There are many different dual-cab utes on the market and as I have reviewed them for BabyDrive, I have found that installing child seats comes with varying degrees of difficulty! Mainly because utes do not have to adhere to the same rules as cars when it comes to child restraint anchorages because they are classed as a commercial vehicle… CRAZY I know!!!
In 2017 and so far in 2018 the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger are the two top-selling cars in Australia, not just utes but ALL cars!! So they are of course not just being used as work vehicles but family cars too.
I am often asked which is the easiest ute to fit child seats into so I thought I would share my answer with you. Based on my own experience I have found there are some common factors/contributors to the ease or difficulty of child seat installation:
- The position of the top tethers If they are fixed behind the headrest there is often not enough distance to tighten the top tether strap. Or if they are behind the seat back often you cannot adjust the top tethers easily once the seat back is in position.
- Lowering the seat back Whether the seat back is one single piece or it is split 40:60. One single piece makes installation very difficult. If you have to pull a woven loop at either end of the seat back both at the same time to drop it forward, then it is very difficult to reach and installation is much harder. A single loop is much easier.
- Space in the second row You have to get up into the rear row of seats so you need room to work. Also when the backrest is forward you need the physical space in the back for you, two or three child seats and the backrest if it is the type that folds forward. Also, despite the huge size of dual-cab utes many of them do not have much space for front passengers once you have a rear-facing child seat or infant capsule installed!
- The type of top tethers Whether they are metal anchor points or woven fabric loops.
- ISOFix Whether this fastening system is available or you have to use seatbelts.
Dual cab utes ranked from best to worst for ease of child seat fitting:
I found the 2018 Mitsubishi Triton by far the easiest ute to install child seats. Whether it was intentional or not, it appears the designers have put some thought into it!! Firstly there are only two ISOFix and two metal top tether anchor points, both in the outer seats, so the number of child seats you can install is obvious (trust me it can get pretty ambiguous).
The ISOFix points are easy to locate but are a little bit harder to connect to than some that are housed in plastic guides.
To access the top tether points, behind the backrest, there is a small fabric loop in the seat back that you pull to bring the whole backrest forward. So far so good!
Even better, there's another way to access the top tether anchor points that is in no other ute I have tested. In the central seatback, you bring down the armrest exposing a zip on either side that allows you to slide your hand through to reach the top tether anchor points. GENIUS!! This feature in the Triton made the job so much easier than other utes that have top tether connections behind their seat backs.
The cab of the Triton is very spacious, so it does give you a lot of space to work in. I also found I could bring the front passenger seat right forward and step through to access the middle rear seat!
There was no ISOFix at all in the Isuzu D-Max I tested, which was a downside, but I am told the newer model does have ISOFix so it is definitely something you should check.
There are three metal top tether anchor points behind the backrest which comes forward as one complete panel. In the D-Max there is just one woven tab, to the side of the central headrest towards the driver's side of the vehicle, which you pull to bring the backrest forward. I did find its positioning a little inconvenient when installing a child seat on the other side of the cab because I had to come all the way round to pull the tab!
Having one continuous backrest makes fitting, and removing, three child seats a little more difficult as you have to attach or release all the top tethers at the same time, then click the backrest back in to place and then attach or undo the seat belts.
Once you have connected the top tethers and are locking the seatback into position adjusting the top tethers was a little tricky with space around the headrests.
Three child seats fit really comfortably along the back row and the seatbelt clips were really well positioned. Perhaps it is because there is no ISOFix that there is more flexibility in the position of the child seats and that’s why they fit so well?
I found there were no difficult to access seatbelt clips underneath child seats, and they all seemed perfectly positioned which rarely happens in cars I have driven. It makes installation easier and makes it really easy for a child in booster booster seat to do up their own seatbelt, unlike in most cars I have tested where the seatbelt clip is underneath the booster seat making it impossible for them to access! The seatbelt comes from the shoulder on the backrest, not the ceiling which is preferable so it doesn’t cut across the child’s neck.
There are three metal top tether anchor points situated behind the rear backrest and ISOFix anchor points in the two outer rear seats in the Holden Colorado.
To access the top tethers, you have to pull the tabs at both ends on the seat back, which means pulling one, wedging something in it (so it can't click back in) and walking around to the other side of the cab to pull the other and get the whole seat back to drop forward. Having one continuous backrest makes fitting, and removing, three child seats a little more difficult as you have to attach or release all the top tethers at the same time, then click the back into place and then attach or undo the seat belts.
Once you have connected the top tethers and are locking the seatback into position, adjusting the top tethers is a little tricky with space around the headrests.
I haven't put the Ford Ranger through full BabyDrive testing yet, but I have had a look inside one and it's essentially the same design as the Mazda BT-50 (below) with a one-piece backrest that is released by pulling a strap on the driver's side, and space in the cab is about identical too.
The reason it ranks above the Mazda is because it has ISOFix in both outer rear seats and the top tether points are actually installed from the factory! This means I rank it above the Mazda for ease of child seat fitting!
Also like the BT-50. there is no central top tether, so the Ranger can only take two child seats.
In the VW Amarok, there are ISOFix points in the two rear outer seats and they are well hidden within slits in the seat fabric at the back of the seat bases. They are clearly labelled but it could be a little tricky to locate the bars within the slits, especially on models with leather upholstery which doesn't easily stretch to let the ISOFix clip in.
There are three metal top tether anchor points situated on the back of a one-piece backrest. So you have to bring the whole backrest forward. To do this you have to move both front seats backrests and bases into their furthest forward positions.
Then there is a tab on either end of the rear backrest which both need to be pulled at the same time so you either need two people, one at each end or if you are shorter like me you can stand in the back footwell straddling the central console box and pull both tabs at the same time to drop the backrest forward. They are hard to pull, I found it difficult the first few times but soon built my strength over the three weeks we had the Amarok (the backrest is heavy when it drops forward also).
You cannot rest the seat back in its upright position without it clicking back into place. So I found it best to use a wedge rested in the mechanism whilst I installed the child seats, connected the ISOFix and top tethers and then took the wedge out when I was ready to lock the seat-back into position.
I found it worked better to install all your child seats at the same time while you have the backrest down, connect all your top tethers, then rest the seat-back in position using a wedge in the mechanism, install the ISOFix, remove the wedge and lock seat-back into position then adjust ISOFix and top tether straps. Trust me, this is not fun in summer!
I had a shock with the Mazda BT-50 when I came to test how many child seats would fit and found there was no ISOFix and no top tethers! I searched all the usual hiding places for them and discovered after phoning a friend that the BT-50 doesn't come with any top tethers!! Utes are classified as commercial vehicles and come under different regulations and do not have to have top tethers fitted as standard.
The good news is, the threaded holes are there so it's easy to install your own top tethers. But come on Mazda, your cars are usually so family friendly! How much would it cost to put them in on the factory production line?
The rear seatback folds forward in one piece by pulling a woven strap near the headrest on the driver's side. Behind the rear seatback, there are two screw thread holes I mentioned, one for each of the outer seats, where you can install the top tether points.
When installing the child seats I did find it difficult to adjust the top tethers to be tight enough because of the adjustment buckle on the strap being behind the seatback and once it was clicked back into place you can't access it. I had to use the seatbelts with the child seats as there is no ISOFix either.
The two outer seats in the back of the Toyota Hilux have ISOFix, and Toyota says this model is only suitable for two child seats. The rear seatback does not fold forward, instead, there is one metal top tether anchor point located just behind the headrest of the central seat. All child seat anchor to this top tether point. The two outer seats have a woven loop strap in their headrests that you pass the top tether strap through, then between the prongs of the headrest and along the back of the seats to connect to the single metal top tether point.
There is no evidence as to how a single top tether point bears under the strain of multiple child seats on it. Or what happens to a child seat that is tethered from the side like that in the event of an accident. It would not be legal to have a single top tether anchor point in a car and I am not sure how well tested this setup is to see how a child seat would move around in the event of an accident when tethered at the side like this. My initial concern would be that it is a great load on the prongs of the headrest.
At the moment utility vehicles do not come under the same laws as cars because they are deemed to be commercial vehicles and so do not have to comply with the same rules. It is surely common sense if they are the best selling car in all of Australia several years in a row that they are being used as family cars and need to be treated in the same way for child safety.
In the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, there is ISOFix in the two outer seats, all within plastic guides and nice and easy to connect to.
There are top tether anchor woven loops on all three second-row seats, between the headrest prongs. They are woven loops rather than metal bars, just like in the Nissan Navara, but they are slightly bigger in the X-Class.
You have to post the top tether strap through the loop on the chair you are putting the child seat in and then across to the loop on the seat to the left or right of it and attach the clip on there.
I was concerned with this method of top tethers because I found them really quite difficult to use. Getting the top tethers through the loops is not easy because of the small space you are working in and connecting and disconnecting off the second loop is difficult too.
Also, I was worried that over time the metal top tether clip against the woven loop will wear away at it, possibly causing fraying?
Tightening the top tether strap to the required amount in such a small space, especially once more than one child seat is installed is very difficult too!
It is worth bearing in mind the top tether woven loops are a bit of a grey area and it is uncertain if they are tested to hold three child seats. When I tested the Nissan Navara that has an almost identical top tether setup, it was almost impossible to get a straight answer from Nissan about whether it was OK to install three seats or not.
Concerns have been raised that having the two outer seat top tethers attached to the central loop in the event of an accident that each seat will move differently pulling on that loop and could cause a kind of tug effect on the loop depending on which seat has more weight in it or momentum. More about this in the Navara section below.
With that aside, there was room for three child seats in the back of the X-Class, but installing three child seats wasn’t simple, I found I had to be inside the cab to reach around and do it all and it was all quite confined. Also, the logistics of getting a top tether clip through the webbing loops was very fiddly and difficult and tightening them almost impossible!
I managed to fit two child seats in the back of the Nissan Navara and I found that installing the child seats wasn't the simplest thing!
There were no ISOFix in the Series 2 model I tested at all. (The latest Series 3 Navara does come with ISOFix though).
For the top tethers, there are three woven loops behind the rear headrests, attached to the frame of the car. To fit a child seat into the outer seat position you pass the top tether under the headrest, through the loop behind the headrest and then across and connect it onto the loop behind the central seat headrest.
I had all the same concerns as the X-Class about the ease of installing and tightening top tether straps, potential metal clips on fabric causing fraying over time and the tug effect in an accident.
I did raise all these with Nissan salesmen and asked if the top tethers are tested to hold three child seats at the same time. They put the question to their Nissan contact but there was no real answer, I was just told there are three top tether loops. I also got no clear answer from a journalist asking someone high up in Nissan directly.
It isn't just me who questions the Navara top tethers. ACRI has asked for clarification on how many child seats are safe, also to no satisfactory answer from Nissan.
It may be that they are completely safe to install three child seats but some official clarification would be good.
Moving on from the politics, the fact is, installing two child seats in the Navara was very fiddly and difficult.
With two child seats installed there is room between for someone to sit and the seatbelt and buckle are both easily accessible. With the right combination of child seats I am sure you could get three across the back of a Navara, but the seat is narrower than in the X-Class, which took three seats easily.