Is your family in the market for a new car? Are you trying to decide if a large SUV or minivan is right for your family?

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. You might be surprised by my opinion!

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!


What to consider when deciding between an SUV or minivan for your family #proscons #gasmileage #bigfamily

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

Review of Toyota Highland Hybrid Limited

Favorite Features

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.

What to Consider When Purchasing Family Car

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!

SUV with Third Row Seating

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 is the best car for a family of 5


Best Cars for Moms

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 Considering SUV or a Minivan //Pros Cons:

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!

Things to Consider When Purchasing Family Car

Trunk Space with 3rd Row in Use

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! However, when it comes to our next car purchase I will need to weigh out the pros and cons of a minivan versus an SUV!

What are your must have features for your family’s car?

How to Decide Between a SUV or Minivan for Family Car



  1. Erin | Chasing Sweet and Simple on March 22, 2018 at 8:12 am

    I liked your comparisons of both-gave me some things to think about!! We have a Honda Pilot and LOVE it!…although the trunk space is definitely lacking 🙁

  2. Livi on March 22, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    That looks like a great car. Car shopping is definitely hard!

  3. julie on March 22, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    We used to drive a Highlander and LOVED it!

  4. ashley peavey on March 22, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    This looks great! We are currently looking at cars, and this is one of our choices!

  5. Dara on March 26, 2018 at 8:31 am

    I love that you can walk to the back seats! It has the same amount of seats as my van.

  6. Amy @ Orison Orchards on June 4, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks for the detailed analyses and comparison! We currently own a Suburban, but as our kids head off to college, we’re looking to downsize. I didn’t know the smaller SUV’s got such great gas mileage!

  7. Mary Leigh on June 4, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    This is so timely over here as our car just died last week so we are shopping for a new family car! We might make the jump to a minivan, but I really like these different points you bring up in comparison!

  8. Suki on March 11, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Thank you so much! I was looking for a mom review. You know exactly what do we need. Im one of the Im never gonna drive a minivan but Im in that stage where I feel I need it for make my life easy haha thanks a lot!

    • Jaclyn on March 11, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      Suki-Your welcome! I always said I would NEVER drive a minivan…and six years later I still love mine.

  9. Lissa on March 1, 2020 at 9:00 am

    I drive a 2018 Toyota Highlander. My choice was between the Sienna or highlander as I am a Toyota person. At the time I had a 5, 2 and almost 1 year old so I was heavily leaning toward the Minivan but I went with the SUV for several reason.
    First I bought a highlander with a bench for the middle row so my car can fit 8 people in it. I regularly keep 3 car seats side by side across the 2nd row so I can chat with my kiddos. This means that I have a huge trunk area with the third row folded down. Next this car will hopefully last for 10-12 years. By then I’ll have high schoolers and I decided it would better serve us in the upcoming years than a minivan.
    The biggest reason I went with the Highlander is while I was car shopping I mentioned that I was so glad to be able to drive a Toyota again. I had been driving a very old used Dodge Caravan and we spent so much money on upkeep that a car payment was almost comparable. I especially hated how often my tires had to be replaced. The sales man sheepishly told me that the Sienna is such a long car that it will go through tired and brakes just as quickly. The Highlander is 10” shorter and much lighter which translates into hundreds of dollars of savings a year in tires and brakes and pads. I love my highlander. It’s like the Siennas cooler younger sister and no one knows I’m toting 3 screaming babies around!

    • Susana on September 13, 2021 at 2:08 am

      So the highlander gives you space in second row for three carseats?

      • Jaclyn on September 13, 2021 at 8:55 am

        We had two boosters and a car seat. I think three big car seats could be tricky but maybe doable.

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