2009 Toyota HighlanderEnlarge Photo
Some families simply need to carry seven or eight people at a time. How can you do it comfortably, without facing huge fill-up costs at the pump? I decided to apply two critical criteria on my latest family car search to see what I could come up with.
The criteria: The family vehicle must hold at least seven passengers, and it has to get more than 26 miles per gallon.
That left me with four vehicles: The BMW X5, at $51,000, and then came the Toyota Highlander, Toyota RAV4, and the Kia Rondo. Comparing four family vehicles doesn't happen in one article, so let's apply two more filters: cost and safety. Sorry, BMW X5, you're too expensive for too many families, and so you don't make the cut for this post. RAV4, you fit the criteria, but both the Highlander and the Rondo scored better in safety reviews because of your four-star rating for front-end crashes.
Kia Rondo? Many people may call you ugly, but you fit the criteria. The Toyota Highlander has been held up as the model seven-seater family vehicle with great gas mileage. So how do these two family vehicles stack up on the original criteria of capacity and gas mileage? Let's take a look:
Family-style gas mileage ratings
2009 Kia Rondo: 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway
2009 Toyota Highlander: 18 mpg city / 24 mpg highway
These two are almost in a dead heat. If you're ready to spend a little more, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid model will save you a bit more at the pump, giving the Highlander a boost to meet the 27 mpg of the Rondo.
Family style seating
The Highlander and the Rondo both seat seven, but you have to be careful which model you're comparing, especially if you're shopping online. For the Kia Rondo, most prices quoted are for the five-seat version, so you have to do a little digging to get the seven-seater price. You know what that means, don't you? Yup, that third row is a little cramped.
The Toyota Highlander seems to be better represented with that third-row, and it's getting rave reviews for how well that third row works. It's a bigger vehicle overall, and so it will seat those seven passengers for most of your standard family car needs, like road trips, car pooling, and nicely holding gear for whatever sports your children play.
The Rondo could be better for the occasional seven-seat need, or if your driving is mostly short trips around town. The Rondo seems to do car pooling well, too, especially if you're not driving long distances between drop-offs. The Rondo is a bit more compact, but some parents will appreciate driving a smaller vehicle, since the Highlander can feel like a behemoth, dwarfing other family vehicles in the car line at school.
You'll pay more for a Toyota Highlander, too, so I have to play my final trump card: safety. Every review compiled on TheCarConnection.com smothers the Highlander in praise for its safety features and performance in crash testing. But, the Kia Rondo was no slouch, either, garnering five-star crash ratings. Remember, I eliminated the RAV4 because it just barely missed that five-star rating.
If your family needs to seat seven, start with any of these four vehicles, within your comfort level. Then, you'll feel more comfortable expanding your search, because there's still a slew of family vehicles that get more than 20 mpg (at least on the highway, or with hybrid options). You'll find that maybe it's not so bad, and you don't have to settle for 12 mpg.
What do you think? What family vehicles have you driven that you like? Want to see something reviewed here? Let me know... drop me a line at xybrewer (at) gmail (dot) com and make a recommendation. I'd love to hear from you!