comfortable space, even in row #3, which is easy enough to access, especially for younger family members. The seatbacks recline in row #2, which also gets window shades, and there are power outlets and cupholders throughout. Captain’s chairs are available in row #2, which reduces the overall seating capacity from eight to seven.

Passenger counts aside, many drivers still believe that a bigger vehicle not only has more cachet, it is also safer. This isn’t necessarily true, though, thanks to modern crashworthiness standards and the simple fact that as vehicle size and weight go up, maneuverability goes down. But with all-wheel drive, the Grand Highlander, despite its two and a half tons of mass, is surprisingly agile, thanks to an excellent multi-link-and-struts suspension and felicitous tuning. The electric rack-and-pinion steering is light and numb, but overall the GH moves well.

Toyota offers a choice of three drivetrains here. Our G-H has a 265-horsepower, 2.4-litre turbocharged Four, which—again, in the modern idiom—behaves like a 6-cylinder engine, thanks in part to 362 lb-ft of torque. With an 8-speed automatic transmission, performance is more than adequate, and highway efficiency approaches 30 MPG.

Toyota (which has been selling its Prius hybrid for 27 years) favors hybrid gas-electric drivetrains over electric-only, and offers two variations in the Grand Highlander: a 245-horsepower Hybrid with a continuously variable automatic transmission; and a Hybrid MAX, good for 362 horsepower and 400 torques, with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The former is rated at up to 37 highway MPG with front-wheel drive; the MAX more or less equals the gas-engine model’s fuel efficiency, but offers much more zip.

Gas-only and Hybrid Grand Highlanders are available with front- or all-wheel drive. The Hybrid Max comes only with AWD; with all that torque, drivers might otherwise be chewing through front tires too quickly. The Hybrid is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds; the gas and MAX models are rated for 5,000 pounds of towing capacity.

The Grand Highlander’s long list of equipment includes a comprehensive suite of “nanny” features meant to protect us from ourselves and our notoriously short attention spans. In addition to dynamic cruise control, Safety Sense 3.0 will tug at the steering wheel, sound a variety of warning alerts, hit the brakes and even—should one look anywhere but straight ahead for even a few seconds—admonish us that our attention is straying.

Here is another thoroughly modern touch: Push the start button and the large touchscreen lights up with a solicitation to “Experience Drive Connect for the latest route and location guidance with Cloud Navigation, Destination Assist and Intelligent Assistant.” A menu on the touchscreen offers access to vehicle functions, adjustments and data, but maps, navigation, remote starting, voice assist, Apple and Amazon Music and interaction with the Toyota smartphone app are available only by subscription. The vehicle purchaser gets a free trial period, but thereafter the fee is $25 per month.

Furthermore, each time the ignition is started, the prompt appears again—the screen doesn’t stay on whatever page the driver last selected—and presumably doesn’t go away until the owner gives in and subscribes. Millennials and perhaps Generation X may expect this; they’re already paying for streaming radio and TV. Their parents, who’ve just paid $50K or thereabouts for a Grand Highlander, may be scandalized.

Engine options and FWD/AWD aside, there are but three trim levels of Grand Highlander, and even the entry-level model is far from basic. The XLE starts at $44,465, including delivery, processing & handling; the Limited at $49,255 and our Platinum example lists for $55,298, all in.

Next week: GMC Sierra 1500 Denali Ultimate