Toyota and Ford each have strong entrants in the midsize three-row SUV class with the Highlander representing the Japanese automaker and the long-running Explorer carrying the torch for the Blue Oval. The standard Highlander already outsells the Explorer by a slim margin, but Toyota is eyeing a bigger slice of the sales pie against Ford with its all-new 2024 Grand Highlander.
The Grand Highlander, as the name suggests, is the larger and more upscale iteration of the standard Highlander. Additionally, it sports a more stylish design, more creature comforts and technology, and a Toyota Hybrid Max powertrain, the same setup found in the Crown full-size sedan. As of this writing, Toyota still hasn’t released the full specs for the Grand Highlander, but it’s already shaping up to best the Explorer.
The Grand Highlander Offers Two Hybrid Powertrains
As mentioned, the 2024 Grand Highlander will be available with Toyota’s Hybrid Max powertrain which will deliver 362 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful midsize Toyota SUV ever built. Toyota claims the Hybrid Max engine will scoot from 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds, and equipped models can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The Hybrid Max model is expected to be the priciest of the Grand Highlanders (Toyota hasn’t released official MSRPs for each model). Those looking for the efficiency of a hybrid powertrain will also have the option of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with two electric motors for a total output of 243 horsepower. This is the same powertrain found in the hybrid Highlander, which returns up to 36 combined mpg.
A choice of hybrid powertrains is not available in the Explorer. All hybrid Explorer models are fitted with a 3.3-liter V-6 paired with a single electric motor for a total output of 318 horsepower that moves the Ford from 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds.
The Explorer Hybrid is down 14 percent in horsepower versus the Hybrid Max engine in the Grand Highlander, and it’s far less efficient than Toyota’s base hybrid engine — the Ford only delivers up to 27 combined mpg. Though the added weight and dimensions of the Grand Highlander are likely to return less than the 36 combined mpg the 2.5-liter hybrid delivers in the Highlander hybrid, it should certainly exceed the Explorer’s fuel economy.
The option of two hybrid powertrains should appeal to more prospective buyers where efficiency is a strong factor to consider in a family hauler. The Grand Highlander’s base powertrain should offer far better efficiency versus the Explorer Hybrid, and the Hybrid Max setup will offer more power than all Explorers save for the performance-oriented Explorer ST.
The Highlander Offers A More Upscale Experience
Toyota hasn’t yet released full pricing for the Grand Highlander, but it’s expected to start in the mid-$40,000 range with the top-spec Hybrid Max iterations starting in the low $50,000s. If that holds true, the Explorer will be the cheaper option — it starts under $40,000 and the top-tier ST is $51,600. However, the Toyota will come with a long list of more upscale features and should have a more luxe interior, providing better bang for the buck.
The Grand Highlander will feature notable standard features like a 12.3-inch center display, synthetic leather upholstery, a configurable center console, a power liftgate, heated front seats, second-row sunshades, wireless charging, a second-row climate control panel, third-row USB ports, Wi-Fi hotspot, and 13 cupholders. Additionally, the Grand Highlander is equipped with the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite of safety features with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert added on as standard.
The base Explorer includes a power liftgate, cloth seats, an eight-inch touchscreen, and triple-zone automatic climate control, and slightly less standard safety features and driver’s aids. Ford buyers will need to dish out more dough for a mid-range Explorer for a similar list of features, and with the ST-Line and Limited starting around $48,000, the Ford quickly gets expensive moving up in trim. So, the Toyota may cost more, but you get a lot more for your money.
It's also vital to note that the mid-range Explorer models can only accommodate six passengers with standard captain’s chairs in the second row. This could be a dealbreaker, money aside, for buyers needing to haul more passengers.
The Grand Highlander Is More Spacious Than The Explorer
With its added dimensions, the Grand Highlander offers 37.2 inches of headroom in the third row and 33.5 inches of legroom for rear seat passengers. The Explorer delivers 38.9 inches of rear headroom, which is slightly more than the Toyota, but 1.3 fewer inches of rear legroom. While those figures are close, the Grand Highlander can accommodate quite a bit more stuff. The Toyota maxes out at 97.5 cubic feet behind the front seats, a full 10 cubic feet more than the Ford.
The Explorer offers 18.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear row, while the Grand Highlander can accommodate up to 20.6 cubic feet. One knock against the Explorer for those who need to move a lot of people is many models offer seating for up to six with a max occupancy of seven passengers. The Grand Highlander will offer seating for either seven or eight passengers.
Grand Expectations For The Grand Highlander
We will have to wait for the full spec sheet to get into the full comparison of the Grand Highlander versus the Explorer, but already the Toyota is shaping up to be a more appealing option in several key categories for three-row midsized SUVs. The Grand Highlander is expected to officially arrive this summer, and when it does, we’ll know for sure how it stacks up in the real world against the Explorer.