Toyota Grand Highlander to be a three-row SUV rolling out of Princeton [Update]

  • New Hybrid SUV confirmed to feature three rows & offer up to eight seats
  • Tech-laden SUV expected with a semi-automated driving system and a shareable digital key
  • To be made in Indiana, USA; comfort & efficiency-focused alternative to the Sequoia
  • Likely to arrive at U.S. dealers by mid-2023, cost upwards of USD 40,000

Update: ‘Design’ and ‘Electrified powertrains’ sections updated.

A Toyota Grand Highlander SUV for the U.S. is in the making, and it will be available with hybrid technology, either as standard or optionally. Billed “the ultimate road-trip vehicle,” the new model will debut at the 2022 Chicago Auto Show on February 8, 2023.

Design

The Toyota Grand Highlander will be an extension and thus be an evolution of the Highlander, but a teaser has revealed there will be enough distinguishable design bits at the rear. The single official picture of the new model shows it featuring a modified tailgate with squarer (and a little bigger) glass, a full-width brake light integrated into the roof spoiler, sharper and boxier combination lamps with C-shaped light guides, a tailgate applique with model inscription between the combination lamps, reshaped license plate area, new bumper, horizontal fog lights, and a dual exhaust system with exposed circular outlets.

Toyota Grand Highlander rear teaser
The Toyota Grand Highlander has a thoroughly modified rear-end but its Highlander-derived roots is evident. Image Source: Toyota

Road-testing of the Toyota Grand Highlander is underway, spy pictures have revealed. The most recent sighting was in Michigan in October 2022. The shape of the Highlander prioritizes space and comfort, and the same should apply to the Grand Highlander. The Grand Highlander may feature a larger rear quarter glass, giving third-row occupants better visibility of the surroundings.

Electrified powertrains

Hybrid

The Toyota Grand Highlander will be available with hybrid technology as standard or optionally. The official teaser shows a ‘Hybrid Max’ badge on the tailgate, and we expect Toyota to use the same turbo-hybrid engine that debuted in the 2023 Crown.

In the 2023 Crown, the Hybrid Max powertrain combines the 264 hp T24A-FTS 2.4-liter gas engine with a front electric motor and a rear electric motor. It’s linked to a direct shift 6-speed automatic transmission. Full-time electronic all-wheel drive adjusts the front- and rear-wheel drive force between 70:30 and 20:80. Toyota calls this drivetrain layout ‘E-Four Advanced AWD.’ The Hybrid Max powertrain of the 2023 Crown produces 340 horsepower, which should be revised for the SUV’s application.

Plug-in Hybrid

Sooner or later, Toyota may offer the Grand Highlander with a plug-in hybrid system as well. Speaking to Green Car Reports in late 2021, Cooper Ericksen, senior vice president, Product, BEV and Mobility Planning and Strategy, Toyota Motor North America, explained the need to electrify large SUVs like the Grand Highlander and hinted at the targeted EV range. Reducing emissions of three-row SUVs and trucks will have a big impact on the environment, Ericksen said. That’s why the company sees a use case for plug-in hybrid technology on larger vehicles.

2021 Toyota Highlander rear quarters
The Toyota Highlander is 194.9/197.4 in. long, 76.0 in. wide, and 68.1 in. tall. It has a 112.2 in. wheelbase, and its cargo volume is 84.3 cu. ft. The Grand Highlander with bigger dimensions would be a mammoth of an SUV. Image Source: Toyota

Toyota raised the bar for PHEVs in the U.S. with the RAV4 Prime in 2020. Despite doing 0-60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, the SUV offers 42 miles of EPA-est. electric range. The Californian government proposes that PHEVs in the future should travel at least 50 miles in EV mode. Ericksen said customers aren’t demanding that high a range. While Toyota can offer 50 miles on a car or a compact SUV (as the battery cost is manageable within the price of the car), for a heavy SUV, 25-30 miles of electric range is more feasible, he said. That’s the figure we expect for the potential Toyota Grand Highlander PHEV.

U.S.-developed infotainment system

Toyota Audio Multimedia system
The Toyota Grand Highlander should borrow the new Toyota Audio Multimedia system from the 2023 Highlander. Image Source: Toyota

The Toyota Grand Highlander would get Toyota’s all-new infotainment system developed by its Texas-based Connected Technologies team. It may come in 8-inch and 12.3-inch touchscreen versions like in the Highlander.

Expect features like OTA update capability, dual-Bluetooth connectivity, standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and Connected Service Drive Connect, including a voice assistant that responds to prompts starting with “Hey Toyota.” Available subscription services may include Wi-Fi hotspot running on AT&T’s 4G network, Apple Music and Amazon Music streaming, and SiriusXM satellite radio.

