It's not obvious to me in the beginning, but after a week of driving the Highlander, it's becoming a regular member of the family. At first sight I think, "eh, just another SUV," but the Highlander continues to surprise me. It has quietly molded its family-friendliness around my busy mom life and I am just realizing it. This proves: Never judge a book by its cover.

I start to feel differently about the Highlander when I first load my son and all his belongings: water bottle, sippy cup, toy, book and his stuffed animal. Then there's my stuff, too: purse, water bottle, and snack (moms, how do we do it?). I open the door and find two cupholders located at armrest level (not in the bottom of the door, where kids can't reach them anyway). One cupholder is good, but two! It's like having an extra hand.

The center console in the front offers two cupholders, a huge storage cubby and a floor level storage tray. It's just so nice not to have to throw stuff on the passenger seat but rather keep it nicely contained.

Seven-passenger seating is possible with the third-row bench seat. With the second- and third-row seats up, there is still a fair amount of cargo space great for groceries. However, in order to fit my humongous stroller, the third row needs to be folded down. Since the second and third rows split, it makes accommodating cargo as simple as 1, 2, 3. I can fold down just part of the seat for longer items or fold down everything except the seat my son is sitting in to load camping gear or home improvement projects.

The second row slides forward and back, which offers a little more legroom for third-row passengers (since there's not much to spare back there). Since the seats fold down quickly and painlessly, it makes it a less daunting task for people to "climb" back to the third row.

For the average family with 2.5 kids that wants great cargo space and occasionally has to accommodate a sixth or seventh passenger, this seating configuration is ideal. However, it may not be the best for larger or growing families that will use the third row for everyday passenger seating (and have to sacrifice cargo space). After piling in the family, there won't be much room left for the stroller, diaper bag, and other stuff that kids bring along.

A DVD Navigation System, DVD Entertainment System, in-dash 6-CD player, and a moonroof with sunshade are all available upgrades. With that in mind, the Toyota Highlander provides all the necessities of the quintessential mom-mobile.

There are, however, a few minor details that bug me. The sun visors are extra thick due to having the slide-out feature to extend the length of the visor. This is great for keeping the sun off my shoulder, but makes it difficult to clip my garage door opener onto the visor. The thickness of the visor forces the clip to pop off. So, for now I am using the sun-glass keeper to hold the opener.

Another quirk is that the button to turn on and off the rear heat is located in an obscure place, next to the side view mirror adjuster and behind the steering wheel. It's hidden so well that I can't see it when driving. Why isn't located with the rest of the climate control buttons?

Am I being too cynical? Hey, this car is near perfect for being family-friendly, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out the less than obvious things that can irritate a driver.

In comparison to the non-hybrid version, I highly recommend upgrading to the Hybrid model. It packs more power and saves time because I don't have to go the gas station as often. The Highlander Hybrid is many things (stylish yet practical; family friendly yet fun to drive; masculine yet feminine; SUV yet Hybrid) and is a great choice for appealing to different tastes.

*For more information on the Highlander Hybrid and its safety features visit For questions or comments regarding this review write to

Let's Talk Numbers

LATCH connectors: 2

Passenger seating (including driver): 7

It's the Little Things That Count

Storage Compartments (puny, fair, ample, galore): ample

Cargo/Trunk Space(puny, fair, ample, galore): ample

Sense and Style

Family Friendly (not really, fair, great, excellent): excellent

Fun-Factor (None, some, good times, groove-on): good times - groove-on