Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The All New Subaru Ascent: The ultimate family hauler

tl;dr We are thrilled with our Subaru Ascent Limited, read on for more details on other models we considered and my experience with negotiating pricing with the awesome Costco Auto Program

Soon after we closed on our new house, I started thinking about whether our two sedans would have the capacity to haul the 'stuff' that we'd soon be using with two young children (double stroller, luggage, diaper bags, groceries, etc.). It became abundantly clear very quickly that we would need a larger vehicle. Alas, 7 months pregnant we began our search. 

The criteria for our new vehicle included: 
  • large cargo/trunk space (because kid STUFF)
  • comfortably fit two carseats in the second row and still be able to access the third row
  • three rows of seating and the third row should be comfortable
  • Apple CarPlay
  • will fit in our garage (which is sort of short)
  • safety/reliability
All in all, we are thrilled with our Subaru Ascent Limited, read on for more details on other models we considered and my experience with negotiating pricing with the Costco Auto Program

2019 Subaru Ascent Limited, Tungsten Metallic with Warm Ivory Leather

Our consideration set was built based on Consumer Reports reviews and IIHS top safety picks. There aren't a ton of 3 row SUVs or minivans on the market that meet both these requirements, so the list was narrowed pretty quickly. On the minivan front, we sat in the Honda Odyssey (no driving), and eliminated it because Consumer Reports showed that the predicted reliability for the 2018 and 2019 versions of this minivan was subpar (1/5). The Toyota Sienna was eliminated from consideration as well due to the fact that it was not an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2019. 

With both minivans eliminated, I turned to the list of top IIHS Safety Picks and Consumer Reports Recommendations for MidSize SUVs and started deciding which we would test drive. 

We decided to test drive the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX9 and Audi Q7. On paper, the Subaru Ascent seemed to have everything we were looking for, but driving each vehicle was crucial to see which felt best in real life.

These are my high level pros and cons about all the cars that we chose not to purchase. I have provided my full review on the Subaru Ascent at the end.

Toyota Highlander

  • Hybrid version available with amazing gas mileage
  • High predicted reliability, and proven performance from past years
  • Easy access to third row with captain's chairs in second row
  • Felt that it drove like a really big car
  • No Apple CarPlay and Toyota's Entune System (for entertainment and tech) is really really bad. Rumor has it that the 2020 Toyota Highlander will be CarPlay compatible (finally!)
  • Third row feels tight and not great for taller people

Honda Pilot

  • High predicted reliability, and proven performance from past years
  • Excellent cargo room in back
  • Apple CarPlay tech functionality
  • Drive was fine but not exceptionally smooth

  • Third row felt tight, especially with someone in the passenger seat, a carseat in the 2nd row captain's chair, and a person in the third row
  • Harder to maneuver between second and third rows easily
  • Drives like a big truck

Mazda CX-9

  • Price, cheapest of all the vehicles we were considering. 
  • Well rated by Consumer Reports & IIHS.
  • Apple CarPlay Functionality
  • Drives like a car

  • Space. This vehicle is SO cramped. There isn't enough space in any row for anyone to feel comfortable when you have more than 4 passengers. 
  • Supposedly you can tilt the 2nd row without having to remove the carseat to enter the 3rd row, but in reality there is so little space to maneuver even with that feature that it's kind of useless.
Audi Q7

  • Smooth drive
  • Push button third row
  • Feels like a luxury car in terms of construction/material quality
  • Price. This is a $70k vehicle, and even used, it's at least $50k. I had really high expectations because of that, and they were definitely not met in value or design. 
  • The 2nd row has a bench seat which seats 3 people, while the 3rd row seats only 2. This is useless when you have carseats in the 2nd row and you have to manually lift the seat (after removing the carseats) to access the 3rd row. Audi should have made the 2nd row power controlled so that it would be less heavy lifting. 
  • Second row will feel cramped, if it's even possible to fit a human between two carseats. 
  • Technology - the only USB charging port is in the front of the car. 
  • Storage. There isn't nearly enough cargo room to lug a double stroller, groceries, and your guests. 
Subaru Ascent

  • Space. Cargo room and passenger room in all 3 rows is amazing, even with the passenger seat, 2nd row carseat, and person in the 3rd row seated at the same time. Bonus, it fits in our garage.

  • 3rd row access. There are two ways to access the 3rd row when a carseat is in the 2nd row, without having to remove carseats if necessary. You can push the captain's chair forward and slide in the side, or you can push the captain's char back and squeeze in front of the carseat to the 3rd row. This gets even easier once the carseats are forward facing. I was able to get to the third row while 7 months pregnant with ease.
  • Thoughtful design. Subaru has really kept families in mind in their design of this vehicle. There are USB charging ports in each row, and 19 cupholders. The front and rear A/C heat can be controlled manually from the first and/or second row. 
  • Trunk capacity. I can easily fit my Uppababy Vista without having to disassemble it, and can lift it out of the trunk easily as well. Even with a massive stroller, there is still plenty of room for groceries (when the 3rd row is folded). When the entire 3rd row is being used, I can still fit the Zoe Double Stroller and a diaper bag plus a bag of groceries. 

  • Apple CarPlay is easy to set up and use on this vehicle.
  • Large screen with excellent backup camera. 
  • Automatic braking when a safety hazard is detected. I think this comes on most models now, but it has been incredibly helpful in preventing accidental bumps. 
  • Blind spot monitoring on both sides of the vehicle, again I believe this is standard for most vehicles now, but if it isn't it should be.
  • Drive / Ride. The drive is fun, doesn't feel like I'm driving a massive truck and the ride is also smooth. You hear road noise still because it is an SUV, but overall it's a very pleasant experience as a driver and a passenger.
  • Excellent Service experience at Subaru dealership. We had a minor issue with a rear bumper sensor being oversensitive. While it took 2 months to get the replacement part, once it arrived the dealership service experience was top notch (better than Toyota and Hyundai). They send you home via an Uber, and send an Uber to pick you up. The service person will text you personally with updates, and you only have to deal with one person throughout the entire process, and never have to re-explain the context of your call or concern. Really really excellent. Our repair was free as it was covered under warranty. 
  • Gas efficiency. I'll be honest, it's pretty terrible gas efficiency for the city, we're averaging about 16 mpg in LA traffic. On the highway, it's around 35-40mpg which is much better. We didn't buy this car thinking it would be as efficient as our hybrids, but I was expecting around 20mpg in the city and that's not happening.
  • Front facing camera is only on Touring model. I really wish I had the forward facing camera on the vehicle to know how close I am to the wall in our garage. It isn't an option you can buy, and is only available on the Touring model. 
  • Maintenance and Warranty add ons are pricey. There is a standard 3 year warranty on the vehicles, but this does not cover electrical components on the vehicle after 3 years. Given all the tech in the vehicles now, repairs can get pricey. It's worth having the peace of mind in my opinion. 
  • Limited color options for seating in the Touring version (highest trim line). We drove the Touring model in the US for the Ascent, but ended up purchasing the Limited model as it had all the features we really wanted. I also was not a fan of the brown leather on the Touring model, and there are no other color options (so weird that they don't allow that kind of flexibility). 
  • Brand new model with limited understanding of how it will perform over time. This was a risk we decided to take, and it has been fine for us but I know there have been a few recalls that have affected others.
Pricing & Negotiation

Having worked in the auto business for 5 years, I decided to test pricing quotes and negotiation a few different ways. 

1) I negotiated directly with a bunch of dealers once I knew which vehicle and add ons we wanted (this ended up being the least successful / most costly result). 
2) I requested quotes through TrueCar, and this actually put me in touch with the same dealer that Costco has a partnership with. This was the middle line quote, so if you can't get Costco, I'd definitely try TrueCar. 
3) Costco Auto Program. I submitted my information through Costco, and was put in contact with a dealership that they partner with for Subaru. Costco and the dealership/OEM set monthly pricing deals, and at the time the Ascent was being offered through Costco's partnership at $1500 over invoice (versus no discounts directly through the dealership). Costco ended up being the best price by several  thousand dollars at the end of the day. It was a painless process and I'd highly recommend it. 

No matter what brand and model of vehicle you end up purchasing, I'd highly recommend getting pricing through Costco Auto. They have one to one relationships with dealers in your geographic area, and it's a free program for Costco members. This reduces the burden and time you spend negotiating as a car buyer.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Snoo: Sleep is priceless.

tl; dr In my opinion, the Snoo is seriously the best sleep solution ever, a must buy for all parents. Read on for details.

Zara sleeping peacefully in the Snoo 
(Note: machine is not on as she is not in the Snoo sleep sack)

The one thing my husband and I miss most after becoming parents is (uninterrupted) SLEEP. It's a safe bet that millions of other new parents feel the same way, and companies certainly recognize this phenomenon and capitalize on it. Two years ago, after our son was born, we spent hours each night bouncing him to sleep as he wailed for hours. We were so desperate for sleep that I bought every sleep aid I could get my hands on, from swaddles to swings - nothing worked. Finally, we hired a night nanny for a couple nights when my husband was leaving town for work, and she showed us that we were not swaddling our son tightly enough, and were also putting him to bed too late. $1200 bucks later, we were getting those much needed 5-6 hour stretches consistently.

This time around, I wanted to get ahead of the newborn sleep deficit so after hours of research and reading hundreds of anecdotal comments, I took the plunge and purchased a Snoo Smart Sleeper. The Snoo is a bassinet that detects your baby's crying  and responds with varying levels of motion and calming sounds accordingly to calm your baby, so that you don't have to spend hours rocking at all hours of the night. 

Zara has been sleeping in the Snoo since she was 2 days old, and was sleeping 3-4 hour stretches right away. At 4 months old, she was sleeping 6-8 hour stretches consistently, and waking only twice at night to be fed. She has also been fortunate to avoid the dreaded 4 month sleep regression (knock on wood!). At 4.5 months we successfully weaned her from the Snoo in about a week using the built in weaning feature, and transitioned her to a crib seamlessly without having to sleep train further.  tl; dr In my opinion, the Snoo is seriously the best sleep solution ever, a must buy for all parents. Read on for details.

Source: Happiest Baby, "Meet the Snoo Smart Bassinet"

About The Snoo:
The Snoo was created by Dr. Harvey Karp, Author of Happiest Baby on the Block. It claims to be the safest baby bed ever made due to its sleep sack that prevents rolling, the air vents on the sack as well as the bassinet to reduce overheating, and its ability to boost infant sleep to dissuade co-sleeping with tired parents. 

  • Thoughtfully designed and easy to use sleep sack which you can wrap baby in within seconds, including dual zipper for easy diaper changes at night.
  • Three sizes of sleep sacks included with purchase or rental so you don't need to buy extra accessories right away (S, M, L). We found that we used the medium and large sizes the most. 
  • Sleep sacks and sheet can machine washed and dried for painless upkeep.
  • The bassinet itself is easy to assemble, simply attach the four legs and download the App to connect your unit. Assembly in 20 mins or less in our experience. 
  • App allows you to control the bassinet movement, and also see sleep logs for how long baby is sleeping over time. We LOVE this feature so that we could discern Zara's patterns and share this feedback with her teachers at school, which made her transition to daycare easier. Now that she is in a crib, we still find ourselves reaching for the app wishing we had a sleep tracker! Here is a progression of Zara's sleep over time. The blue indicates sleeping, brown is when the Snoo was comforting her. As you can see, her sleep improved dramatically over time. Of course there are still days with setbacks, but on the whole there are far more good days than tough ones.

  • Overall design of the bassinet is visually appealing, minimalist/mid-century modern.
  • We were able to start putting Zara down drowsy but eyes open around 12 weeks of age, and the Snoo would gently rock her to sleep. This mimicked sleep training, and now we're able to do the same in the stationary crib without too much protest or additional sleep training (win!). 
  • Resale value. I was able to purchase the bassinet in 2018 when it was 35% off for about $835. I've seen others sell their Snoos for around $500, so the resale value is strong
  • Flexibility in choosing delivery date of your bassinet so that your 30 day risk free trial starts when you actually need the bassinet. I ordered my bassinet during their Black Friday sale which began in mid-October, and set it to deliver in mid-November. This worked out perfectly as it was delivered the day my daughter was born. 
  • Price, this is the most obvious and biggest con for most people. Retail price is $1295 + tax. There are sales throughout the year where you can get up to 35% off ($845 + tax) Happiest Baby just launched the option to rent the Snoo for $98/month. The resale value is strong if you're able to get the bassinet when its 35% off. Renting is also a very strong option now. Why? Let's break it down:
    •  4 months of a night nanny would cost $18,000 - 36,000 (~$15-30/hr, 10 hrs per night). 4 months of a Snoo (purchased) costs ~$930 when purchased on sale. You can resell for at least $500, so that brings your actual cost for 4 months to $430. Renting would be about $431, essentially equivalent. Granted, a night nanny can do more than a Snoo because they can feed, change diapers, etc. However, the massive discount you get with a Snoo (if it works for you) compared to the night nanny makes it worth at least a trial. If your child does not prefer it, you could always go a different route. 
    •  All in all, I don't really view price as a huge con because of the immense value the product provides relative to the cost of alternatives. Even purchased without any discounts, you'd be saving at least $16,000 relative to a night nanny. 
  • Won't work for all babies, but GREAT return policy. Unfortunately, like all baby products and services, this bassinet will not work for every baby out there. That said, I LOVE Happiest Baby's 30 Day Risk Free Trial policy that begins on the day of your delivery. You don't even have to pay return shipping, which is amazing!
  • Limited time use because you can only use it till your baby starts rolling, or outgrows the height/weight restrictions. Usually this is between 4-6 months of age. We still felt this was well worth the investment because sleep is priceless!
I hope this review has been helpful! Please drop me a line if you have any questions or want to know more. You can read other parents reviews of the Snoo here as well

Monday, March 18, 2019

A resource for modern parents

tl;dr The purpose of this blog is to share my unbiased reviews of the latest technological innovations and new services that make parenting (and adulting) just a little bit easier. 

Our family, my husband (Sage), son (Kiran - 2 years), and daughter (Zara - now 4 months)

My name is Zeil, pronounced like zealous zeal! I'm a full time marketing consultant, wife, and mom of two wonderful children, and two adorable furbabies. We are based in sunny Los Angeles, California. I've been working in the tech sector for over 10 years, and as a modern full time working mom I'm always on the lookout for products and services that make parents' lives easier. 

CEO Mom Boss is a lifestyle blog focused on bringing new products, services, and recommendations to light for other parents with my honest and transparent reviews. Since early last year, I've been researching some really amazing new inventions and products that I'll be posting about soon, like the Snoo Bassinet, Elvie Breast Pump, and even the brand new 3 row Subaru Ascent SUV. 

I hope that you find the site to be helpful, inspirational, and valuable -- and most of all I look forward to connecting with all you wonderful parents. Please drop me a line anytime! :)

CEO Mom Boss Founder