Hybrids/Electric Vehicles Archive

Preview: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica- Kids, Carseats & Safety


Pacifica stockWhen CarseatBlog visited the Chicago Auto Show, we wanted to be sure to get a look at the all-new Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

The Pacifica isn’t an update of the existing Town & Country, and it’s not a revamp of the crossover Pacifica SUV/Wagon that was discontinued more than 10 years ago—it’s a completely new vehicle with a brand new look.  If you read about our little mishap, you might have the wrong impression that we were not excited by this new minivan.  To be fair, we saw a prototype at a media event and we are actually very encouraged that this should be a big improvement in terms of safety and carseat installation.

The Pacifica will be available in 7- and 8-passenger models. In both models, there are full sets of LATCH in both second-row captains chairs, and also two full sets of LATCH in the third row (more on that in a minute).  In the 8-passenger model (below, left), the center seat in the second row also has a top tether anchor.  The 7-passenger model can be configured with an aisle in the center of the 2nd row (below, right).  Sliding doors with wide openings are a given.

Pacifica 2nd center seatbelt Pacifica 2nd Tilt

Now, let’s talk about those two sets of LATCH in the third row. That sounds great, but it comes with a couple caveats. One set of LATCH is on the passenger outboard side, and appears to be pretty standard. That’s a nice improvement, too, over the Town & Country.

Pacifica 3rdThe other set of LATCH is offset between the center and driver’s outboard sides, meaning that if you installed a seat with LATCH there, you’d be using up two seating positions. (This is similar to the existing Town & Country setup.) On the plus side, that gives you plenty of room to put two seats back there. On the downside, you can only put two seats back there if you use that offset LATCH position. (You could use all three seatbelt positions, though, or install with LATCH on the passenger side and use the two seatbelts in the center and on the other side.)

The two tether anchors in the third row are designed for use with the seating positions that also have lower anchors, so there’s one for the outboard passenger side, and one that’s centered to align with that offset position. This means that particular tether anchor doesn’t align with the center or driver’s outboard seats when using a seatbelt. We don’t know whether Chrysler will allow the anchor to be used for those positions.

Pacifica offset latchThere’s one other potential downside to that offset LATCH position. Because it overlaps two regular seats, there’s a seatbelt buckle (for the driver’s side passenger) and a mini-connector (for the center seatbelt position) sitting smack-dab in the middle of the LATCH anchors. That means that a car seat would have to sit on top of the buckles. I thought for sure there would be a way to tuck them out of the way, but there wasn’t. I could kind of shove them in, but that actually created a bigger lump closer to the seat bight (photo right, tan).  Chrylser has since informed us that the display Pacifica was an older prototype third row seat configuration.  We have a photo of what will apparently be the improved final design for the third row belt layout with the buckles tucked away for LATCH installation of a carseat (below, light grey):

Pacifica New 3rd Row Bench

Photo courtesy of Chrysler

FullSizeRenderOne major complaint about the Town & Country is that the third row seatbelts often don’t fit well on kids in booster seats and kids big enough to be out of boosters. The belt might not make contact with their shoulders or torsos, which is a problem. We wanted to see if the Pacifica addressed that issue.

2014-2015 Toyota Highlander & Hybrid Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety


HighlanderHybrids1Starting in 2011, the Toyota Highlander became a pretty nice minivan alternative.  That 2011 refresh added split-folding third row seating, so the flexibility for my family was just enough to tempt me from a decade of driving a minivan.  I liked it enough that I bought one, and over 3 years later, I am not disappointed in the least.  With fuel economy of my hybrid above 35 mpg in warm months and averaging almost 31 mpg overall, I’m still impressed with the previous Highlander in almost every regard.  The only question was what Toyota could possibly do to improve the 2014-2015 Highlander.  Or, as some still feel about the current Sienna minivan, could it actually be worse in terms of seating children than the previous model?

