Getting ready to purchase a new car seat for your little one? Are you overwhelmed by all the options and terminology? We were too once! We researched over 100 options before choosing over 29 top competitors to test. We purchased every seat and conducted rigorous side-by-side testing including crash testing, at the same facility the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and everyday use to determine which products are the best and why. With so many options to choose from, making a final purchase can be challenging, but our test results and detailed analysis can help you buy with confidence. Whether your infant needs a first car seat or your baby is transitioning to a convertible seat, we can help you find the right choice for your wallet and needs.
The Best Car Seats of 2018
This detailed review's updates include the retirement of two previous award winners, the Britax Roundabout and the Britax Marathon (non-ClickTight version) and their subsequent replacement with new options, the Essentials by Britax Allegiance and the Essentials by Britax Emblem that impressed testers just as much as the seats they replaced.
First, Our Favorite Infant Seats
Parents are required to have an infant seat when they leave the hospital after the baby's birth. You can find our favorite infant options below (the best convertible seats are further down). These standout options for infants earned more points in our Infant Seat Review than the competition. These products excel in metrics like ease-of-installation and crash test results. Each winner is a offers something a little different than the rest, providing good choices for different needs.
Best Overall Infant Seat
Chicco KeyFit 30
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of our favorite infant options and the one we feel is a great choice for most families. The Keyfit 30 impresses with the better crash test results and a easy installation using the LATCH method, thanks in large part to a cinch assisted strap that takes the hard work out of getting the seat tight and properly secured. The Chicco is easy to use and stylish with a list price that is $100 less than several competitors and it is only $40 more than our Best Value winner. The Keyfit 30 is compatible with the largest range of strollers, making it a good choice for parents looking to create a travel system and desire a variety of strollers to choose from. This seat works with the majority of the strollers including some of our favorites for car seat use like the UPPAbaby Cruz, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Bugaboo Bee3.
While the Keyfit 30 is an excellent seat, it isn't the best for city dwellers because it is more challenging to install without the base and is relatively heavy for carrying around town. However, if you don't need to carry it often or far, and installation will primarily use the base, then it is tough to beat the Chicco Keyfit 30.
Read review: Chicco KeyFit 30
High-quality Infant Seat
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a quality, high-end seat that earned the impressive crash test results, indicating an additional margin of safety when properly installed and used correctly. We found this stylish seat is super easy to install without the base, making it a potential choice for parents who frequent public transportation, and it is almost as easy to install using the vehicle belt with the base. This Peg Perego features an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the base, has nice padding and soft fabric for a cozy ride, and is easy to use.
Unfortunately, the Primo Viaggio 4-35 has a higher price tag than most of the competition and it isn't compatible with very many strollers outside of the Peg Perego brand. However, if your budget allows and you don't mind having limited stroller options or you don't plan to combine it with a stroller (and many parents don't), then this Peg Perego may be a great option for your family.
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Easiest Infant LATCH Installation
The Chicco Fit 2 is a high-end Chicco option with an impressive score for LATCH installation (a perfect 10!) which makes it a good choice for anyone concerned about proper installation. This plush competitor is easier to use than most and comes with thicker padding and additional features for comfort.
While we recommend this Chicco, it isn't a good choice for tighter budget or if you plan to carry it over long distances. This Chicco carrier has a higher than average weight and we don't think parents will want to lug it for long, even if it is easy to install without the base. The Fit 2 is a fairly new seat, so it isn't compatible with very many strollers yet. If your hope to combine an infant seat with a stroller, the Fit 2 is a bad choice. however, if you won't need to carry it and stroller compatibility isn't a concern, then the Fit 2 can help many parents feel better about their installation abilities.
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Best Bang for the Buck in Infant Seats
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a budget-friendly option with a higher performance overall than the cheaper competition in our review. This seat has above average crash test results and is easy to install with the vehicle belt and without the base. For parents on a budget, this product is easy to use with better crash test results (something many parents are understandably concerned with).
