If you’ve been reading this blog over the last month, you’ve heard me talk about cars a lot. Recently, I attended the Cleveland Auto Show and cars have been on my mind since then. So, when I was given the opportunity for an extended test drive of the new Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited, I was so excited! Today, I’ll share all the details on this mid size SUV, plus give my take on having an SUV versus Minivan for the family car.
Disclosure: Thank you to Toyota and Drive Shop for the opportunity to test drive the Toyota Highlander. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited
My husband has a very old Toyota Highlander, so this car was not unfamiliar to us. However, there have been so many upgrades to the Highlander since we purchased ours.
It goes without saying that Toyota is a leader in safety in their class. Therefore, I was not surprised to see all of their new safety features. Of course this car comes equipped with a back up camera but also features driver warnings for falling outside a lane or getting too close to another car! The first time I heard the audible warning, I was startled, but the warning certainly kept me on my toes from that point on!
The navigation features that this car had were an added bonus. You can review nearby traffic, get directions and even find local areas of interest with the touchscreen system.
I had never driven a hybrid car so I had no idea how quiet it drives! The the gas mileage with the hybrid was unbelievable (29-30 MPG City and 27-28 MPG Highway). For a week’s worth of driving around town, I barely had used a quarter tank!
The feature I was most interested to see was the set up of the 2nd and 3rd rows. The second row of this Highlander had captain seats with a walk through space in the middle for easy access to the backseat. This is a game changer! So easy to get to the back row. We filled this car up with two adults and 5 kids and had no problem transporting a whole rowdy crew to a school function!
Other fun and luxurious features of this car included heated AND air-conditioned seats (some day it’ll be warm enough around here to need these!), premium sound system and SOFT leather seats!
Overall, we absolutely loved how this car drove and all the features that this car provides! It is hard to find another mid size SUV on the market that provides so much safety, quality and luxury all in one!
What to Consider When Buying a Family Car
Inevitably at some point as your family starts to grow, you wonder what is the best car for your situation? Perhaps this question comes up most often when your family grows to 3 or more kids. When I was pregnant with our third child, we were in need of a new car. So, we reviewed and analyzed a lot of car options in a certain price point and ultimately it came down to a minivan or a mid size SUV with a third row option. We decided on a minivan as it offered a lot of convenience and accessibility for a family with three kids under the ages of 5. Mind you, I was the girl in my twenties who said I would NEVER own a mini van. Famous last words.
I’ve come a long way from the young mom who couldn’t imagine being the minivan mom, to a mom who LOVES her minivan! There is a season of life that it is just hard to beat having one! That being said, as my kids have gotten older and more independent, I am realizing my next car might not have to be a minivan!
Benefits of a Minivan
Three words: Automatic sliding doors! In all seriousness, this feature is one of the best. I can be in a parking lot and with a click of a button, the passenger doors open and the kids can get in the car and buckled in their seats. Granted, my youngest does need help getting buckled into his child seat, so I am not off the hook. But this feature does make life easier. When the kids were younger and less mobile, it was still nice to have the automatic doors so I didn’t have to put down everything in my hands to open the door! With automatic doors, you don’t have to worry about kids opening car doors and hitting the car next to you (eeks!).
So besides fabulous doors, what else is great about a minivan? There is a lot of space for everyone to spread out, which is especially great on long road trips. There is enough room in all the rows that the front and middle row passengers can even recline their seats and not impact the person behind them. We’ve got plenty of room to stick coolers, pillows and kids stuff into the main cargo areas. The entire seating area allows for everyone to be together but not on top of each other.
Am I Ready for a Mid Size SUV?
So now, after singing its praises, could I really part with my minivan and move on to an SUV? The answer is YES. I learned this past week, after driving the Toyota Highlander around, that my kids are pretty self sufficient. How did that happen?? My big kids can open car doors and are aware enough not to hit the car next to them with the door. In this season of life, strollers in the trunk have been replaced with sports equipment. I am no longer a mom to three very little kids!
I do believe that a minivan is perfect for young families and now I also believe that a mid size SUV is a great option for families who are past the infant stage. If you are a mom of three kids or less to elementary kids and up and are ready for a new car, I think it is a great time to consider a mid size SUV.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Debating SUV versus Minivan:
How many kids do you have or plan to have?
If you plan to be a family of four, then a midsize SUV would be a good option. If you are a family of five (or plan to be) then a mid size SUV or minivan would both be options. However, if you have a family of more than five, a minivan is almost certainly your best bet!
What are the ages of your kids?
Minivan is great for families with kids 5 and under.
Mid Size SUV is appropriate for kids in boosters and older!
Will you take a lot of family road trips?
Both types of cars are road trip friendly and have their benefits. You do need to consider, that for a family of five in a mid size SUV, trunk space would be very limited. If you had a lot of stuff, you could use a roof top compartment for extra storage. It really depends on the size of your family and how much stuff you take along with you!
Are my kids able to get in and out of the car on their own?
This question is most important for families with little ones. Minivans win hands down for ease of enter and exit into the vehicle. Plus, in my opinion, it is easier to get inside the minivan and assist with buckling kids into car seats. But with older kids, they are more than able easily get into an SUV, so accessibility isn’t quite as big of a concern.
How many passengers will typically be in the car?
The midsize SUV could be perfect for a family of four especially if you don’t always need the third row. You could put the third row down when you are transporting things and then back up when you need to transport additional passengers.
The minivan is a great if you always have five or more passengers. You can fit everyone in the car plus you still have enough room in the trunk for baggage, strollers, etc.
How much cargo space do you need?
Are you always carting around ‘stuff’ in addition to your passengers? Consider strollers, coolers, sports equipment, etc. With the third row in use, the trunk space is very small. While a small umbrella stroller could fit in this space, a double jogging stroller could not. Of course you could always add additional cargo space with a rooftop storage container. But this kind of container is practical for long trips and not necessarily for around town.
Is the minivan mom stereotype something that concerns you?
In all seriousness, the minivan stereotype is enough to “steer” people away from it. I do think that for most people, once they have driven a minivan and embraced its benefits, they no longer care about the coolness factor. But if this is something you could not get past, then the midsize SUV is a nice compromise.
Is fuel efficiency or lowering your carbon footprint one of your priorities?
The miles per gallon for minivans and midsize SUVs might not be significantly different (Toyota Sienna 27 MPG Highway/19 MPG City versus Toyota Highlander 24 MPG Highway/20 MPG City). However, you are able to find Hybrid offerings of midsize SUVs. Currently, there is only one Hybrid minivan on the market (the Chrysler Pacifica) while you can find several options for Hybrid SUVs. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid gets 29-30 MPG City and 27-28 MPG Highway!!
There are so many things to consider when purchasing a family car. My family loved our experience with the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid so much that my five-year old was sad to see it go! We will definitely keep this car on list for our next car purchase.
What are your must have features for your family’s car?