What You Get:

On paper, it looks like a nice improvement.  In terms of safety, it’s one of only a few 3-row SUVs to qualify for BOTH an IIHS 2014 Top Safety Pick+ rating AND a 5-star overall NHTSA safety rating as well.  Plus, it now has a full complement of advanced safety features available, something a few competitors still lack.  Equally important for families, Toyota made it a few inches longer, almost an inch wider and increased the cabin room significantly.  That’s great news for fitting extra cargo behind the third row (below, left), for fitting rear-facing carseats or just for long legs up front.  For example, even a tall driver will have legroom with a Britax Advocate installed behind them, while a very tall rear-facing model like the Graco HeadWise 70 (below, right) leaves enough room upfront for an average adult.

2014HighlanderCargo1 2014HighlanderBritaxAdvocateGracoHeadwise70

A rear-view camera and hands-free bluetooth phone connectivity are now standard on all trims!  Equally important, advanced safety features are now available for the first time.  Blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert and Toyota Connect (collision notification and emergency assistance) are available standard on Limited models only.  The optional Driver Technology or Platinum package offers forward collision mitigation with autobrake, earning it an “Advanced” level of protection from the IIHS.  These packages also include lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam adjustments.  The lack of those features were among my main concerns in the previous version and all those I tested worked as expected.  It’s a shame that Toyota didn’t include more of these features standard or at least optional on lower trim levels.

Styling is greatly improved, both inside and out, especially for the Hybrid trim.  Handling seems to be improved a bit, though compared to the numb steering of the previous model, it would be hard to do any worse!  Fuel economy is also improved slightly for non-hybrid models, thanks to a new 6-speed transmission and updated AWD system.  Controls and gauges are well thought and overall the cabin and electronics are improved across the board.

What’s not improved?  Fuel economy in the hybrid model, for one.  It’s actually very slightly lower (27 mpg city vs. 28 mpg city).  This is very regrettable, as there should have been some focus to increase hybrid fuel economy slightly.  Why not have an affordable hybrid trim with a smaller gas engine, elimination of 4WD and further reduce weight by eliminating things like power seats and the spare tire?  The full size spare is replaced by a compact unit, a plus or minus depending on your needs.  Perhaps a tradeoff for improved handling, the new version doesn’t seem quite as quiet or smooth riding as the previous model.  The handy second row stowable middle seat is gone, a notable omission if you opt for the 7-passenger model.  But for those who select the second row bench, there are now more options for 3-across and adjacent carseat installations.

Overall, Toyota did respond to nearly all my complaints with the previous Hybrid model, with one big exception.  For all the improvements, you have to pay over $50,000 to get one.  That’s because for 2014, the Hybrid only comes in Limited trim and you must get the driver’s tech or platinum package to get all the advanced safety features.  Combined with the fact that Limited trims do not offer the 2nd row bench for 8-passenger capability, that means most families won’t even consider the hybrid.  BIG shame on Toyota.

2014HighlanderConsoleOther changes?  The huge front console storage is nice, though it ate up two of my valued cupholders.  I really appreciated the cell phone tray in the dash (photo, right). The folding 2nd row cupholder/tray is great if you opt for the 2nd row captain’s chairs on higher trim levels.  The Navigation and Infotainment system are more intuitive and easier to use than most others I’ve seen in the last year.  Bluetooth phones pair and import contacts easily and stream music with no hassles.  Toyota did a great job on the interior and electronics overall.  The sound quality of the JBL system is just average, though.

Going Green?


We celebrated our 20th anniversary recently.  I planned a spectacular weekend for my wife.  A night out at our favorite restaurant and a stay at our favorite hotel without kids.  Then the surprise, a trip to NYC for a show on broadway and dinner with good friends who celebrated our first anniversary with us many years ago.  It all went smashingly well.

suburbanI hate to even blemish the weekend, but there was a tiny little quirk.  Instead of using our normal limo or taxi service, I opted to impress my bride with an “Eco Friendly” limousine service that I had seen.  After all, we own two hybrids and why not make a tiny effort to avoid burning up our dwindling fossil fuels when possible?  It was only a few dollars more than normal, so no big deal.   I had assumed that like many Chicago and NYC taxis, typical models would be Prius, Camry and Fusion hybrids.   Of our three segments, the first was in a Ford Escape Hybrid.  Certainly no Prius, but perfectly reasonable.  I wasn’t expecting to be driven in a Tesla or something, though that would have been a nice touch!

