January 23, 2017

What’s the best convertible car seat? Sadly, it’s not that simple.

[Skip the commentary: take me to the Best Convertible Car Seats]

When babies outgrow their infant seats, most parents then purchase a convertible car seat. Some parents also opt for a convertible seat straight from birth to prevent having to buy two seats (an infant seat and a convertible). These people need to pay special attention to lowest harness strap height (see below: “Special Situations, #3”).

*If your child is already forward-facing, you don’t need a convertible seat! Please see Forward Facing Seats.

14-month-old Alice in her Britax Boulevard

14-month-old Alice in her Britax Boulevard

In a Nutshell

A convertible seat is called so because it starts out rear facing, usually for babies from 0-24 months (preferably longer), then converts to a forward facing seat for 2 to 4 or even 5-year-olds.

There are also “all-in-one” seats, such as the Evenflo Symphony, the Graco Milestone and the Graco 4Ever. These seats can be used rear facing, forward facing, or as a BPB (belt-positioning booster seat). “Well heck, why doesn’t everyone just buy an all-in-one seat?” you ask. Well, because most of them are not tall enough for bigger kids who still need to be in a booster. Translation: You would still have to purchase another/taller booster seat anyway.

Size and Weight

Compared to infant seats, convertible seats are monstrously big compared to infant seats — they look like giant baby thrones. With a few exceptions, they are also quite heavy (20+ lbs). Unlike with infant seats though, weight is not as big of a deal because you’re not taking the seat out of the car every day and plopping it into a stroller. Nope, these are just too big for those shenanigans.

Just to be crystal clear: a convertible seat is not one you can easily transfer from car to car like you can with an infant seat (with bases). If you’re used to sharing a car seat with one or more people, you’ll be sorely disappointed to learn how difficult this is to do with convertible seats.

Diono Radian RXT

Thus, most people end up buying a seat for each (main) car their child will ride in (theirs and their spouse’s, for example). Sorry. I wish I had a better solution. Trust me, you don’t want to be taking this thing in and out of the car every day, no siree.

Nowadays, you’ll see many of the higher-end convertible seats going up to 70 or even 80 lbs, which is overkill unless you have a special needs child. Or a baby giant. Just remember that a child will almost always outgrow a seat height-wise before they hit the max weight. An 80 lb seat is… let’s just say I’d be shocked to see an 11-year-old (~80 lb) child riding around in a convertible car seat… gimme a break. You’re never going to hit the upper weight limit, and if you do, your seat will have expired anyway! Hence, a 50-60 lb (weight limit) seat should be sufficient for the vast majority of the population. So don’t get sucked into the idea that you’ll get “more for your money” with these ridiculously high-weight rated seats.

All the Hubbub About Rear-Facing

If you are good boys and girls (which I know you are, ahem), you know you should be using your convertible seat rear-facing until at least 2 years of age (as long as possible, in fact).

A child is 75% more likely to sustain a serious injury if he is forward facing.

front crashYeah, yeah, yeah – I’ve heard it — he doesn’t fit, you say? That’s what everyone says. Remember: It doesn’t matter that his legs are touching the backseat – he’s NOT going to break his legs in an accident. If he’s forward facing, however, he’s way more likely to break his spinal cord, which could kill or seriously maim him. Once you watch this video (cue to 1:30), you will totally understand (seriously, the video speaks for itself).

Having said that, here’s the deal: rear facing car seats recline (usually at 30-45 degrees) and therefore, take up a lot of space (i.e., depth) in your backseat – perhaps even more than your infant seat (yikes!). Therefore, space (i.e., will the darn thing fit?) is probably the #1 consideration.

Methodology

I said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no single best convertible car seat out there. What fits into one car doesn’t fit into another… what fits one kid doesn’t fit another, blah blah blah. And if you thought choosing an infant car seat was confusing, JUST WAIT. Ha!

For simplicity’s sake, I narrowed it down to the best seats on the market (plus specialty seats). I chose these seats because they give you the best value for your buck in my personal opinion, based on experiences with my own car seats, my experiences as a CPST (Child Passenger Safety Technician), and taking into account hundreds of bits of feedback and user reviews.

Also, since I feel very strongly about it, all of these seats offer at least some side-impact protection. Side-impact protection is especially important if your child is riding in one of the side or “outboard” positions (i.e., not in the middle). For more about where to put your seat, read here.

Again, remember: There are no guarantees that the seat you buy will fit properly into your car. Be sure to keep the tags on (the box, packing material, etc.) so you can return it if it doesn’t work.

* Note that all of the seats mentioned here are FAA-approved to be brought aboard an airplane.

For tips on installation, go here.

