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The Safest Vehicle? 2014-2015 Acura MDX Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

What’s the safest vehicle you can buy today?  It may well be the 2014 and 2015 Acura MDX, especially among vehicles for 6 or more passengers.  It aced the IIHS crash tests, achieving a “Good” result in every test and in every single sub-category evaluation for each of those tests.  It’s the only 3-row vehicle to accomplish that!  With the tech package, it earns a “Basic” IIHS front crash prevention score and a Top Safety Pick+ rating.  The Advance package has a full set of advanced safety features including autobrake and active lane keep assist, earning an “Advanced” IIHS front crash prevention rating.  It also earned a 5-star NHTSA overall crash rating, with 5-stars in all five crash tests as well!  It’s one of a few SUVs and minivans that earned a top overall ratings from both agencies, and one of a handful of vehicles in any class to get top results in each and every crash test from both agencies.  At nearly 4400 lbs., it has the advantage of weight in a frontal crash combined with handling that is better than average for a midsize SUV.

What You Get:

The MDX was redesigned for 2014 and the 2015 model reviewed here is essentially identical.  Acura really left nothing on the table when it comes to safety, except that more of these features could be standard or at least available on the base model.  You sort of expect to pay more for advanced safety features on mainstream sedan, but when Subaru offers them for less than $1200 on most of its family vehicles, even mid-level trim versions, we do wonder what some luxury brands are thinking when it comes to a 3-row family hauler.

For example, with the MDX, you must add the $4,300 Tech package to get the Blind Spot Information system, a basic Forward Collision Warning system and Lane Departure Warning.  Definitely opt for at least this trim level.  To equip a frontal crash prevention system competitive with the $1,200 Subaru Eyesight system, you must tack on over $12,000 to get the Advance Package with Entertainment Package.  Yes, that is 10x the cost to protect your family!  The Advance package adds an IIHS Advanced rated Collision Mitigation autobrake system with front seatbelt pretentioners as well as a Lane Keeping Assist system.  You also get the handy Adaptive Cruise Control with the unique low-speed follow system and an array of parking assist sensors.  I’m not a fan of leather seats without ventilation in the summer, but Acura also forces you to buy the most expensive model to get this feature as well.

mdxheadlightAside from these marketing issues, the MDX is quite simply an excellent vehicle.  Plus, with the new 3.5L engine, fuel economy got a nice bump and you can now order a 2WD version with even better gas mileage, up to 20mpg city.  The styling is sharp and more aggressive than the previous generation.  The Jewel Eye headlight treatment is very slick.  Kudos to Acura for avoiding the trend to add ubiquitous Christmas tree running lights around their headlights.  The interior is also very nice, though I wish luxury manufacturers would use more realistic-looking wood trim if they must use wood grain at all in their interiors.

The Drive:

Unlike the Infiniti QX60 I drove recently, the MDX is a much nicer driver’s vehicle.  The Integrated Dynamics system is adjustable.  I prefer the Sport setting for a heavier steering feel and a little more performance tuned throttle and more aggressive transfer of power in turns.  A driver with another keyfob could have their preferences saved to Comfort, for easier turns and more conservative throttle.  A nice setup that automatically switches for each driver!  In any setting, the MDX is a better handling ride than the QX60 and many other larger midsize SUVs.   The only peculiar thing I noticed is a little cabin vibration at idle, mostly on the steering wheel and armrest.

acuramdxwheelI also found the transmission to be very smooth overall, but perhaps a bit quick to downshift in Sport mode when coasting.  Paddle shifters let you override this one quibble.  Acceleration, emergency handling and braking all seemed competent overall.  Zero complaints.  No, it’s not like a sport sedan, but it’s far superior to any truck-based SUV.  The 290 hp V6 engine has plenty of power, but can also shut off three cylinders to bump its fuel economy to 20/28/23 in 2WD trim and 18/27/21 with SH-AWD.  My SH-AWD tester managed 19mpg around town.  Not all that good overall, but still respectable for the class.  With the optional tow package, you can pull 5,000 pounds.

Access is pretty easy front and back, even for kids.  I found the seats to be pretty comfortable and supportive overall.   All the adjustments were adequate.  Visibility is mediocre, typical for a midsize SUV.  With the rear head restraints UP and the entertainment screen DOWN, the rear-view mirror is all but worthless.  Thankfully a backup camera is standard.  The gauges and forward display are great.  The split-screen console stack is a little confusing at times and has a little more of a learning curve than some others, but ultimately is fine once you learn the setup.

