We won’t be cute and matching anymore...

We’ve been vaguely planning it for a while, but I keep resisting, hoping to get a plug-in hybrid (if we must own one of these hingeyvans, might as well get the most practical type) and some more savings stashed in case something happens... I don’t get wanting a car big enough for 4+ kids when you only have one, but considering every kid needs more luggage to go anywhere in an automobile than people bring when climbing Mount Everest, I guess we have to go huge.

So, for our anniversary, since we had child care, we went out to dinner and looked at cars. She insists we must have a 3-row because she really wants to look like a mom, but she thinks these things are cooler than minivans. Eye roll.

Cars that we’ve looked at:

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This is easily the best option for so many reasons. These get screaming good fuel economy numbers for this class with the hybrid power train, they’re very roomy in the front seats, they have plenty of 1-2 row pitch for child seats, and they’re pretty reasonably priced. I didn’t drive this, but from the passenger seat it was pretty sweet - I cranked the ventilated seats and it rode smooth like an old LS400 - I’d gladly do a road trip in it. My wife is a CVT noob, so she thought it was struggling up a hill, but it seemed to have plenty of power. Climbing in was not horrible. The second row is roughly as comfortable as the front. The 3rd row seats are useless for anyone that has legs, unless you squish the people in the second row, but it’d still be pretty uncomfortable. We are only considering the 2019 AWD Hybrid Limited Platinum, which includes a panoramic sunroof and the bird’s eye camera (which is standard in more modern decently-optioned cars of this size).

If we weren’t considering the Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum, we probably wouldn’t be considering the Highlander at all, but these loaded ones absolutely LANGUISH on the lots; the one we test drove had been sitting in their back lot/warehouse for five months already when we checked it out (and every lot around here has at least a handful of this trim level, but few other variants). I suspect this is because at this price point most buyers simply switch to the Lexus RX...

I am very worried about reliability with these because Ford has gone so far downhill in the last handful of years, but she was obsessed with them. They’re also hideous in anything but the ST trim in black. So ugly in person that I tried to steer her to the Expedition, which is at least a decent-looking car. If we’re going to waste a huge amount of fuel to drive a monstrosity, might as well go big. Upside is that it has power folding third row seats, which are cool, but not that cool, considering it takes at least 10x as long to slowly go up or down, while the others just have straps that quick release for folding and a strap to pull back up... Front seat room is surprisingly cramped for a car of this size and the bigger display is a hot mess (it’s super tall and weird). It had the highest floor and my wife bashed her head every time she got in it. One feature we loved was that with the smaller horizontal screen it has a nice little tray under it that a phone fits in perfectly. On a longer trip, I’d rather ride in the middle row, as it’s easily the best space in the car, aside from that terrible afterthought middle console thing on the floor between the rear captains chairs (wtf? This thing looks like garbage.). The third row is usable as it has enough space for legs... This car had the biggest interior of the bunch, though you would expect that considering it is also the largest on the outside. I hate the electronic parking brake. Hate. The gear selector is so cheap and cheesy feeling, I don’t understand why they bothered. The variant we’re looking at is the Limited AWD with the panoramic sunroof, which includes the overhead camera.

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I like these because they get decent fuel economy and they’re unabashed hingeyvans. Every seat in this car is a really nice place to be, but it’s also the most cramped. The third row is marginally usable, a tiny bit worse than the Explorer. It had the lowest floor by a good margin, has the second best fuel economy, and is number one in cup holders. It’s the least-quirky Subaru I’ve seen and the engine looks ... tiny ... in that huge engine bay. Seriously, you could fit at least another half an engine in there. The power train is [nobody cares] and according to reviewers these drive pretty much like a really fat car (we didn’t drive it at all, just looked in the showroom). A bonus is that they’re really cheap, even in their most loaded trim. They also have the lowest hood, so they’re less SUV-like from the driver’s seat. The only quirk I could find was the way they did the middle rear seat belt that is embedded in the ceiling, the rest looked like a totally normal car, which tripped me out because it’s not Subaru at all in my mind without being super quirky. Ultimately, the cramped front seats and the fact the Touring version only comes with brown seats meant it dropped out of the running. She just didn’t love it.

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The Subaru experience was, however, quite memorable. The salesperson turned my wife off entirely and she had all-but rejected it prior to looking (which I think was unfair; I personally thought it was better than the Explorer in all but the oddly-limited options and thought the smaller overall size was better for city use), so it was more for my curiosity than hers. When we were about to leave, the salesperson got very animated telling us about the car and flung his glasses into the engine of the Forester adjacent to the Ascent we were looking at. He couldn’t see them down there, so I turned on my phone flashlight and spotted them sitting on the under tray (as I suspected). He couldn’t reach them, of course. Some other salespeople came over and tried to help, but nobody could reach them. I decided to solve it by laying on the floor and sliding under it, squeezing my hand up over the undertray and barely getting a hold of them. He was amazed I pulled it off and so happy to get them back. I said it was nothing and that I have a lot of experience fishing out 10mm sockets, but I think the joke was lost on him.

We also considered the RX450hL briefly when saw an RX350L at the Toyota dealer, but it requires premium fuel and it was a little too bougie for the circles we run in. Plus it was ungainly and ugly, while the Highlander is really normal and restrained. I get a sense that it’s too close to the RX in size and price, so people looking at spending the amount the top trim goes for just buy the Lexus like they do with the Land Cruiser...

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Which one will we buy? We haven’t decided with certainty, but I think that after discussing it on the way home we’re about 90% certain that we’ll be buying a Highlander. The Explorer is still in the running, but it will depend on back-to-back test drives and the final numbers, both of which we’re planning to get on Tuesday evening.

Outside the car, Toyota has better financing rates. Ford has way more selection, though they need to pull the one with the option mix we want from their offsite storage.

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Hopefully this hunt will be over soon, because I hate buying cars.

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