Best Convertible Car Seat Summary

$ — Evenflo SureRide DLX ($91) – Best Economy Seat (65 lb weight limit)
$ — Safety 1st onSide Air ($89) – Good Economy seat (40 lb weight limit)
$$ — Britax Roundabout G4.1 ($144) – Good Value (steel reinforced)
$$ — Graco Size4Me ($147 – $190) – Good Value (lots of features)
$$ — Graco Extend2Fit ($200) – Best for Extended Rear-facing
$$ — Graco Milestone ($230) and 4Ever ($300) – Best 3-in-1
$$ — Evenflo Symphony Elite ($230) – Fave all-around, #1 (seatbelt installation)
$$$ — Maxi-Cosi Pria ($250) – *review pending* – Best for Extended RF’ing in small cars
$$$ — Britax Convertible Seats ($290+) – Fave all-around, #2 (seatbelt installation)
$$$$ — Chicco NextFit ($299) – Fave all-around, #2 (for LATCH installation)
$$$$  Peg Perego Primo Viaggio ($350) – Best fancy pants Euro seat
$$$$  Clek Fllo ($380) – 3-across, great safety features, eco-friendly
$$$$ — Nuna Rava ($449) – Extended rear-facing, narrow, harness holders
$$$$ —  Clek Foonf ($449) – Great for LATCH installation, 3-across, great safety features, eco-friendly

—- Seats for Special Situations —-


$ — Evenflo SureRide DLX ~ $91 – BEST ECONOMY SEAT

Evenflo is a 95 year-old American company that offers decent products for a good price. All of their products are made in the USA (Piqua, OH). O-H! i-o.

Evenflo SureRide - best budget convertible car seat

Evenflo SureRide DLX

buy-now

The Evenflo SureRide recently overtook the Safety 1st onSide Air (see below) as our favorite budget seat.

While most convertibles under $100 have a 40-lb weight limit, the SureRide goes up to 65 lbs forward-facing and 40 lbs rear-facing. It also offers more padding and comfort features than most seats in its class – you even get a fold-down cup holder, huzzah! This is a good pick if you’re installing your seat in the middle position because there are no “additional” side-impact safety features.

Most versions of this seat even offer the fabulous SureLATCH technology, which makes it a breeze to install with LACTH. The only downside is that there are no seat belt lock-offs (meaning, you have to lock the seat belt manually if you’re not using LATCH).

All in all, this simple, lightweight (10.5 lb) seat is the Lucie’s List economy seat Best Buy. It’s also great for travel!

Runner up:

$ — Safety 1st onSide Air ~ $130 MSRP/$89 (best price at Walmart)

Almost all seats under $100 are only rated for 40 lbs, so compared to a 60, 70, or 80-lb seat, it’s apples and oranges.

With that caveat, if you’re looking for a decent economy seat with no bells and whistles other than safety features (or you need a cheap 2nd seat), this could be just what the doctor ordered.

The onSide Air has the shell of the Dorel Group’s basic seat, plus the Air Protect side-impact safety feature (the Evenflo SureRide does not). Thus, if you need to install the seat in a side or “outboard” position, this seat is a better bet.

Safety 1st Onside Air- best travel convertible car seat

Safety 1st onSide Air

buy-now

This seat has a small footprint, so it’s great for compact cars. And weighing in at less than 12 lbs, it’s easy to schlep around. It’s also great for travel.

On the downside, this seat is very hollow on the underside with some sharp edges (this also makes it easy to install if you’re using a seat belt), so place it on top of an old towel if you’re concerned about damaging your upholstery. For rear-facing installation, it’s *highly likely* you will need to prop it to achieve the proper angle (which is the case for MANY rear-facing car seat/car combinations). You can use a rolled-up towel or something like a pool noodle.

Once again, the basic LATCH connectors aren’t the greatest. I’ve broken many a nail getting this seat in and out. But hey, it’s less than $100; what do you expect?

Like I said, this seat only goes up to 40 lbs (which is *about* a 4-year-old), but if your kid is on the taller or heavier side for his age, in this price range I would also look at the Evenflo SureRide (above).

Variations

  • An even more bare bones version of this seat (if you can imagine that) is the Cosco Scenera NEXT, which costs a mere $46. At ~10 lbs, the Scenera is sparse, but makes a great travel or spare seat.
  • For ~$100, check out the Safety 1st Guide 65, which is a great, higher weight limit seat designed specifically for compact cars.
  • At ~$180, the luxury model of this seat is the Safety 1st Complete Air. This is also a fabulous seat that car seat techs love and is one of the tallest shells on the market.

Onward.


$$ — Britax Roundabout G4.1 ~ $180 MSRP/$144 on sale

“Old Faithful” is what CPST trainers call this seat.