Overall, it’s an excellent vehicle on the road.  Smooth, quiet and it just has that well-built and solid feel to it that many other vehicles lack.  I rate it very close to the Mercedes GL450 in this regard and that is high praise.  I also appreciate the adapative cruise with low speed follow.  One of those features that just strikes you as making a difference.

Fitting your Precious Cargo:

The second row is an oddity for midsize SUVs.  It not only has three top tether anchors, but it also has three separate pairs of lower LATCH anchors.  Combined with two more top tether anchors in the third row, it is nearly as flexible in this regard as the Honda Pilot.  The 2nd row does have some issues with the center seat, as is the case in many midsize SUVs.  With the plastic seat hardware, a somewhat narrow width and some issues with seatbelt and LATCH anchor crossover, it’s not nearly as easy to fit 3-across carseats as it is in a Honda Odyssey minivan.  It can be done with careful selection, though.  The third row is mainly for kids, especially on long trips. Access is relatively easy and it is comfortable for kids in forward-facing carseats, boosters and pre-teens as well.  We wish manufacturers would add more rear-seat USB or other charging outlets in their family vehicles, though.

 Gallery:

Below left, a handy spot for a rear-facing tether accessory strap as can be used on a few select convertible carseats, like those from Diono, Combi or Britax.

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Graco Argos 80 Elite Review – It Just Keeps Getting Better

Graco Argos 80 EliteThe Graco Argos 80 Elite is an upgraded version of the original Graco Argos 70 Elite that we reviewed thoroughly here. This Argos 80 model offers plenty of safety, comfort and convenience features which make this seat an excellent choice for families looking for a sturdy, comfortable, forward-facing only seat with a no-rethread harness that will grow with their older child.

The Argos 80 is a forward-facing “combination” seat (Graco refers to it as a “Harnessed Booster”) that can be used with the 5-point harness until the harness is outgrown by weight or height and then the seat can be used as a belt-positioning booster using the vehicle’s lap/shoulder seatbelt. In booster mode you have the option to use the seat with the back (highback booster) or without the back (backless booster). I like to think of combination seats as “Stage 3″ seats that are most appropriate for kids over age 2 who have outgrown their convertible seats. Despite being labeled as a 3-in-1 carseat, the Argos 80 cannot be used rear-facing which is confusing for many parents who have come to associate the term “3-in-1″ with a product that can be used rear-facing, forward-facing and as a booster. If you’re looking for a rear-facing/forward-facing/booster seat, see our reviews of the Graco 4Ever All-in-One and Graco Milestone All-in-One.

Graco Argos 80 Elite Specs:

  • 5-point harness: Forward-facing only for kids 20-80 lbs, at least 1 year old, height 27- 52″ tall (shoulders must be at or below top harness slots).
  • Highback booster with vehicle lap/shoulder belt: 30-100 lbs., approximately 3-10 years old, height 38 – 57″ (top of ears must be below the top of the head support).
  • Backless booster with vehicle lap/shoulder belt: 40-120 lbs., approximately 4-10 years old, height 40 – 57″ (must have adequate head support from the vehicle).

Graco Argos 80 Elite Features:

  • Graco Argos 80 Elite - lockoffNo-rethread harness
  • 3 crotch strap/buckle positions
  • Standard hook-style lower LATCH anchor connectors (LATCH limit is 42 lbs.)
  • Lockoff for installations with seatbelt
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam
  • Steel reinforced frame
  • Height-adjustable head support
  • 3 Recline positions on base
  • Integrated cup holder and storage cubby
  • FAA approved for use in aircraft (with 5-pt harness)
  • 10 year lifespan before expiration

Argos 80 Elite Measurements:

  • Lowest harness height setting:  12″
  • Tallest harness height setting:  18″
  • 3 Crotch strap/buckle positions:  5.5″, 7″, 8.5″
  • Booster height:  20″ to bottom of shoulder belt guide with headrest in max height position
  • Weight:  21.8 lbs. (according to my digital bathroom scale)

Graco Argos 80 Elite - lowest height setting Graco Argos 80 Elite - tallest height setting Graco Argos 80 Elite

Graco Argos 80 Elite Graco Argos 80 Elite - 3 crotch strap positions

The Argos 8o Elite model comes with a lower body support insert, crotch strap/buckle cover and harness strap covers. Remove the lower body insert if child weighs more than 35 lbs. The crotch strap/buckle cover is entirely optional. The harness strap covers have a grippy material on the back and they are REQUIRED when using the harness at any weight.

