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2019 Toyota RAV4 Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

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2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Gets Rugged Looks with More Green Cred

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 is an all-new update to the very popular outgoing model that was the #4 best-selling vehicle in the USA, behind the full-size Chevy, Ford and Dodge pickup trucks.  Gone is the cute, stylish exterior that is so common in the compact utility market.  Thankfully, rather than go with the “gaping maw” design of other Toyota and Lexus vehicles, the RAV4 instead has a take on the off-road capable 4WD 4Runner.  Though the emphasis with the RAV4 Hybrid is fuel economy rather than off-road prowess, it still looks more rugged than before, especially in the exclusive XSE trim with blue accents along with a black roof, trim and wheels.

In terms of crash avoidance, the RAV4 has all the essentials standard.  Toyota has been the leader including systems like automatic emergency braking on even the lowest trim levels of almost every model.  Some other brands still only include these features on top trim levels and then make you buy a pricey technology package on top of that, making them expensive if you can even find them on dealer’s lots.  Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are optional on the base LE trim, but standard on other trims.  Have a problem on the road?  Toyota’s Entune 3.0 includes a 3-year subscription to Safety Connect on all trims, allowing for calls for emergencies, roadside assistance and automatic crash notification in case of airbag deployment.

As for crashworthiness, the RAV4 AWD did quite well.  It aced every crash test from the IIHS, with “Good” overall and Good sub-category results in each one, including the newer passenger-side small overlap crash test.  Its forward collision warning and autobrake system earned the top “Superior” rating.  The only blemish is a “Marginal” headlight rating, mainly due to inadequate illumination in gradual curves.  Unfortunately, this kept it from receiving a “Top Safety Pick” award, which is a shame given its excellent performance in all the actual crash tests and front crash avoidance system evaluation.  RAV4 Hybrid received a 5-star overall rating in the NHTSA safety evaluation.  The 4-star frontal crash test driver-side rating was the only blemish there.

In terms of carseats, the second row is a big improvement from the previous RAV4.  There is now minimal “crossover” of seatbelts that often prevented the middle and outboard seats from being used simultaneously for adjacent or “3-across” car seats.  The middle seat is still relatively narrow, but just wide enough to fit a narrow car seat like a Britax Emblem, Clek Fllo, BubbleBum or Harmony Youth Booster.  The seatbelt anchor for the center seat is just behind the buckle stalk of the passenger side seat, so it is technically possible to install adjacent seats if you can find two that will fit properly next to each other.

Passenger Side Seatbelt Arrangement

Getting three carseats in the back will be possible, but also challenging compared to a midsize or larger vehicle.  The LATCH anchors are readily accessible, and Toyota does allow “borrowing” in this vehicle of the innermost anchors from the outboard seats to install a child safety seat in the narrow middle seat, but only if permitted by the child seat manufacturer.  Rigid LATCH carseats are not allowed to use LATCH in the middle seat in this manner. In the RAV4, seatbelt installation is still preferred for the center seat, however, because using the LATCH anchors for the middle seat may conflict with having a car seat or passenger on either side.

2019 RAV4 Seatbelt Layout

The seatbelt buckle stalks are relatively short/flexible, and the head restraints are all removable in all three rear seats, so there are no major obstacles to good carseat installation in most situations. The seat cushion bolsters and center seat “bump” are not so pronounced to cause issues for most carseats.  Toyota does require that the vehicle seat backs for both sides must be reclined to the same setting when installing a car seat in the middle seat.  The only real challenge will be finding carseats that fit the narrow middle seating position to allow for installation of adjacent or three-across carseats.  For example, a narrow booster can be used in the center, like a BubbleBum shown below between a Graco Nautilus SnugLock and Britax Emblem.  While it fits, the narrow middle seat may make it difficult for a younger booster rider to buckle themselves.

2019 Toyota RAV4 3-Across Carseats

2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e Quick Review: Kids, Carseats & Safety

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2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e Offers Traction on Slippery Roads with Amazing Fuel Economy

Quick Look:

Fundamentally unchanged since the 2016 model was introduced, the 2019 Toyota Prius receives a minor refresh this year.  The front and rear styling is updated somewhat and perhaps not quite as futuristic as before.  That may be good news for those who don’t care for the new Corolla Hybrid’s styling.  There is a new AWD version, notable with its standard fog lights, two tone wheel covers and AWD badge on the rear hatch.  The interior is basically unchanged from 2018.

  

The AWD system brings with it a new Nickel Metal Hydride battery that Toyota claims will perform better in cold climates.  The rear axle has a separate electric motor that kicks in at low speeds only.  There’s only 7 hp in the back, so just enough to help with grip on slippery roads.  There is no off-road capability here.  I did not have the opportunity to test the AWD system in snow, but it performed admirably in heavy rain and standing water.  That small rear motor is always working up to 6 mph in all conditions, but only when necessary beyond that until 43 mph.  Overall performance is otherwise similar to the FWD trims.

There’s barely a fuel economy penalty, as the AWD model is rated at 50 mpg combined vs. 52 mpg combined for the same trim in the FWD version.  That’s only the equivalent of less than one extra tankful of 11.3 gallons each year for someone who drives 12,000 miles annually.  I obtained a very respectable 64 mpg for over 200 miles around suburban Chicago.  Of course, I do not expect those kinds of results year round, particularly in winter when cold temps and use of the heater reduce fuel economy considerably.  The only real drawback seems to be the premium of $1400 on the LE trim or $1000 on XLE models.

As for car seats, like any small car, it has some challenges. There’s limited room in back, so an infant or rear-facing only carseat will likely reduce front seat legroom, as is the case in almost every compact sedan and utility vehicle.  Also common among small cars, the center seat is quite narrow, and it will be difficult to find a car seat that fits there.  In the Prius, the middle spot is likely only usable by a slender teen or pre-teen; many carseats will simply not work with the narrow seatbelt system attachments there.  Three across carseats will be a major challenge, as I could not find a combination that worked well, though it may be possible.

Fortunately, I had no issues fitting two carseats in the outboard seating positions.

Back Seat May Not Be The Safest Place for Your Child? Wait….What?

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You may be seeing news headlines about a new project to research the safety of rear seat occupants.  Unfortunately, some media outlets have misinterpreted the intent of the study and have some very misleading headlines.  “Study shows the back seat may not be the safest place for your child in a front-end collision,” says NBC News and some of its affiliates.  Though new studies sometimes do contradict old research, that is not the current intent of this new paper from the IIHS.

NBCnews.com

Now consider the headline of the IIHS press release, “Rear-seat occupant protection hasn’t kept pace with the front.”  In fact, that is exactly the purpose of this new project.  The IIHS is developing a new crash test to help promote improvements in safety for rear seat occupants.  This study was not designed and likely does not have enough statistical information to change our current recommendation to keep all children 12 and under in the back seat whenever possible.

According to Russ Rader, Senior Vice President of Communications at the IIHS:

While we looked at real-world cases involving occupants age 6 and older, the focus is on adult passengers because they appear to be the most vulnerable to seat belt-related injuries to the chest, especially the oldest occupants.   The long-standing recommendation to parents hasn’t changed: The back seat is still overall the safest place for properly restrained children to ride.

It is important to point out that in a study like this we seek out the cases where people were seriously injured in order to understand what engineering changes might have affected the outcome.  It is also important to look at the entire population that could be affected by any changes in order to make sure that solutions for older vulnerable occupants do not negatively impact children.

Photo courtesy of IIHS

Be a smart consumer of news and know that the media is trying to draw your attention. When it comes to the safety of your child, find all the facts before making any decisions.  Please keep your children age 12 and under properly restrained in the back seat if at all possible!  If you have no other option than to place a child in the front passenger seat, please feel free to contact us through our facebook page or talk any child passenger safety technician for safest practice recommendations!  If best practice advice ever changes in the future, we will be sure to inform you, as will the IIHS, NHTSA and other occupant safety agencies.

March Madness of Fashions Final Four

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It’s not too late to vote!  We’re down to our final four of fabulous fabrics!  Visit our facebook page now to vote and come back this weekend to vote in our championship game: https://www.facebook.com/carseatblog

Our first match featured two Cinderellas, #11 seed “Lanai” from Chicco vs. our #15 seed “Seascape” from Evenflo.  Both these fashions have won their first two games by big voting margins from our readers.

In our second match, our highest remaining seed, #4 Graco “Matrix” was up against reader-nominated #8 “Bohemian Blue” from Maxi-Cosi.  “Matrix” is one of the best selling neutral fashions against a very pretty Pria pattern that knocked off our #1 seed Britax “Cowmooflage” last round!

Update: The championship game pits “Lanai” vs. “Bohemian Blue”, both winning their final four matchups by nearly two-to-one voting margins!  Voting ends Monday afternoon, April 8th.