Best Infant Car Seats of 2016

We compared the top 15 infant style car seats side-by-side in an extensive 5 month testing process for this review
Which infant car seat is the best? To find out, we bought the 15 top ranked infant style car seats and put them to an extensive side-by-side comparison test to determine everything from crash test performance and ease of installation, to comfort, quality, and the dreaded carrying weight. As with all our reviews, we purchased each and every product we tested ourselves just like you do, and performed our own extensive tests to fairly and objectively rate each product side-by-side. Read on to find out which car seats performed the best to find just the right seat to meet your family's needs.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 6 - 10 of 15 << Previous | View All | Next >>

Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team

Last Updated:
Wednesday
August 17, 2016

Editors' Choice Award Winner


Chicco KeyFit 30


Chicco KeyFit 30 Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $200 List
$200 from Amazon


Read the review

The Chicco Keyfit 30 managed a nice overall score and a relatively nice price compared to our other Editors' Choice winner. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation easier this seat is a parent favorite. The seat earned the second highest ease of use score in the group and impressed most testers with how easy the features were to use compared to the competition. The Chicco does have relatively unfriendly fabric, and that hurt it in the comfort department, but it still managed to earn a high overall score with better than average results for crash test analysis. We think parents will appreciate the thoughtful design of the Chicco's LATCH system as well as its potential compatibility with almost all of our top scoring strollers and a quality frame stroller option.

Editors' Choice Award Winner


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $300 List
$300 from Amazon


Read the review

The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earned the highest overall score in our review with impressive points for crash tests, installation, and comfort/quality. This seat earned 76 points overall, a full 7 points higher than the closest competition. So, while it has one of the higher price tags out of the 15 seats we tested, it had the performance scores to back up its price. We feel confident that parents will enjoy how easy the seat is to use and babies will enjoy how comfortable it is to sit in. The Peg earned an 8 of 10 for crash tests, the third highest score in the group, and it scored the highest score in 2 installation metrics and comfort/quality. No matter what feature or function you are looking for in an infant style car seat, the Peg Perego is sure to please.

Best Bang for the Buck


Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air


The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air Best Value Award

Price:   $160 List
$123 from Amazon
Sale - 23% Off


Read the review

The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is the stand out budget friendly option in this review. With a list price of $160, and typically an even lower online price, the Safety 1st impressed us with its relatively high overall score and impressive scores for crash tests, and 2 forms of installation. This seat managed to pull out scores in almost every metric that were better than average, and it ranked higher than many more expensive options. We feel that most parents will be happy with this seat, and that parents on a budget can feel confident they are getting a great seat that scored well in crash test analysis. We were really excited to discover such a great seat, that works well, that most families will be able to afford. Parents can feel they haven't sacrificed much with this seat. Perhaps the only major drawback to the Safety 1st is it does not seem to be compatible with many strollers or frame stroller options. However, we feel this is not a deal breaker given that wearing baby is gaining popularity every year. We love the idea of wearing baby as an alternative to using a stroller and feel there are some really nice carriers in our Quest for the Best Baby Carrier review that are less expensive than a stroller and encourage bonding with baby. So, what you lose in stroller compatibility may turn into a win in terms of saving money and better connecting with your infant.

Top Pick for Urban Life and Travel


UPPAbaby Mesa


UPPAbaby Mesa 2015 Top Pick Award

Price:   $300 List
$300 from Amazon


Read the review

The UPPAbaby Mesa 2015 is definitely a seat that took our breath away. While we loved the 2014 version, the small and subtle changes of the 2015 version continued to impress us and added more points to this seat's overall score. With a ridiculously easy to use LATCH system with self-retracting straps the UPPAbaby stood out in the competition. Its overall sharp design and slick styling continued to make it a tester favorite and comparisons progressed. However, it is the seat's perfect score of 10 of 10 for installation without the base that make this seat a top pick for urbanites and travelers who may need to use the seat in taxis and airport shuttles. Being able to easily and securely install a seat without the base can be a make or break function of an infant seat used by city dwellers and regular travelers, and we feel the Mesa is a great option for those who need a little something different. The downside to this seat is the continued use of fabric that is at best unfriendly and at worst abrasive. While some testers feel it might be easier to clean, others felt the roughness would make the seat a non-starter despite its other cool attributes. While UPPAbaby added softer fabric to the head portion in 2015m which was a welcome change, it still sports the same poor fabric choice in the remainder of the seat that we really disliked in the previous 2014 model of the seat. Given the above average $300 list price point, we aren't sure why UPPAbaby continues to choose a fabric that is so inferior to similarly priced top-performing seats, and we hope to see this fabric replaced in future iterations of this otherwise awesome seat.




Analysis and Test Results


The safety of your baby is paramount, so it is no surprise that most hospitals won't allow you to drive home with your baby after giving birth unless you have a suitable baby seat installed in your car.

Unlike many types of baby gear, a car seat is not just an optional purchase, it is legally mandated. Plan on getting one as one of your essential baby gear purchases.

In this review we hope to help you make the right decision on which seat to buy.

To that end, we've performed extensive tests over a 5 month testing period, under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician, to develop a set of comprehensive tests on infant seats we could use in conjunction with Crash Test data to determine how seats perform, both in day-to-day use, and in terms of measured forces of impact in crash tests.

Crash Impact Testing


A key part of our testing process is detailed analysis of crash test data on each and every car seat we reviewed. BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to perform crash tests on car seats in compliance with the same testing protocol used by NHTSA and under the FMVSS 213 standard. In addition, we established a working relationship with NHTSA to also utilize their crash test data in our analysis, and to augment NHTSA data with our own infant car seat crash tests.

Note that all the seats we reviewed passed the NHTSA Federal safety requirements, and thus all the seats in this review provide at least a basic level of crash safety protection.

In our analysis, we have focused on those seats which offer an additional margin of safety, based on our analysis of each seat's crash test data relative to competing seats. For example, if a seat was measured to deliver significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors of the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, our view is that seat offers a higher margin of protection to the baby than competitors with a higher HIC score. Read on for more detail on our crash test scoring methodology.

Below is a video of one of our crash tests conducted on the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40.



Ease-of-Use Matters


It is no surprise that crash tests are a major part of our review, but few parents realize that improper installation and misuse of car seats is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving infant passengers. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that misuse is a bigger safety issue today than the differences between seat performance in crash tests. A NHTSA study that showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in installation of the seat or improper restraint of the infant. A more recent study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital showed that "93% made at least one critical error a mistake that put their infant at increased risk for injury in a crash when positioning their infant in a car safety seat or when installing the safety seat in their vehicle."

To that end, we've looked as closely at ease-of-installation and ease-of-use as we have at actual crash test results on each car set. Our ideal seat not only performs well in crash tests, it take steps to help assure parents and caregivers can always restrain the infant safely and properly in the seat.

Learn how to install your car seat safely
We urge parents to read our article, How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes, for tips on common mistakes to avoid.

Selecting the Right Product


Choosing the right seat for your baby can feel overwhelming because of the role it plays in keeping your baby safe from injuries and potential death while riding in a car. It can feel like a daunting task to sort through the available options, all the while feeling desperate to make the very best choice for your baby. Unlike other gear items that may go unused or won't really matter if they fail, car seats are a mandatory item for most households, and one that must work correctly in the event of a collision.

The first decision you'll face is what type of seat to buy: an infant seat or a convertible car seat?
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
The Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65
 
The photos above show an infant style seat (left) and a convertible seat (right).

We have a simple recommendation here: get an infant car seat.

You can take our word for it and move on, or consider reading our more detailed analysis in our Buying Advice article on why infant seats are a better choice than using a convertible car seat with an infant.
Unlike a convertible car seat  an infant car seat is detachable from the base. As a result  you can transition a sleeping baby in or out of the vehicle without waking them up  keeping them safely harnessed in the carrier as you do.
Unlike a convertible car seat, an infant car seat is detachable from the base. As a result, you can transition a sleeping baby in or out of the vehicle without waking them up, keeping them safely harnessed in the carrier as you do.

A Note About Strollers
A natural question to consider is whether to choose the seat first, or the stroller? Not all strollers offer compatibility with every car seat. So, depending on what seat you choose, you will have a different set of strollers that are compatible.

We suggest you choose your infant seat first.

Why?

Because a car seat is a life-safety device. It is simply a more important decision. Do yourself a favor and pick your seat first. That will simplify your decision making process. And, frankly you're not likely to paint yourself in a corner with your infant seat choice.

If you look at the top 10 strollers in our full-size stroller review, both of the seats we gave Editors' Choice Awards to, the Peg Perego and Chicco Keyfit 30, are compatible with several of our top 10 highest rated strollers.

Products like the UPPAbaby Mesa have more limited compatibility, but the UPPAbaby Vista stroller won our Editors' Choice award for strollers, and it's sibling, the UPPAbaby Cruz is another highly regarded stroller that works with the Mesa. You aren't going to be stuck with poor quality stroller if you choose the Mesa.