Graco Argos 80 Elite - harness strap covers 2

Installation/Fit-to-Vehicle Comments:

A License Plate Divided

plate2Dear State of Illinois,

I’ve always contended that Arizona was the most thematic state in the union. Everything about the state screams “Arizona!” If a person were to be abducted by UFOs and dropped in the middle of Arizona, it would only take a couple minutes of wandering around before the person spotted a turquoise lizard or purple kokopelli painted on the side of a building and realized he was in the Grand Canyon State. (I realize this scenario is absurd. UFOs are more likely to abduct people FROM Arizona, not TO it. But I digress.)

Illinois, you might not be as thematic as Arizona, but you seem to be trying. You don’t have stovepipe hats carved into highway retaining walls (at least not that I’ve seen), but you’re fiercely proud of Abraham Lincoln, who spent most of his adult life in the state. As The Land of Lincoln, Illinois even includes Abe’s likeness on its standard-issue license plates.

I’m a huge presidential history nerd and a big fan of Lincoln (who isn’t?) so when we moved here, I was thrilled at the thought of having him on my license plate. But then I started to notice something that bothered me and my sense of order: Lincoln’s head is centered, and it shouldn’t be.

IMG_0724Back when Illinois’ plates used to consist of three digits, a space, and three digits, it made perfect sense for Abe’s head to be centered on the plate, so one could see him. I’m sure it felt right.

But now the standard, non-personalized plates consist of three digits, a space, and then four digits. That means the plate is off-balance and the first digit in that second set inevitably covers part of Abe’s head, and it drives me nuts.

So, State of Illinois, I am humbly asking you to scoot Mr. Lincoln’s head to the left a bit. You could even have two different prints: an off-center one for use on the standard-issue plates, and the centered one for people who order personalized plates where an off-center Abe might look weird. And don’t tell me this would be too complicated. The state currently offers more than 50 specialty plates, so adding one more design shouldn’t be a big deal.

I realize it’s a silly thing to ask, but if Illinois is truly the Land of Lincoln, shouldn’t we avoid stamping over his head as much as possible? It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Sincerely,

A concerned citizen

Evenflo Triumph Convertible Review – Tried and True

TEvenflo Triumph ProComfort - greenhe Evenflo Triumph convertible has been around in various incarnation for many years. It’s been refreshed several times and continues to be a solid performer. The Triumph is easy to install, very easy to use correctly, comfortable and a good value. In a market dominated by very expensive, and very inexpensive convertible seats – the Triumph is reasonably priced somewhere in the middle. It’s not the cheapest convertible on the shelf but it’s certainly not the most expensive either.

The model I have for review is the Triumph “ProComfort” LX in “Hutchinson” green fashion which is a Target Exclusive. Hot pink “Melrose” is also an option. MSRP is $159.99

Other retailers like Walmart and Babies R Us have their own exclusive versions of this seat. Walmart has the “SureSafe” Triumph LX which has nice, push-on lower LATCH anchor connectors. Babies R Us has the “Platinum” Triumph with OUTLAST temperature-regulating fabrics. A non-exclusive Triumph LX version is also available at Amazon and other online retailers.

The Evenflo ProComfort model at Target offers buckle pockets and “Gel Matrix Technology” in the cover to reduce pressure points and improve child comfort. This review will focus on that particular model but most of the info listed applies to all Triumph LX models with a weight limit of 65 lbs. All the newest versions of this seat have dual integrated cup holders which makes it easy to differentiate the newest models from previous Triumph models.

Triumph Specs & Features:

  • Rear-facing from 5-40 lbs.; 19- 37” tall and top of head is at least 1″ below top of carseat
  • Forward-facing from 22-65 lbs.; 28-50” tall and at least 1 year old (AAP recommends rear-facing until at least age 2)
  •  “Infinite Slide” harness system
  • 2 crotch strap/buckle positions
  • Durable, energy-absorbing EPP foam
  • Dual integrated cup holders
  • Buckle Pockets (on certain models)
  • FAA approved for use in aircraft
  • Made in USA!

Triumph Measurements:

  • Lowest harness height: 7″
  • Highest harness height: 16″
  • Crotch strap/buckle position: 7″ and 9″
  • Seat pan depth (leg room/thigh support): 13″
  • Overall internal height: 23″
  • External width at widest point: 20″
  • Width of base: 14.5″
  • Weight: 18 lbs. (according to my digital bathroom scale)

Evenflo Triumph - naked  Evenflo Triumph - naked

Installation Comments: