March 7, 2006

Dad's Eye View: The Toyota Highlander Hybrid

toyota_highlander.jpgFor several months now, I've been mulling over the idea of getting dads and dads-to-be to review cars and give accounts of their car-buying-or-not-buying experiences. It turns out DT reader Kaz has been eyeing the Toyota Highlander Hybrid to replace their Subaru Forester for almost as long. So when Kaz wondered about the compatibility of leather interiors and milk-and-crayon-wielding children, I asked if he'd share his Dad's Eye View of the car.

And if "you" means "a guy with a baby contemplating a car that will define him for the rest of his life," his review starts off by revealing exactly the short hairs the car salesman has you by.

It was a pre-emptive strike. At least, thats one of the ways I justified it. It was also: the same or slightly better gas mileage but more room, safer, good for the environment. But it was a pre-emptive strike to avoid ending up with a mini-van. We havent talked about having a second (or third, etc) child, and we promised we wouldnt until the first one turned two. But we make several trips back home (about 1k miles round-trip) a year, and there were times, especially around Christmas, when the old car (Subaru Forester) was just too jam-packed full of stuff. Even with a car carrier up top.

Dad stuff:

  • Washable crayon washed off the leather okay.
  • Second-row seats slide back so you can delay shoes on the backs of the seats for a few more months.
  • Much more room than a Forester. Im not sure about Bugaboo room, but if someone wants to buy me one, Ill let them know.
  • Vents for cooling hybrid batteries are under the second-row seats. We usually put the kids diaper bag (and whatever else we can cram there) in the foot area under the seat with the car seat. Now we have to be careful not to block the vents.
  • Privacy glass is nice, but still doesnt prevent her from trying to look at the sun. If anything, it may encourage it by making the sun less harsh to look at.
  • Second-row cupholders. Two on door okay for sippy cups, not okay for soda cans or juice/soy boxes with some still in it. Slamming the door shut causes soda/juice/soy to go all over the door. These things belong in the cup holders in the fold-down center arm-rest. Unfortunately, this is within grabbing range.
  • Oh yeah, latch underneath and anchors on the backs of the second-row seats.
  • Bigger size means more of a reach for the glove box to get napkins. However, there is a small storage area on the rear of the arm rest for back-seat napkin storage.


    Guy stuff:

  • The hybrid actually has more HP (268) than the non-HP Highlander. Really nice pick-up and passing ability. Some noise with hard acceleration, but nothing like the Subaru.
  • Nav system is always fun (even though it adds extra work to things like changing the fan settings), but for whatever reason, they did not include BlueTooth in the Highlander. My guess is they want you to spend the extra $10k to upgrade to the Lexus.
  • Heated leather sets rock.
  • The auto-dimming rear-view mirror is nice, however, it does reduce rear clarity of visibility a bit, making it slightly more difficult to identify cars with lights on top. A good radar detector can help alleviate these problems a bit.
  • There are two lighters/plugs up front. However, one is down under the center console in a little hollow they call a storage area. It is fine, but to plug/unplug while moving is difficult. It also stretched the phone charger or radar detector cord quite a bit.
  • 6-CD in-dash, 6 speaker system. Not great, but better than the standard stereo system.
  • Power moon roof. Also very cool. Probably even cooler once the weather gets warmer.


    Overall, I am very happy with it so far. Most of the time I am childless and just commuting to work, but it makes a hr each way trip much more tolerable. The kid seems to enjoy it. She quickly adapted from seeing the Forester and saying Daddys! to the Highlander. She also likes to see out the moon roof. We elected not to get the rear seat entertainment system because my daughter is at the age where, if she watches a DVD on there once, she will cry for it every time she gets in the car.

  • 43 Comments

    I suppose buying anything hybrid these days is a good thing. Cars should all be hybrids, and the only way we'll get there is by actually buying the ones available today.

    But does this guy actually think he's being more macho because he's buying a Highlander than a Sienna? Unfortunately for those seeking man-points the Highlander (and Pilot and MDX and, well, all of them) falls into the same "mostly seen operated by a wealthy-looking 40-year-old woman wearing a scowl driving a single three year old to the grocery store to buy soy yogurt" category. Minivan-avoidance for the sake of minivan-avoidance is futile. You're still in the same vehicle as the angry mom you desperately don't want to resemble. What you've avoided is more room for the money and those great big useful sliding doors.

    And there's an underlying issue that's not often discussed: Is buying a big vehicle to cover the 1% of the time a normal car isn't big enough justifiable? You're now driving a vehicle big enough to kill a Camry full of nuns if you hit them at 25mph in the grocery store parking lot -- because you couldn't fit Christmas presents into the Forester once a year -- and you have only ONE child?

    Maybe, in the end, this Highlander's a hybrid, so it's all okay. But on the other hand, maybe it's not...

    Wow. Harsh.