Safety

Toyota Grand Highlander may include Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 (TSS 3.0) as standard. The Japanese automaker’s latest active safety technologies and advanced driver assistance systems include upgraded forward-facing cameras with higher resolution and wider angles and improved radar sensors for a longer and wider field of view.

With TSS 3.0 standard, we expect each grade of the Grand Highlander to feature a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, and Automatic High Beams. Rear Seat Reminder, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Rear Seat Reminder will likely be standard, too. Toyota could offer its Advanced Park System to give customers the convenience of hands-free parking optionally.

Toyota Grand Highlander vs. Toyota Sequoia

The Toyota Grand Highlander should easily carve a place in the line-up though the well-established Toyota Sequoia has just received a complete redesign, offering the convenience of seven seats. The Grand Highlander will be more of a family hauler designed for road trips, while the Sequoia is for adventurous drives in relatively more challenging driving conditions.

The Sequoia targets adventure-minded families with an active lifestyle who get off the beaten path regularly. Its body-on-frame chassis would make it a more robust model than the Grand Highlander. Don’t expect the Grand Highlander to match the Sequoia’s off-roading and towing capabilities. However, the former would be lighter and thus easier to drive and maneuver. Toyota may also throw in better comfort and convenience features and pitch it as a plusher offering.

A big upside of the Grand Highlander should be the promise of plug-in hybrid technology, which Toyota is unlikely to introduce in the Sequoia in the foreseeable future. The gas mileage of the Grand Highlander should be better than the Sequoia which does 24 mpg on the highway (EPA). Plug-in hybrids have the advantage of being much quieter than traditional gas or hybrid cars, making for a more comfortable driving experience.

Competitors

The Toyota Grand Highlander would compete with the Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer, and Kia Telluride. Toyota would need to develop the Grand Highlander such that it can one-up the competitors on all fronts, including space, quality, comfort, and fuel efficiency, to top sales.

Release Date

The Toyota Grand Highlander will likely start arriving at U.S. dealerships by mid-2023. It could become the Toyota Grand Kluger for Australia. In New Zealand, Toyota could launch the large SUV with its original name.

Production

In April 2021, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) revealed that it plans to manufacture two all-new, three-row electrified SUVs, one with a Toyota badge and the other with the Lexus emblem, at its Princeton plant in Indiana (USA). The company announced an $803 million investment and 1,400 new jobs at the American car factory to make the two unnamed large SUVs.

Toyota said it has designed the three-row SUVs keeping “the Gen Y American Family” in mind. It’s safe to assume they will be the Toyota Grand Highlander and the rumored Lexus TX, a replacement for the Lexus RX L. “The two new products we’re going to introduce, the one Toyota product and the one Lexus product, will be electrified vehicles,” said Tim Hollander, VP – Manufacturing, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana.

Toyota says that the all-new SUVs will accommodate up to eight people and offer hands-free semi-autonomous driving in certain conditions. For dealers, the Grand Highlander could be a more attractive model than the Highlander because of its higher margins.

When on sale, customers can expect a semi-automated driving system—which will allow for hands-free driving in certain conditions—a remote parking system allowing the driver to park and unpark from outside the vehicle using a smartphone, and a digital key that turns a user’s smartphone into their key and allows them to share it digitally. Both the Lexus and Toyota versions will offer seating for up to eight passengers.

Toyota Motor, on April 28, 2021

Full electrification unlikely for Toyota Grand Highlander/Highlander

Toyota is unlikely to offer the Highlander or the Grand Highlander with a pure-electric powertrain anytime soon. Jack Hollis, executive vice president, Sales, Toyota Motor North America, and president, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., thinks that the U.S. “isn’t mature enough” for EVs, The Wall Street Journal reported on August 18, 2022. He suggests that costliness and poor public charging infrastructures will likely hinder large-scale EV adoption. The company may consider replacing the Highlander and/or Grand Highlander with a large bZ SUV eventually, but such a move may not be in the foreseeable future.

TopElectricSUV says

The upcoming Toyota Grand Highlander will have plenty of space for adults in the third row, overcoming the biggest limitation of the current model. In addition, the new SUV will likely have more cargo room behind the third row of seats. The new looks, and modern features including a new hybrid system, semi-autonomous driving system, and shareable digital key should make it more premium and appealing than the Highlander.

Toyota Grand Highlander FAQs

What is the Toyota Grand Highlander release date?

Toyota Grand Highlander will debut on Feb 8, 2023, and likely go on sale by mid-2023.

What will be the Toyota Grand Highlander price?

The Toyota Grand Highlander should start upwards of USD 40,000.

Which SUVs will be Toyota Grand Highlander rivals?

The Grand Highlander could compete with the likes of Chevrolet Traverse, VW Atlas, Hyundai Palisade & Kia Telluride.

Featured Image Source: Toyota