Need a Family Hauler? New Hybrid Choices are Compelling

As young families grow, so does their need for seats in their vehicle and space for cargo.
Today’s choices provide compelling benefits for switching to a hybrid, and few reasons not to.

Generally, across the various trim levels, the upfront cost to buy a hybrid Highlander over a gas-powered Highlander is about $1,500 more. 

The fact that Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid was first introduced in 2006, and has proven to uphold Toyota’s reputation for longevity, is a solid reason to consider it.   Slotting between the RAV4 and full-size Sequoia (both now also available with hybrid powertrains), the Toyota Highlander continues to be a solid choice among a still somewhat limited selection of mid-size SUVs with three rows offering a hybrid powertrain.   

Highlander shares the same hybrid powertrain as the RAV4 Hybrid, though it is juiced it up a bit to handle the added weight while giving it acceleration power comparable to other gas-powered V6 SUV’s. The Highlander Hybrid offers a combined city/highway rating of 36 mpg with front-wheel drive (35 mpg with AWD)–more than 10 mpg better than the regular non-hybrid Highlander. 

 It receives good ratings for ride comfort, handling, ease of driving and braking.  While it’s got a smaller third row to begin with, the Highlander Hybrid loses no passenger or cargo space compared to the regular Highlander. With clearance of 8.0 inches, Highlanders also have proven capability to withstand light off-road duty.

We drove an all-wheel-drive Highlander Hybrid with unique Bronze Edition trim, new for the 2022 model year and available exclusively with the hybrid engine.  It slots right in the middle of the XLE and Limited trims and adds bronze-colored aesthetic touches inside and out, including its 18-inch wheels, with MSRP of $45,480.  The second row is equipped with captain’s chairs, allowing seating for seven.  To get eight-passenger seating, you could go with LE or XLE trim. 

Since the third row doesn’t fold, you will sacrifice cargo space, but is that isn’t a high priority and the budget is, another option to check out if you’re looking for a three-row hybrid is Kia Sorento. 

Kia’s largest available hybrid seats six, and it’s actually less expensive than non-hybrid and plug-in hybrid Sorentos.  Powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired to a hybrid system that makes 227 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque, it has an EPA-estimated combined driving rating of 37 mpg (11 mpg more than the non-hybrid Sorento with the base engine). With the available all-wheel drive option, the Sorento Hybrid still gets 35 mpg.

The previously optional 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation is now standard for both Kia trim options.  Our EX trim tester was one step up from the already-loaded-up base S trim which adds wireless smartphone charging, enhanced forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and Highway Driving Assist.  Overall, Kia delivered a lot for $37,820 all-in. 

When space is a premium, fuel savings and available tax credits make Pacifica Hybrid Plug-In potentially the best value among minivans. Chrysler offers a lengthy warranty on hybrid components and the battery, as well as five years of roadside assistance.

When maximum passenger and cargo space are musts, Chrysler Pacifica offers a lot of reasons to rethink moving into a minivan.  The Pacifica has enough style to be ranked above some SUVs out there, and the 2022 Pacifica Hybrid is a plug-in, making it the only minivan with the ability to run purely on electric propulsion. Charge its hybrid battery from a home or public charger and drive about 32 miles solely on electric power.  The V6 gas engine returns 30 mpg in combined driving when it takes over, which is 8 mpg better than the non-hybrid Pacifica.  

For 2022, subtle updates were made to Pacifica’s styling, along with even more technology added, including several standard driver aids.  A key selling point to the kids will be the availability of a rear-seat entertainment system compatible with Amazon Fire TV for Auto. The system allows second-row passengers to enjoy content, whether via streaming or downloaded in advance. The front seat occupants can also stream movies and shows while the vehicle is in park.

Compared to other people haulers you may compare it to, the Pacifica’s plug-in hybrid powertrain provides smooth and punchy acceleration.  Since the hybrid battery uses the in-floor space where the Stow -n Go seats normally disappear into, you’ll sacrifice those if you choose the hybrid over its gas-powered sibling, but you’ll gain the comfort of captain’s chairs while maintaining a third row that adults can tolerate, still maintaining a deep well behind it for the cargo.  That brings us to another reason to consider the Pacifica–the grandparents will find it easy to step in and out thanks to low doorsills, large door openings, tall roofline and well-positioned seats. When not being used for family-hauling, turn the Pacifica into a cargo van with 140.5 cubic feet of space.  The third row manually folds into the floor when not used. The second-row seats slide forward or can be removed completely. 

With total price right at $60k, our Pacifica Hybrid Pinnacle was aptly named.  Representing the pinnacle of trim options, it included a 20-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a 360-degree camera system making maneuvering in tight spots even easier, the rear-seat entertainment system, a handy interior camera system (allows the driver or front passenger to monitor rear occupants), and a simulated suede headliner.

The right choice of family vehicle will ultimately come down to their budget, how they intend to use their vehicle, and how many / who they’ll be hauling in it

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