    I certainly felt I had thought out the wording carefully enough that "at least that's one of the ways I justified it" would let everyone know that I was really just finding excuses to buy the car.

    And another thing, the nuns around here don't drive Camrys!

    Here in the red states, we drive vehicles big enough to crush Highlanders full of nuns....

    [seriously, I hope the nuns are reading this and stay off the road... -ed.]

    Seriously, AD, if that's the hatin' you need to keep you warm, I think you should be directing your minivan/suv-related rage at me, since I'm the one who set Kaz up that way in the intro.

    I've never laid out a manifesto for why I mention cars here, except that I like them and always have, even as I hate a lot of things about SUV's. But switching from a "guy car" to a "family car" is often one of the things on a dad-to-be's plate, and let's face it: no matter what great cars Odysseys and Siennas and such are, and no matter how unfair, there's a popular sentiment that minivans are total mom cars. And that freaks some guys out. Unless you're willing to share your secrets for total mastery of the psychological/emotional landscape of parenting that allows the excess mental bandwidth to worry so much about every other driver on the road, how about cuttin' some slack?

    The gargantuan lifechanging and marketing forces behind the SUV and minivan movements don't need ANY help from me, though. I'd rather see discussion of some alternatives and some actual-user, non-sales-pitch perspectives make it into the discussion. [So far, that's mostly taken the shape of stationwagon-worship, which is hilarious, since I can still hear my young teenaged a*hole self promising that I would NEVER get something so lame as a station wagon because it was such a total mom car.]

    Now, of course, I drive the 20-yo car my friends' moms used to drive to bridge club, but I live in NYC and hate all you car people, minivanners and SUV'ers alike, because you don't signal and you can't parallel park. And my brother has a Sienna and my dad has a friggin' LX450, why, I still cannot imagine.

    So. Would a frank, but respectful discussion of minivan avoidance be useful right about now?

    Perhaps I misread, but I didn't think he was buying for the macho effect. If he was, he would have bought this.

    It wouldn't crush a car full of nuns, but it sure as hell would beat them from a standing start.

    And, bonus points for being a hybrid: half internal combustion, half jet engine. All VW.

    After being put in a shame spiral by AgnesDad for buying a car larger than a Mini Cooper for our soon-to-arrive youngster, I thought I'd add a few of our experiences with the Hi-Hy; which was purchased absent any consumer reports or daddytypes endorsements because:

    *It would fit into a narrow pre-1910 garage (windows folded); something that disqualified Pilot and MDX.
    *We assumed that at some point we'd want to transport someone other than just the 3 of us, up to and including 2 in-laws coming from the airport; hence Honda Element was out as was a sedan.
    *There were no Hybrid minivans

    Our experience to date has been:
    *In spite of attempting very careful to not exploit the power of the electric/gas combo (which really makes it feel like a V8) the in-city gas mileage is below the advertised 33 mpg (closer to 20). Seems the computer is loathe to stay on the battery power for more than a few seconds, may not be as big of an issue somewhere flatter than San Francisco.
    *Adults love the flat floor in the rear. No hump=riding in the middle ain't so bad.

    We've yet to experience the car as a baby conveyance, but since we'll be perceived as yuppy breeders wherever we go once junior arrives; at least we're doing it in a comfortable, powerful, and semi-responsible vehicle.

    [and if you ever see one of these guys trying to act all macho, AgnesDad, just call his car a "Hi-Hy." -ed.]

    Just to add my $.02 on the mileage thing.. I didn't address that because it is being addressed everywhere. I did mentioned that realistically, it will still get at least as good of mileage at the Forester. I doubt my Forester got the EPA mileage the way I drove it. And I can't (totally) blame Toyota for advertising the EPA mileage, which they are perfectly within their legal right to do.

    I'd just throw in that I've been getting low-mid 20's, which to me is good when you factor in (a) the heat is on most of the time now, and (b)the car is still pretty new.

    I wonder if anyone has done a study -- does it use less gas to stick 7 people in a hybrid SUV versus having to take two, say, Accords or Camrys someplace...?

    [only God knows. Well, God and the nuns. But they're all taking public transit now. -ed.]

    We have a Suburu Forester and are looking at getting the Highlander Hybrid for these reasons:
    1. my partner's commuter vehicle is an '88 toyota pickup that's about to croak.
    2. we need more space on those long treks, across mountain ranges (4wd required), during the holiday season (we have one child and plan on having another).
    3. buying a hybrid makes us feel good.

    btw, we'll be keeping the subaru as the in-town family car as I do all the kid transportation.

    as an aside: I really, really wish I could buy something bigger than a Forester with a standard transmission!

    I wouldn't suggest this as either a strategic or tactical ploy, but here's food for thought. My newly-pregnant wife skidded and crashed head-on in her Cavalier, into a Landcruiser (in 1996). Tally - no one hurt, Cavalier totalled, and 3 kids in back of the Landcruiser were asking "Mom, why did we stop?" - to which she said "there's a piece of Cavalier on my bumper, need to wash it off". In this weak moment, I guided my skittish wife into the Chevy dealer, Tahoe front and center, as in "next time, we'll be on the other side". A bit opportunistic, maybe, somewhat thoughtless (with respect to the 'little' cars, and their occupants) maybe, but 4 kids, another Tahoe, a Suburban, and 50 billion gallons of gas later, we've thankfully not ended up on the "low" side of the equation again. Just call me a Dad.

    [Hopefully the people you may have run over in the last ten years without realizing it were all nuns and thus, better prepared to meet their Maker than the rest of us. The psychological perception of safety is what you're talking about, because the incidence of injury for SUV passengers is far higher than in other cars--like minivans--except, of course, for the people who are hit by hard-to-maneuver, hard-to-brake, hard-to-keep-out-of-an-accident, likely-to-roll-over SUV's. Check out Malcolm Gladwell's 2004 NY'er article on the sense of security vs. actual safety of SUV's. -ed.]

    Just wanted to interject that there's an alternative to the Hi-Hy, its called the Prius. With the carseat we can carry 4 adults *plus* a hatchback full of luggage. We get about 48 MPG and have done much better on the highway. Sorry, but I have to agree with AD that the perceived need to carry tons of crap once and a while seems to be a little high on the priority list for car buyers. Before becoming a father I always wondered what was up with all the "stuff" everyone always talked about lugging around. Now with a 6 month old, I'm still wondering. We moved from NYC to Denver a while ago, and needed a car before we were even planning to have a kid. Now that he's here, it's never occurred to me that the Prius isn't adequate. Maybe I'm missing something, but what is it that you all are carrying around all the time?

    As far as "food for thought", I'd ask parents to think about how their choices actually impact their childrens lives (and their childrens and so on). It makes me nuts when someone starts to talk about their child's safety without understanding that the climate they're changing with their big SUV *is* the real safety issue. Driving your child to the doctor in the Yukon might seem safe (read the Galdwell article and youll understand that its not), but if you're going because of his asthma or her troublesome allergies, you should consider that the way in which you're getting there might be part of the problem.

    And for those of you that are considering cost, buy one now and youll get $3,150 in Federal tax credits plus what ever incentive your state provides Colorado has another $3,000 in tax credits making a new Prius less than $20,000 (sorry to make it sound like a sales pitch, but it just makes me want to run out and get another).

    Okay, I did probably cross a line or two in making my comments personal. I apologize, Kaz. I suppose I was trying to channel sarcasm, but I'm not much of a writer, so it reads as brimstone.

    My daughter once vomited on my lap in the middle of the Metropolitan Museum cafeteria in full view of hundreds of people, many of whom were young and single. The single people, who were likely horrified by the thought that anyone would willingly tether themselves to an 18 pound barf machine, were in another borough trying to decide which bar to hit by the time I was finished scraping smelly, half-digested noodles (in alfredo sauce) from my crotch. And I couldn't care less. It was a pretty damned fun museum trip.

    I hope it's pretty obvious what this has to do with minivans. Considering the myriad of things that dads do daily in their role as parents that we would have considered boring, efette, filthy, or otherwise undesireable when we were 20 and single, minivan-fear is at least a little bit silly. Our standards are WAY different now. If you can potty train someone, you can drive a minivan.

    "In this weak moment, I guided my skittish wife into the Chevy dealer, Tahoe front and center, as in "next time, we'll be on the other side"."

    You mean, next time, as in, when you hit a pregnant woman in a Cavalier with your Suburban? Think about that for just one second...

    I ask this in all seriousness, because as a non-driver, let alone vehicle owner I have no idea: What are people taking with them that they can't fit it into a Forester?

    [dude, the exersaucers. -ed.]

    I know its not the point of the post, but in a way it is also discussing car choices for parents... I agree with KK and Cameron... What in the world do you need to carry around that does not fit in a car? Example: Last christmas, our son was 3 months old. We live in the US but are from Quebec (that's in Canada you know). It takes 3 days to drive home for the holidays. You have to go through the White mountains and then snow in general in Quebec. It is better to have everything you need for the little darling during the 3-day trek and during the 2 weeks holiday season. And gifts. And our own stuff (and the thousand gifts for the said little darling that he got from everybody we had to bring back). And everything was fine. And oh, this trip was in our Honda civic (4 doors) 1998 (with winter tires). So if you could explain to me what we are missing in terms of baby material that makes a Forester too small... that would enlighten me. That said, I really like the idea of discussing why a car would be interesting or not to a dad (or to a parent in general,as I am a non-dad).

    I wrote this big, long response and decided to erase it. People have their minds made up, I'm not going to change that. Why give anyone more fodder :)

    I'm sorry I tried helping Greg out...

