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Safest Family Vehicles with a 3rd Row of Seating for 2015

Update: Here are our 2016 Winners of Safest Family Minivans/SUVs

Are safety and seating more than a couple kids your top considerations in selecting a new vehicle?  You aren’t alone!  Our last winners, the 2011-2012 Honda Odyssey and 2010-2012 Buick Enclave (Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia) are very safe vehicles, but the landscape has changed a bit.

In particular, the IIHS has added a new crash test, the small overlap front crash test.  In addition, they now give credit for vehicles that have available frontal collision warning systems.  These systems are not all created equally, some are only basic warnings, while advanced ones can actually brake in emergency situations and possibly avoid a crash.

There are plenty of very safe vehicles.  Most midsize crossover SUVs and minivans provide excellent protection for occupants, likely better than anything on the road 10 years ago.  Side curtain airbags and stability control are now standard features.  In addition to frontal crash protection systems, advanced safety features like emergency crash notification, lane departure warning, cross traffic warning and blind spot warning systems are becoming more common on non-luxury models.

So how do we filter the list of so many family vehicles that have earned safety awards?  It’s pretty easy:

  • Must be an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2014 OR 2015
  • Must have an NHTSA 5-star overall rating
  • No  individual NHTSA crash test results of 3-stars or less
  • Must have at least 6 passenger seats

The qualifiers?  At the time of this writing, It’s a pretty exclusive list. (Models marked with an asterisk (*) meet the 2015 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ requirements.)

  1. 2014-2015 Acura MDX*
  2. 2014-2015 Toyota Highlander*
  3. 2014-2015 Honda Odyssey
  4. 2014-2015 Mitsubishi Outlander*
  5. 2015 Toyota Sienna* (refreshed)
  6. 2015 Kia Sedona

And the winner is?

2014-2015 Acura MDX.  What’s not to like?  It not only received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with the optional Advance Package, but it also received a “Good” result in every single IIHS test AND sub-category of each test.  Extremely impressive, and the only 3-row vehicle to do so.  Its frontal crash mitigation system earned an “Advanced” frontal crash protection rating from the IIHS as well, but you must opt for the pricey MDX Advance Package to get a full set of advanced safety features.   In every trim are four full LATCH seating positions for carseats, plus a 5th top tether anchor, an area where many SUVs and minivans skimp.

In the NHTSA testing, it not only received a 5-star overall rating, but also received 5-stars in each of the five individual crash tests at Safercar.gov.  Also very impressive!  At 4,300 lbs., the MDX is going to have an advantage over many vehicles in a frontal crash.  Despite the weight, it is among the better handling midsize SUVs on the market and has received high praise from many automobile and consumer publications.  Perhaps the main drawback is the price tag near $55,000 with the Advance Package.  Premium fuel is required, but thankfully fuel economy increased considerably, from 16 city, 21 highway in 2013 up to 18 city, 27 highway for AWD trim in 2014-2015.

Runner Up:

2014-2015 Honda Odyssey.  For those not willing to spend over $50K on a vehicle, there’s actually one that is just as outstanding in terms of safety, but is also roomier for passengers, has more cargo space, better fuel economy and costs under $30,000.  It’s tough to beat a minivan!  Starting at $29,000, it offers a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS and a “Good” rating in each test starting in 2014.  It also received a 5-star overall rating from the NHTSA and also earned 5-stars in each of the five crash tests.  It’s 4-star rollover rating was the same as the MDX, but Odyssey has a relatively low rollover risk of 12.7%.

Unfortunately, to get the forward collision warning system, you must step up to the $36,000 EX-L trim that received a Top Safety Pick+ rating, but only a “Basic” frontal crash prevention rating.  (Editors Note: After this article was published, the IIHS changed its rating system for 2015.  The Odyssey only qualifies as a Top Safety Pick+ rated vehicle for 2014, as it lacks an autobrake system and the related “Advanced” front crash prevention rating to qualify for 2015)  You also get lane departure warning at this trim level as well as LaneWatch (wide angle right-side mirror camera).  Bluetooth hands-free and a backup camera are standard on all trims. Fuel economy is quite good for an 8-passenger vehicle at 19 city, 28 highway.  But where the Odyssey really stands out from this pack  is space.

For fitting three carseats or passengers across the second row, the Odyssey is a hands-down winner for any minivan or SUV.  Combine that with a reasonably wide third row seat that is comfortable enough for adults and you have a winner in terms of seating flexibility.  Add the power sliding doors and cargo space that is far superior to any midsize SUV and you have a family hauler with interior and cargo space not matched by anything but the very largest monster truck-based SUVs.

Maybe you already have a minivan, or just want something smaller and easier to fit into a parking spot or garage?  Or with one or two kids, you simply don’t need the extra row of seating.  There are also some excellent 5-passenger SUVs and some top-performing sedans awarded in our next segments.

SafeDad writes about automobiles, carseats and traffic safety issues at CarseatBlog