You see, folks, the thing is… Britax makes a damn good seat. The entry-level Roundabout is no exception. The Roundabout was the first convertible seat that we ever bought and I still prefer it to many other high-end, expensive seats I’ve owned and tested over the years.

Britax Roundabout Convertible car seat

Britax Roundabout G4.1

buy-now

You still get the same thick, non-twisty harness straps, the premium push-button LATCH connectors, the built-in lock-offs, the rubber anti-slip base (which is kind on your upholstery or leather), the premium fabric, yada, yada, yada… as you do with higher-end Britax seats. With the G4.1 model, you also get an infant insert. Other features we like include Velcro tabs that hold the harness straps to the side so they don’t get in the way every time you plunk your kid in; it’s the little things like this that minimize daily frustrations (you don’t get the EZ Buckle feature though, sorry).

The big differences between this and other higher-end Britaces (that’s plural for Britax) is that this one has a lower weight limit (55 lbs vs 70 lbs) (55 lbs is more than you’ll ever need, trust me)… and doesn’t have a “non-rethread harness,” which means to adjust the height of the harness straps, you’ll have to take the seat out, unhook the straps from the splitter plate in the back, and re-thread them back through at the new height (like you do with your infant seat).

Safety-wise, you get the SafeCell Technology, the Versa-Tether, and Integrated Steel Bars. Side-impact protection comes in the form of deep side walls lined with energy-absorbing EPP foam. Yes, I love the simplicity of this seat!

It’s not one of the taller shells on the market, so if you have a super tall kid, look elsewhere. But, because it’s not very tall, this seat will fit into almost any car rear-facing, including compact cars (no guarantees, though).

If you’re looking for a taller seat in this price category (more or less), check out the Graco MySize/Size4Me/Head Wise (same seat, different name depending on where you buy it). The MySize offers a taller shell, which is much better for extended rear facing and a longer life depending on your child’s height.

YES, Britax allows you to use the side or “outboard” LATCH anchors to install their seats in the center IF your vehicle manufacturer also allows it.

*Made in the USA. Yeah, baby!


$$ — Graco Size4Me / MySize / Fit4Me / Head Wise ~ $147 – $190

While I may not be a huge fan of their strollers, Graco is a name I really like in the car seat world. They deliver good value in the realm of convertible car seats, and have even made some nifty innovations.

size4me-reg

Graco Size4Me 65

 buy-now

The Graco Size4Me (and its aliases) is a solid car seat for the value-minded buyer. It retails for $179 but can often be found on sale on Amazon and such. Likewise, you can use your 20% BRU or BBB coupon for this seat, which brings it down to $150ish (pre-tax). If you are a luxury buyer, this also makes for a great 2nd seat for a less-often-used vehicle; it also works well for grandparents because it isn’t super heavy and is one of the easier ones to install and adjust.

This seat goes by many different names, depending on where you buy it. Yes, Graco loves to do these exclusive deals with individual retailers, which makes product reviews a nightmare for people like me. But anyway 😉

On Amazon and Buy Buy Baby, it’s called the “Size4Me.” At Babies R Us, it’s called the “MySize,” at Walmart, it’s called the “Fit4Me” and finally at Target, it’s the “Head Wise” ($199). They’re all the exact same seat, except where noted, although you will find different colorways (translation: colors, LOL) available at different retailers.

Features we like in the Size4Me (et al) include EPS foam-lined wings for side-impact protection, high-quality LATCH connectors that audibly click when installed, a cupholder, and a “no-rethread harness,” which means you don’t have to remove the seat and perform surgery in order to change the height of the shoulder harnesses.

The no-rethread harness and the high-quality LATCH connectors are enough to get my seal of approval for usability. Furthermore, Babies R Us carries a premium line called the “MySize Rapid Remove,” which has a cover that’s VERY easy to remove to wash. It also has “Fuss Free Harness,” which are these tiny little pockets you can put the buckle tongues in to keep the straps out of the way while plunking your kid in the seat. If you’re sold on this seat, those two extra features sweeten the pot even more.

Meanwhile, Target’s version, called the “Head Wise,” has a deeper layer of side impact protection called “Safety Surround.” You’ll pay $10-$20 extra for this version ($199, but sometimes on sale), which is a lot like buying the Britax Boulevard vs. the Marathon.

graco Headwise

Graco Head Wise at Target

These seats can rear-face up to 40 lbs and have fairly decent legroom for it. In FF, it can go up to 65 lbs, which is more than ample for a non-special needs child. It also has two distinct pairs of LATCH anchors (one for rear facing and one for forward), which prevents a common installation error.