Criteria for Evaluation


We compared each seat side-by-side in multiple metrics. All the seats were given an equal opportunity to put their best foot forward in every metric, and only some really impressed us. While all of the seats on the market have conformed to the minimum safety guidelines set forth by the Federal Government, not all are as easy to use or have as good crash test scores as the seat next to it on the shelf.

Crash Test Ratings


We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests, and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.

We analyzed the data from the crash sled tests of each seat to determine how well each performed compared to competing products as well as the Federal safety standard of acceptable performance. To help you understand a bit more detail about crash tests, we've included graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review, and have summarized them below.

All the Seats We Tested Provide a Safe, Basic, Level of Protection
Every seat we tested passed the Federal safety standards, and as a result, every seat we tested can be considered safe and provides the basic level of safety protection required by US Federal law. Our focus in crash test scoring is identifying those seats whose crash test performance went well beyond the Federal requirements and exceeded the performance of competing seats in our review, and thus can be considered to provide an extra level of protection based on their crash test performance.

So, what matters most when analyzing crash impact test results?
  • Risk of head injury
  • Risk of chest injury

Analysis of child auto crash injuries show that head injuries and chest injuries present the two greatest risks of serious or fatal injury.

Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score


In each crash test, there are sensors placed in the chest and head of a 12 month old CRABI test dummy, a type of crash test dummy designed to simulate a 22 lbs baby who is 12 months old. The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a scoring factor called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, which is a measure of the likelihood of injury arising from impact. Each seat must achieve a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass. The further below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better.


Above is a graph showing the actual resultant G forces on the head of the crash test dummy for the Orbit G3 (black line) and the Chicco KeyFit 30 (green line). Both the Orbit and the Chicco are well under the NHSTA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Chicco was the seat in our review that offered the highest margin of protection with an HIC score of 329.6 — the lowest Head Injury Criteria score of all 15 seats in our review. The Chicco also shows significantly lower G forces (the Chicco has a max G force of 45.6 G's vs 81.G's for the Orbit).

The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart above uses the actual crash test data for Head Injury Criteria scores (HIC), and displays the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each seat in the review. We focused on examining how large a margin of protection each seat offered below the Federal maximum HIC score of 1000. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, can be considered to provide an additional margin of protection.

Chest (G) Clip Score


The crash test dummy also includes sensors to measure chest impact forces. The data from these chest sensors is used to calculate a second score, called the Chest (G) Clip score, which is an attempt to create a measure of the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs in the chest. To pass the Federal safety standards, all seats must achieve a Chest (G) Clip score of 60 or less.


The chart above compares the Chest force data from the Phil and Teds Alpha (black line) to the best performing seat in chest forces, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (green line). The Graco had a maximum G force of 43.7 G's, significantly lower than the Alpha's max of 60.2 G's.

The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score  Chest (g) Clip  established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart above shows the % below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 that each seat achieved. As with the HIC score, we focused on how large a margin of protection each seat provided below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 in their crash test. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, are further below the Federal maximum Chest score and can be considered to provide an additional margin of protection.

Additional Crash Test Safety Features
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
While some seats had additional features that may improve their overall safety in the event of an actual crash, we did not include these features or claims in our analysis given that there is no real world or test data available to analyze in order to confirm or dispute the claims. So while some parents might be drawn to a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution parents from making their final choice based solely on these claims since information is lacking to support the claim, and there are no agreed upon safety test procedures in place for the industry as a whole. We think parents should stick to the crash test data analysis when comparing the potential safety of each seat.

Safety Reminder
One of the most important things you need to do when using an infant seat is to install the seat properly. An improperly installed seat, or one that is not adjusted correctly for a specific baby, can lead to potential injury or death. Read our article on How to Install an Infant Car Seat and seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician to ensure your seat is installed correctly before you have your baby or if you move the seat to another vehicle.

Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis


Based on crash impact test report analysis, we scored each of the products relative to each other on a 1-10 score, to identify the products that in our opinion offer an extra margin of protection, over and above basic level of protection provided by all seats.

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 earned our highest crash test rating, a 9 of 10, due to its very impressive crash test results, with the lowest Chest (g) Clip score of all products tested, and nearly the lowest Head Injury Criteria score.

Also notable for offering significant extra protection are three products earning an 8 of 10 rating: the Chicco KeyFit 30, which had the lowest HIC score, and the Britax B-Safe and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 which both offered significantly better crash test scores than most competing seats.

Ease of Installation with the LATCH System


Since studies show that more than 7 of 10 seats are improperly installed or have the baby improperly restrained, we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical rating factors.

If you look in the crease of your car's back seat  you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1  2002  are required to have the LATCH system.
If you look in the crease of your car's back seat, you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system.
The easiest way to install a car seat, and the method we recommend, is to use your vehicle's Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. And, the good news here is that both your infant seat and your vehicle are very likely to be set up for use with the LATCH system on the left or right side of the rear seat. Nearly every infant seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system. Most parents, just over 60% according to NHTSA, place their infant car on the left or right side rear seating positions, most often on the right passenger side so the driver can easily see the child, where LATCH connectors will be available in most cars.

The LATCH system was developed to make it easier for parents to install the seat correctly, with reduced risk of mistakes. The video below, produced by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, provides an excellent overview of the LATCH system, and how to use it:



In our tests, we found that some seats were significantly easier to install with LATCH than others.

Part of what makes a seat easier to install with LATCH is the type of connector used to attach to the lower anchors. Lower cost seats use clips to attach to anchors, but the easiest-to-use seats provide click-in connectors that are similar to how seat belts work.

The Aton 2 has the easier to use LATCH anchors with the red release button
The clip style of LATCH anchors on this Graco are harder to disconnect than the other type of anchor
 
The photo on the left shows the Cybex Aton 2 which uses a seat belt style of anchor which simply clicks-in to the LATCH connector. The Cybex was tied with the UPPAbaby and the Chicco for the highest score, 9 of 10, on LATCH installation. The photo on the right shows the Graco's clip style connector which we found much harder to use. Both are considered safe, but the style on the left is easier.

Our favorite seat for installation with LATCH was the UPPAbaby Mesa with its unique self-retracting LATCH anchors. Installing the UPPAbaby was unbelievably easy, earning it a 9 of 10 rating, and we applaud the company on their innovative approach.

The first part of the video below shows the UPPAbaby Mesa being installed with LATCH by our Child Passenger Safety Technician. You'll notice the process is very fast. The secret is that with the Mesa you don't need to manually tighten the LATCH connectors. You simply click-in the connectors to the LATCH anchor bar, push downward on the base, and the connectors automatically self-retract to tighten up. Once properly tightened, the indicator shows green. They also provide an easy to read gauge to help you get the recline angle level. It is really simple, and very fast.



The Center Seat Dilemma
The center of the rear seat is the safest place to locate the seat — your baby has a 43% lower risk of injury if the seat is located in the center than on the side. But, now combine that with the fact that LATCH connectors are the easiest and safest way to securely anchor the infant seat. Here's the gotcha. The vast majority of vehicles do not have LATCH connectors in the center, and even though the inner two LATCH anchors might be close enough to use, most vehicle owner manuals (and about half the seats) do not allow use of the inner two LATCH anchors for center seat. A very good overview of this conundrum can be found on The Car Seat Lady's article on Using LATCH in the Center.

OK, if my vehicle doesn't allow me to use LATCH in the center, what's the best way to go? Center seat with a seat belt or LATCH on one of the side seats?

The most important thing is to make sure the seat is securely and tightly anchored.

So, the questions on center seat installation become:
  1. Is it worth it for you to take on the much harder challenge of mastering the installation of the base with the seat belt?
  1. How secure and tight is your seat when anchored in the center with a seat belt compared to when it is in a side seat with LATCH?

Using the seat belt to anchor the seat in the center is fine and perfectly safe, just so long as you can securely and tightly anchor the seat using the seat belt. If you can, great. Use the center seat. But, if obtaining a tight secure anchor in the center is hard (and learning to do it properly is definitely more work), then please use the LATCH on the side. It is more important to get a secure and tight anchor than being in the center. It is worth noting that many parents prefer to place their baby on the rear passenger side seat so they can keep an eye on them while they drive. And, parents with two kids almost always use the side seats (most cars don't have enough room to let you use a seat in both the center and side positions — forcing you to use one seat on each side).

Our next section on ease of installation with a seat belt can help you identify those seats which make it simple to install with a seat belt.
The above illustration is from the Cybex Aton 2 manual. The Aton allows use of the center position with the two inner LATCH anchors just so long as the vehicle manufacturer specifically allows it (but  be aware that most car manufacturers don't allow use of these inner anchors for center seat positioning).
The above illustration is from the Cybex Aton 2 manual. The Aton allows use of the center position with the two inner LATCH anchors just so long as the vehicle manufacturer specifically allows it (but, be aware that most car manufacturers don't allow use of these inner anchors for center seat positioning).

Tightening and Loosening Straps
The Chicco base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
The Chicco base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
The anchors themselves were just the first part of the equation. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten or loosen is also a factor in ease of install. As we noted above, we loved the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps, and we also found the Chicco Keyfit 30 to have an easy to tighten and loosen mechanism on the strap. In contrast, most of the Graco products were very difficult to get tight enough or to get loose again if you managed to get it tight. We gave higher points to seats that didn't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling inside the car for a secure fit.

Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation


Top scores on installation with LATCH went to the UPPAbaby Mesa, the Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2, all three tied with an impressive 9 of 10 score. The lowest rating we gave on installation with LATCH was a 3 of 10 score, given to the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect. We found this Graco seat to be surprisingly difficult to install with LATCH compared to competing seats, due to its use of simple clips and more challenging system for tightening.



Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt


If you want to place your child in the center of the rear seat — which is the safest location to place the seat — then with most vehicles you will need to master the more complex process of anchoring the seat with the seat belt (as we noted above, most vehicle owner manuals do not allow the use of LATCH connectors for the center seat).
Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center  by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.
Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center, by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.

But, do not fret. We're going to help you here, and most importantly, we can tell you which seats make this process the most simple and easy.

Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in your Area
There is a fabulous free resource available for parents nationwide in the form of certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who can quickly help you learn how to properly install your infant seat. This is helpful for all parents, and we highly recommend it. It is especially helpful for those trying to learn how to install a base with a seat belt, which is a bit more complex. Finding an inspection station near you is easy, just enter your zip code on this website. You'll likely find that your local fire station, or police department has one of more CPS technicians who are happy to help.

Seat Belt Lock-off is the Key
We found that some of the seats were much easier to install using the seat belt. And, they use a trick to make it so.

Introducing your new friend, the "seat belt lock off" feature.

About half of the seats in our review offered a base with a seat belt lock off feature (which helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the vehicle belt). Lock off made belt installation every bit as secure, if not more so in some cases, as installing using LATCH. The nice thing about this is if your car doesn't have a LATCH system or you want to locate the seat in the center, you can still easily install the seat using the seat belt.

The belt lock off on the Phil and Teds Alpha shown in blue with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it
The belt lock off on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 shown in light grey with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it. Notice the side belt threads are open as opposed to closed like the majority of bases we looked at
The Britax B-Safe belt lock off shown here in light grey with a yellow seatbelt running through it
 
The photos above show some of the best belt lock off systems in our review. From left to right they are: Phil and Teds Alpha, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, and the Britax B-Safe.

Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation


The belt lock offs on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio and the Phil and Teds Alpha both scored a 9 of 10, and are easy to use and make installing the seat a breeze compared to seats that don't offer a lock off. The lock offs on the Britax B-Safe 35, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Orbit Baby G3 on the other hand were rather hard to use and made installation frustrating while we struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without it curling or bunching up. However, we'd take a hard to use lock off, such as the one on the Chicco Keyfit 30, over a base that didn't offer lock-off at all; we feel it is a key component to achieving a good secure fit when installing the base with the vehicle belt.

The video below by The Car Seat Lady explains how to install a base using the center seat belt:


Most of the bases without a belt lock off did not score well and we felt some of them were really not secure because they had a tendency to travel up the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt leaving the seat tilted. The Evenflo Embrace LX is the worst rated in our tests for installation using the belt.

Can't find the center seat belt? It might be in the roof
Some SUVs and wagons have the center seat belt come from the roof of the car. If you've never used it, it might be fully retracted up there. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a typical center seatbelt coming from the roof of the vehicle, and how to use it.

Ease of Installation Without the Base


The first question that may come to mind when reading this section is, why should I care about installing the seat without the base?

The answer is simple: taxi cabs and airplanes.

Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber  will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base  just using the seat belt.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.
From our point of view, if you never expect to take your infant in a taxi cab (or an Uber car, or limo, or airport shuttle, etc), and you don't anticipate buying your infant a separate airplane seat (most airlines let you take an infant under 2 yrs old for free on your lap) then you can happily ignore this whole section and skip down to Ease-of-Use.

But, for those of you who live in an urban environment, and frequently rely on taxis or services like Uber, learning how to master installation without the base is an important parenting skill. In addition, for airplane travel the FAA recommends using an approved car seat on the plane as the safest way for babies to fly, but that will require you to buy an separate seat for your infant. Many parents just carry their baby on their lap, saving the cost of another plane ticket, and baby carriers are very popular for air travel. If you do use an infant seat on the plane, you'll install it without the base, using the seat belt to secure it just like you would in a taxi cab.

There are two methods for installing a carrier without the base, European and American style belt paths. Each seat we tested implements one or the other (but not both).

The American path is simpler and places the belt directly across the lower portion of the seat through the designated belt threading pathway. This is fairly easy to learn and creates a relatively secure attachment and has passed all crash testing required in the US.

The European belt path starts off the same, routing the seat belt across the lower portion of the seat just like the American style, but it adds the shoulder portion of the belt coming across the back of the carrier and threading the belt through a clip located there for this purpose. We found that the additional use of the shoulder belt across the back in the European version provides a more secure installation.

The European belt path on the Peg Perego
The Safety 1st seat uses the American belt path method that goes across the lower portion of the carrier only
 
The photos above show the European belt path (left, Peg Perego) and the American belt path (right, Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air) for installing a carrier without the base.

We found that seats with the European belt path tended to score higher and offered a more secure feeling seat with little movement after installation. Yet, the American method is an easier process to learn initially since it requires fewer steps.

Live in New York City?
Consider getting a lesson from The Car Seat Lady, and learn what every New York parent needs to know about installing your infant seat in a taxi or a car for just $75 per seat.

The video below by The Car Seat Lady offers an excellent description of how to install a seat without a base using the American belt path (offered by 11 of the 15 seats we reviewed). She also has a video for those with the European belt path, such as the Peg Perego, Cybex, Phil & Teds, and Recaro seats.



Best Rated Seats for Installation w/o the Base


When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe
When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe
The Peg Perego uses the European method and has a color coded belt path which helped it earn the highest possible score in this metric with a 10 of 10. This means the Peg earned the highest score in our tests for 2 different installation methods. That is one mean feat in a race this competitive. Phil and Teds Alpha is close on its heels with a score of 9, while the Chicco KeyFit 30 and Orbit Baby G3 brought up the rear with a score of 4 in this metric.

If you are a city dweller who may be using taxis more than a car of your own, this metric could be of the utmost importance to you and we encourage you to look closely at the high scorers in this test as possible options for purchase. Given the unlikelihood of your lugging a heavy base around town, this is going to be your installation method of choice. The Peg Perego and the UPPAbaby earned exceptional scores of 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base and are great options for parents who are city dwellers. The Phil & Teds Alpha was close behind with a 9 or 10 score. Alternatively, if your primary mode of transport is your personal vehicle, and baby is unlikely to be painting a city like the Big Apple red anytime soon, then the test results in this metric might have little significance to you.

Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in your Area
Installing an infant seat without the base is a bit tricky, and so again we urge you to find a local inspection station who can help you learn how to do it properly with your chosen seat. It is easy to finding an inspection station near you, just enter your zip code on the SaferCar.gov website.

Ease of Use


At first blush, it might seem that all the infant seats seem so similar that they would all be about the same when it comes to ease of use. Not so. They are definitely all over the board when it comes to how easy they are to use. As it turns out a buckle isn't a buckle; while some buckles will open with ease, others will leave your thumbs crying as you wonder if it's you or the seat that has a problem.
The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX  but unlike the Evenflo  it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality
The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX, but unlike the Evenflo, it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality

The Ease of Use metric includes all the features and functions that you need to use regularly on the seat. Features like buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handle use make up this metric. The higher a seat ranks in this metric the easier it will be for parents to use on a regular basis.

Release Buttons
The release buttons for some of the seats are really stiff and hard to press. Getting little ones out of the carrier can be a problem if the release requires two thumbs to operate or your fingers lack the strength to press the button fully to the point of disengagement. We found all of the Graco seats have hard to use release buttons and some have difficult chest clips as well. Yet, the Recaro, Peg and the Cybex all have release buttons like we dream about, that virtually fall apart when the button is pushed (and, yes, we actually do dream about release buttons here — you would too if you spent as much time testing 5-point harness systems as we do). Being able to remove baby swiftly and easily from the seat is a must and we favored the seats with a reliable and consistently easy to use buckle release and chest clip combo.
The Orbit Baby G3 has one of the most difficult to use buckle and chest clip in the group
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness
 
The photos above show the relatively difficult to use Orbit Baby G3 release buckle (left), next to the easy to operate Cybex Aton 2 buckle (right).

Harness Tightening and Loosening
For tightening and loosening the harness after it is fitted, the Recaro once again impressed us with a score of 9 in our tests. The Evenflo Embrace and the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect 30 also scored a 9. However, in the case of the Graco 30 it is important to note that the release buckle was quite difficult to use, and that meant the Graco 30 is still not easy to use overall. The hardest one to tighten and loosen is the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect, with a score of 1. It has a strange back of the seat tightening/loosening apparatus that is cumbersome and hard to use compared to the more common pull strap and release button found on the other seats.
The tightening strap and loosening button on the Recaro are very easy to operate
The strangely placed rear tighten and loosening system on the back of the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is ridiculously complicated compared to the more traditional pull strap and release button found on all the other seats we looked at. It also functions as the rethread slots for harness height adjustment
 
The photos above show the easy to operate harness system of the Recaro (left) vs the harder to tighten and loosen Graco SnugRide Classic Connect, that is awkwardly operated from the back of the seat.

Adjusting the Harness as Your Baby Grows
Adjusting the harness shoulder strap height is a whole 'nother ball of wax. This feat comes in two basic varieties with one being a sort of involved process where you have to detach the straps from a splitter in the back and then rethread them through a higher slot and back on the splitter, or a less convoluted method where you disengage the height adjustment and slide the whole assembly up to the desired position. The latter can normally be done with baby in the seat and somewhat on the fly. The former requires baby to be out of the seat and some are difficult due to either the size of the straps, the slots, or how much padding is in the way when threading. We think parents are far more likely to keep a properly fitted harness on baby if it is easy to do, can be done quickly, and can be executed as soon as they notice it needs an adjustment, (i.e. when baby is in the harness). The non-rethread options mean parents can quickly make the adjustment and get on their way, as opposed to noticing it needs to be done but deciding to wait until they have more time because it is a hassle to remove baby from the seat, rethread the straps, and put baby back.
Many of the seats used a rethread height adjustment with shoulder straps that thread through slots in the back of the seat and attach to a splitter like the one seen here.
The UPPAbaby Mesa shoulder strap height adjustment is a non-rethread adjustment you operate from the front. It can be done with or without baby in the seat by pulling the release tab and raising the padded headrest
 
The photos above show a typical harness height rethread splitter on the back of the seat (left), and the non-rethread height adjustment on the UPPAbaby Mesa(right).

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly
The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly
Only a few seats in our review were the non-rethread style height adjustment. Most of these can be operated entirely from the front of the seat, with the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 operating from the back. The Peg Perego earned the highest score in our tests with a 10, but the Recaro and UPPAbaby Mesa were hot on its heels with 9s of 10. The hardest seat for shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with straps that were harder to get on and off the splitter than the rest of the competition. Don't get us wrong, it isn't exactly difficult to use the rethreading seats, but it is easier to use the non-rethread style quickly.

Attachment to the Base
The Chicco Keyfit is the easiest carrier in the group to attach to the base with a 9 of 10 in our tests. It sort of just falls into place and we didn't experience any mistakes trying to install it. The UPPAbaby and the Safety 1st came in a close second with scores of 8 a piece and were also quite easy to attach the carrier to the base. The hardest to set on the base is the Graco Click 40 with a score of 2 for this test. We managed to install this carrier incorrectly multiple time by different testers. We thought it was on, heard the click, but it wasn't fully attached. The fear is parents will think they have the carrier on correctly when baby is really just free floating in the backseat (Yikes!). We also struggled somewhat with the Cybex connection. However, it is one of only 2 seats that have a visual indicator that tells parents when the seat is properly attached to the base. So while it is hard to connect the two, at least parents can use the indicator as a guide to prevent a free floating carrier.

Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.
Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.
Most of the handles in the review were about the same and largely unremarkable. They all operate by squeezing or pushing buttons in on the pivot points on both sides of the carrier and rotating to the desired position. The number of position options and what positions they need to be in to drive vary, but the operation is about the same. The major issues we found concerning handles is the handle/canopy collision present in several of the seats, but most prevalently in the Graco carriers. All the Graco handles are the same height as their canopies which means it is difficult to use the handle and have the canopy open at the same time. It seems like a silly oversight, but it is annoying and we hope they alter the design in the future to avoid it. The easiest handles to use in our tests are the Recaro and the UPPAbaby both earning a 9 for this test. The Orbit Baby G3 and two of the Graco seats earned 2s for being generally hard to use or conflicting with other parts on the carrier.

The Peg Perego has anchors that resemble slim seat belts that push onto the U anchor on the vehicle and release by pressing the red button. We feel this anchor style is easiest to use. You can also see the anchor storage location in this photo
The LATCH anchors on the UPPAbaby Mesa automatically retract into the base body and the connection clips store in a little pocket to keep them out of the way
 
The photos above show a few different LATCH storage options. From left to right they are the Peg Perego with LATCH storage pockets, and the UPPAbaby Mesa. The majority of the storage options were small rods to clip the anchors to located on the underside of the base.

