Best Infant Car Seats of 2017

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 option is truly the best? We purchased 15 of the most popular infant car seats and tested them over several months in an extensive side-by-side comparison process. We tested and reviewed crash test performance, ease of installation, comfort and quality, carrying weight and more. Just like all of our reviews, we purchased every single product we tested just like you do, and performed our own detailed tests to objectively rate each product one-for-one in an apples to apples format. Read on to discover the car seats that performed better than the rest, so you can find just the right seat for your family.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15 << Previous | View All | Next >>

Analysis and Award Winners


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

Last Updated:
Saturday
February 18, 2017

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

Better crash test results
Easiest to install without base
Comfortable
Higher price
Harder to install using LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earned the highest overall score in our review with impressive points for crash testing, 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 in the competition, it has 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. Unfortunately, this impressive seat is not compatible with many top scoring strollers.

Editors' Choice Award Winner


Chicco KeyFit 30


Chicco KeyFit 30 Editors' Choice Award

Price:   $200 List
$200 from Amazon


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Ease to install
Better crash test results
Reasonable price
Heavier
Rough fabric
The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a 3rd place rank with a relatively nice price earning it an Editors' Choice winner. This seat earned a high score for ease of install and a second place score for crash test performance. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation easier this seat is a parent favorite. The Chicco has somewhat unfriendly fabric and is on the heavy side, but is nice ease of use score and crash test performance can make up for these shortcomings. We think parents will appreciate the thoughtful design of the Chicco's LATCH system as well as its potential compatibility with many of our top scoring strollers and a quality frame stroller option.

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


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Budget friendly
Side impact tested
Easy to install
Lower quality
Harder to install using LATCH
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is the standout price friendly option with an above average overall score. With a list price of $160, the Safety 1st impressed with its impressive scores for crash tests and 2 forms of installation. This seat earned scores in most metrics that were better than average, and it ranked higher than several more expensive products. We feel parents will be happy with this seat, and parents on a budget can feel confident they are getting a great seat that scored well in crash test analysis. Perhaps the only drawback to the Safety 1st is it is not compatible with many strollers. However, if you don't plan to use your infant seat attached to a stroller (and many parents don't), then you won't be missing a thing.

Top Pick for Urban Life and Travel


UPPAbaby Mesa


UPPAbaby Mesa Top Pick Award

Price:   $300 List
$300 from Amazon


Read the review

Easy to install
Easy to use
Good for using without the base
Higher price
Unfriendly fabric

The UPPAbaby Mesa earned a 2nd place rank out of 15 seats. This seat earned a top score for installation without the base and impressive scores for other types of installations. Which helped it win its Top Pick award for urbanites and travelers looking to securely install a car seat without carrying the weight of the base. The Mesa also has easy to use, unique self-retracting LATCH straps and an overall sharp design. The downside to this seat is fabric that is at best unfriendly and at worst abrasive. Given the above average $300 list price point, we aren't sure why UPPAbaby continues to choose a fabric that is so disappointing compared to similarly priced top-performing seats. The Mesa works well with a few top scoring full size strollers, including the UPPAbaby Cruz and the UPPAbaby Vista.

2017 Update
UPPAbaby has a new version of the Mesa seat for 2017, which will become available this Spring 2017. The new Mesa claims to be the first flame retardant-free infant car seat in the industry. It uses naturally flame resistant wool in place of chemicals. If the Mesa seems like the seat for you, and the timing works, you might consider delaying your purchase for a nice chemical free option.



Analysis and Test Results


We've performed extensive tests over a 5 month testing period comparing each seat side-by-side in multiple performance metrics. We worked 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 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. All the seats were given an equal opportunity to put their best foot forward in every metric. 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.

The chart below is a comparison of the overall scores for each infant car seat we tested for this review.


The individual metric scores discussed below were derived from performance observed during hands-on testing in the lab and in the real world, including crash tests already described above. The metric scores were combined to determine the overall scores with a weighting to crash test performance and ease of use.



This is our crash test video of the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40.

Crash Impact Testing


A key part of our testing process is a detailed analysis of crash test data on every car seat we tested. BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to perform crash tests on car seats using the same testing protocol as NHTSA and under the FMVSS 213 standard. In addition, we established a working relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data in our analysis, 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 seats that offer an additional margin of safety, based on our analysis of 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. Additional details on our crash test scoring methodology are included below.

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 infants. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that misuse is a bigger safety issue than the differences between seat crash test performance. 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."

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.

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.

Crash Test Ratings


We analyzed the data from the crash sled tests of each seat to determine how well they performed compared to the competition as well as the Federal safety standard for acceptable performance. To help you understand more about crash tests, we've included graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review, and 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 to identify those seats whose crash test performance went beyond the Federal requirements and exceeded the performance of competing seats in our review, and therefore 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 and chest injuries present the two greatest risks for 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 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.


The graph above shows 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 NHTSA 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 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 crash test data for HIC scores, 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. To pass the Federal safety standards all seats must achieve a Chest (G) Clip score of 60 or less.


The chart above compares the G score from the Phil and Teds Alpha (black line) to the best performing seat for chest forces, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (green line). The Graco had a maximum 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.

The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
Additional Crash Test Safety Features
While some seats have 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 because information is lacking to support the claim, and there are no agreed upon safety test procedures in place for these types of features in 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 can do to keep baby safe, is to install your infant seat correctly. 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 when you move the seat to a different vehicle.

Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis


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

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 earned our highest crash test rating of 9 of 10. This seat has very impressive crash test results, with the lowest G score of all products tested and nearly the lowest HIC score.

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

The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze
The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze

Ease of Installation with the LATCH System


Studies show that more than 7 of 10 seats are improperly installed or have the baby improperly restrained. This is why we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical rating factors.


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. The good news here is that both your infant seat and your vehicle are very likely 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. According to NHTSA, over 60% of parents place their infant car seat on the left or right side rear positions. Most choose the right passenger side so the driver can easily see the child; this is where LATCH connectors should be available in most cars.

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 LATCH system was developed to make it easier for parents to install car seats 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 Cybex Aton 2 (above left) uses a seat belt style anchor that clicks onto the LATCH connector. The Graco car seats (above right) use clip style connectors, which we found much harder to use (both are considered safe). The Cybex tied with the UPPAbaby Mesa and the Chicco KeyFit 30 for the highest score for LATCH installation with 9s. Our favorite seat for installation with LATCH is the UPPAbaby Mesa, with its 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 above shows the UPPAbaby Mesa being installed with LATCH by our Child Passenger Safety Technician. You'll notice the process is very fast. The secret of the Mesa is you don't need to manually tighten the LATCH connectors. You simply click-in the connectors to the LATCH anchor bars, and push downward on the base; the straps automatically self-retract to tighten. Once properly tightened, the indicator shows green. It is really simple and very fast.

The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back

Tightening and Loosening Straps


The anchors themselves are just the first part of the equation. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten and 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 tighten 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.

The Center Seat Dilemma
The center of the rear seat is the safest place to locate a car seat — your baby has a 43% lower risk of injury if the seat is located in the center rather than on the side. Now combine that fact 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.

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?
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).
Using the seat belt to anchor the seat in the center is fine and perfectly safe, as 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. Parents with two kids almost always use the side seats (most cars don't have enough room to use a seat in both the center and side positions — forcing one seat on each side).

Our next section on ease of installation with a seat belt can help you identify those seats that make it simple to install with a seat belt.

Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation





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

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.

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. But, do not fret. We're going to help you here, and most importantly, we can tell you which seats make this process 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 complicated. 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 or 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. When used correctly this feature helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the vehicle belt. Lock offs make belt installation every bit as secure, if not more so in some cases, as LATCH installation. So if your car doesn't have a LATCH system or you want to locate the seat in the center, then 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 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha both earned 9 of 10, 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 harder to use and made installation frustrating as we struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without it curling or bunching. That being said, we'd take a hard to use lock off over a base that didn't offer lock-off at all; we feel it is a key component in achieving a good secure fit for installing a 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 were really not secure because they had a tendency to travel up the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt leaving the seat tilted, like the Evenflo Embrace LX, which earned the lowest score in our tests for belt installation.

Can't find the center seat belt?
It might be in the roof! Some SUVs and wagons have a center seat belt that comes from the roof of the car. If you've never used it, it might be fully retracted. 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.

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.

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: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes.

From our point of view, if you never expect to take your infant in a taxi ( Uber, limo, airport shuttle, etc) then you can happily ignore this whole section and skip down to Ease of Use.


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 seatbelt to secure it just like you would in a car.

There are two methods for installing a carrier without the base, European and American style belt paths. Each seat we tested uses 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 that 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
 

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. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) has the European belt path, while the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air (above right) features the American belt path for installing a carrier without the base.

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 Without the Base


The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 uses the European method and has a color coded belt path that 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! 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 scores of 4.

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

If you are a city dweller who will be using taxis more than your car, 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 purchase contenders. Given the unlikelihood of you lugging a heavy base around town, this will be your installation method of choice. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned exceptional scores of 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base and both are great options for city dwelling parents. The Phil & Teds Alpha was close behind with a 9.

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

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

Ease of Use


At first blush all the infant car seats seem so similar that it feels like they would all be about the same when it comes to ease of use. Not so. The seats we tested are all over the board when it comes to ease of use. As it turns out, a buckle isn't a buckle; while some buckles open with ease, others will leave your thumbs crying as you wonder if it's you or the seat that has a problem.


The Ease of Use metric includes all the features and functions that you 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.

Buckle 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 Performance COupe and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have release buttons we dream about, that virtually fall apart when the button is pushed (yes, we 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 Orbit Baby G3 (above left) has a difficult to use stiff release buckle. Alternatively, the Cybex Aton 2 (above right) has an easy to operate buckle.

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
 

Harness Adjustment


For tightening and loosening the harness after it is fitted, the Recaro Performance Coupe (above left) impressed us earning a 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 SnugRide Classic Connect 30 it is important to note that the release buckle was very difficult to use, which means the Graco 30 is still not our favorite. The hardest one to adjust is the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect (above right) with a score of 1. It has a strange back of the seat adjustment apparatus that is cumbersome and hard to use compared to the more common pull strap and release button found on the other seats.

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
 

Adjusting the Harness as Baby Grows


Adjusting the shoulder strap height on the harness is a whole 'nother ball of wax. This feat comes in two basic varieties with one being an involved process where you have to detach the straps from a splitter on the back and then rethread them through a higher slot and back on the splitter (above left), or a less convoluted method where you disengage the height adjustment and slide an assembly up to the desired position (above right). The latter can normally be done with baby in the seat and on the fly. The former requires baby to be out of the seat and some seats are difficult due to 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, often remove the seat from the car, rethread the straps, and put baby back.

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 Primo Viaggio 4-35 earned the highest score in our tests with a 10, but the Recaro Performance Coupe and UPPAbaby Mesa were hot on its heels with 9s. 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 30 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 Mesa and the Safety 1st onBoard Air came in a close second with scores of 8 a piece. The hardest to set on the base is the Graco Click Connect 40 with a score of 2. 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 Aton 2 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 carrier, at least parents can use the indicator as a guide to prevent a connection mishap.

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.

Handles


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 varies, 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 is most prevalent 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 Performance Coupe and the UPPAbaby Mesa, both earned a 9 for this test.

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 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
 

LATCH Storage


For storage of the LATCH system the UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) 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. The majority of the storage options were small rods to clip the anchors to located on the underside of the base. 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 Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above right) with a 3.

Best Rated Seats for Ease of Use


The Recaro Performance Coupe and Evenflo Embrace came out on top with scores of 8 of 10 for ease of use. Right on their heels with 7s were the Chicco Keyfit 30, UPPAbaby Mesa, and Peg Perego each offering strong performance for ease of use. The Graco seats were disappointing in our ease-of-use tests.

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 that 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 seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation.

The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality
The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality

Comfort/Quality


For comfort and quality we consider the materials used in the seats and how well the final product brought those materials together. We look at factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well those 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 increased comfort for baby and a nice fit and finish that topped the charts in our comfort and quality tests.

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
 

Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality


The standouts in this metric were the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) with 8s. These two seats offered additional padding, softer fabric, and a nice overall fit and finish compared to the competition. The lowest scoring seats were the Graco products with none scoring higher than a 4 in our tests. The Graco SnugRide Classic Connect (above right) 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.

The Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is the lightest seat in the review at 7.06 pounds
The Orbit Baby G3 is the heaviest seat out of the 15 in our review with a carrier weight of 12.5 pounds
 

Best Rated Seats on Weight


The weight of the carriers varied in our review between 7.1 pounds for the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect (above left) and 12.5 pounds for the Orbit Baby (above right). 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 tests and tended to be on the lower end of the quality spectrum overall. 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.

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

Conclusion


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. However, we believe our testing and analysis can help you narrow the field of products down 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.