How does it compare to the Britax Roundabout, you might ask? I like Graco’s usability features better than on the Roundabout, but what you won’t get with this seat is a steel reinforced frame or the full-length EPS foam, which is found in all Britax seats (the foam in the Graco seats is typically only around the head). The padding on this model is also minimal, while you’ll typically find thicker padding (for comfort under the bum) in higher end seats. It’s the “under the cover” differences like this that you should be aware of, if you want to get technical.

That said, I’m a big fan of this seat and think it will serve the vast majority of people very well. For those on a slim budget that don’t want to overthink it (I mean, you’re already overthinking it by reading this guide, but that’s why we love yooouuu!), this seat is a great bet.


$$ — Graco Extend2Fit ~ $200

The Graco Exend2Fit was specifically designed to keep kids rear-facing for as long as possible. They accomplished this by offering an extendable tray, of sorts, that pulls out to grow with your child. This tray offers a whopping 5 extra inches of legroom. Talk about first class!

GracoExtend2Fit Tray Extended

But for real.

The #1 thing you can do as a parent to keep your child safe in the car is to keep him/her rear-facing for as long as possible. Alas, we cannot control the behavior of idiots who are texting and driving, but we can control what goes on inside our own car.

Four years is the goal for many; after four or so, it becomes too cramped. As a practical matter, many turn their child’s seat forward prematurely because of a real (or perceived) lack of rear-facing legroom. Some parents even think it “looks dangerous” for them to be sitting that way (it’s not).

extend2fit-child

The norm for kids in most European countries is to remain rear-facing until 3 or 4 years of age, so it isn’t that out of the norm.

Thus, the extend-ey feature on this seat is super cool. Note that the extendable tray can only be used in the rear-facing position. It manages to do this without eating up too much legroom from the front seat passengers, although the farther the tray is extended, the more room it takes up (obviously).

The Extend2Fit sells for just under $200, making it a great value.

Check out our video shot at the 2015 ABC Baby Show:

It features push-on LATCH connectors, which spare your nails from breaking (usually). It has another cool feature called “fuss-free harness storage,” which are these cute little pockets where you put the buckle tongues to keep them out of the way while getting your child in his seat. Yessss – I lerrrvvvvv this feature!!

fuss-free

Tiny little buckle pockets — yesss!

The Extend2Fit also has two cupholders (are kids double-fisting sippy cups or something?). Because of this, the seat is wider than most. If space is tight in the backseat, you may want to look elsewhere.

Note that Graco allows 20% of the seat to hang over the edge of the seat, which is marked clearly with a sticker. If your car’s backseats are not super deep, you may be limited in how far you can pull the extender out.

Note that like many Graco convertibles, this seat does not come with a lock-off device for a seatbelt installation, so you’ll have to lock your seatbelts manually (which I assure you is quite easy – just don’t forget!).

extend2fit-green

Graco Extend2Fit

buy-now

You’ll find a new 3-in-1 version of the Extend2Fit at Babies R Us, which also becomes a high back booster, like the Graco Milestone and 4Ever.

Bottom line: The Graco Extend2Fit is the right seat if you want to keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible. I’m really glad Graco created this feature and hope other brands will follow suit.


$$ — Graco Milestone and 4Ever ~ $230 and $300

Rivaling the Symphony are the Graco Milestone and 4Ever. These too are 3-in-1 seats that are designed to go from rear facing to forward facing (harnessed) to high back booster (remove the harness and use the seatbelt).

The 4Ever, the premium offering, was designed to fit newborns to children up to 300 lbs (kidding). Seriously though, it fits newborns (but not preemies) quite well, and even becomes a backless booster for your older child; whereas the Milestone doesn’t fit newborns quite as well and doesn’t become a backless booster (but has a long lifespan nonetheless).

4ever

Graco 4Ever

buy-now

While I was skeptical when these seats first came out, I do believe they could (in theory) be the only seat you’ll ever need.

I say “in theory” because, as a practical matter, car seats just get… really gross and… gnarly over time. I am one of those people who enjoys getting new car seats every few years (maybe I’m really bad at cleaning them, I dunno), but if you’re a “one and done” type of consumer, then YES, you could enjoy this seat for a very, very long time.

Both of these seats rear face up to 40 lbs and don’t take up as such legroom as you might suspect. If you are looking for even more height for extended rear-facing, check out the Graco Extend2Fit (reviewed above) or the Extend2Fit 3-in-1 (BRU only).

The Milestone goes forward facing in seatbelt mode up to 100 lbs, the 4Ever up to 120 lbs. I have yet to see a child over 100 lbs riding in a booster seat, but sadly (truly, truly sadly), American kids are getting heavier every year, so… you never know. If your child is over 100 lbs and still needs to ride in a booster seat, you’ve got a big problem. But anywho.