For storage of the LATCH system the UPPAbaby excelled with anchors that didn't need storing thanks to the cool ability to self-retract. The bases with LATCH storage that might conflict with installing the carrier were the ones we gave lower scores to. Anything that might prevent parents from easily installing a seat correctly took a hit points wise in our tests. Most of the cheaper seats in our review scored poorly in this test with LATCH straps that could prevent a proper install; however, the surprise low scorer is the Peg Perego with a 3.

Best Rated Seats for Ease-of-Use


The Recaro and Evenflo seats came out of top with 8 of 10 scores in ease-of use. The Recaro impressed us in key areas such as the buckle and harness system. But, right on their heels with a 7 of 10 score, were the Chicco, UPPAbaby, and Peg Perego seats tied for 2nd place, and each offering strong performance on ease-of-use. The Orbit and Graco seats were disappointing in our ease-of-use tests, all finishing well below the pack. We found the Orbit's poor ease-of-use performance relative to competing seats here especially disappointing considering its higher-than-average price point.

NEVER leave baby in a car seat unattended. In addition, never place an infant seat on countertops or in high places where it could fall and injure a baby strapped inside. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also a potential hazard as the carrier can tip and potentially smother baby on the soft surface. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found more than 8,000 infants a year were treated in emergency departments as a result of fall injuries suffered while using an infant seat or baby carrier, and seat overturn on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation.

Comfort/Quality


The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality
The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality
For comfort and quality we look at the materials used in the making of the seats and how well the final product brought those materials together. We consider factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well it all played out for baby's comfort, parent use, and longevity. All of the seats share commonalities when it comes to materials used, like dense foam for impact protection and harder plastic for shell design, but some offered significantly nicer padding or more friendly fabrics than others, and in the end it is the seats that offered both increased comfort for baby and a nice fit and finish that topped the charts in our comfort and quality tests. This is somewhat of an objective testing metric, which means the seats were compared side-by-side and judged on how they measured up to their counterparts as opposed to a more definitive tool like measuring thickness or weight.

Phil and Teds Alpha comes with 2 different inserts to help ensure the best fit for infants of all sizes
The Graco Snugride Classic Connect 22 earned the lowest score in our tests for comfort with very little padding  cheaper feeling fabric  and a thin infant head rest
 
The photos above show one of Comfort and Quality's top scoring seat the Phil and Teds (left) and the lowest scoring Graco SnugRide Classic Connect (right).

Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality


The standouts in this metric were the Peg Perego and the Phil and Teds with 8s. These two seats offered some kind of additional padding, softer fabric, and a nice overall fit and finish compared to the competition. The lowest scoring seats were the Graco offerings with none scoring higher than a 4 in our tests. The Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is probably the biggest disappointment with a low score of 2 of 10 in our test.

Weight


We looked at the weight of both the base and carrier of each seat. Some of the bases were seriously heavy, but we only considered the weight of the carrier itself in our scoring. We feel the portion of the seat that parents will be lugging around is more important when considering which seat to buy given that the base is typically installed in the car once, and stays there (unless a travel situation arises which requires you to move it).

The Orbit Baby G3 is the heaviest seat out of the 15 in our review with a carrier weight of 12.5 pounds
The Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is the lightest seat in the review at 7.06 pounds
 
The photos above show the heaviest and lightest seats in the group (not including the base weight). On the left is the Orbit Baby G3 weighing in at a whopp'n 12.5 lbs, and on the right is the Graco Snugride Classic which weighs only 7.1 lbs.

Best Rated Seats on Weight


The weight of the carriers varied in our review between 7.1 pounds for the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect, and 12.5 pounds for the Orbit Baby. That is a significant difference that made the Orbit feel like a non-starter (though we have more reasons for not liking the Orbit). The average weight for the group is 9.4 pounds and while that might still sound too heavy, we found that on the whole the lighter seats didn't score well in other metrics and tended to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum overall. A few seats managed to keep a relatively good overall score and come in with a reasonable weight. While we don't think that weight should be your number one deciding factor, we do think it is relevant and can potentially help break a tie after narrowing down your options using other metrics like crash tests and ease of install first.

Conclusion


We compared the top 15 infant style car seats side-by-side in an extensive 5 month testing process for this review
We compared the top 15 infant style car seats side-by-side in an extensive 5 month testing process for this review
So, what's the right car seat for you and your baby? We don't think there is one answer that works for every family. But, we hope that our testing and analysis helps you narrow down the field of products to a few top contenders that meet your needs.
Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team
Helpful Buying Tips
An infant car seat is one of the few pieces of baby gear that is an absolute must-have purchase. Since it is a life-safety device  it is an important decision for you and your baby.
 How to Choose the Best Infant Car Seat

by Juliet Spurrier, MD and Wendy Schmitz

Unbiased.