Toyota Highlander: Bigger and better

Toyota’s family hauler gets an upgrade

By Isaac Bouchard

The Grand Highlander is a larger version of the best-selling Toyota three-row crossover, with most of the extra space going to the third row and cargo room.

It comes with one of three different 4-cylinder powertrains: a 265hp, 2.4-liter turbo, a 245hp, hybridized non-turbo 2.5L and the Hybrid Max, whose combination of the turbo 2.4L and bigger battery and more powerful electric motors for the front and rear axles yields 362 total ponies and a stout 400lb-ft of torque.

Despite those strong figures, the “GrandMax” doesn’t feels sporty like an Acura MDX or Mazda CX-90. That said, the Toyota is really fast when you mash the accelerator, hitting 60mph in 5.6 seconds. Hammer it hard too long, too often, and you pay at the pump, since fuel economy drops into the teens.

Driven with restraint, mileage is really good, averaging mid-20s. The juggling of power sources is pretty much seamless, which shows Toyota’s consummate prowess with hybridized powertrains.

Dynamically, the GrandMax is commendable. Ride quality is really pleasing: absorbent and controlled, filtering out the worst our roads can serve up. Body control is good, and with accurate steering, the Toyota can carve a mountain pass confidently. In all these ways it reminds of the class leading Kia Telluride. It is also quiet most of the time and refined enough to make it an excellent highway cruiser.

Inside the Grand Highlander, perceived quality is average, with decent plastic moldings and comfortable seats, but it doesn’t have the upscale vibe its price suggests. This seems deliberate, as the Lexus TX500h is basically the same rig with tastier trimmings. Screens are big and bright, and mostly logical in use, though Toyota’s steering wheel controls take quite a bit of learning to operate correctly.

The Grand Highlander now has enough room to compete with the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, as well as a unique drivetrain in the Hybrid Max that offers better performance and comparable real-world fuel economy. While not quite as pampering as the top models of those two Koreans, it pretty much matches their excellence in the balance of good ride quality and composed handling, and technologically speaking is on the same playing field. And while not as dynamically compelling as the Acura or the Mazda, it is completely competent for hustling to a ski resort of through urban traffic, making it one of the clear leaders in the crowded 3-row crossover class.


By ­Heather Bouchard (Mrs. Nice Drives)

For reference, I’ve owned a 2008 Toyota Highlander, and really liked it.

This new Grand Highlander looks big and intimidating; that seems intentional, but not in a bad way.

Its size and the driving position make it hard to place in tight spaces at first, but that does get easier. The interior is nice, but kind of dour, being so gloomy inside (the test vehicle had a black interior), with only the copper-colored plastic trim being at all interesting.

It drives smooth and effortless; the extra power is welcome and it is very quiet. Very nice overall, but nothing about the Grand Highlander seems remotely exciting. That’s probably because I don’t haul kids all over town; for families I could see how the combination of the extra power the Hybrid Max has, combined with the extra room of the Grand, would make it an excellent choice.

EPA Ratings: 26/27/27mpg


Price as tested: $59,9878

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Here is what Toyota has to say.


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Isaac Bouchard, Automotive Editor, owns Denver-based Bespoke Autos and can be reached at [email protected]; 303-475-1462