The Milestone has four recline positions and the 4Ever has six. More recline positions means you can better tweak the amount of legroom for people in the front.

Both of these seats have cool usability features, including “InRight” LATCH connectors, which click audibly when they’re in, and a no-rethread harness, which means the harness height is easy to adjust without taking the seat apart. The no-rethread harness also means that different-sized children can easily share this seat (very convenient if you are bringing home a child’s friend or driving carpool).

Both of these seats are steel reinforced and have a 10-year expiration.

All in all, I think they’re both great buys. If you’re already past the newborn stage, save yourself some money and go with the Milestone. True, you don’t get the backless booster, but 8 years from now, I’m sure you’ll be more than ready to move onto a different seat – and backless boosters only cost about 25 bucks or so.

Graco Milestone and 4Ever, FTW!


$$ — Evenflo Symphony Elite ~ $230

The 3-in-1 Evenflo Symphony Elite is a rear and forward-facing harnessed seat that later converts to a BPB (belt-positioning booster). Easy installation + fabulous side-impact protection + longer use + lots of bells and whistles make the Evenflo Symphony a top pick.

 * Remember that most children outgrow car seats height-wise before they do weight-wise. This is not incredibly tall for a booster seat, so it probably won’t be the last seat you’ll have to buy (it’s still pretty neat though, no?).

evenflo symphony elite - a best convertible car seat

buy-now

There are three cool things that make this seat stand out from the bunch:

1. SureLATCH

If you’re using LATCH (instead of the seat belt), the Symphony Elite has a really cool feature called SureLATCH (other “lesser” Symphony models don’t have this…), which means you simply click-in the LATCH connectors and push the seat down (hard) for a quick, self-ratcheting, snug installation each time. It’s awesome, you guys!!! If you hate wrangling your seat like a wild animal to tighten it, you will really enjoy this feature. *In some cars, SureLATCH doesn’t work so well. If this is the case, you may have to use the seat belt instead. Just make sure you understand how the seat belt locks in your vehicle because this seat has no built-in lock-offs.

2. “Infinite Slide Harness”

To adjust the harness height, simply slide it up (or down); i.e., you don’t have to re-thread the harness straps. Yay!

3. Side-Impact Protection

The Symphony has super awesome side-impact protection in the form of deep head wings. If your child is riding in the outboard (side) position, this is an added bonus. It looks like this:

Evenflo e3

This is a wide, heavy seat that offers a decent amount of legroom when your kiddo is rear-facing and surprisingly does not take up as much room (depth-wise) as some of the other larger convertibles.

Once again, if your car doesn’t have LATCH connectors in the center seat, as most don’t, Evenflo allows center installation using the side “inner” LATCH anchors IF the vehicle manufacturer also permits it (check owner’s manual, call the company, or tweet them up).

Variations:

The cheaper version of the Symphony is the LX model. While still offering plenty of energy-absorbing EPP foam, the head wings are not quite as deep. If your child is riding in the middle seat (and thus, side-impact protection isn’t quite as important), you may opt for the LX to save some money. The LX also lacks the self-ratcheting SureLATCH connectors. Decision, decisions…

Made in the USA; raise the flag!

Done and done. Who’s next?


$$$ — Britax Convertible Seats ~ $290+

Britax seats are among the most popular convertible car seats of all time. I’ve used them for both of my kids, so the love runs deep (and they don’t even give me free samples, that’s saying a lot! LOL).

Britax G4.1 seats, include (in order of price and side-impact protection, from low to high) the Marathon, Boulevard, and Advocate.  They’ve added a freebie infant insert for use up to 22 lbs and they started using a more sturdy “blow molded component” instead of the brittle foam that always seemed to break off so easily.

In 2015, they also introduced the Click Tight feature, which is an option for the Marathon, Boulevard, and Advocate. * Do you need ClickTight? We discuss it below in detail.

These seats all have a long, lovely list of safety features:

  • “HUGS” pads (below) on the harness straps absorb crash energy (in the forward-facing position) through SafeCells.HUGS-with-SafeCells-1
  • EZ Buckle ~ This is an awesome feature that makes the crotch buckle pop forward when not in use so you don’t have to fish around your child’s crotch like a pedophile searching for the damn crotch buckle every time (can you tell this annoys me?) <—- I love this feature!! Worth its weight in gold.
  • The seat base is made of SafeCells, which compress in a crash to minimize the risk of head injury.
  • Britax seats have integrated steel bars, which strengthen the connection to the vehicle and prevent forward flexing of the seat during a crash. STEEL, y’all. Heavy but solid.
  • The “Versa-Tether” (rear tether strap) restricts forward movement with staged-release webbing and 2-point attachment, which can be used in rear or forward-facing positions.
  • Integrated Lock-offs ~ Convenient for seat belt installations.
  • The Boulevard and the Advocate CT now come in a version with an anti-rebound bar (“ARB”). The anti-rebound bar is a rare find on American car seats (see also: Clek) and prevents the seat from flipping up violently in a collision.

