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2015 Toyota Camry Video Preview

2015ToyotaCamry1The 2015 Toyota Camry isn’t “All-New”, but it is heavily refreshed.  It is one of the most comprehensive mid-cycle model refreshes in Toyota history.  Toyota claims about 1/3 of the vehicles’ parts are new and from the outside, only the roof remains unchanged from the 2014 model.  This major refresh is made necessary in part by strong competition from the all-new Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy that are both vying for best-in-class honors this year.

The new gaping maw treatment  up-front on SE models is a more aggressive look than before, and the new XSE trim (photo, right) adds an upscale sport version that the Camry previously lacked.  Perhaps the black grill is a bit large and devoid of much detail other than mesh, but the treatment is definitely an improvement overall.  The LE and XLE versions are less aggressive, but more stylish and less bland than before.  Hybrid models (photo, below) are also carried over and offer exceptional fuel economy.

2015ToyotaCamryHybrid1

 

You can check out all the fine details at Toyota’s Camry webpage, but I want to focus on safety, carseats and kids in back.  One major drawback of this popular family sedan is that the full array advanced safety features is only available in the Advanced Technology Package on the XSE V6 and XLE V6 trim levels.  That boosts the price to nearly $35,ooo, a full $10,000 more than the least expensive 2015 Subaru Legacy with the top-rated Eyesight system of advanced safety features.  That’s really a shame, because the 4-cylinder LE model is otherwise quite competitive; great value, good fuel economy and a nicer front grille treatment than the SE/XSE trims.

On the plus side, the 2015 Camry has already secured a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS, with top results in all their crash tests.  With the optional Technology Package, it earns a Top Safety Pick+ rating, though it has only a Basic frontal crash warning system.  It lacks an autobrake feature found on some competitive systems.  At this time, the government has not completed side impact testing on the 2015 Camry.  The NHTSA did complete the frontal crash testing and the new model earned 4-stars for the driver and 5-stars for the front passenger.

As for carseats, here’s a quick overview:

Thank you to Toyota USA for the preview of the Camry, Sienna and Yaris.

Ultra Safe and Affordable Too? 2015 Subaru Legacy Review: Kids, Carseats and Safety

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R LimitedSubaru has really hit the target for the 2015 Legacy sedan.  When shopping for a midsize family vehicle, what do moms and dads need?  Subaru checks all the boxes.  At a bargain price around $25K, the AWD 2.5i Premium version with optional Eyesight package is among the safest sedans on the market, both in terms of avoiding a crash and in crashworthiness as well.  It’s bigger and wider than before, meaning more space for drivers, kids in back and cargo.  Fuel economy has improved as well, up to 26 mpg city and 36 highway for the 2.5L engine. Safety, value, space and fuel economy, a pretty solid combination!  Subaru checks some “wants”, too. Interior and exterior styling have been improved considerably, as have the controls, touchscreen and electronics.   While it’s not going to get looks like a Tesla sedan, it’s definitely sharper than the current Accord and Camry; on par with Fusion and Sonata for appearance.   Standard AWD is great for rain and snow.  Performance can be had in the 3.6R Limited trim that has decent power.

Safety:

As for  Eyesight, it’s arguably the best frontal crash prevention system on the market.  It earned a “Superior” rating from the IIHS and avoided a crash altogether on both the low-speed and high-speed autobrake tests.  A very impressive feat matched only by other Subaru models with EyeSight and a couple luxury models that cost nearly twice as much or more.   Eyesight now includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning.  For the 2015 Legacy, it is also bundled with Blind Spot detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert as well.  The updated system on the new Legacy gets smaller, color cameras with a 40% increased detection range and wider angle of view.  It now operates up to a 30mph differential from the vehicle in front, up from 19mph in the previous system, and adds brake light recognition as well.

That all sounds impressive enough.  But we’ve seen many other manufacturers force you to the most expensive trim level and then add a pricey options package to get an inferior system, adding $10,000 or more to the cost.  So what does Subaru charge to get this top performing safety system?  $1,195.  Yup.  That’s it.  But wait, you have to get a loaded 3.6R Limited edition to add that package, right?  Nope.  The 2.5i Limited and even the affordable 2.5i Premium trims can add Eyesight as a single option!  Now that IS impressive.  Other auto makers should really wake up and start being competitive with their safety features, especially on vehicles marketed to families.  Kudos to Subaru for making this technology available to more families to protect their precious cargo.

2015 Subaru Legacy airbagNow standard on all 2015 Legacy trim levels are great safety-related features like a backup camera, bluetooth hands-free cellphone connection and a new rollover sensor to deploy the side curtain airbags.  A new driver seat-cushion mounted airbag helps keep the occupant in position to reduce the risk of abdominal seatbelt injuries and leg injuries.  Active Torque Vectoring is now standard on the Legacy and helps control that power in curves, too.  Eyesight equipped models also get steering responsive foglights to enhance illumination in turns.  Like all Subarus, AWD is standard.

Last, but not least, the ’15 Legacy aced the IIHS crash testing, earning a Top Safety Pick for all trim levels.  Models with optional Eyesight earn a Top Safety Pick+ award.  The Legacy not only earned the top overall rating, but also earned the top “Good” result in each and every test and sub-category measure.  Impressive.  In the equally important NHTSA government safety ratings, the Legacy and Outback also earned 5-stars in all five crash test evaluations and a 5-star rollover rating (4-stars for Outback), resulting in a 5-star overall rating.  Only one or two other vehicles achieved the top rating in every single evaluation from both agencies, and you have to spend over $46,000 on a 2015 Hyundai Genesis with the Tech Package to match these essentially perfect crash avoidance and crash protection ratings.  Impressive Indeed!