    OK, how do you fit a double stroller, pack n play, the dog, and 2 kids into a hybrid for a weekend with the grandparents who live 2 hours away? I don't want to drive a Prius or a Highlander. I like my Saab station wagaon. and I am LUSTING after the the new AUDI Q7.

    [no one could possibly own enough stuff to justify a car that big. My question is, which you hate more: America or children? -ed.]

    I can't speak for the others, but I honestly wanted to know what people are taking with them, I am not here to judge.

    Because we have no car (or license for that matter) we've always (always.. ha! he's 2.5 today... it just seems like yesterday and forever) had to travel pretty light.

    I'm wondering if it's not a "stuff expands into the space you give it" thing.

    I used to work as a mover and encountered this time and time again (and did when we moved last summer). It's just odd.

    Salut Maman_du_Petrus ! Where does your family live?

    okay, i gotta post, being a proud owner of a Sienna.

    First, what are we taking with us: our twins. their enormous second row-swallowing carseats. Two pack n plays. our clothes. their clothes. the double mountain buggy (which takes up a lot of the back, and yes, we could bring the in-line flight-friendly travel stroller, but we don't if we don't have to). All the supplies that you all bring, but 2x. And sometimes we feel the need to leave a seat open in the third row should they start to go ballistic, we can calm them while we drive. And then the toys, and skis/sleds/stuff.

    Why a minivan?
    We live in the city (Boston), have one car (er, van), and drive it maybe twice a week on average. We looked at the Highlander (pre-hybrid), but in order to get to the third row, you need to fold down the second row, which is not an option when you have already labored over installing those pain-in-the-ass convertibile seats. And above all, I'm 6'5" and in order to fit into a car with an infant seat behind me, the choices boiled down to large vehicles like the SUV (no) and the minivan (yes). And plus, I have headroom that makes me feel like cars were actually made for people of my size.

    Since I'm a stay-at-home dad, I've gradually gotten over demasculating issues like driving a minivan, but if i ever feel like a dork, i just pump the sound system, turn on the undercarriage flourescents, and let the spiral wheels spin and spin. j/k.

    Hope that provides a happy pro-minivan perspective that has nothing to do with V6s, gas mileage, horsepower or whatnot. the only number we really cared about was the turning radius, so that we could still park in our driveway. No problem.

    geoff

    Please read "The Weather Makers."

    I'm a Grandfather & I am on my way to the Prius store For a different reason. I want my children and grandchildren to have a chance at living a normal life. The EnvIronment is not an"old ladies" issue ... it is life and death ... death of a civilization and it's already too late to avoid substantial changes. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. READ.

    IF YOU LOVE YOUR CHILDRENS - AND I KNOW YOU DO - BUY THE PRIUS AND READ 'THE WEATHER MAKERS."

    despite what i just said, you ought to read this, if you haven't yet:
    MetroDad's take

    Please read "The Weather Makers."

    I'm a Grandfather & I am on my way to the Prius store For a different reason. I want my children and grandchildren to have a chance at living a normal life. The EnvIronment is not an"old ladies" issue ... it is life and death ... death of a civilization and it's already too late to avoid substantial changes. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. READ.

    IF YOU LOVE YOUR CHILDRENS - AND I KNOW YOU DO - BUY THE PRIUS AND READ 'THE WEATHER MAKERS."

    I just want to point out that my wife and I also own a Prius in addition to the Highlander Hybrid.

    I also: recycle regularly, compost, eat a vegetarian diet, use cloth diapers on my daughter as much as we can (and gDiapers when we can), buy organic when possible (especially for my daughter), buy fair trade as much as possible, carry my lunch in an organic cotton lunch bag (my wife uses a fair trade one made of recycled juice boxes), use electricity generated from wind, water and solar power, run my dishwasher in the middle of the night, and.. well, I am sure I'm missing some stuff.

    So, I don't really want to see anyone turning this into an environmental thing, because I am doing more than probably most other people I know.

    Aside from generating a lot less pollution from the Highlander Hybrid, I am getting as good, if not slightly better, gas mileage than the Forester. No one ragged on me about this stuff when I had the Forester!

    "... total mastery of the psychological/emotional landscape of parenting that allows the excess mental bandwidth to worry ..." lol ... I'm going to steal/use that.

    Re: The Forrester

    Have one, good car but way too small. Wife is 5'9", I'm 6 ft and the kid's car seat pushes the front row passenger up way too much for me to sit comfortably. (I don't drive if I can help it - I've smacked up her prior car so I'll pass one driving the new one)

    If I sit in the back, I have to have my feat on the other side since her seat is pushed back as far as it can go.

    Include the bugaboo and there's barely any room in the back for groceries, luggage, contraband, etc.

    Probably going to get the Pilot but not because it is safer, although both the Pilot and Subie are rated the safest in their class - the Forester is just meant 2 partners and a dog.