Height-wise, the Click Tight “CT” versions of the seats are very tall and quite good for extended rear-facing, but the “regular” (non CT) seats are not the greatest for really tall kids or for extended rear-facing (ERF-ing, in the acronym world). If you’re looking for a very tall shell, check out the Diono Radian, the Safety 1st Complete Air, and the Clek Foonf.

On the flip side, the shorter shell means it fits into smaller cars easier than most convertible seats — and we love that! There is nothing worse than being stuck with a seat that doesn’t fit well in your car. It will also give you more leg room upfront than most other RF’ing convertibles. Heck, this thing was tight even in my Ford Explorer. I can’t imagine having a taller seat than this (granted, we both require lots of leg room in the front seat, but whatevs).

 Models: The Members of the Britax G4.1 family, in a nutshell ~

Britax convertible car seats
buy-now

I remember then as MBA: Marathon, Boulevard, Advocate.

The entry-level Marathon ($290 list price; ~$232 on sale) gives you all the safety features listed above; it lacks the deeper head wings found in the Boulevard and Advocate CT.
The Marathon is available in the CT version Marathon ClickTight (MSRP $330, marked down to $264 on Amazon) — great or seatbelt installations. The Marathon is very highly-rated and fits well in smaller cars.

The Boulevard ($330 list price; $264 on Amazon) ~ is the Marathon (above), plus better HUGS pads (with SafeCell) and deeper head wings with True Side Impact Protection AND a “safe and snug indicator”, which is awesome for people who are notorious for not tightening the harness enough! (like… everyone in the world). I love the Boulevard, it’s what my youngest rides in every day. The Boulevard ClickTight version is $370, marked down to $296 on Amazon. The Boulevard CT has a taller shell and is great for extended rear-facing. You can also buy the anti-rebound version for all the safety features your money can buy.

If you really want to go balls out in the side-impact protection department, check out the Britax Advocate CT or CT/ARB (anti-rebound) which has crazy huge side-impact cushions. The seat offers the most side-impact protection you can get on the market today; just note that it’s VERY wide and heavy. I mean, it’s a real beast. *The regular (non-CT) version of the Advocate is being discontinued.

If your child rides in the outboard seating position and/or you or your spouse/nanny is a shitty driver (you know who you are!), this may be worth the peace of mind (seriously). $380 list price; buy on Amazon for ~$290. For most people, I think it’s overkill.

* Note that none of these seats come with a cup holder, but you can buy one for $15, which I highly recommend.

britax ultimate comfort series

Britax Ultimate Comfort Series

If you spend a lot of time in the car or take lots of road trips, I highly recommend the UltimateComfort™ series of these seats (photo, above), which is available exclusively at Babies “R” Us. These seats have added memory foam for extra cushioning, a cup holder for her favorite sippy, and exclusive fabrics not available elsewhere. Alice sits in an UltimateComfort Boulevard and enjoys the extra cushion on her tushy.

Back to ClickTight. ClickTight seats make it SUPER easy to install with a seat belt.

Please see video below for deets:

Why would you want to use a seat belt to install your car seat? If your car doesn’t have LATCH or if you are trying to install the seat in the middle position (the safest spot) where there are no LATCH connectors (as in most cars!), or if your child has exceeded the max weight capacity for LATCH (60 lbs, which is the weight of the seat + your child), OR if you take taxis a lot and such (taxis almost never have LATCH connectors).

Note that the ClickTight (or “CT”) versions of these seats are heavier and more expensive, and the Boulevard and Advocate CT are both about 2″ taller than the Marathon CT. Thus, the Boulevard CT is the go-to seat for most.

Britax convertible car seat ClickTight series

Britax Boulevard CT

If you never use a seat belt, you are probably just fine with the “regular” (non-ClickTight) versions of these seats. Word?


“Should I not buy a Britax seat because I have a tall kid?” — It depends.

Britax Frontier

Britax Frontier

Preschoolers *can* stay in convertible seats for quite a while, but we bought a forward-facing/combination car seat (Britax Pioneer) for Lucie when she was 3.5 and passed her convertible seat down to Alice when she turned one. I LOVE the concept of a combination seat because it’s a “big kid seat” that sits totally upright and will convert to a booster when she’s ready; this seat will get her through the next several years and keep her in a 5-point harness (as opposed to a booster/regular seat belt) for as long as possible.