Aside from easy to install, this product is relatively average without any standout features, but it doesn't disappoint either. The real drawback to the Safety 1st is the considerable lack of compatible strollers. In fact, none of the full-size strollers we reviewed can be combined with the Safety 1st, making it a poor choice if you want to create a travel system. However, if you have a tight budget and you don't need a stroller for your car seat, then this option is one any parent can feel good about buying.
Read review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
If you aren't interested in attaching your infant carrier to a stroller, or you don't want to lug it very far, then you might consider baby wearing as an alternative. Wearing your baby close (in a carrier designed for this purpose) is a lovely way to bond, and normally keeps little ones calm and soothed which reduces crying or emotional upsets. Many modern carriers can keep your hands-free so you can get things done with your baby on board and nary a bulky stroller in sight!
Our Favorite for Urban Dwellers
The UPPAbaby Mesa is a stylish infant seat that is easy to install without the base, making it a good choice for parents that use taxis or Uber or switch cars frequently. We really like the unique LATCH system that self-ratchets taking the guesswork out of the installation process so parents can get it right every time with a color-coded indicator. We love the way this seat looks and how easy it is to use. For parents considering pairing the MEsa with a stroller, the Mesa is compatible with several award-winning strollers including the UPPAbaby Vista, UPPAbaby Cruz, and the Baby Jogger City Mini.This seat has a high-end price, so it isn't the best fit for families on a limited budget. Also, while the seat has naturally flame-retardant fabric that looks good, the seat bottom has rough fabric that could easily chafe bare legs. However, the high-quality materials (including flame-retardant wool), ease of installation, and award-winning stroller compatibility indicate that the price is worth it if these features are important to you. Also, if you want a chemical-free fabric, then this is currently your only option.
Read review: UPPAbaby Mesa
Top Choice for Taxi Users
The Doona is a unique product that is a car seat with stroller components. The Doona is the only option we've tested that allows parents to use public transportation safely and provides the ability to easily push baby from place to place with the attached wheels. The Doona is easy to use, can be installed quickly without the base, and meets a real need for parents in the city who may otherwise forgo a safety seat.
The Doona is not the best option for all families thanks to a higher price and heavier carrying weight, but it can't be beaten for parents who live in the big city that may otherwise avoid using a car seat in a taxi (it is not required in NY!) because seats are a pain to carry. We believe this is an excellent way to get your baby from your loft to an Uber, safely driving through town, and strolling to your destination with ease and enviable style.
Read review: Doona
Top Pick for Safety
Cybex Cloud Q
The Cybex Cloud Q has top crash test results when used with the included load leg. This high-ranking option offers great quality and comfort and is easy to install using the LATCH system and without the base. This option has a cool futuristic look and feel, and is the choice for parents seeking the absolute best car seat for potential crash safety (according to crash test results).
The higher than average carrier weight of the CLoud Q makes it a poor choice for urban families that may need to carry it for longer distances. This seat is also not a good choice for families with a limited budget or those looking to combine it with a stroller as its price is higher than average and there are only a few compatible strollers on the market. However, if you are looking for the seat with the absolute best crash test results, the Cloud Q is the one for you.
Read review: Cybex Cloud Q
Our Favorite Convertible Car Seats
The winners below include the products that earned high marks and awards in our Convertible Seat Review. This type of seat is appropriate for older infants (around 9 months) and can last until your little one is around 5-7 years old depending on the model and your child's size.
Best Overall Convertible Seat
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the perfect seat for parents who are worried about installing the seat correctly (arguably all of us), which is why we highly recommend this seat to friends. This convertible option earned perfect 10 of 10 scores for installation using both the LATCH system and the vehicle belt, making it a standout option and a seat we feel is practically foolproof. This seat is easy to use with impressive comfort and quality construction. We think parents will love the look, feel, and features of this quality seat.
The ClickTight has a slightly above average score for crash test results, but we remind parents that this means it exceeded the Federal requirements, and given that poor installation often translates to more injuries, we think the installation performance of this seat makes up for the average crash test results. However, if you're looking for better crash safety results, then you may want to consider the Essentials by Britax Emblem below.
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight
All-around High Scorer
Essentials by Britax Emblem
The Essentials by Britax Emblem has impressive scores for almost every metric, with results that show an all-around impressive performance during testing that is virtually unmatched. While some competitors earned higher scores in some metrics or overall, the Emblem is the only option with above-average scores in every metric. Because it earned one of the top crash test results and it is easy to install with a lower price tag, we think it is a seat that should be on every parent's short list. This seat features an easy to use non-rethread harness adjustment, it is comfortable and well-made and is relatively light compared to other high scoring seats.
The Emblem is arguably not as easy to install as the Britax ClickTight options, and it has less padding than the seats with a Britax label. However, with its reasonable price, it is an excellent option for every family, no matter how big or small their budget.
Read review: Essentials by Britax Emblem
Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Seat
Essentials by Britax Allegiance
The Essentials by Britax Allegiance is similar to the Essentials by Britax Emblem with slightly less padding in the seating area and fabric that feels somewhat less durable. This makes the Allegiance a perfect choice for families on a tighter budget who want a quality seat that is easy to install and sports above average crash safety results. The Allegiance is comparatively lightweight with adequate padding, no rethread harness height adjustment, and a stylish look. It is one of the easiest options to use with a top score for ease of use.
The Allegiance is somewhat harder to install using the vehicle belt, though it still earned an above average score for this test. Despite it not being as dummy-proof as the ClickTight options for installation, we think most parents will be able to manage it or can get free assistance if it is a problem. With a savings of over $100 compared to the Britax label options, parents will be happily smiling all the way to the bank. Even better, the second best crash test results mean you aren't compromising potential safety for the sake of saving money. Which is something everyone can smile about!
Read review: Essentials by Britax Allegiance
Best on a Tight Budget
Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX didn't score exceptionally well in our review of convertible competitors, but what it manages to do is impress with its crash test results. This puts the Evenflo in the unique position of being the cheapest seat in the review and having some of the best crash results we analyzed. This seat won a Best Value award because it offers a higher margin of potential safety to families on even the tightest of budgets. The Evenflo is easy to use and the lightest option in the review, making it a good choice for parents on-the-go for travel or using public transportation.
Unfortunately, the tribute's low weight and low price come at the cost of comfort and quality making the Evenflo uncomfortable on long road trips or for babies that need more cushioning or support. However, despite its shortcomings, the Evenflo would make a good second seat or budget-friendly primary seat that you can feel confident is as safe as they come.
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
The Clek Foonf is a unique seat with innovative features we didn't see in the competition. This is a great seat for parents looking for something a little different who aren't worried as much about the price. The Clek has a rigid LATCH system for forward-facing installation that eliminates tightening and loosing of the belt. This unique design makes it the easiest to install using LATCH in the forward-facing position. Trust us, after installing almost 30 seats we would know! The Clek also impresses for installation using the belt, and for comfort with a quality difference you can feel from its high-end fabric and steel frame shell (which is ridiculously heavy) to its adjustable headrest and additional features for safety.
While we love the Foonf (our founder, Dr. Spurrier, used this seat for her children) it isn't the seat for everyone. The Clek is the most expensive option we tested (list price $450) and it is very heavy, which would be prohibitive for parents who plan to carry a seat around a busy city or on travel. However, if you have the means, Clek presents an interesting option in the Foonf that we think is cool, inspired, and functional.
Read review: Clek Foonf
Seating Central: Narrow Your Options
With so many options to choose from, how do you decide which product is best for your baby? Asking yourself some key questions can help you narrow the options by type, installation, and performance so you can determine which model is right for your family. When you are ready to make your purchase, you can simplify the process by breaking it down into easy questions.
First, do you need an infant or a convertible option?
Infant seats — refer to our Infant Car Seat Review for all the info on seats for newborns and younger babies. These seats have two parts, a base that installs in your car and a carrier that the baby sits in that can be attached to the base, a stroller, or carried. This seat type is ideal for an infant's body size and for simplified errands because you do not need to remove your baby from the carrier to take them with you.
