Best Convertible Car Seats of 2016

Looking for a convertible car seat? In this review we took 11 of the top convertible car seats on the market and put them through a rigorous testing process in a side-by-side comparison process for crash test performance, ease of installation, ease of use, comfort and quality, and weight and size. You are about to discover which seats performed the best in our tests, which seats won awards, and information you need to narrow your options down to one. As with all our reviews, we purchased every product we tested ourselves, to remain unbiased and uninfluenced by manufacturers. Read on to find out which seats performed the best in our tests and won awards.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11 << Previous | View All | Next >>

Analysis and Award Winners


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

Last Updated:
Tuesday
July 12, 2016

Editors' Choice Winner


Britax Boulevard ClickTight


The Britax Boulevard ClickTight Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $380 List
$285 from Amazon
Sale - 25% Off


Read the review

The Britax Boulevard ClickTight earned the high score out of 11 car seats tested in our review. It earned impressive scores for installation of 10 of 10 for both LATCH and installation with the vehicle belt. Thanks to the innovative and almost foolproof ClickTight installation process and design this seat is a snap to use and takes the hassle out of installation for many parents. We like the non-rethread harness with 1 height adjustment positions, the seamless fabric tuck in quality design and the comfortable padding and durable fabric on this seat. This seat scored well in just about every metric and impressed every tester in a side-by-side comparison process. We love this Britax car seat!

Editors' Choice Winner


Britax Marathon


Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $290 List
$217 from Amazon
Sale - 25% Off


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The Britax Marathon earned the second highest score out of 11 convertible car seats in this review, missing top score by 2 points in favor of its big brother the Britax Boulevard ClickTight. It earned the highest crash test score in the group and good scores in our testing for ease of installation. This seat offers a lot of nice, well performing features for a reasonable price of $290, which is less than half the competition. This seat offers EPP foam that does not off gas, comfortable padding, and the easiest to use harness shoulder height adjsutment assembly in the group (equal to the Boulevard). We like that this seat has soft fabric, nice LATCH storage, and is on the lighter side compared to the other products we looked at. All of this makes us feel that you can't go wrong with this great Britax seat.

Best Bang for the Buck


Britax Roundabout


Best Value Award

Price:   $180 List
$118 from Amazon
Sale - 34% Off


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The Britax Roundabout is similar to the Marathon in components and styling, but it does have a cheaper price and some cheaper design features and materials. The Roundabout is easy to install, has an above average crash test score, and has many nods to comfort and is relatively lightweight compared to the competition. The Roundabout varies from them Marathon by not offering a non-rethread harness height adjsutment assembly, but the rethread method on this system is one of the easier to use. This seat scored higher than average in all metrics but one, and it really only suffered there thanks to the rethreading adjsutment. We really like this seat and feel it very similar to the Marathon, including the use of EPP foam, which is more environmentally friendly than the traditionally used EPS foam, and it doesn't off gas. It has the same buckle and chest clip, same LATCH straps and clips, and only slightly less padding. This seat is lighter than the Marathon and significantly cheaper with a list price of $180. With a rank of fourth place in this review, it is easy to see why this seat earned a Best Value award.

Best for a Tight Budget


Evenflo Tribute LX


Best Value Award

Price:   $70 List
$55 from Amazon
Sale - 21% Off


Read the review

The Evenflo Tribute LX is a bit of a dark horse in this review with a lower rank than our usual Best Value award picks. However, this seat stands out in a way we think makes it a worthwhile competitor a for families on a budget. The Evenflo has a list price of $70 dollars. Yep, you read that right… $70. This is significantly less than any of the other products in this review. This might lead you to think it has nothing to offer, but you'd be mistaken. The Evenflo is more than just a pretty price tag. It has an easy to remove and clean seat cover, easy to use vehicle belt pathway, one of the nicest buckles in the group, and the second highest crash test score. So, while this seat might not be what all parents are looking for, we thought it was nice for the price and a great option for parents on a budget or for use at a second location like grandma's car. For us, it just felt right to give an award to a product that provides an additional margin of safety in a seat that most parents can afford.

Top pick for Innovation


Clek Foonf


Top Pick Award

Price:   $450 List
$429 from Amazon


Read the review

The Clek Foonf is an impressive seat that looks and acts somewhat differently than the competition. This innovative product comes with a forward facing rigid LATCH installation method that is so easy to use, you'll think you did something wrong. It features a detachable angle adjustment booster, an anti-rebound bar to decrease rotation of the seat, and an adjustable headrest similar to that found in cars. This seat scored the highest in the group for ease of installation for both LATCH and the vehicle belt, and it earned impressive marks for comfort and quality. The Foonf is a narrow seat at 15 inches, but it is the heaviest option in the group. with a weight between 33-38 pounds depending on the configuration. This cool looking seat earned a third place rank in our review of 11 products and when you see it, it is easy to see why. Even though it has a rethread harness height adjustment, we still had a warm and fuzzy feeling using and reviewing this seat. Possibly the only down side to the Foonf is the $450 asking price, but if innovation is what you are looking for, it is going to come with a price bump. This seat is a really cool option we think parents will love, even if it isn't one they want to own.

It is worth noting that BabyGearLab's founder and Mom-in-Chief, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, who has her pick of any convertible seat, chose the Clek Foonf for use with her own children. She loves the seat's quality, finds it easy to use, and her kids love it too.




Analysis and Test Results


The Britax Roundabout
The Britax Roundabout
Once your baby has grown too large for their infant car seat, typically around 9-12 months of age, the next step is a convertible car seat, which you will use initially with your baby rear-facing, since this is the safest position for your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), both recommend you keep your baby rear-facing as long as as your seat allows, and at least until 2 years of age. Once your toddler will no longer tolerate or fit rear-facing, you can flip the convertible car seat to face forward. It is the ability to work initially rear-facing and then later convert to forward-facing position that inspires the name, "convertible" car seat.

Rear-facing Until at Least Age 2
Experts agree that you should keep your child rear-facing until at least age 2. A study published in Injury Prevention in 2007 showed that the rear-facing position resulted in 5.3 times lower risk of death or serious injury in a car accident compared to forward facing for children age 1-2 years old.

In this review we will provide you with all the information you'll need to make an informed buying decision on which seat to buy.

In order to collect this information, we have performed extensive tests on each seat over several months under the guidance and supervision of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. We developed a set of comprehensive tests derived from our infant seat review testing process and use these in conjunction with the crash test data to determine how well seats performed in daily use and in terms of the measured forces of impact recorded during crash tests.

Types of Car Seats


There are two basic types of seats: infant and convertible car seats.

Infant


Chicco KeyFit 30
Infant seats are tailor made for newborns and babies in their first 9 to 12 months. These seats have a base that stays installed in the car and a carrier portion of the seat that clicks into the base and can carry baby from place to place or be attached to a stroller. Infant seats are rear facing only and are reclined at an angle that ensures baby's airway is open and baby can sleep comfortably.

Convertible


Installing the Roundabout in the rear facing position is very easy
Installing the Roundabout is almost the easiest in the group to install
 
The word convertible means this type of seat can be installed rear facing or forward facing. Many of these seats claim to work for newborns up to the age and/or size of your child moving on to a booster seat. However, we feel they are best used for babies after they have grown a bit larger, and we recommend using an infant seat for the first 9-12 month range, with a plan to transition before your baby reaches the maximum height or weight limit of their infant seat (tip: it is usually the height limit that matters).

When to get a convertible car seat
We recommend that parents use an infant seat from newborn until age approximately 9-12 months. We feel the infant seats are better designed for smaller bodies of young infants and offer an additional margin of safety with their rear facing configuration and increased recline. However, once an infant grows taller, a rear-facing convertible seat may offer better protection, and help prevent taller infants from hitting their head the back of the front seat in an accident. In December 2015, Consumer Reports published a crash-test study that advised transitioning to a convertible seat no later than 1 year of age. Their crash tests simulated a front seat placed close to the infant car seat, and demonstrated that as infants reach the height limit of their infant car seat, taller infants may have risk of head injury in an accident which a convertible car seat would protect.

Criteria for Evaluation


Each convertible car seat in our review was compared side-by-side in multiple metrics. They were all tested in an identical manner with every opportunity to shine if they had the features and ability to do so. While every seat available for purchase in the US has met the minimum safety guidelines outlined by the Federal government, not all of them are easy to install or use, or offered an additional margin of protection compared to the seat next to it in the store.

Crash Test Performance


BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses to perform convertible seat crash tests. The seats were all tested in compliance with the same protocol used by NHTSA and outlined in the FMVSS 213 standard.

The Clek Foonf getting ready for the crash test
The Clek Foonf getting ready for the crash test

We performed a detailed analysis of the crash test dummy sensor data collected from each car seat's crash sled tests to determine how each seat performed in comparison to the competition and the Federal safety standards of allowable 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.

So, what is the most important information from crash impact tests when analyzing results?
  • The risk of head injury
  • The risk of chest injury

An analysis of auto crash injuries for children show that head and chest injuries are the 2 greatest risks of fatal or serious injuries.

All of the Tested Products Provide a Basic, Safe, Level of Protection
All of the convertible car seats we tested passed the Federal minimum safety standards. Therefore, every seat we tested provides the basic level of crash safety protection required by US Federal law. Our primary focus for crash test scores is to identify those seats whose crash test performance exceeded the Federal requirements a wide margin. These seats can be considered as providing an additional level of protection based on the data from their crash test sensors.

Understanding the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score


For each crash test, sensors are placed in the head and chest of a crash test dummy, and placed on a sled to simulate the forces in an actual car crash. We used a forward-facing Hybrid III 3 YO Part 572 P dummy (3 year old test dummy) in our commissioned crash tests because NHTSA crash injury studies have shown that the risks of injury are greater when children are forward facing, and the heavier 3 yr old test dummy provides a more strenuous test of the seats. The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a factor for scoring called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score. This score is the likelihood of injury arising from an impact presented in a measurable way. All of the seats must obtain a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass the Federal requirements. The further a score is below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better it performed.

The G force results for head sensors in the Evenflo and Diono test dummies
The G force results for head sensors in the Evenflo and Diono test dummies

The graph above shows the actual G forces recorded on the head of the crash test dummy for the Evenflo Tribute LX (green line) and the Diono Radian RXT (black line). Both the Evenflo and the Diono results are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Evenflo is the seat in this review that offers the highest margin of protection with an HIC score of 251 this is the lowest HIC score for the 11 seats in our review. The Evenflo also shows lower G forces (with a max G force of 42.7 G's vs 53.2 G's for the Diono).

Shown above is the percentage margin by which 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).
Shown above is the percentage margin by which 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 shown above is the real crash test results for the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) scores. It also displays the percentage each score is below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC. We focused on analyzing how large a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum 1000 HIC. The car seats represented by the taller bars on the left could be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.

Understanding the Chest (g) Clip Score


The same crash dummies also include sensors in the chest region to measure impact forces in that area. The results acquired from the chest sensors were used to calculate the Chest (g) Clip score, which is a second score that attempts to measure the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs located in the chest area. In order to pass the Federal safety requirements, all of the seats must achieve a score less than 60 for the Chest (g) Clip.

The G force results for chest sensors in the Clek and Diono test dummies
The G force results for chest sensors in the Clek and Diono test dummies

The chart shown above compares the data for the Chest forces of the Diono Radian (black line) to the best performing product for this test, the Clek Foonf (green line). The Clek has a max G force score of 33.4 G's, this is significantly lower than Diono's maximum of 53.2 G's.

Shown above is the percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score  Chest (g) Clip  established by the Federal NHTSA safety standard. The taller the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
Shown above is the percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA safety standard. The taller the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart shown above is a graphic representation of the percentage below the Federal max Chest (g) Clip score of 60 that was achieved by each seat in this review. As we did with the HIC scores, we focused on how large a margin of protection each product provided below the score of 60, Federal max Chest (g) Clip score. The taller bars on the left of the chart are further below the Federal max chest score and can therefore be considered as potentially providing an additional margin of protection.

Additional Safety Features
The rear facing Clek has a recline adjustment attachment and a anti-rebound bar  as well as an under the seat belt pathway that includes a belt lock off
The rear facing Clek has a recline adjustment attachment and a anti-rebound bar, as well as an under the seat belt pathway that includes a belt lock off
Even though some of the seats in this review claim additional features that may improve their overall safety in the event of a crash, we chose not to include the presence of these features or claims in our crash test analysis because manufacturers do not publish side-by-side comparison test data that would allow us to analyze and test the claims. We understand that some parents may be drawn to seats that boast side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, but we encourage parents to proceed with caution when it comes to making a decision based solely on these features. At the end of the day there simply is no way of knowing what each manufacturer means when they use terminology that doesn't have an agreed upon meaning (like SIP). This means it is difficult or impossible to compare one seat to another that make similar claims, especially when information is lacking to support the claims.

Safety Reminder
How well a seat performs in a crash test environment means little if it isn't installed correctly in your vehicle. A car seat that is installed incorrectly, or a harness that is not adjusted properly, can potentially result in injury or death in the event of an accident. It is a good idea to seek help from a professional car seat inspection technician when you purchase a new seat or move a seat to a different vehicle. You can also read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes for additional tips. While this article focuses on infant seats, much of the information is applicable to convertible car seats as well.

Best Seats Based on Crash Test Analysis


Using crash test report analysis we rated each seat relative to the competition using a 1-10 scoring system. This helps to better identify the seats that offer an additional margin of protection, in our opinion, over and above the basic level of protection found in all of the seats we tested.

The Britax Marathon earned our best crash test rating with a 9 of 10 score thanks to excellent Chest (g) Clip and HIC scores. While it did not have the best score in either category, it did have the best combined score when both Chest and HIC scores were considered. The Evenflo Tribute LX has the best (lowest) HIC score for the group, but its Chest Clip score was average, these results helped it earn the second best score in the group with an 8. The Clek Foonf has the best Chest Clip score in the group, but its HIC score is below average, which resulted in a 3rd place rank with an overall crash test score of 7 of 10, well above the average.

Ease of Install Using LATCH


Studies show that more than 7 of 10 car seats are not installed correctly, or the harness is not adjusted properly on the passenger . Because of this we consider the ease-of-installation and the ease-of-use of each car seat to be critical metrics to consider.

LATCH Logo
LATCH Logo
The LATCH method of seat installation was created to make it easier for parents to install them correctly, with reduced mistakes. This means the easiest way to install a car seat should be using your vehicle's Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). We recommend using this method if possible, to decrease the chance that the seat is improperly installed. Nearly all convertible car seats have LATCH clips available on them, and most vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002 offer the anchors on the left and right sides of the back seats. So the good news is you should be able to utilize the LATCH method. Many parents, around 60% according to NHTSA, place their car seats on one of the side rear seating positions.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia produced the video below; it is an excellent overview of the LATCH system, and how it should be used:



In our testing process, we discovered that some seats were easier to install with LATCH than the vehicle belt, but at least a third were easier to install using the vehicle belt over the LATCH method. Some testers had difficulty getting the straps on the LATCH anchors tight enough to secure the seat.

The Clek is the only seat in this review to offer a rigid LATCH system that makes installation very easy with no straps to tighten
The Safety 1st has the clip style of LATCH attachment that is safe  but harder to use
 
The photos above show the Clek Foonf (left) that uses a rigid LATCH connection for forward facing installation that works more like a seat belt and clicks easily onto the anchor and can be released by pressing a button. The Clek tied with the Britax Boulevard ClickTight for the highest score for LATCH install, and the Clek's rigid LATCH does not need tightening. The Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 (right) has the clip style of LATCH connection that we found more difficult to use; this clip is harder to remove than clip on, but overall it is harder to use than the alternative. The Safety 1st earned the lowest score in the review for this metric with a 3. Both connectors are considered safe, however we found the style on the left to be easier to use.

The Marathon earned one of the highest scores in the review for installation using the LATCH system
The Marathon earned one of the highest scores in the review for installation using the LATCH system
Our favorite seat to install using LATCH really is the Clek; the unique rigid LATCH for forward facing installation has no straps to tighten and this makes it relatively foolproof with no extra strength required for install or releasing the clips. This LATCH system is part of why the Clek earned a Top Pick for Innovation. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is also easy earning a 10, while both of the other Britax seats and the Chicco NextFit were almost as easy to install earning 9s each for this metric. The Chicco has a unique installation for LATCH with a 2 step strap tightening system that is very easy to use and tighten, with very little strength required.

Center Seat Issues
It has been determined that the center of the rear seat is the safest spot to install your seat — studies of injury data show a 43% lower risk of injury if the car seat is placed in the center of the back seat. Now combine that information with the fact that LATCH connectors should be the easiest and safest way to install a car seat. What's the problem? Here's the rub. Most cars, SUVs, and trucks do not offer LATCH anchors in the center seat location, and even if the inner two LATCH anchors from the side positions are close enough to use, most vehicle and seat manuals do not allow the use of those LATCH anchors for installation in the center position.

An excellent overview of this issue can be read on The Car Seat Lady's article on Using LATCH in the Center of the back seat.

So if your vehicle won't allow you to use the LATCH method in the center location, what is the best alternative? Should you use the center seat with a vehicle belt or the LATCH system on a side seat? One of the most important aspects of seat installation is that you ensure that the seat is securely and tightly anchored to the vehicle.

The questions on installation in the center seat are:
  1. Should you make an effort to master installing the seat with the vehicle belt?
  1. Is the seat as secure and tight to the vehicle when anchored to the center seat with a vehicle belt as it is installed on the side seat using LATCH?

Using a vehicle belt to attach a car seat to the car is a perfectly safe and acceptable method of installation (and possibly only the option for center positioning), as long as you are able to get it secure and tight. If you can (and we were able to with many of the seats in this review), then use the center seat. However, if obtaining a secure fit in the center seat is difficult, then you should use the side seat location. It is far more important that the seat be installed securely, than it is that the seat be located in the center. If you have two children you may not have any choice but the side seat locations as most cars don't have enough room for a side and center installation at the same time. If your vehicle doesn't offer LATCH anchors for the center seat, but you are sold on center seat installation only, our next section on ease of installation with a vehicle belt can help you identify which seats are easier to install using a seat belt. Additionally, you can always locate an installation professional for assistance installing your seat using the vehicle belt.

LATCH Straps
This Chicco seat has what the manufacturer calls "SuperCinch"  which is an alternative style of strap that uses a pulley type system that makes tightening the LATCH straps far easier than ordinary straps
This Chicco seat has what the manufacturer calls "SuperCinch", which is an alternative style of strap that uses a pulley type system that makes tightening the LATCH straps far easier than ordinary straps
The LATCH clips and anchors are just part of the LATCH equation. Whether or not the straps attached to the clips are easy to tighten and loosen are also factors for ease of install. As previously noted, part of why we loved the Clek is its lack of straps for forward facing installation, and the Chicco for its "SuperCinch" method with a 2 step tightening that is engineered to do the hard work for you. Alternatively, we had trouble getting the straps on the Safety 1st tight enough for the seat to feel secure. The LATCH straps on the Evenflo Tribute LX are fairly easy to tighten, but we had difficulty loosening the strap to uninstall the seat. For scoring we gave more points to the seats that didn't require any body weight to tighten or any significant struggling or trauma inside the car to achieve a secure fit.


The video above shows the installation of the Clek.

Ease of Install Vehicle Belt


The forward-facing installation of the Clek for kids over 2 years old using the vehicle belt is very secure feeling and easy to accomplish
The forward-facing installation of the Clek for kids over 2 years old using the vehicle belt is very secure feeling and easy to accomplish
If you plan to install your seat in the center position of your vehicle and it doesn't have LATCH anchors, then you will need to know more about installing your seat with the vehicle belt so you can master the details to ensure a secure fit. Many center seats do not offer LATCH anchors, even though it is the safest location to place the seat. Even if you don't plan to do this, most of the seats in this review have a limit on how large your child can be and still use the LATCH installation. Most are rated to about 40 50 pounds of child weight before the seat will need to be installed using the vehicle belt. Given that many of the seats have a weight limit from 50-80 pounds, you can easily see that your child could be using the seat for an extended period of time installed with the vehicle belt only.

However, there is no need to despair because we are going to tell you which seats were the easiest to install using the belt and give you information on installing them properly or where to get help if you are unsure or something doesn't seem right.

Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station or Professional in Your Area
There is a wonderful FREE resource for parents nationwide that can quickly help you learn how to properly install any seat in any car. There are certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who are available by appointment or on call. We highly recommend this service for all parents, even if you feel like you have this installation business all dialed in, just to be sure. Finding an inspection station or technician near you is easy; all you need to do is enter your zip code on this website. You may even find that your local fire station or police department has a CPS technician on staff to help you.

Simplicity is the Benefit of the Seat Belt Lock-Off
The 2 part belt lock off on the Roundabout required a screwdriver to pry open. It isn't as user friendly as some of the competition
The 2 part belt lock off on the Roundabout required a screwdriver to pry open. It isn't as user friendly as some of the competition
Some of the seats in the review are easier to install using the seat belt than others, and most of these seats have a little trick up their sleeve by way of the vehicle belt lock off affixed to the seat itself. This feature is so useful, it is a game changer for installing car seats with a vehicle belt, and we think you'll feel significantly more comfortable installing a seat using the belt if it has one of these nifty lock offs on board.

Five seats out of 11 in this review have a belt lock off located on the seat. All of these have forward and rear facing lock offs. Interestingly enough, all five of these seats ranked in the top product and had the highest scores for installation using a vehicle belt. Only the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible scored as well without the help of an onboard lock off.

Coincidence? We think not.

Some lock offs work a little better than others, but even those that are hard to manage still seem to offer a more secure installation in our tests than the seats that didn't have a lock off at all. We found that the seats with a lock off were every bit as secure installed with a belt as they were with the LATCH and some even more so. This can be a relief if and when you will need to install the seat with a belt, which is highly likely given the weight limit already discussed for the LATCH system.

The forward facing belt path and belt lock off on the Clek are easier to use than the rear facing design
The Chicco belt lock off has two parts that overlap to secure the vehicle belt in place
 
The photos above show two of the lock offs we liked the best during our testing, the Clek Foonf (left) and the Chicco NextFit (right).

While we found that any lock off would help a seat feel more secure once installed, some of the lock offs are easier to use than others. The Britax Marathon and the Britax Roundabout both have the same lock off and it is difficult to use. We had to use a screwdriver to open it, which isn't that handy. Alternatively, the Clek lock off is super easy to use, even though you need to lift the seat bottom to access the rear facing lock off. The Chicco is also easy to use and nicely located on the outside of the shell for easy access. So, if you're looking for a seat that is easy to install using a vehicle belt, it is pretty cool that no matter which one you choose, you'll be getting a high ranking seat with award winners to choose from.

We needed a towel for the rear installation of the Evenflo to obtain the proper angle of the seat
We needed a towel for the rear installation of the Evenflo to obtain the proper angle of the seat
The **Britax Boulevard is the easiest seat in this review to install uin ght belt thanks to the "ClickTight" design and installation method. With this method all you need to do is lift the seat bottom, thread the belt across the bottom, take out the slack (do not tighten), and close the seat until it clicks. The seat bottom does the work of tighten and secure for you and you can feel sure it is securely installed. This seat earned a 10 of 10 score for installation with the belt, and it is easy to see why.

The Clek is the second easiest seat in our tests to install using the vehicle belt. The lock off works smoothly and the belt is easy to thread. It earned a 9 in the metric, which is almost as good as its LATCH score and is better than the LATCH score of much of the competition. The most difficult seat to install using the vehicle belt is the Safety 1st. It doesn't have a lock off and during our testing we really struggled to get the belt tight enough and the seat feeling secure. With the exception of the Peg, as already mentioned, the seats lacking a belt lock off did not score higher than 7. The Evenflo and the Graco MyRide 65 LX both earned just 6 in this metric, but interestingly they were still easier to install with the vehicle belt than using LATCH where they earned only 5s. The Britax Marathon and Roundabout seats, the Chicco and the Peg all earned 8s in this metric.


The video above shows the installation of the Britax Marathon.

Having trouble finding the center seat belt?
Some SUVs, trucks, and wagons have a center seat belt located on the roof of the car. Given that many people rarely or never use their rear center seat you might not have used it before and it will be fully retracted. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a center seatbelt located on the roof of the vehicle, and how you use it. Consult your car's user manual for more information about your center seat restraint belt.

Ease of Use

The Britax Marathon earned the top score for ease of use
The Britax Marathon earned the top score for ease of use
On first look, many of these convertible seats have the same look and overall design feel with few minor differences. Where they start to diverge is in their ease of use, with some being far easier to use than others, either due to extra features or better performance on standard features like buckles and chest clips.

The video below shows some of the features of the Clek. While not the highest ranking seat in ease of use, it did have some unique features.



The Ease of Use metric includes the features that you will use on a regular, if not daily, basis. These features include items like harness adjustment and buckles, cover removal and cleaning, and ease of tightening or loosening the harness. If your regular experience with a seat is frustrating, you might be tempted to avoid using it as described or you could end up unhappy with your seat choice.

Buckles and Chest Clips


The buckle on the Evenflo is one of the easiest in the group to use. The sides pop out on their own when the button is pressed
The buckle on the Evenflo is one of the easiest in the group to use. The sides pop out on their own when the button is pressed
The release button on the buckles for the convertible car seats we tested were not all easy to use. While some like the Evenflo and Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 were easy to use one handed with sides that pop out when the button is pushed, others like the Diono Radian RXT are so hard you'll need two hands to operate it and your fingers might hurt once you are done. Most of the seats offer a middle of the road buckle that will be stiff when you push it, but won't require cuss words and painful fingers to use.

The Chicco offers a unique chest clip that has two width settings
The Chicco offers a unique chest clip that has two width settings
The buckle isn't the only aspect of securing the harness on your baby, the chest clip is a portion of this equation as well. The Graco chest clip was the hardest to use in our testing, with a clip that requires excessive squeezing of small buttons that caused pain when we tested it. The best in the group is interestingly enough the Diono that had the lowest buckle score. None of the seats offered great options for both the buckle and the chest clip, but the Britax products were a 6 and 4 respectively and the Safety 1st had scores of 7 and 5. Given that the buckles are harder to operate in general, it is probably best to focus on how well the buckle works over how difficult the chest clip is to use.

The Chicco offers a unique chest clip that has a 2 setting adjustable feature for fitting children of various sizes better. While it is interesting, we aren't sure why it is necessary and we think it makes using the clip a little harder because on occasion you might think you have unclipped it when really you just changed the width.

Harness Tightening and Loosening


The harness release button and tightening strap are both located near the foot of the seat and they are the easiest ones in the group to use
The harness release button and tightening strap are both located near the foot of the seat and they are the easiest ones in the group to use
Tightening and loosening the harness is accomplished using the tightening strap at the foot of the seat and the release button that is sometimes located under fabric and padding and sometimes over, but also at the foot above the strap. Some of the straps were harder to pull than others and the buttons varied between those you press and those you lift. The Graco and Boulevard earned the high scores for ease of use for tightening and loosening with a score of 9. The Clek and the Evenflo both earned 8s making them second place options with very easy to use straps and buttons. The most difficult in the group is the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with a button that is a little hidden and a strap that is harder to pull than the competition. That being said, none of the competition were difficult or impossible to use.

Adjusting the Harness


There are two primary ways of adjusting the harness height on the convertible car seats. The simpler method is a non-rethreading design that adjusts by moving a headrest/harness shoulder strap assembly up and down the back of the seat. The more convoluted method requires detaching the shoulder straps from a back splitter plate and physically moving the straps from one level of slots to the next level. While not necessarily challenging the latter method takes more time, requires removing the baby from the seat, and if forward facing you will need to remove the seat from the car as well. Alternatively, the non-rethread option can be done with baby in the seat and as soon as you notice there is a need for an adjustment. We preferred the non-rethread version not just because it is simpler, but because we think parents are more likely to keep the harness properly adjusted as needed instead of putting off adjustment till a moment where they have more time. Our concern is parents will recognize the harness needs adjusting after baby is the seat and tell themselves they need to do that before they use the seat again, then they will forget and the next time they put baby in they will once again push off the responsibility to a more convenient time.

The Marathon harness height adjustment is the easiest one in the group to operate
 
The photos above show a typical rethread splitter for harness shoulder straps (left), and the non-rethread height adjustment on the Britax Marathon (right).

The harness height adjustment on the Peg has an easy pull tab to operate with no rethreading of straps necessary
The harness height adjustment on the Peg has an easy pull tab to operate with no rethreading of straps necessary
Half of the seats in this review offer the no rethread harness height adjustment feature. The easiest options in the group to use are the Britax Marathon and Boulevard with easy to squeeze handles and harness assemblies that move smoothly up and down, it scored a 10 of 10 for the test. The hardest non-rethread version in the group to use is the Safety 1st product that has dual levers that need to be turned simultaneously before the assembly can be moved. Unfortunately, the Maxi-Cosi assembly broke midway through the testing process and refused to engage automatically. This meant we had to engage it manually from the back, which resulted in it earning one of the lowest scores for the group with a 4. We aren't saying they will all break, just that ours did with minimal use in a very short period of time under controlled circumstances. The rethread options are all harder to operate because they take so much time and effort to operate. A few of the rethread products tied for last place with the Maxi, including the Britax Roundabout and the Diono Radian RXT. The Marathon also has 10 height options and 2 crotch strap positions which help ensure a good fit for just about every child.

LATCH Storage


The LATCH storage on the Evenflo are simple attachment points on the side of the seat. This does keep the straps from dragging  but it doesn't really keep them totally out of the way
The LATCH anchors on the Marathon click into the base when not in use. You can also see the red honeycomb impact absorbing portions of the base in this photo
The LATCH storage are hard plastic pockets on the each side of the Chicco seat base. They are a little awkward to get the anchors into correctly  but they work well once they are properly in place
The LATCH anchors on the Safety 1st stow by connecting to each other
 
The photos above show some of the different LATCH storage options in this review. From left to right the seats include: Evenflo Tribute LX, Britax Marathon, Chicco NextFit, and the Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65.

LATCH storage on infant style seats is very important because the straps could get in the way of attaching the carrier to the base if their storage options aren't adequate. Their storage might not be as critical for convertible car seats, but it is nice if the straps are not accessible by children and aren't flying around the back seat potentially causing injuries. Some of the seats had pockets or little cubby storage where the clips could be stored out of sight, while the more common storage option is the clips attaching to plastic loops on the back of the seat or each other.

The Chicco has side pockets where the clips and straps tuck into with a pocket for the tether on the back. It is one of the few in the group that really keeps the straps and clips out of the way. The Peg, Boulevard, and the Clek also both offer storage that keeps the clips out of the way. One of the least effective storage options in the group is the Safety 1st that has clip attachment points on the back of the seat with the straps that dangle.

Cover Removal and Cleaning


The Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX
Because children can be messy and car seats see a lot of action, we looked at how difficult it is to remove the covers of the seats and whether or not the covers can be machine washed or require a hand washing. We prefer the seats that have easy to remove covers and are machine washable. Certainly hand washing is better than spot cleaning, but given that bodily fluids might be involved it would be great if they were all machine washable. The Clek earned the lowest score because it is the only seat that does not have a removable cover. It is spot clean only and you can purchase a cleaning kit from Clek, but if there is a big mess you'll be up to your elbows with a scrub brush or possibly a steam cleaner. The Evenflo earned the highest score in the group for both ease of removal and ease of cleaning. It is a simple cover that comes off without a hitch and can be machine washed and tumble dried. This is an improvement over most of them competition that are lay flat to dry or are hand wash. The Boulevard has a unique cover that comes off easily in 4 pieces, but is only hand wash and line dry.

Comfort/Quality


The Peg cover and padding envelope the seat and curl around the shell and frame for an overall nice fit and finish
The Peg cover and padding envelope the seat and curl around the shell and frame for an overall nice fit and finish
When it comes to comfort and quality we compared each convertible seat and the materials used to make them. We look at the padding, fabric, foam and how well all those materials come together to make the final product. We consider each factor and how well it contributes to baby's comfort, parent use, and seat longevity. The seats all share common construction with plastic shells, dense foams and some kind of comfort padding and a fabric cover. However, some offer significantly thicker padding, nicer fabric, steel frames, or non-off gassing foam. This metric is somewhat of a subjective one so seats were compared side-by-side and judged against one another, as opposed to a more objective method of using a tool or formal test.

 
The photos above show the Chicco NextFit (left) earned the top score for the metric and the Evenflo (right) came in with a lowest score.

When it comes to comfort and quality the Chicco and Boulevard seats really stood out. These seats have exceptional padding and a seamless fabric to shell designs with a pockets and places for everything. We liked that the Chicco fabric is soft, the seat is self-contained, and it has an overall sleek look. The Boulevard is similar, with additional padding around the head area. The Evenflo on the other hand is a barebones seat that has the necessities without any of the extras that come with the other seats. Its lack of thick padding for comfort or advanced LATCH storage hurt its overall score in this metric, but it does get the job done and the cover is machine washable. The Clek and the Peg came in second place with 8s, and the Britax Marathon and Roundabout both earned a 7.

Weight/Size


The Maxi weighs over 18 pounds and is the widest seat in the review at 21 inches
The Maxi weighs over 18 pounds and is the widest seat in the review at 21 inches
We checked the weight and width of each seat in the review. We considered their forward facing and rear facing total weight and their width at the widest point of the seat. While the weight of the convertible car seats is not as important as the carrier weight of the infant style seats, it might be important for parents who plan to travel with a seat or live in an environment where they will frequent taxi or Uber services. In short, if your seat will live in the car for most of its life, then you might not care how heavy it is. If you travel frequently or will need to lug the seat through town, then the weight takes on more significance and you might not want one of the heavier options.

The Clek is the heaviest seat in the group whether it is forward or rear facing. For the rear facing configuration it is over 38 pounds thanks to the addition of the anti-rebound bar and recline attachment. The forward facing configuration isn't much better at over 33 pounds, and both are significantly heavier than the majority of the seats we tested. The Clek is narrow however at only 17 inches. This means you might be able to fit 3 seats across the typical back seat, or two seats and a person in the middle. The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group at a little over 9 pounds; it is also 17 inches wide and together with the Clek they are the narrowest in the group of products we looked at. Unfortunately, the Evenflo required a towel for rear facing installation in our tests, so it still might not be the best for travelers because you will need to lug a towel on the road as well as the seat. The Britax Roundabout is the lightest high scoring seat with a weight of about 16 pounds. While significantly heavier than 9 pounds, at least you won't need to carry a towel or lug a monster about. The majority of high scoring seats were on the heavier side, presumably thanks to increased padding and a steel (or alloy) frame design that both add weight. The widest option in the group is the Maxi-Cosi and we think it will be difficult to use this seat with more than two across and an adult might not be able to sit between the seats.

The Clek weighs over 38 pounds in the rear facing configuration and closer to 33 for forward facing. The weight difference is the angle adjustment pad and the anti-rebound bar
The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches
 
The photos above show the Clek (left) and the Evenflo (right) seats, respectively the heaviest and lightest products in the review.

For most parents weight is unlikely to be a deciding factor given that the seat normally remains in the car. However, the width might be something to consider if you have multiple children or a narrow back seat. In the event that the seat will live in your backseat for the majority of its lifespan, we urge you not to worry about weight and instead pick the highest rated model that will suit your needs.

Conclusion


Choosing a convertible car seat can be a daunting task. But, our hope is that the information in this review, and our corresponding Buying Advice article has helped you narrow down to a few top contenders that meet your needs.
Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz, and the BabyGearLab Review Team
Helpful Buying Tips
The Maxi feels more secure when installed rear facing than forward facing
 How to Buy the Best and Safest Convertible Car Seat

by Juliet Spurrier, MD and BabyGearLab Review Team

Unbiased.