Point being: Once your kid turns 4 or so, they’re usually ready for an upgrade anyway. However, if you want to keep them in the convertible for a really long time or practice extended rear-facing (beyond 2.5 or so), then you should opt for the ClickTight Boulevard or Advocate — or look elsewhere.

All Britax convertibles are made in the US of A.

YES, Britax allows you to use the side or “outboard” LATCH anchors to install their seats in the center IF your vehicle manufacturer also allows it.


$$$$ — Chicco NextFit ~ $299

*See my video review here and installation instructions here.

Chicco Next Fit - a top convertible car seat

Chicco NextFit

buy-now

If you love your KeyFit, you’ll love the Chicco NextFit Convertible seat. Not surprisingly, this seat is VERY large and heavy, much like the Diono Radian. However, it actually fits in smaller cars fairly well, thanks to the nine recline positions to choose from, while still offering a decent amount of leg room for rear-facing toddlers and preschoolers.

Installation is where this seat really shines. Car seat techs joke that it’s a “marriage saver” (they are only partially kidding). The SuperCinch LATCH tightening system IS, in fact, the best thing since sliced bread. You’ll never go back to anything else. Even if you are petite, you will be able to tighten this seat with ease. Grandparents will like it too, although it is quite heavy to heave in and out of the car. I do not recommend this seat for people needing to take it in and out with any frequency. Nay, this particular seat wants to be installed and left alone. It’s just so darn heavy.

The height adjustment is a smooth, no-rethread harness, like in most high-end seats. This is an ideal car seat if you are using it for multiple children, i.e., you need to adjust it frequently on the fly. Easy peasy.

One complaint you see a lot is that the harness is hard to tighten in the rear facing position due to the strap being too close to the seat (and thus, offering no leverage). Please check this right away if you buy this seat and if it’s a problem for your car, return it!

My second warning is that the base area is taller than most with pretty high sidewalls, so some find it difficult to get their toddler in and out in the rear-facing position if your doorway opening is quite small.

Check out my video review on Amazon, but keep in mind this is for the original model (the strap covers are now removable, which essentially solves both of my complaints). My installation video is below:

The Chicco NextFit CX model ($319) has the ComfortFlex™ Harness Management System with a padded, flex-out design that holds both harnesses out of the way during loading/unloading. VERY highly-rated. This one is seriously awesome, y’all.

There is yet ather variation called the NextFit Zip (~$349), which has a machine-washable seat pad that zips off quickly for easy cleaning. Mind you, the cover for the “normal” NextFit can also be removed and machine washed, but it’s a bit more of a pain. So, is it worth the extra $50? It is, if you wash it a lot!

Made in China (boo).


$$$$ — Peg Perego Primo Viaggio ~ $350

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio

buy-now

Do you have loads of money and want a gorgeous car seat? Or perhaps you just want to impress your friends? Great, then I have just the seat for you! Check out the delicious Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible car seat.

All kidding aside, the Peg is a fantastic seat with luxurious fabrics. The 45-lb maximum rear-facing weight limit is one of the highest on the market. Other than the fact that it’s pretty difficult to install with a seat belt rear-facing, car seat techs generally like it too. If you’re in the market for a high-end seat, check out this beauty.

If have zero complaints about this seat, other than the fact that it was very hard to recline and un-recline.

* Made in Italy, si si!


$$$$ — Clek Fllo ~ $379

See written review here.


$$$$ — Nuna Rava ~ $449

Newer on the scene, is the fancy Nuna Rava. For real, though, this seat is rad! Check out our quick review here.

nuna-rava

buy-now


$$$$ — Clek Foonf ~ $449

Clek is a neat company out of Toronto that makes high-end, luxurious and very safe car seats. The company’s roots are in automotive products and they apply the same crumple zone technology to their car seats.

Their original seat, the Foonf, is the most coveted in the world of car seats, with rigid LATCH connectors and an anti-rebound bar. The Fllo is their newer, more affordable seat that has regular LATCH connectors and an optional anti-rebound bar. Both seats are excellent for extended rear-facing.

The Foonf is a little harder to install than the Fllo, but once you learn how, it will pay dividends.

The narrowest seats on the market (along with the Radian), they will both easily go 3-across in nearly every vehicle. And you know what? It’s not just about going 3-across, it’s the fact that you can have two of them in the outboard position and still fit an adult human in the middle in some of the smaller and mid-size cars out there, which is HUGE!!! Nope! You don’t need to buy a minivan, just spend a little more to get two of these puppies and you’re golden.

Fabrics, ahhhhh – the fabrics! The fabrics are easy-to-clean Crypton and best of all, they are free of brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. Did we mention they are beautiful? *The 2017 version is coming out in February of 2017.

clek-3-across - best convertible car seats

Clek Foonf

buy-now

Both the Fllo and the Foonf have a rigid magnesium and steel substructure that prevents twisting in a crash. Like Britax G-series seats, both also have an aluminum honeycomb system, which absorbs energy from a collision resulting in less force being transferred to the child.

