Automobile Safety Archive

Safest 2015 SUVs and Minivans with Three Rows of Seating for Families

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

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+
  • 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.

  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)

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.  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 on the market in our next segment coming soon.


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.



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.


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?

2014-2015 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid Video Review: Kids, Carseats and Safety

It’s got a new name and a new available powertrain, but remains one of the best family haulers for your kids.  We previously looked at the Infinity QX60 a couple years ago in our 2013 Infiniti JX35 Review.  Though it has a new moniker, the vehicle is essentially the same.  Our comments from the previous review mostly apply to the current version as well.  So, this quick review will focus on the new hybrid powertrain and briefly cover some carseat related features.  We also have a review of the very similar 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. It offers all the interior flexibility for kids, without many of the luxury-class frills. and without the luxury-class price tag!

Hybrid Fuel Economy:

Fuel economy of the QX60 and Pathfinder models are similar.  The hybrid models all get 26 mpg combined.  My AWD tester is rated at 25 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 26 mpg overall.  In comparison, the standard engine AWD model is rated at 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 21 mpg overall.  After over 500 miles, I obtained just over 27 mpg in hybrid trim.  Right at 27 mpg around town and just under 28 mpg on a highway trip.

That shouldn’t be difficult to match with a few changes to your driving habits.  You can find some great articles online about maximizing hybrid fuel economy, or “hypermiling.”  Some of these may seem extreme for typical drivers, so I’ll simply give some key things to avoid in order to exceed those EPA estimates: