When Jay and I last went car shopping, we decided on a small-ish SUV. Our reasoning was that we only have one child, so there isn’t any reason to purchase a larger SUV when we are only carting three people around most of the time. That reasoning went out the window pretty quickly once Josh started getting a little bigger. We often go places with my parents and stuffing the two of them in the back seat with Josh is, well, kind of tight. We also wind up bringing Josh’s friends with us many times and once you add a few teens in the mix, the back seat can start feeling kind of small. We started thinking maybe a larger SUV with three rows would be an improvement, but I had a number of reasons why I thought I didn’t want a larger SUV. Let’s just say the Toyota Highlander Hybrid I test drove for a week completely blew most of my objections out of the water. Let me go over my concerns and how the Highlander put them to rest.
Concern #1: A larger SUV will be a gas guzzler and cost me a lot of money to operate, especially when I am just running errands around town.
Reality: The Toyota Highlander Hybrid actually used less gas than my smaller SUV. Yep, I was shocked too!! I’m not really up on all of the technology on how this whole hybrid thing works, but what I was able to comprehend is that the battery actually creates energy from the brakes’ friction when you stop or slow down. So all of that running around town I was doing was actually helping to charge the electric battery in the car and it never needs to be plugged in. And this vehicle actually gets better city mileage than highway thanks to this fancy hybrid configuration. What???? Yes, you read that right! This hybrid blew my small SUV out of the water on fuel efficiency around town. So much for that objection, right?
Concern #2: I will have trouble backing up and handling a larger SUV.
Reality: I was really worried about the safety of backing up in a larger vehicle like the Toyota Hylander. Being able to see the blind spots is a real concern, but Toyota addressed it beautifully with all of their safety features. The back up camera is one of the best I’ve experienced. Crystal clear and easy to see (unlike mine which has really poor placement and is hard to see in bright sunlight). The detector that lets you know if someone is in your blind spot while backing up is almost creepy in how good it is. I was backing out of a parking spot in a nearby strip mall and the car detected a vehicle headed towards me when it was several cars down! Color me REALLY impressed. Again, I actually felt more confident backing up the Highlander than I do my smaller SUV.
Additionally, the Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P) — Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection34 (PCS w/PD) and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA) add another level of protection by detecting when a collision might happen and alerting the driver and/or helping to adjust the vehicle. The best part? These are standard – no extra cost to have them on your vehicle. Way to go Toyota!!
Concern #3: Yes, we will have an extra row of seats, but then there will be no trunk area storage when the seats are up.
Reality: There is actually a decent amount of space behind that third row of seats. I put the seats up and did some regular shopping and running around and never once felt like it was too small. The additional benefit is that, when you do put the third row down, you have a HUGE space for hauling whatever you might need to cart around that is big.
Concern #4: The third row of seats isn’t really usable for normal sized humans.
Reality: We’ve all been in vehicles that say they have a 3rd row but really don’t have enough leg room in them to seat anyone but a toddler back there. This is NOT one of those vehicles. Josh (age 13) happily tried out the 3rd row and felt very comfortable with plenty of leg room without squishing anyone in the 2nd row. He also appreciated how easy it was to get in and out of the third row with just the flip of a lever. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask an adult to sit back there, even for an extended drive.
Just an added note – the second row can be customized to include two captains chairs, like the model I drove, or a bench seat if you are looking for additional seating.
Concern #5: A larger SUV will cost more.
Reality: Yes, actually, this is a factor when making a decision. The model that I test drove has a MSRP of just under $50,000. However, a lot of that cost is because of the hybrid technology and that does save you money in the long run. I also factor in how long a vehicle will last and my experiences with Toyotas have always been that they last a long, long time and have relatively low repair costs. (We had a number of Toyotas while I was growing up and my biggest complaint as a kid was that they lasted too long and we didn’t replace them with something with a cooler sound system. Now that I am the one paying for the vehicles, I recognize the ridiculousness of that complaint – sorry mom and dad!)
There were also a number of other features that just added to my love of this vehicle. The look – and I realize this is a non-factor to some people – but I really loved the color (Topaz) and the lines of the Highlander. Everything from the grille to the hubcaps just looked so classy.
I loved the five (yes FIVE!) USB ports throughout the Highlander. It made keeping everyone connected and charged super easy. Plus the front seats have a nifty little ledge to put odds and ends on and it has a cut-out where you can feed your cords through. A little thing, but I really liked it!
I also loved that the dashboard right in front of the driver can include information like upcoming turns, speed, and even the speed limit so that the driver does not even have to glance over to the Navigation screen for that information. I loved the key fob start and easy lock/unlock features. I also loved the remote automated lift gate – which seems like something every SUV should have but mine does not. And the sun roof – let me tell you about the sun roof.
It is big enough to cover both the front and second rows! It gives the option of having a really bright and sunny feeling in the car. Of course, if it’s hot, you can just pull the shade closed and keep cool. Heated and cooling seats are another touch that add to the overall comfort of the Highlander.
Was there anything I would add or change abut the Highlander to make it my perfect dream vehicle? Not a whole lot to be honest. I would love to see Apple CarPlay as an option. I’ve been told that the Highlander has its own phone integration system but I didn’t install it or pair my phone for such a short time, so I cannot compare it to CarPlay to say if it is as good or not. I also love the feature when a car lets you project your dash information onto the windshield as it really allows you to not have to take your eyes off the road, even to check your speed or directions. I’d love to see that feature added as well.
After a week of driving the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, I was really sorry to have to give it back! I loved the smooth ride and easy handling as well as all of the features I raved about above. It is definitely high on the list of vehicles we will be considering when we go to make our next purchase!