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car review

The Ford Explorer offers extra cabin space compared to other SUV models.Courtesy of manufacturer

For the last 13-plus years, we’ve had a Honda Odyssey minivan as our primary vehicle for our young family, alongside what’s currently a CR-V. The Odyssey lease is up next winter, we’re starting to plan what to replace it with, and we’ve agreed that our kids are older and our needs are changing. Some considerations:

We don’t want a van any longer, and we would like to switch to an SUV. While we don’t use all the space in the van a ton, we’d love to stick with a three-row SUV for the occasional time we have more people or lots of stuff. The newest driver in the family is 6-foot-3, and his younger sibling will be the same when he gets to driving age. Finally, we’d ideally like a hybrid.

Considering all of the above, the only option we can really find is a Highlander hybrid. Do you have any other suggestions for a family finally ready to ditch the van but not wanting to give up the space, and wanting to move to a hybrid?Michael

2022 Toyota Highlander.Courtesy of manufacturer

Petrina Gentile: There’s no denying the practicality of a minivan, but I prefer the style, ride and handling of an SUV. So I applaud Michael for dumping the family van in favour of a three-row SUV. And he’s in luck, the options are growing, even in the hybrid category.

Mark Richardson: Even so, this is a sad moment – the ditching of the van. It was for me. All those memories of the kids being kids and taking them places, and now the recognition that they’ve grown and those days have passed. Maybe Michael will buy another van in 10 or 20 years if grandchildren come along.

Gentile: I don’t think so. Vans aren’t cool and they’re not popular any more. Once you go to an SUV, you don’t go back to a minivan. Period.

Richardson: Nonsense. SUVs are all about image. Most people need space and convenience, not rugged off-road ability.

Gentile: Well, I know you don’t care about your image, but many people do. Not all SUVs are about rugged off-road ability. They’re stylish, smart, and way more fun to drive than a boring box on wheels.

Richardson: As long as Michael accepts that the third row of almost any SUV will only be for small children. Those 6-foot-plus kids will never be as comfortable as they would be in the back of a van.

Gentile: Fair point. Let’s start with the first option he mentioned, the Highlander Hybrid. It’s one of my favourite three-row SUVs out there. It’s stylish, fun to drive, comes with AWD, and is very fuel efficient – it has a combined fuel economy rating of only 6.7L/100 km. You can’t beat that.

Richardson: It’s a lovely SUV, and it’s expensive. Sure, it starts at an MSRP of $44,490, but if you want the hybrid, that’ll cost an extra $10,000, and it will include all kinds of comfort and convenience options you might not actually want.

2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.David Dewhurst Photography/Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: Maybe Michael wants those comforts. He didn’t give us a budget.

Richardson: If he’s happy to pay for them, then go right ahead. But it irks me that if somebody wants the hybrid option for most vehicles, they have to pay for more than just the hybrid powertrain. Even the financing rate costs 0.5-per-cent more for the hybrid Highlander over the conventional engine.

Gentile: What? I didn’t know the financing rate is more for a hybrid versus a conventional gas powered vehicle. Is that always the case?

Richardson: It’s often the case because many auto makers consider people who are prepared to spend money to help the environment to be more affluent. If Michael wants a Ford Explorer hybrid, he’ll pay the same 3.49 per cent right now for either the conventional SUV or the hybrid SUV, and he won’t need to buy the top-end trim level.

Gentile: It doesn’t seem fair. It should be the same rate across the board for conventional gas-powered cars and hybrid vehicles.

Richardson: It should be, but auto makers are in business to make money. The more they make, the more they can afford to improve their vehicles. Back to Michael. You think he’ll want the big Explorer, or would a smaller Ford Escape hybrid fit the bill after a minivan?

Gentile: For the extra cabin space, especially in the third row, I’d go for the bigger Explorer. It also has more cargo space. It’s more in line with his minivan.

Richardson: I guess you’re right – there’s no third row available with the Escape, and that seems to be important, though I think having a hybrid takes priority for Michael. How about going a step further and considering the Mitsubishi Outlander?

Gentile: That’s a great option. The Outlander has three rows of seats and it comes in a plug-in hybrid version, too. It’s Canada’s best-selling plug-in hybrid.

Richardson: You don’t get the two together, though. It’s either three rows of seats, or it’s the plug-in hybrid. But the PHEV starts with an MSRP of $44,198, which is far less than the Toyota or the Ford. You think Michael would appreciate a plug-in?

Gentile: I think he would. And don’t forget the Outlander PHEV also qualifies for up to $2,500 in federal EV rebates. So that brings down the price, too. Depending on where Michael lives he could qualify for additional provincial rebates in places like Quebec, B.C., and New Brunswick. Those savings add up.

Richardson: If you forget the PHEV and go for the three rows, the conventional Outlander starts at about $32,000. It’s built on what’s basically the platform for the Nissan Rogue. The extra battery for the PHEV takes up the space of the third row, and the extra luxuries of the PHEV also add up. The next-generation of the PHEV will get three rows, but it won’t be available before next summer and who knows what the price will be.

Gentile: So what’s your top pick for Michael?

Richardson: If Michael wants real value for money, he’s got a decision to make: space or hybrid, and the Mitsubishi offers the better value. If he’s okay to spend $60,000 to drive out the showroom door, he’ll be happy with the Highlander, but I think he’ll save a few thousand with the Explorer and be just as content.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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