    If it's any consolation, Kaz, setting aside the moral ambiguity the Toyota Highlander represents, your review is great. A heck of a lot more useful than your average Acceleration & Cupholder Magazine test drive.

    It seems a Driving and Packing Cars for Small Families forum is needed for answering questions like "I've got X, Y, and Z to stuff into my Camry Hybrid. How do I do it?"

    The one-kid family can fit in anything, even with lots of stuff. We routinely drive as far as 6 hours away with pack-and-play, stroller, beach stuff, adult supplies, and baby supplies and it fits easily into our small station wagon (Yes, greg, a station wagon), even retaining good visibility for the driver and enough wiggle room for the parent who has child-entertaining duty in the back seat.

    The two-kid family is admittedly tougher. It requires some thought, but I don't think two kids necessitates buying an Excursion. Responding to Lisa: I could easily get that stuff into a reasonably-sized car so long as I had a roof-top carrier. Say we're packing a Prius (or any mid-sized hatch or wagon; yes, greg, a wagon!), you'd have the parents up front, the kids in the back seats (with small entertainment-and-food bags on the floor under any car seats and between the kids), then the dog and a couple weekend bags with clothes, etc., in the cargo area. The stroller and pack-and-play then go in the car-top carrier. (If the dog is small you might even be able to fit the carrier on the floor under a car seat, freeing up more room in the cargo area.)

    My sister-in-law and her family (with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old) carry a similar load in a Subaru (Legacy) Outback all the time, replacing the dog with skiis. There's no extra room to carry the kitchen sink, but they don't have to drive a pregnant-woman-in-Cavalier-killer the other 45 weekends a month when they're not driving out of state.

    The carrier is great because it's there when you need it and gone when you don't. A one-time investment of $300 or $400 is much cheaper than buying a new car.

    Add it to what I think is currently the sweet-spot of small family vehicles -- the aforementioned Subaru Legacy or Legacy Outback -- and you're ready for just about anything. They're stlyish, get decent fuel economy (if you can skip the turbo model), are partial zero emissions vehicles, earn an IIHS top pick for safety, and cost around $24,000. Not to mention all-wheel-drive, decently low pregnant-woman-in-a-Cavalier-killing factor, and a high fun-to-drive factor. The Outback also has about an inch more ground clearance than the Highlander 4x4 if you drive in snow...(Yes, I know you knew I'd end up pushing Subarus...)

    Got three kids or more (adopted after the first two, right?)? Go straight to a minivan. Suck it up.

    Have a small family and need to pick up a couple people at the airport? Leave the spouse and/or kid(s) at home. Or take two cars. Or rent a minivan (or Toyota Highlander Hybrid) for the week they're visiting. It takes five minutes to move a LATCH car seat to another car, and since you saved $5,000+ buying a station wagon instead of a 7-passenger SUV, the $300 weekly rental is pocket change to you. Find a nice chair at a yard sale when on vacation at the grandparents? Have them bring it down to your place then next time they visit the grandkids. Your back seat is full, theirs will be empty. Waiting weeks or even months won't kill you. You don't need the chair that quickly.

    I need my own damned blog. I haven't even gotten to HOW people drive their cars...

    "Aside from generating a lot less pollution from the Highlander Hybrid, I am getting as good, if not slightly better, gas mileage than the Forester. No one ragged on me about this stuff when I had the Forester!"

    That's why the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is morally ambiguous. It's the mass without the environmental mess. Your engine doesn't run when you're stopped at red lights. That's awesome.

    Until the car gets scrapped in 15 years and the batteries get dumped into the panda display at the zoo, poisoning some baby pandas. Anyone have any idea how disposal of hybrid batteries figures into things? ;-)

    I believe Toyota has a recycling program for the batteries.

    just a note on a car-top carrier for the Prius - once you install the rails for it on top of your car, you are destroying the aerodynamics of the car and hurting your mileage. Well, okay, maybe not DESTROYING, but certainly affecting negatively.

    I know I'm gonna get flamed for this, but here goes:
    Last summer, after our first (and only, to this point) was 4 months old, we bought a Ford Freestyle. Supposedly, it gets 19/24MPG, but it's closer to 5MPG less.
    The reasons we bought this are:
    1. We wanted a TRUE 7-seater. The 2nd row of seats are split and each fold flat into the back of the front seat (I checked the ease of getting into the back seat 2 weeks after back surgery; I figured if I could get into the back, then anyone--including my parents--could).
    2. We're going to have more than one kid (hopefully).
    3. My wife and I own two companies together and need a larger vehicle to transport clients and stuff.
    4. My wife nixed the mini-SUVs from Honda and Toyota (they would only seat 4-6, anyway). And a minivan wouldn't be cool/corporate enough for our companies.

