Looking for a family-friendly vehicle? Our husband-and-wife team of car enthusiasts, Royce and Angela Pedersen, check out the Toyota Highlander
What he says
When buying a family car, you want a vehicle that will provide safe, reliable motoring for the years ahead. And when it comes time for an upgrade, you don't want to be stuck with a lemon that's out of vogue and relatively worthless compared to its original value. Toyota has a reputation for vehicles that last forever, and they retain their value due to the longevity and popularity reflected in their fleet's reliability, safety,and simplicity.
The Toyota Highlander touts its "best of breed" status among its rivals and when you look at what it has to offer today's modern family, you'll be impressed. While some might say it's essentially an oversized, extra-heavy Camry with a few more bells and whistles, I'd rebut that it's in a class of its own, with the driver comfort, performance, and handling of a luxury saloon.
When I took the 2011 Toyota Highlander for a test drive, I was suitably impressed with the simple, stylish exterior design. Upon closer inspection, I feel it could have been a little more aggressively styled, perhaps with the addition of fancier wheels. In spite of there being a logical reason for headlights that stick out an inch or so from the car - the headlights protrude a good inch in order to give better visibility of light around the vehicle - I think it looks ugly! Great idea in theory, but I can't see all the other car makers rushing to copy it.
The interior definitely has the X-factor, with a feel of quality and luxury. It's larger in every way than I had expected, yet didn't feel boxy and oversized like a van. The driver environment (cockpit) is well-designed and all the important controls are where I need them. The feature I really like is the Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone or music player. Satisfactory technical information is available via the centre console display. I usually set it to the economy/fuel usage setting so that I can monitor how economically (or not) I am driving. Fuel usage is advertised as 11L/100km; however, I found this to be more like 15L/100km around town. I could get the acclaimed 11L/100km, but only cruising on the motorway.
Driving the Highlander is a pleasure thanks to the 270hp V6 motor which is happily responsive, and gets you moving without any lag from turbos or gimmicky electronics. The latest model of four- and six-cylinder engines have been tweaked for better torque, which is what you want for ease of driving. When on a long journey you'll enjoy the softness of the ride while still feeling well-connected to the road, but on some corners you'll find that the bigger and faster the corner, the less responsive it feels. It's still responsive in the steering and you can feel an adequate degree of what the car is doing on the road, and that is important.
At the end of the day, I felt happy to be driving my family around in this car/SUV/crossover. Whatever you want to call it, it screams family-friendliness and quality that will endure for years. With airbags for every passenger and a very adaptable passenger seating configuration, I feel the Toyota Highlander is a winning pick for the family who wants a vehicle that can really take them places in style while offering comfort, safety, and performance.
What she says
From the moment I sat in the 2011 Toyota Highlander, I felt "on top of the world". There were a few things I noticed immediately: 1) It was quiet, 2) I sat high, and 3) It felt sturdy and safe.
Fortunately, I had recently been taken on a tour of the car by the team from Toyota, so I had a good understanding of the car's features, not only in terms of safety and drivability, but also those thoughtful conveniences that show Toyota thinks of the Highlander as the ultimate family car.
Safety features abounded. The car boasts full curtain and front airbags so passengers are cushioned in the event of an accident. The rear-view backing camera will put your mind at ease when reversing, especially in light of recent publicity around driveway safety, as there have been several tragic accidents involving parents backing their cars without seeing their children playing in blind spots behind the vehicle.
I loved the fact that I could use Bluetooth to connect my iPhone to the car and use my phone and the music stored therein through the car's stereo, a great feature meaning I could listen to what I wanted to, as well as tune in to The Wiggles and Hi-5 when the kids were with me.
Our three children currently sit in a single row in the backseat of our own family vehicle, and the Highlander fit all three of their carseats without any trouble. I loved that our Recaro car seat could be "clicked" in securely to the Isofix bar within the seat frame, which meant there was no need to spend half-an-hour installing each car seat as tight as possible with the safety belts and H clips.
The extra two seats at the rear of the car are great. These seats, when laid down, comprise a very spacious boot area. They have standard seat belts and can be pulled up individually, so if you need to keep some groceries or a pram in the car and have the other seat in use, there is plenty of room to do so. Another great feature is that the centre seat console in the backseat can also be ejected to create two individual seats for the two backseat passengers. I don't know about you, but I've often wanted to separate the kids in the back from fighting and taking toys off each other, so this feature is a Godsend - I can put another child in the rear seat so all three are separated and, hopefully, happy.
There is one thing that you don't get from simply sitting in your new Highlander without understanding Toyota better as a brand and company, and that is their commitment to New Zealand families. Toyota significantly supports Parents Inc in their educational programmes to equip our children with information on drugs, sex, and growing up. Parents Inc is a not-for-profit organisation with programmes in 90% of New Zealand schools teaching kids in a relevant way the importance of thinking through their choices in life. Toyota's values are impeccable from the top down, and it really shows their true ethos in their advertising campaign slogan, "Believe." Good on you, Toyota, for investing in Kiwi families.
Royce and Angela Pedersen are the parents of three children. Angela is OHbaby!'s Managing Director and Publisher.