Hybrid vehicles–our Highlander

I have very mixed feelings about the current crop of hybrid vehicles.

I also have extreme Prius envy.  The two emotions are vaguely related. 

Mostly it boils down to this: If they can make a car like the Prius, that’s well-made, lasts a long time, and gets appallingly high mileage (with promises next year of up to 100mpg…though we’ll see if it materializes), why are they now making hybrids that crow Great Gas Mileage which get anywhere from only 27-34 mpg for ordinary cars, and as low as 20 for big hulking SUVs? Obviously the technology is here, but they keep building and marketing mostly these huge hulking cars that use hybrid technology to increase the mpg slightly and make the driver feel all warm and fuzzy about buying a hybrid. (Unless the buyer is me.  I’m allergic to a lot of warm fuzzy things.)

Rant out of the way…because ultimately the main emotion behind the rant is my slightly guilty conscience about how much I love the used Toyota Highlander hybrid we just bought a few weeks ago. 

On the one hand–yeah, everything above.  Its mileage isn’t so great (though it’s better than any other SUV), it’s big and hulking, and I’ve been wearing an SUV-shaped chip on my shoulder for years.  Always swore I’d never get one.

On the other hand…we are a family of four, and not infrequently we’re in situations where we need to drive more than 4 or 5 people around–my husband’s parents are local and don’t drive, and though my own folks live far away, we see them often enough that it’s really good to have the car space. (And even 5, in most non-minivan-type cars, is tricky with two booster seats in back.)  Our old Caravan had passed that indefinable point that you know you’ve passed when you’ve passed it, where the odometer is creeping into territory you’ve never had a car survive into and you find the frequency of visits to The Shop increasing to the point where the amount you’re spending on it with each month that goes by is making you wonder more and more if maybe It’s Time…and for a change, the financial stars sort of lined up for this brief shining moment…

We began our research. I started with minivans, to try to find who makes hybrid minivans.  It was a short search; no one makes a hybrid minivan.  I was fairly shocked–how can NO ONE be making a hybrid minivan?

Then I did a search for “minivans best gas mileage.”   Also a short search: just about the only thing we came up with was the Mazda5, a sort of in-between vehicle shaped like a minivan but just generally all-over smaller; it does have the third row and can, in theory, carry seven passengers. (Which means, it can carry only 6 unless the 7th is a really short supermodel.) We test-drove one–it’s actually a very nice car, well-priced, and the third-row seat is surprisingly comfy even for a long-leggedy person like me. (That is not to say that the third-row seat was Very Comfortable, just that it wasn’t the hell-on-earth I’d expected.) It drove well, looked slick, and we basically liked it…except. When we travel, we have not only the two adults and two kids, but also two wiener dogs.  I know one would think they can’t take up too much space, but it’s amazing how much surface area one of those little doxies can take up.  And in the end, it was just a little too small for us.  Though I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others. Its gas mileage, though not great, is advertised as 22 mpg in the city and 27 in the highway. So very very not great in the slightest, but head and shoulders above the next best minivan.  

Then my husband cautiously mentioned to me that the Toyota Highlander has a hybrid model with a third row.  He was wise to be cautious, because in 7+ years of marriage he’s learned that certain utterances are apt to send me into a tirade. “That’s a nice looking SUV” is one of them.  But…he had a point.  The Highlander has everything we wanted and better mileage than the best-mileage minivan.  I swallowed my automotive-class-prejudice and went to drive one with him.  It drives beautifully. I was won over fairly quickly.

So:  Our new (to us) Highlander Hybrid. Claims 25mpg highway, 27 mpg city.  

P8080007We drove it from Chicago to Maine and back again; for practical purposes we were really only getting about 24 mpg on the highway, which isn’t too far off from the claims.   But we really love it–its drive is smooth, and the whole hybrid technology thing is fairly cool. (When it’s going on the electric engine alone, it runs absolutely silently…)

The little blue car sitting forlorn in the lower right of the picture is my sweet Subaru Impreza wagon from 2002, which is approaching its 100,000 mile mark…I still love that car, even though mileage-wise it’s nothing to write home about.  But Subarus tend to live forever, and that in itself is a fairly footprint-worthy thing. At the very least, I want this one to live until the affordable full electrics are available, or until I can get a Prius. (Back to the Prius envy.)

I still don’t like SUV’s as a whole.  But what I hate about them is that they are big and unwieldy, get crummy mileage, and are unsafe.  This thing is big, yes, but it drives like a car, gets reasonable if not great mileage, and good safety ratings.  How can I complain?



Posted on August 29, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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