    So far, except for the big exception of gas mileage, it's been a great car. It could have a slightly bigger engine (of course, MPG would go down further), but it's been great. We even rented one on our last trip to FL. Great for carrying golf clubs and a stroller, with room to spare.

    Kaz, ya did the right thing. Yes, objects will expand to take up the space that is available, but kids take up a lot of room. When we grew up we didn't have carseats that each use a seat and a half. We crammed 3 or 4 kids in the back and (horrors) sometimes one was even in the back of the station wagon. We travel with many more electric devices (pc games, dvd players) and generally just expect a higher degree of comfort now.

    I do think that down the line you will regret not having purchased the DVD player but aftermarket ones are very inexpensive and can be taken in the hotel for game playing and movie watching.

    Regarding the minivan, "ay, there's the rub." Very useful indeed. On long trips to the grandparents we rent one for ride. Nothing beats the ability to check a diaper or calm a meltdown without having to find a place to pull over.
    Obviously it is a personal decision on what to drive. The hybrid is a very responsible choice. Hopefully, they will begin to manufacture more cars, SUVs and minivans hybrids such that it is the norm and not the exception. But you are off to a good start.

    For those of you who seem to take great pride in how much stuff you can not carry, good for you. I might be able to travel through Europe with just a backpack but why would I want to.

    Even though I read all of the explanations about the need for a large[r]car, they still baffle me.

    I think this is a lifesyle-philosophy question. some people like to camp; they bring a camper w/AC, showers, etc... Some people bring a backpacking tent and the equivalent of a Bunsen burner. Why do people need to bring "home" with them when they go anywhere? Some people live in smaller houses and make-due with the shortcomings--which do come up. We have friends that live in the suburbs with nice big kitchens, yards, bedrooms, more than one living-room and many bathrooms--certainly one for each person! I'd hate to have to share a bathroom with someone. Actually I'd hate to be in the same (large) room with my kids when we are doing our respective activities.

    OK--sorry. Got a little carried away. But, cars are the same way. Some people "need" more room...

    And I second the roof-top carrier idea. Why not use the "extra space" when you NEED it, which is not in daily driving. And it's a lot cheaper than the Hi-Hy.

    Oh--Hybrids are a joke, but that's another story.

    And I'll never drive a minivan.

    [It most definitely IS a choice, but it's one that millions of people make every year. Some people get a workman's comp settlement and rush out and buy the badassest F150 SVT they can find, then six months and 1,500 pampered miles later they beg someone on ebay to take over the payments. Unless someone's making an obviously laughably bad choice--and Hummer drivers, you fall into this category, too, I hate to tell you--I don't see what the big deal is. -ed.]

    I'm still not sure why people keep bringing up the extra space issue. Like I mentioned before, no one complained the many times I said I had a Forester.

    Now, I have more space (okay, so I don't need it all the time), but I get 24-25 MPG on average compared to the 22-23 MPG I used to get. If I put the roof rack on, I would probably get 19-20 MPG when I used it.

    I am also giving off a lot less emissions.

    If I told everyone I had a smallish house, would that make everything cool?

    As far as the "hyrbids are a joke", I am sure this comes down to "they don't save money," which, if I had to guess, is not the reason most people buy hybrids. I know it isn't why we bought either of our hybrids.

    [but you never answered the question about why you want to run over the nuns. Stop dodging, Kaz. -ed.]

    We got a Highlander Hybrid for the same reasons (avoid a minivan and trash the environment a little less) and love it. We just had our 2nd kid.

    The 3rd row of seats is great when you need to carry two more adults (e.g. grandparents) - we put our 3 yr old back there in a booster, and the grandfolks go along with the baby seat in the middle row.

    The built-in DVD system has exactly the effect Kaz describes, but it also keeps her quiet, and gives an incentive for every trip (and return trip).

    Main downer: the poor featured audio system. A 2006 audio system should not bother with a cassette player, and should have some form of auxiliary input.

    Greg - the nun thing is a post all its own!

    Andy - I agree -- add an iPod input like the new Rav4. I think a cassette is an "old school" auxiliary input. I think they didn't bother since they are redesigning the Highlander next year anyhow. Personally, I'd rather have the Bluetooth. It's is only a matter of time until there's a Bluetooth iPod anyhow.

    And, of course, we all know that the SUV parents feed their kids formula instead of breastfeeding.

    ;-) Couldn't resist.

    [you're assuming they feed them at all. How's a kid gonna make it onto the cover of Cookie if he's eating all the time? -ed.]

    Lot of comments - this site gets bigger and bigger every day, Greg. Almost like it's a kid.

    I've got two cents on this and feel like weighing in - nothing like being at work on a Saturday while the daughter and the wife are playing at the local children's museum.

    Here's the deal - the Highlander is just another form of fake authenticity. In other words, its an inauthentic car. What is wanted (and probably needed) is the Honda Odyssey. Buy one.

