Toyota’s newest Highlander is Grand — terribly grand

“How grand!” exclaimed Liza Minnelli’s character, Lucille Austero, in season one of “Arrested Development,” after being bid on at a charity auction. “How terribly grand!”

Those words kept echoing in my head as I cruised around in Toyota’s recent creation. It was, indeed, grand.

In fact, it said so right on the tailgate: “GRAND HIGHLANDER.” Luckily, it’s a wide enough vehicle to accommodate its prolonged name.

This is not the first vehicle to get this kind of treatment. Jeep has both Grand Cherokees and Grand Wagoneers (and its people must be giving Toyota a pretty grand stink-eye right about now). There have been Grand Caravans and Grand Marquises. So, why not a Grand Highlander?

I feel especially qualified to weigh in on this vehicle as the proud co-owner of a current-generation non-grand Highlander (which soldiers on in coexistence with the Grand). I’ve used that vehicle’s third row seat maybe twice, and each time it’s been an acrobatic routine for the person climbing into the back. Also, the trunk basically goes away with the third row seat popped up. Some aggrandizement is warranted.

Toyota has heard the feedback loud and clear, apparently, adding a precious half-foot or so of length. That in turn allows for a more usable third row and some cargo space after it.

The Grand Highlander that I drove, with the top-of-the-line Hybrid MAX powertrain, boasted 362 horsepower, thanks to the efforts of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

I was deeply skeptical that Toyota could jettison two cylinders (our 2021 model has six) while adding weight and size to the vehicle’s body, but this behemoth was swift on its feet, relatively speaking, with only the smallest wait-time for the turbo to kick in. Toyota says this is the most powerful midsize SUV the brand has ever built. (Less powerful gas-only and hybrid powertrains are available, too. All-wheel drive is optional with those, and standard with the Hybrid MAX.) I averaged about 22 miles per gallon in my mostly suburban driving.

Inside the cavernous monster, the controls were easy to use and the brown leather was smart looking. I got a remark about how minimal the background noise was during a Bluetooth phone call. The top trim levels also come with some fancy audio technology; a system that is “able to breathe life into compressed digital music formats,” according to Toyota. Further, I checked and it has a spare tire (you’ll thank me for this one day).

This particular Grand Highlander Hybrid MAX Platinum came in at $59,878 – not coincidentally coming within just a few dollars of the also-excellent Mazda CX-90 Turbo S that I recently drove ($59,950).

Surprisingly, this updated SUV got dinged a bit in crash tests, earning the best rating of “good” in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s updated side test, but only the second-best rating of “acceptable” for an offset frontal crash.

When it comes to reliability, it really doesn’t get much better than this. In the J.D. Power 2024 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, which tracks problems with three-year-old vehicles, Toyota was a runner up for the top spot – beaten out only by its own luxury brand, Lexus.

Now that is grand.

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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