The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2024 finalist fits the family

Toyota finally filled the narrow gap in its three-row lineup.

With the addition of the Grand Highlander, Toyota’s given families a spacious third row without forcing them into the Toyota Sienna minivan, the smaller Highlander, or the compromised body-on-frame Sequoia SUV. The Toyota Grand Highlander takes the Highlander everyone knows, stretches the wheelbase, and gives it a butch SUV-like design. Its huge interior, hybrid powertrain options, and practical nature make it worthy of being one of the nine finalists for The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2024.

With the Grand Highlander, Toyota reskinned the Highlander and stripped off the look of its melting parts for a more super-sized RAV4 design. The result? A crossover SUV that looks like a body-on-frame truck-based SUV. This is the opposite look of a minivan despite the spacious interior.

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

That interior features smart storage, a tiered dashboard with an 12.3-inch touchscreen, and count them, 13 cupholders. There’s seating for seven or eight passengers depending whether the no-cost second-row captain’s chairs are optioned. All the thrones in the Grand Highlander are comfy, but the second row takes a few latches to slide forward or to collapse. Wide door openings make getting in and out a cinch. Every version, regardless of powertrain, has the third row raised up to accommodate the available hybrid powertrain’s battery pack underneath the seat bottom. 

Folding the third row opens the space from 20.6 to 57.6 cubic feet of cargo space for big store errands or the family holiday road trip, and that grows to 97.5 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded.

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

2024 Toyota Grand Highlander

Grand Highlander buyers are met with three powertrain options ranging from fuel efficient to does anyone need this much power? Base 2.4-liter turbo-4s are rated at 265 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, which is just fine. The hybrid models check in with 187 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, which borders on somewhat anemic, but the instant torque of the electric motor fills the gap while being EPA-rated at 37 mpg city, 34 highway, and 36 combined.

The Hybrid Max powertrain rates at a borderline unnecessary 362 hp and 400 lb-ft, and it swaps in quickness for fuel economy of just 27 mpg combined. The well-tuned suspension limits up and down motions, which will be welcome news to those prone to motion sickness, but there’s still plenty of lean when going around a corner. While not sloppy, at times the Grand Highlander feels more like a truck-based SUV than a crossover, despite the Highlander badging. 

It’s easy to argue the Grand Highlander is a value starting at $44,465, as it’s only sold in mid- and top-trim levels including XLE, Limited and Platinum. That puts it at a mere $1,250 premium over a comparable Highlander while delivering more space for people and stuff. A loaded Platinum will kiss $60,000, and it’s a bit out of its league at that price, but the Hybrid Max powertrain delivers the goods when it comes to power. 

Is yet another three-row crossover SUV from Toyota enough to take home the award? Is space, good packaging, the choice of efficient or powerful hybrid powertrains, and SUV-like design enough to be named The Car Connection Best Car To Buy 2024? Our editors will decide the winner here as well as at Motor Authority and Green Car Reports and announce it on Jan. 3, 2024.

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