    In the end, not buying an SUV because you don't want to look like a suburban mom in a Suburban and not buying an Odyssey because you don't want to look like a first ring suburban mom is stupid. It's a great thing, the Odyssey. It's got doors that open on their own. It's got more storage than my East Village apartment had square footage. It gets amazing gas mileage compared to other vehicles its side. It's safe as all get out. And, I don't mind saying, it's pretty damn handsome.

    If being hip means, ultimately, being comfortable with who you are, and displaying that comfort to the world, there's nothing cooler (or, if you need it, more ironic) than buying a damn Odyssey when an Odyssey (or a Sienna or a whatever other stupid name they come up with for minivans) is what you need.

    [the site's like a kid, too, in that when someone does get click-happy and double posts, even after being told not to, someone else is there to fix it. No sweat on that front, Chris. As for the Highlander being somehow "fake authentic," I just can't disagree more strongly. I see a Highlander and an Odyssey as two cars with fundamentally different aesthetics, experiences, strengths and tradeoffs that happen to have some overlapping functionality. People could just as easily put the Hi-Hy up against a minivan, a wagon like the A6, another hybrid like the Lexus RX, or even a fullsized SUV like a Landcruiser. Considering my teenager-era "Anything but a wagon!" stance eventually gave way, I'd bet that "Anything but a minivan!" is similarly brittle. And if enough sweet, rad-dad minivans hit the market, then let's all rush out and get one in time for the HS reunion. But right now, I'm not seeing it. -ed.]

    OK, so we're a family that's thinking about buying for the kids we don't have quite yet. One's due in July, and the other in three years or so. We also have a 40-pound mutt who travels with us most places, including Grandma's, which is about a 1,000 mile round trip that frequently involves snow and ice near Grandma's. We live just below the Mason-Dixon line, so we get snow and ice sometimes, but nothing too serious.

    Currently, we drive a 1996 Toyota Corolla (the Manzanita), with 125K miles on it, which--with a roof rack--handles us, our dog, our two bikes, our luggage, and various IKEA purchases just fine. We think that the mutt will be able to give up his role as exalted ruler of all that is the back seat and share with the kid (especially when the kid starts sharing food with the mutt), but we're looking at the age of the Manzanita, the baby we plan to have in three years, and the additional stuff that we will have to carry for the kid, and wondering if now's the time to get another car.

    We love all the reviews and comments, and have been talking back and forth about them all morning. We find that we have some unanswered questions, though:

    1. Is it foolish to buy a bigger car than we currently need in anticipation of a future child? Or, is it foolish to not take the future child into consideration?

    2. Is it safe for the dog to ride in the cargo area, as someone suggested?

    3. Is it better to trade in the Manzanita when we buy the new car, or should we keep it until it dies?

    4. What about the Element as a family car? Does anyone have any experience with that?

    5. What about the Matrix? Any experience there? It seems like it may not be much larger than the Corolla, but perhaps the wagon layout is more convenient?

    6. We'll also be going from a two-income family to a one-income family, at least temporarily, so money is something of an object.

    7. For those who use the car top carriers, do they significantly decrease your mileage? (We've noticed a decrease from our bike rack, even when empty, but that's not nearly as aerodynamic.)

    I've never measured it myself, but if you take any stock in what consumer reports says, then according to their tests, an empty rooftop carrier reduced the Camry's MPG from 35 to 29, and a Mercury Moutnaineer's from 21 to 20.

    one thing you should mention is where you will be driving .. if you need AWD, any Subaru gives okay mileage considering...

    Lots of strong opinions on this. No surprise, as cars have become such a personal statement these days.

    I do question the "green-factor" of the current hybrid cars. The car industry is happy to sell them, but they are really a feel-good vs. a make-good. If the current applications actually were better in the long run, I'd be all over them.

    Erik - it is interesting that you say you question the "green factor", but then give no reason why. It'd be interesting to hear why you question it.

    I think if you compare them to most gas-only cars, then there is definitely a "green factor" to the hybrids (less gas consumptions, practically zero emissions from some such as the Prius). If you compare them to other options (electic only cars, public transportation, bicycles, walking, etc), then, sure, maybe not so much...

    [there was an article this week about how some activists complain that GM's hybrid cars aren't "really" hybrids; they just get slightly better mileage. It seems a bit like the amorphousness of the "organic" label. But as more people factor mileage and environmental impact into their carbuying, I imagine they'll be able to tell the difference between actual benefits and brochures printed on nubby beige paper. -ed.]

    I like the idea of hybrids for many reasons. I don't believe that they represent the best we can do to reduce our effect on the environment, but they're a good first step.

    That said, I believe that the "green factor" of hybrids is open for debate. Warren Brown wrote about this pretty clearly in the Washington Post last August.

