While I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, our SUV died an uncerimonious death and left my husband stranded. We went on the hunt for a new - to- us SUV, our criteria being, safety, comfort, and MPG in that order. The Toyota Highlander came out very well in all three categories. After much research (my husband is an engineer.... there was MUCH research) and quite a few test drives of multiple makes/models of SUVs. We bought a 2001 Highlander: Automatic Transmission, Full time 4WD, V6, storage rack, sunroof, latch system for child restraint seating. We had a towing package installed that has held up and served us well.
This SUV gets around 25 MPG so not fantastic, but not as bad as the larger size ones on the road. And since the Highlander is actually built on a Camry frame, the ride is Smoooooooth. It truly rides like a car, not an SUV.
The back seats fold down flat for when you need to carry larger items. It is EASY. There isn't a need to remove the headrests or anything. No flipping up one part to fold down another. Just reach in, lift a lever on the top of the seat, and it folds down, one handed. The seats also fold down independently about a 60/40 percent split - meaning one side folds down one seat, plus the middle. The other is seat only. With the seats folded down, we have hauled all types of things including a new treadmill, an extra large rocking chair, and a yodel stove. Not all at once.
When originally looking, we weren't interested in the third row seating that many manufacturers offer. So, we have seating for 5, and a ton of storage space. I love the leather seats. They are so easy to clean and so far nothing has stained them.
I hate to admit that one of the areas that could use improvement are the cupholders. There are 2 up front that are small, shallow, and if I have anything other than a fast food soda cup, I don't trust putting it in there. It won't even hold a standard soda/water bottle. The cupholders in the back seat are better, 2 in each door. And those are bigger and deeper.
Now with an even larger family, I do wish we had more seating, but it is adequate. We can fit an adult in the back seat between 2 car seats. Snugly, but it works. I love my toyota, and I am not looking to trade her in anytime soon!