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Safe Things Come in Small Packages: 2014 and 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Review, Kids, Carseats & Safety

outlanderbadgeOnly a few vehicles with three rows of seating have earned this badge of safety, and the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander is one of them.  It earned an IIHS “Top Safety Pick +” AND an NHTSA 5-star overall rating for 2014*.  Very impressive!  It’s also by far the least expensive and most fuel efficient of the three row vehicles to accomplish this feat (the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Highlander and Acura MDX being the others).  Want top-notch safety and third row flexibility with good fuel economy at a reasonable price?  If so, you will definitely want to add the Outlander to your list of vehicles to consider.

What you Get:

In the Outlander SE trim, you not only get exceptional protection for your loved ones in terms of crashworthiness, but you also get some essential standard features like a backup camera, rollover protection side curtain airbags, hands-free Link phone system, daytime running lights and turn signals integrated into the side mirrors.   Above average visibility is another safety bonus.  With 2WD, this model with a 2.4L 4-cylinder engine starts at $23,795 MSRP and has an impressive EPA fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 27 mpg overall!   You also get some nice other features including 18″ allow wheels, fog lights, color multi-information display, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and remote keyless entry with keyless ignition.

The touring package adds a whopping $6,000 but gets you a number of great options, including advanced safety features like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and forward collision mitigation with autobrake.  This last feature earned a very commendable “Advanced” level of protection from the IIHS that is awarded to only a few non-luxury small and midsize SUVs for 2014.   It’s nice that Mitsubishi allows this option to be added to the SE trim.  On most other SUVs, this is reserved for high end models costing much more.

The adaptive cruise control worked well, even in heavy Chicago rush hour traffic.  The lane departure warning system was a bit sensitive and provided a few false alarms, though.  Other key features in this package include leather seats, navigation, power sunroof, premium 710 Watt Rockford Fosgate sound with 10″ subwoofer, power driver’s seat and power remote tailgate.

I tested  a loaded GT trim with Super All-Wheel Control and a 3.0L V6 with 6-speed transmission.

You’ve Got a Dream Called Santa Fe: Review of the 2014-2015 Hyundai Santa Fe

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 11.27.46 AMWe’re currently a one-car family, so anytime CarseatBlog asks if I’d like to review a vehicle, my response is always an emphatic, “Well duh!” It’s nice having an extra car for a week, but it’s even nicer when I wind up really liking the car…although that also makes it hard to say good-bye when my time is up.

I recently had the pleasure of driving a 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe, and I have to say: I fell in love with it. And I really didn’t want to part with it, but I gave it back because I have a clean record and would like to keep it that way.  Hyundai confirms that there are no significant changes for the 2015 Santa Fe, other than some minor marketing changes to various options packages.

Now, I’ll admit that I might not be that hard to impress when it comes to cars. Like I said, we’re a one-car family, and the one car we have is pretty basic (a 2010 Honda Odyssey with no frills). I’m like a love-starved teenager who falls for any boy who gives her attention, only replace “love-starved teenager” with “harried mom,” replace “boy” with “car,” and replace “gives her attention” with “has a blind-spot detection system.” But it’s different with the Santa Fe. I really, really love it. We’re soul-mates, I swear.

Perhaps I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but there really is a lot to like.

The Santa Fe I drove was a six-passenger model with two seats each of three rows. There is also an available seven-passenger model with a bench seat instead of captain’s chairs in the second row. At first I thought I might have liked that more, but the six-passenger model turned out to be great for us. My oldest child could easily walk between the captain’s chairs to get to the third row, and he likes having his own space. You can also access the third row thusly:

The first thing I noticed about the Santa Fe was how sleek it looked on the outside. Like a lot of SUVs these days, it looks more aerodynamic than boxy. When the rep opened the door, I was a little startled to see a brown interior paired with the silver exterior. I actually thought it was an ugly combination, but I wasn’t about to complain.

When I got in to take it for a spin, I started it using the keyless ignition and it played me a little song. I’m sure after a while I’d stop noticing that (and it might even get annoying) but I got a kick out of it during my week with the Santa Fe. It made me kind of happy to have a musical greeting played. (It also plays a little good-bye tune when you turn it off.)

IMG_0128Pairing my phone via bluetooth took less than a minute, and then I was good to go. I couldn’t resist opening the panoramic sunroof. I’m not generally a sunroof kind of person, but opening that baby up made it feel almost like being in a convertible.

Maybe it’s because I drive a boring minivan, but the Santa Fe felt like a sporty, agile car in terms of drive and handling. It had good pep, lots of zip, and zoomed around turns effortlessly. There are actually three different drive modes you can choose from (Normal, Sport, and Comfort). Sport makes the steering a little stiffer, while Comfort requires the least effort. I didn’t notice much difference between Comfort and Normal, though Sport did take just a little more effort. After I played with all three modes, I left it in Normal. Given more time and more driving situations I might have played with those options more, but I’m not picky about such things.

The model I had came with a backup camera and parking sensors, which are hugely important to a person like me who isn’t very good at parking. It was especially handy when I drove it into Chicago and needed to parallel park.

The best feature, though, is the blind-spot detection system. At first I didn’t even realize it was equipped (I, uh, didn’t read the manual before I started driving), but on my way back from Chicago I noticed a little thingy lighting up in my sideview mirror. I realized it was an indicator letting me know as soon as a car on either side approached the back of the car, and it would stay lit until the other car had passed the front window. If I put on my turn signal (in the direction of the passing car) during that time, a beep will sound, letting me know it wasn’t yet safe to change lanes. Blind spots always make me nervous, so I absolutely adored that feature.  Also included with this feature are rear cross-traffic and lane departure alerts.  It is standard on Limited trim and a $3500 option in the Premium Package for GLS trim.IMG_0171

Other nice features on my model included heated front and second-row seats, heated mirror, navigation, dual climate-control zones, and a communication system that allows you to get directions, send text messages by voice, and request roadside assistance.

Although the Santa Fe didn’t provide as much storage space as my Odyssey does, it was sufficient for what I needed. I would have had a lot more room without the third row in use but even with it occupied, we were ok. It was a little tight, but I could fit my stroller (a Baby Jogger City Mini) and my daughter’s dance bag in behind the third row. With half of the third row folded down, I was able to transport a few extra car seats.

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The center console is spacious and well laid-out (unlike a certain minivan I might drive) and I loved that there was a space perfect for holding a cell phone right by the power outlet.

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Gas milage is 20 mpg (18 city, 24 highway) which is about what I’d expect from a midsize SUV. The 2014 Santa Fe still hasn’t been crash-tested by NHTSA, but IIHS gives it its best rating of “good” in four categories: front-moderate overlap, side, roof strength, and head restraints & seats. It has not yet been tested in the small-overlap category. The fully-loaded Limited model I drove has a sticker price of just over $41,000, but the base model starts just under $30,000.  You can get a 7-passenger 2WD GLS trim with all the safety goodies, leather seats, power liftgate, dual zone climate control with CleanAir Ionizer, side window sunshades and a few other Premium Package options for about $34,000 MSRP, or a street price of about $31K.

Here is Darren’s quick video review to give you an overview. Continue down below to read about how car seats install in the Santa Fe.

Car Seats

If you’re reading this blog, you probably want to know how the Santa Fe does with car seats. Turns out: Very well.

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.

Review: Cybex Solution Q-Fix. Is this the Fix you’ve been looking for?

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 10.19.57 AM

Whenever we go to conferences or trade shows, there’s always a lot to drool over at the Cybex booth. Their offerings always look sleek, incorporate innovative features, and show great attention to detail. When we saw the Cybex Solution Q-Fix booster at the ABC Expo last fall, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on one.

Specifications/Features:

  • For use with children 3 years or older
  • 33-110 lbs, 38-60 inches tall
  • Highback only (cannot be used as a backless booster)
  • Three-position reclining headrest
  • Height and width adjustable (shoulder width expands as seat height is raised)
  • Linear Side-Impact protection features (see below)
  • Thick energy-absorbing EPS foam
  • Rigid lower LATCH anchor attachments
  • 7 year lifespan

Specs for high-back boosters typically don’t vary a whole lot, but one thing that makes the Q-Fix stand out is the 60″ height limit. Many boosters cap their height limit at 57″ (4’9″) but some kids still need a bit of a boost beyond that point, so it’s nice to have an option that doesn’t require a parent to ignore manufacturer instructions. Those last few inches can make a big difference!

The Q-Fix is currently available in 5 fashions: Charcoal, Autumn Gold, Ocean, Storm Cloud & Lollipop.

 

Solution Q-Fix Measurements:

  • Lowest belt guide height: 14″
  • Highest belt guide height: 21″
  • Overall seat height: 31″
  • External width, back of base: 13″
  • External width at armrests: 18″
  • External width at widest point: 20-22″
  • Internal width at shoulders: 14-15″
  • Seating depth: 13″
  • Weight: 17 lbs.

The other features that really set the Q-Fix apart from competitors are the side impact protection and reclining headrest.

The Q-Fix looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, in part because of the massive wings and things toward the top. Besides the impressive head and shoulder wings, the Q-Fix also has Linear Side Protection bolsters that attach to the outside of the seat. In a side impact, these bolsters can help absorb crash forces. The bolsters come separate in the box, but they’re easy to snap into place.

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The head and shoulder wings are lined with thick EPS foam to help absorb energy, too.

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The reclining headrest is a great feature, especially for kids who tend to fall asleep in the car. To move the headrest into any of the three positions (upright, reclined, and in-between), simply pull up and move the headrest forward or backward. Besides adding comfort for the child, the headrest actually serves a safety benefit, too. A child whose head bobs forward is at greater risk of injury and won’t benefit from the side-impact protection. Being able to rest their heads backward to sleep encourages them to stay in position.

The recline amount isn’t huge, but it should make a difference for kids who are, say, reading versus napping. Below you can see the most upright and most relined positions from above and from the side.

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Another neat thing about the Solution Q-Fix is that the seat adjusts outward as you adjust it higher, allowing for more shoulder room for bigger, taller kids.

The ability to use lower LATCH anchors has become a big selling point for parents in the market for booster seats. LATCHing boosters keeps them from becoming projectiles when unoccupied, and it might also provide some safety benefits. The Q-Fix features rigid LATCH (meaning no straps to pull) but its use is optional.

It should be noted that although the Q-Fix comes apart, it is only meant to be used as a high-back booster, never as a backless booster.

Bigger is Not Always Better: Lexus LX570 Video Review

The Lexus LX570 is a full size sport utility vehicle, something of a departure from the midsize models I usually review.  As a vehicle with limited appeal in terms of sales, this review will be limited mostly to photo and video content.  Please stay tuned over the next few weeks for our reviews of the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota Highlander and Mitsubishi Outlander.

 


Gallery:

Here are a few examples of some carseats I installed.  Left, a Britax Frontier 90 Combination Harness Booster seat and a Britax Advocate Convertible Carseat in the second row.  Center, a Britax Parkway SGL in a third row seat.  Right, a Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 Infant Carseat in the second row.

LX570BritaxAdvocateFrontier LexusLX570ThirdRowLegroom LexusLX570PegPerego435

Top Likes:

  • Relatively quiet interior and smooth (adjustable) suspension
  • Seating is heated/ventilated and very comfortable
  • Good towing capability at 7000 lbs.
  • Decent interior space for a full-size SUV
  • Heavy duty 4WD off-road capability
  • Second row seat is fairly practical for carseats
  • Mark Levinson audio is good, but not worthy of the brand name
  • Plenty of power, but throttle is somewhat twitchy from a stop

Top Dislikes:

  • No crash safety testing from IIHS or NHTSA
  • Minimal advanced safety features are optional
  • Dismal Fuel Economy 12 mpg city, 17 mpg highway.  I managed under 13 mpg around town.
  • Awful handling.  It’s a land whale, and drives like it.
  • No LATCH or top-tether in 3rd row.  Un-excusable at this price.
  • Third row seats fold awkwardly upward
  • Third row middle seat is over a split and very narrow.
  • Second row monitors project into seating area, could interfere with space for rear-facing carseats
  • More expensive and less practical than some competition
  • Quirks: Satellite radio cuts out periodically, even with clear, unobstructed sky.

 

Conclusion:

The Lexus LX570 is a niche vehicle.  Yes, it has heavy duty towing and off-road capability, being based on the same platform as the Toyota Land Cruiser.  But will more than a few people really be taking an $80,000+ luxury SUV to tow their camper over boulders and mountain streams?  Apparently less than 5,000 per year have even bought one since it was refreshed for 2013.  My pick in the full-size luxury SUV category is the Mercedes Benz GL Class Bluetec.  For over $10,000 less, nicely equipped with every advanced safety feature, it is superior in almost every important regard.  The Audi Q7 TDI and Infiniti QX60 Hybrid are other fine luxury choices that are very flexible for families with children and get a lot better fuel economy for a much lower price tag.