    He explains how someone who can afford to pay almost $50K for a Lexus hybrid that gets only 29 mpg gets a $3K tax break, while someone who can only afford to pay $14K for a Honda Civic coupe that gets 40 mpg gets no tax break. And the Honda doesn't come with the still unresolved battery disposal issue. (Personally, I think that most of the batteries will be reclaimed, but until we see this happening, it is an X factor in the "green factor" equation.)

    Hybrid owners are often given additional, local incentives such as the CO tax break and the ability to drive in carpool lanes even without passengers. The carpool lane benefit was a curiosity to me back when I had my Honda Civic VX hatchback, which would regularly get 50+ mpg. Back then, motorcycles, which (correct me if I'm wrong) pollute more than almost any car, were allowed to ride along in the carpool lane as a reward, I believe, for their fuel efficiency. But there was no reward for car buyers who, like myself, had cars that got mileage that was close to or better than those motorcycles and which had significantly fewer emissions. Are we repeating that policy decision with hybrids now? Why are we rewarding the owners of larger, less fuel efficient vehicles, such as Lexus hybrids, especially when larger vehicles require more energy (read: fuel) to build and transport? For that matter, has anyone looked into whether it takes more energy or less to build hybrid cars?

    I'm not dissing anyone who has a hybrid--Mama and I are seriously considering them as options--but I do do wonder if we're really encouraging reduced fuel consumption through these tax breaks. If so, why aren't we giving tax breaks to buyers of truly fuel efficient cars? How about a tax break for bicycle purchases? (Maybe that would help me convince Mama that we can fit one more on the balcony. . .)

    [even though it's been scaled back, the Hummer-friendly heavy SUV deduction/depreciation loophole shows that social equity and tax policy stopped comparing notes a loooong time ago. -ed]

    I agree with your comments on the tax breaks for hybrids with low MPG to a point. But you are only referring to the Lexus, Highlander and Escape. But, does that make a Prius, getting 45 or so MPG bad?

    Personally, there's a chance I may not get any tax benefits from buying my hybrid. I was not able to take advantage of Connecticut's sale tax break because it has a minimum of 40 MPG (and I believe this applies to all cars, not just hybrids?).

    My vehicle is, however, a SULEV (my wife's Prius is PZEV), which is better than my previous Subaru.

    As for batteries, Toyota has a battery recycling program.

    But I definitely agree with you that the gov't incentives are a bit misplaced because it is rewarding cars with lower MPG and not rewarding cars with very good MPG. btw- the predicted tax credit for the Lexus is just $2,200, but your argument still makes sense...

    I just bought a highlander hybrid. The point is not the number of miles per gallon the car can achieve. The point is that if you can afford it, and you support environmentalist causes, you should support the hybrid industry. The more people that buy the hybrid cars of today, the more incentive the industry will have to improve the technology so that we can be less oil-dependent in the future.

    Anyone who belittles someone who buys a hybrid car should take a serious look as to why they feel the need to bash someone who is unquestionably trying to do the right thing.

    Wow. I stumbled onto this site looking for a way to hook my ipod up to my (gasp) regular old gasoline powered Highlander. I'm going to buy another one (Highlander) in a couple years so I wanted to get the general take on the Hybrid, (remember, the review this whole thing was based on..) so I stuck around. This thing took an early turn for the worse. Right now I have a wife, two kids, and no dog. I could squeeze all of them into a go cart if I wanted to...but I don't want to. I like having an SUV. I like the extra room. I don't just shove crap in it, but I do use the extra space occasionally. I didn't want a minivan. They look ridiculous, and yes, looks matter (of course only my humble opinion). You're a guy, did you go out there and marry the ugliest women you could find? It seems to me that if there's bashing to be done, picking a middle of the line SUV doesn't seem to be the place to start. Everyone here is, at the very least, conscience of the effect that pollution has on the environment.

    Here's my favorite, "You're now driving a vehicle big enough to kill a Camry full of nuns if you hit them at 25mph in the grocery store parking lot -- because you couldn't fit Christmas presents into the Forester once a year -- and you have one child?"
    Wow. 25 mph in a parking lot? Nuns driving Camrys? Nuns driving? The guy makes it sound like the Highlander is the equivelant to a street tank. Utter nonsense. Here's the deal. If you have something constructive to say, fantastic. If you want to convince me that your way is only way, you're an idiot...All you have to do is fold your child into a pretzel, shove the dog under the back seat, bring one suitcase for your whole family, move your drivers seat up so your knees touch the steering wheel, then you can drive what I drive. It's the best, and only way to go.

    For those of you that actually purchased the vechicle you wanted, well done. If it was a Prius, fantastic, if the minivan strokes you the right way and you bought one, good for you. If you like the way the Hummer feels between the legs, go out and buy one.

    For those of you that posted usable intelligent information, thank you. Based on info I found here, I think my next Highlander will be a hybrid. For the rest of you....stop wasting of bandwith.

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