3-Row SUV Battle: 2024 Honda Pilot vs Toyota Grand Highlander


If you are looking for a 3-row SUV and are overwhelmed with several different options, I feel your pain. I was in your shoes a few months ago and spent several weeks choosing the right choice for my needs. As a person who drives all entries on a regular basis, it can even be confusing depending on your budget. This week, we have had a chance to compare the most anticipated two entries in the segment.

On one side, we have the Honda Pilot, it has been one of the bestseller 3-row SUVs for decades and still is one of the most well-known Honda models available. On the other side, we have a new kid on the block, the Grand Highlander. Though Toyota is not new to the 3-row SUV game, they have been selling the Highlander for several years. Even though both models are still available, the Grand Highlander looks and feels like an evolution of the Highlander, a better fit for North American audience.

The Looks – Exterior & Interior

Even though both entries are available in other markets, both options are exclusively designed with North American shoppers in mind. It means that both the Pilot and the Grand Highlander are big, heavy and have rugged looks. Having both press vehicles in white is a pure coincidence, but both entries represent their corporate design language that you would find in other models. I am not here to convince you which one looks better, but none of the 3-row entries are made to win beauty contests. If I have to pick one, the Grand Highlander looks slightly better especially the rear end design.

The Honda Pilot looks completely different compared to the outgoing generation, it has much more sharp lines and angles, rugged looks, and more boxy design language than we first see with the latest CR-V. Of course, the Pilot takes it to the next level with an even boxier side profile and overall looks. Our tester is the “Black Edition” package with extra blacked-out rims and accents all around the vehicle, which gives the Pilot a sportier and more upscale look.

Unlike the smaller Highlander, Toyota decided to give the Grand Highlander a completely different look. The Grand Highlander looks similar to the smaller RAV4 and other models such as the Tundra, or the Sequoia, so it has the new corporate front fascia. The Grand Highlander is also much longer than the Highlander with a significantly longer wheelbase. The Grand Highlander is almost as long as the Toyota Sienna, but with a much longer hood and boxy silhouette.

The interior design is where you feel the biggest difference between the two. I found the Honda Pilot is slightly more accommodating if you are looking for the maximum storage space, cubbies, or storage compartments, especially in the first row. You will find tons of small cubbies all around the dashboard and doors. However, this is a very monochromatic interior that feels dated even though this is a brand new platform. It is more purpose-built, but less exciting to be inside the Pilot.

I haven’t mentioned the biggest problem yet, it’s the small 9-inch screen that Honda took from a Civic and installed in the Pilot. Even though the interior has tons of physical controls and is easy to live with, the 9-inch touchscreen is small by modern standards. If you choose the lower trim, the Pilot even comes with a smaller 7-inch screen. Honda already offers a much larger and better screen with the new Accord, using a smaller screen in a much more expensive vehicle is just unacceptable.

The Grand Highlander also has a completely new dashboard design, but you would still find some parts are a carryover from the other Toyota models. Even though you get a little less cubbies or storage options compared to the Pilot, the interior feels significantly more premium. The best part is that Toyota didn’t even go full digital touch-sensitive buttons, or design gimmicks to make it look premium, it just feels as easy to use with a lot of physical controls in the dashboard. It also comes with a much larger 12.3-inch touchscreen with the latest Toyota software, which is standard even if you choose the base XLE trim. The only gripe I had was the empty buttons even with the top Limited trim and the hard touch plastics at the bottom of the dashboard.

Both entries come with digital gauge clusters, something that you would expect to see in an expensive 3-row SUV in 2024. Surprisingly, the Pilot’s digital gauge cluster offers more customizable options, it has better screen quality and it is much easier to use compared to the Grand Highlander. Toyota offers three different layouts, but they are not as customizable as the Pilot.

If you are looking for a good interior space and usability, both options are a great fit for large families. The Grand Highlander offers slightly more interior space as it is slightly longer than the Pilot, but Honda did a great job with the overall practicality. The Pilot allows to have an 8-seat configuration even with the top trim, and you can still remove the middle seat and put it in the trunk, it has a dedicated spot under the cargo floor. The Grand Highlander comes with a 7-seat configuration with the top trim, so if you are looking for the maximum seat capacity, you have to choose the lower trims.

