Every year we're wowed by the new features automakers roll out at auto shows. Under the bright lights of the convention hall they seem perfect, but once we get them home they don't always stand up to scrutiny. One of those is Infiniti's new crossover, the 2013 JX35.
At last year's Los Angeles Auto Show, Infiniti showed off this new family hauler with a second row that could theoretically tilt and slide forward for access to the third row, even with a forward-facing child-safety seat installed in the second row.
I recently had the opportunity to put this feature to the test at home with my three daughters, ages 8, 10 and 12. While they're no longer in forward-facing five-point-harness safety seats, which were used at the auto show to demonstrate the JX's slide feature, my two younger daughters are both in booster seats, and there's a frequent need to get to the third row.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's most recent child-safety-seat guidelines:
- Infants should ride in a rear-facing seat from birth "until he or she reaches the top height or weight limits allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer." Often, this is until age 2.
- Children should be moved to a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness "once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat. Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until her or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer." This can be anywhere from ages 4 to 7.
- Children should then be moved into booster seats, where they stay "until he or she is big enough for the seat belt to fit properly." This can be until age 12.
That means a family will have at least one kid in some type of child-safety seat for up to 12 years, and even longer if younger siblings are to follow. Of those 12 years, only two to five of them will be in a forward-facing convertible. The remaining seven to 10 years will be in either a rear-facing child-safety seat or a booster seat. So, one would assume Infiniti considered this while designing access to the third row.
However, that doesn't seem to be the case. After testing the system at home, I've discovered there are a few flaws with this seemingly well-thought-out family-friendly feature.
Flaw No. 1: Only one second-row seat — behind the front passenger's seat — has the tilt-and-slide-forward-with-a-car-seat feature. If you want to get into the third row from the driver's side and there's a car seat installed in the second row's outboard position, or even in the middle position, you can't access the third row. Third-row passengers would have to climb in only on the passenger side.
Flaw No. 2: The tilt-and-slide-forward feature doesn't work with a rear-facing child-safety seat. So, rear-facing seats need to be installed behind the driver's seat or in center seat.
Flaw No. 3: Of the three booster seats I tested with this feature, only one of them worked well with the JX. I tested a Britax Roundabout high-back booster seat, a Bubble Bum inflatable booster and a Clek Olli. The Roundabout's high back and subsequently high head restraint jammed up against either the JX's headliner or the front passenger's seat (depending upon the position of the booster's head restraint). This prevented the seat from tilting far enough forward to allow third-row access. The Bubble Bum was essentially ejected from the seat when it tilted forward.
The backless Clek Olli worked well with the tilt-and-slide second-row seat. Since this booster seat is installed securely using Latch anchors, it allowed the JX's seat to move all the way forward without getting stuck or dislodging the booster.
I love that automakers are starting to tune into consumers' usability issues and design solutions for them. However, the Infiniti JX's seat that theoretically allows access to the third row "even with a child seat installed" will only work for a couple of years when your child is in a forward-facing convertible seat. For the remaining years that your child is in either a rear-facing safety seat or a booster seat, you'll likely have to figure something else out.
My three kids got so frustrated with this system that they just crammed together in the second row, seemingly rejecting the third row altogether. Of course this may have been since it was Halloween and they just wanted to get to Grandpa's faster for trick-or-treating.