Well, much to our dismay, the next two trips to and from the airport were not hybrids, electrics, diesels or fuel conserving vehicles of any kind.  Not only that, they were actually among the least fuel efficient passenger vehicles that could have been used to transport two passengers.  For both trips, a dreaded Earth Destroyer was dispatched for our very UN-green airport commutes.  When I asked later, the service said that they keep some of these monster SUVs for larger parties and assured me they were flex fuel models using E85.   I guess they didn’t realize that even if the drivers actually did put E85 in the tanks, the fuel economy is much worse!

Oh well, so much for having “Green” in the name of your limo service!  Next time, I guess we’ll save money and fuel by driving our 50 mpg Prius and paying for parking.  In my defense, it was a big anniversary and we departed and arrived at different airports.  Still, my apologies for the extra CO2 and smog you are now breathing!  At least it was comfortable inside…

2013 and 2014 Ford C-Max Video Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety


2013 & 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid Video Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety


Looking for a smart, economical vehicle that doesn’t say “Prius” on it?  Something that has a reasonably well-designed back seat for kids and carseats?  If so, the Ford C-Max should definitely be on your short list!  For 2014, you can expect slightly better fuel economy, thanks to improvements in the powertrain and aerodynamics.  Even so, because of some issues with the EPA ratings, the new labels will indicate a decrease to 45 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 43 mpg overall.  For those familiar with driving a Prius or other hybrid, this drop may not be a disappointment in real world driving.  For example, I achieved just over the EPA ratings of 47 mpg around town for a 2013 model with some basic hybrid driving techniques; slightly better than the Prius V I tested in similar conditions.



The 2nd row of the C-Max is one of the better setups I’ve seen in a compact vehicle.  The lower LATCH anchors are easy to find.  The seatbelts and LATCH anchors don’t overlap.  The buckles are not too short, such that they are difficult for kids in boosters to buckle themselves like in a Prius.  All head restraints can be removed if necessary to fit a taller carseat.  The middle seat, while narrow, can still manage a 3-across with careful selection.  Overall, it’s slightly wider and much nicer than the standard Prius in terms of fitting kids and carseats.

Perhaps the only major downside is that there is not a lot of legroom back there, like any compact car.  It’s about the same as the standard Prius, but the seat cushions seem lower to the floor.  So, adults may find it a bit cramped in back.  If that’s an issue, the roomier Toyota Prius V does offer adjustable 2nd row seats that are more comfortable for older passengers in terms of legroom and also space for a rear-facing carseat.



The C-Max comes only in a 5-door hatchback, which is great if you want to fit a stroller and some groceries.  The only oddity is that the top tether anchors are fabric loops on the back of the seat, NOT to be confused with the sturdy-looking metal cargo hooks on the floor!  Fabric loops are perfectly fine, just something to note when you are looking for metal anchors.  As for the hatch, the optional power assist feature is great.  My son liked being able to open the lift gate. 🙂



As mentioned, the 2nd row setup of seatbelts and LATCH is very intuitive.  Ford is also to be commended for allowing the top tether system to be used up to the maximum limit indicated by the child safety seat manufacturer.

Below, left, I tested a Britax Advocate convertible carseat.  Installed rear-facing, it left adequate legroom for a 5’10” driver in front.  With a Recaro ProSport combination seat on the other side, a small adult or narrow booster would still have room in the center seat.  The same applies to the Cosco Scenera and Graco Nautilus I tested, below, right.  Finally, at the bottom, you can see the locations for attaching a front-facing (left) and rear-facing (right) tether system.