The Drive

Both testers are the most expensive trims that you can get, but that also means there are important differences in terms of the drivetrain. The Honda Pilot offers the traditional 3-row SUV experience with a traditional drivetrain layout. It has an updated naturally aspirated V6 engine that generates 285 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. The well-known 3.5L engine no longer has the VTEC, but it offers a smoother powerband and punchier mid-range. No matter which trims you choose, the Pilot only comes with one engine and one transmission option.

Just like most Honda models, the new Pilot comes with the torque converted 10-speed automatic transmission. The Pilot also has the i-VTM4 system with a torque-splitting rear differential, which is also used in many Acura models, also called SH-AWD. It means the Pilot can send more power to the outer wheel when you turn, which increases the stability and offers a better driving experience. It can send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels and can distribute up to 100% of that torque to a single left or right wheel.

Things are a little more complicated for the Grand Highlander. In typical Toyota fashion, there are hybrid powertrains and gas-only powertrains available. Unlike the Pilot, there is no V6 engine option available no matter which trim you choose. Our tester was the top-of-the-line Hybrid Max version with a 2.4 litre inline-4 turbocharged engine that pushes 362 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the lower hybrid models, the sportier Hybrid Max comes with a 6-speed torque-converted automatic transmission and the powertrain is tuned for performance more than fuel efficiency.

Like other Toyota hybrids, all Hybrid drivetrains send power to the rear wheels with an electric motor, meaning that there is no driveshaft unless you choose the gas-only engine variant. Indeed, the Grand Highlander Hybrid Max is much faster on the straight line, but it feels very front-wheel biased when driven in a spirited fashion, there is more torque steer and the Honda Pilot offers a little better driving dynamics with a more playful rear-end.

When driven normally, as most 3-row owners would, the differences are much more minimal. The Pilot has slightly better road manners with a smoother powertrain and a more compliant suspension tune. However, it feels a little underpowered especially when you try to merge on a ramp, the 10-speed transmission needs to work harder and downshift a few gears to be in the right powerband.

Toyota knows how to build hybrid powertrains, and it is one of the smoothest hybrid options available. The transition from an EV mode to gas mode is relatively smooth, it just can’t be as smooth as a silky V6, especially on the highway. However, the engine feels much more alive, and the electric motors send more power to avoid turbo lag, making it the perfect drivetrain for everyday use. It gives you that thrill when you hustle it, and it is very well suited to the size of the vehicle.

2nd Place: Honda Pilot

The 2024 Honda Pilot looks completely new, but it still offers the golden formula – things you expect to see in a 3-row SUV. It is the most purpose-built 3-row SUV on the market with utilitarian features. It is also big, comfortable, reliable and offers a stress-free experience. The updated Pilot looks much better than the outgoing platform, and the i-VTM rear differential offers a little better driving dynamics than the other entries in this segment, if this is what you are looking for – look no further.

The shortcomings such as the smaller screen, and the bland interior are more obvious as the segment rapidly evolves. However, those notable annoyances should not dissuade shoppers if they are looking for a traditional 3-row SUV experience. If you don’t have to have a panoramic moonroof, the Canadian EX-L trim offers one of the best values in this segment with great features for the price.

1st Place: Toyota Grand Highlander

The new Grand Highlander is one of the most desirable 3-row SUVs in the market for multiple reasons. It does everything exceptionally well and is the most livable entry in this segment. It has good road manners, great looks and interior design, and an excellent powertrain that offers a nice balance of performance, smoothness and efficiency. The Hybrid Max powertrain may not be a good fit for all shoppers, as it not only has lower fuel efficiency than the traditional hybrid powertrain, but it is significantly more expensive. Thankfully you have a few different drivetrain options to choose from based on your budget and lifestyle.

The Grand Highlander is the right Highlander that Toyota should have released in the first place. It is one of the larger unibody 3-row SUVs available, therefore it offers much larger cargo space and a much more usable 3rd row that’s easy to get in and out. It may not replace your Sienna, but if you want minivan-like practicality with more ground clearance and less dorky looks – The Grand Highlander is the one to get.

2024 Honda Pilot2024 Toyota Grand Highlander
Engine3.5 litre naturally aspirated V62.4 litre turbocharged inline-4
Transmission – Drivetrain10-speed automatic – AWD6-speed automatic – eAWD
Max power285 hp @ 6100 rpm362 hp (combined)
Max torque262 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm400 lb-ft (combined)
0-100 km/h7.3 sec6.2 sec
Fuel Economy (as tested)20 MPG – 11.8L / 100km22 MPG – 10.7L / 100km
Base MSRP$63,983.50 CAD$68,512.58 CAD

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