The Back Seat:

Have two or three kids?  No problem.  The back seat is now a bit wider and with careful selection, will fit adjacent or three-across carseats a little easier than before.  The configuration is similar to the 2015 Subaru Outback as well.  The main possible concern is that the seat cushions and seat backs are contoured.  This is typical of 2015SubaruLegacybucklesmany midsize sedans that have shifted away from flatter bench seating that made installing carseats easier.  While more comfortable for adults, these contours may cause some issues with certain carseats, especially taller and wider front-facing models.  Overall, nothing particularly problematic for a midsize sedan, though the LATCH anchors are more recessed than average.  The fused driver-side and center buckle stalks could present difficulties in certain situations with adjacent carseats/passengers in those positions.  The rear seat does offer a split folding feature and the trunk is a very reasonable 15 cubic feet.

 

The Drive:

The 3.6R Limited is a pretty nice package.  My tester came equipped with Moonroof/Navigation package for a total MSRP of $33,380 including $795 destination charge.  Fuel economy is 20 city, 29  highway on regular gas.  I achieved a hair under 20 mpg in suburban driving.  What about performance?

The Safest Booster Seat for Your Child: Can IIHS Ratings Tell You Which is the Best for You?

The IIHS released its 2014 Belt Positioning Booster Seat Ratings recently. The Institute released its first results in 2008. Thirteen models were Not Recommended that year. In contrast, this year only 3 models were added for a total of just 5 boosters on the Not Recommended list. In 2008, only 10 models rated a “Best Bet”. This year, 27 new models rated a “Best Bet” making a total of 62 top performing boosters. That is great progress in a very important evaluation of safety!

It’s still important for parents to understand that the IIHS booster ratings are NOT based on crash testing results. They are also not based on a wide sampling of real-world fit evaluations with actual children who move around on their own. The ratings are standardized assessments of how well each booster fits a specific crash test dummy (6-year-old Hybrid III) in four test configurations that simulate a range of popular vehicle designs. Of course, kids and vehicles may vary significantly. So, this rating system doesn’t guarantee that a ”Best Bet” product will fit your child better than a model that is listed as “Check Fit,” especially if your child is significantly larger or smaller than the 6-year-old Hybrid III dummy (which weighs 51.6 lbs, has an overall height of almost 45″ tall, and a seated height of 25″). The same goes if your car has unusual seating or seatbelt design.

IIHS Good Belt Fit

The bottom line is that if you know how to make sure a booster fits properly on your child, in your vehicle, only you can determine the best booster for your situation, even without ratings! This is done with a simple 5-step test you can do easily in a couple minutes on your own. We do think the IIHS ratings are a great place to start when looking for a booster, but they don’t tell you anything else about the booster in regard to features or value. For that, we always suggest that parents browse CarseatBlog’s detailed reviews! For example, some boosters have poor shoulder belt guides that can catch the seatbelt and prevent it from retracting, a potentially dangerous situation. This type of problem is not identified in the IIHS testing, but we mention it in our reviews if we observe it in our testing.

All that said, the IIHS booster ratings have become a powerful shopping tool in the last 6 years. Witness the introduction of the Britax Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 a year ago. We evaluated them among the top combination booster models on the market, and they fit a wide range of children very well in both harness and booster mode. Unfortunately, the IIHS initially rated them a “Check Fit”. Many shoppers may not realize that this rating means that many kids may still fit very well in this booster in some vehicles, as we discussed in our coverage of the 2013 IIHS ratings. Britax even offered owners of the original Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 models a free SecureGuard clip that not only improves booster fit, but also provides a unique 4th point or restraint for the child.

BritaxPioneerIIHSSide2Even so, consumers have driven manufacturers to achieve the “Best Bet” rating. A few months ago, Britax released updates to these models along with the Pioneer 70, in order to obtain the top rating. You can see the design change in the photo (right). In our real world evaluation of fit, we found that the improvements from “Check Fit” to “Best Bet” can be very modest, especially on larger children who would be most likely to use booster mode in these products (photos, below).

BritaxPioneerIIHSoldA BritaxPioneerIIHSnewA


Like the IIHS vehicle crash testing program, the booster program has become an industry standard and has driven design. Some manufacturers now work with the IIHS to make sure their products will achieve Good Bet or Best Bet ratings. While the IIHS can’t predict if any specific booster will be the safest for your child, in your own vehicle, it does give you a good idea which models have the best chance to fit well! Savvy parents will also check out CarseatBlog’s detailed reviews and Recommended Carseats list for many details that the IIHS does not provide. But there’s always the question that concerns every parent:

 Should I buy a different booster because the one I have didn’t get a “Best Bet” or “Good Bet” rating?

If your kid is riding around in a booster that has a “Not Recommended” rating then you probably do need to get a different booster seat. You should still assess the situation first because there is a slim chance that maybe it’s positioning the seatbelt correctly on your child in your vehicle. But there is a good chance that it isn’t. Some seats that have been included in the “Not Recommended” list are notorious for doing a lousy job in booster mode. There is nothing wrong with them if they are combination seats being used with the 5-point harness, but in booster mode these models just don’t do a good job of positioning the seatbelt properly on many kids.

If your booster didn’t receive a “Best Bet” or even a “Good Bet” rating, it may still provide good protection for your child, but regardless, you need to check the belt fit.  If it doesn’t fit optimally, try a different seating position in your vehicle to see if it works better in a different spot. And make sure you read the instruction manual that came with your booster! You would be shocked at the number of mistakes many parents make when using booster seats. The IIHS goes strictly by the manual when it evaluates boosters and so should you, if you want your booster to perform as well as it did in their testing!

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.