Clek offers a 9-year lifespan, excellent customer service, and they can even be recycled (huh?).

Beauty, brains, extended rear-facing, Clek has it all. If you can afford it…

* Clek makes an infant insert thingy for infants (yes, that’s the name).


Best Convertible Car Seats for *Special Situations*

Some people have special situations that require specific seats, such as…

A small car

So you have a small car. Or even a sports car. Sadly, you may not have a lot of options (sorry). But as my friend Mira said, “It’s much easier to buy a new car seat than a new car!” True that, sista!

Generally speaking, the best convertible car seat for a small car is the Combi Coccoro ($240). The Japanese-inspired Coccoro is specially designed for small, fuel-efficient cars. It weighs only 11 pounds and I’ll admit, it’s quite luxurious! People who own this seat love it. This seat also fits 3-across very nicely. But unless you have triplets, it’s unlikely that you will have three kids that fall in this age/height/weight range (~under 4) – if you do, God bless you.

Also, note, this seat only goes up to 40 lbs (rear-facing, up to 33lbs), but by this time, your kiddo will be forward-facing and seat depth will no longer be such an issue.

If the Coccoro cannot fit rear-facing in your car, you may have to accept the fact that it’s time to ditch your sports car and buy a big, lame family car. Just kidding (sort of).

3-across

 

 

This seat is available for pre-order now and will ship once in stock.

If you need to fit three child restraints in one row (or two seats and an adult into a smallish car) the go-to seat is the Diono Radian RXT (formerly known as the Sunshine Kids Radian).

The Radian is a nifty, narrow seat that fits 3-across in nearly every car. It’s got safety features out the wazoo and is also one of the tallest shells on the market. If you want to rear-face your kid as long as possible, this is the seat for you.

Being so tall also makes it quite a space hog when rear-facing, so it’s NOT for compact cars or for people who need lots of leg room in the front seat. Yes, there is an angle adjuster to make it a bit more upright in the rear-facing position for older babes who have neck control, but it’s not always a sure thing. Many say the Radian is the best convertible car seat out there. I agree it’s a good one (in that it’s very safe), but the size and weight are a problem for many. It also lacks a lot of convenience features that most other high-end seats have, such as a no-rethread harness and a seat belt lock-off.

If you need to do 3-across AND you have a small car, use the aforementioned Combi Coccoro for this purpose. If you have some mo’ money to spend, check out the Clek Foonf, a luxury seat that will easily go 3-across as well.

Another unique feature of the Radian is that it folds for easy storage or for toting around (below). You might think — Yay, perfect for flying! Eh – not so much. This bad boy is 26 freakin’ pounds and is a BEAST. Not something I would want to lug through the airport on my back. Just sayin’. * Made in China.

Diono Radian R120 Folded

Diono Radian R120 Folded

Best Convertible Car Seats for Newborns

Just because a seat says it fits down to a 5-lb baby (for example) doesn’t mean it will fit them well. In general, the lowest harness slots on most convertibles are too high for the average newborn. However, there are some exceptions.

The best seats for newborns are:

If you have a preemie, multiples, or a low birth-weight baby, I would stick with an infant seat like the Chicco KeyFit or the Britax B-Safe 35.

Best Convertible Car Seats For Flying

Flying with baby by Meg Collins

There are a few seats I recommend for airline travel because they are small, lightweight (less than 12 lbs) and affordable: the Cosco Scenera NEXT ($45+ at Walmart), the Evenflo Tribute ($70), and the Evenflo SureRide (see above) ($91).
While lacking the bells and whistles of nicer seats, these budget convertibles are perfectly safe and are consistently recommended for travel by my trusted community of CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians). If you want to pay for a higher quality, but still small/lightweight seat, check out the Combi Coccoro (mentioned above).

Did I mention they are less than 12 pounds? I promise you, there is an enormous difference between carrying a 10-lb seat and a 22-lb seat on and off a plane, into the car, etc. Plus, you won’t have to remove and install your everyday car seat(s), which is one less hassle to deal with when parking at the airport. I discuss all of this in detail in mahh eBook, Flying with Baby.


Okay, well, I totally failed at keeping this short, but hopefully you got what you came for.

Please note that nobody pays me to promote their product nor do I get free products in exchange for reviews (I like it that way; it keeps everyone honest). However, I do make a small commission if you buy your seat from an Amazon (or other affiliate) link on my site, so please buy it here (cough).

To find an inspection station to have your seat professionally checked, go here

Back to: Infants, year 1