Convertible seats — best for older babies (9-12 months) who've outgrown their infant seat. Our Convertible Review includes the details you need to better understand convertible seats and when to use them. Convertible options install in your car relatively permanently and can sit rear facing or forward facing depending on the baby's size or age. When a baby is large/old enough, the seat "converts" to a forward-facing position. Some of these seats can also be used as a booster seat when your child outgrows the 5-point harness (read each seat's manual).
Can one product do it all?
While many convertible style seats claim to work for babies from 5 up to 50 lbs and beyond, we don't think it is a good idea to make a one and done purchase when it comes car safety.
Infant style seats are designed with smaller newborn bodies in mind. These seats are sized and configured for baby's anatomy and provide proper posture positioning for optimal breathing and protection in the event of an accident. The harness design is narrower and more appropriate for an infant than a convertible seat which is designed for older and larger babies and then somewhat modified for infants. Many convertible seats offer an infant insert to create more appropriate seating for smaller passengers. We think it is best to get the gear specifically designed for each age/size instead of opting for one product that can accommodate a baby, but isn't designed specifically to do so. If you want to save money on baby gear (wouldn't we all?), we do not think car seats is the category to do so, given the potential safety implications.
The other advantage to infant style seats is they are handy. Infant seats have a carrier portion that holds the baby with a handle for easy carrying from one location to another.
This means you can move a sleeping infant from a car to a stroller or car to carry with ease and without disruption. This may seem like a small thing before your baby is born, but trust us, you will be doing this more than once and grateful for the carrier so you can get some quick errands in without waking a sleeping child.
What is more important, ease of installation or crash test results?
While many parents are concerned with crash test safety (as you should be), few parents know that improperly installing a seat, or not using it as indicated, is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving infants. In our research for seat safety testing, safety engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasized that improper use is a bigger safety concern than the differences in crash test performance results. In fact, a NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant car seats exhibited a critical misuse related to either installation of the seat or incorrect restraint of the infant, or both. Another study by Portland's top Children's Hospital followed 267 families as they left the hospital with their infants after birth. The study 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."
We encourage parents to read our How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes article and contact a certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians in their area to ensure proper installation.
Ninety-three percent is a considerable number. This high percentage is why we feel that ease of use and installation are critical components of seat safety, potentially more so than the crash test results themselves. So while crash test analysis is important, it should not overshadow how difficult a seat is to use or install. Many of the award-winning seats are easy to install using at least one installation method. Some even have perfect scores and were practically foolproof, or at least as infallible as a seat can be.
Infant seats, Chicco Keyfit 30 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both earned 9 of 10 for ease of installation using the LATCH method. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both received 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight earned 10 of 10 in both methods of installation for convertible seats. The Essentials by Britax Emblem and Essentials by Britax Allegiance each earned 8s for installation using LATCH and 7s for installation with the vehicle belt. The Clek Foonf earned 10 and 9 for these metrics respectively. The Essentials seats both earned an 8 of 10 for crash safety tests and impressive ease of installation performance.
All of the seats we tested, and for sale in the United States, have passed Federal safety standards for crash testing. Because of this, the seats we tested can be considered safe, and they provide a basic level of protection as required by US Federal law. With this in mind, our focus for crash test scoring is identifying seats with crash test performance that goes beyond the Federal requirements and exceeds the crash test performance of the competition in this review. As a result, those seats can be considered as providing an extra margin of protection based on their crash test performance.
Does my lifestyle matter?
When it comes to seat options, your lifestyle might be a consideration in your purchasing decisions. Suburban parents often have their own car and a place to install baby's seat in a semi-permanent way with few changes. Other parents may live in a large city where they frequent Uber and taxis, requiring their seat to be fairly mobile and installed repeatedly over and over. Having a lightweight easy to install seat will be more important to urban parents than it will be to others. If you won't be carrying your seat around, then your options are wider because the weight isn't a factor. If you will be carrying the seat from place to place, then some of the heavier seats may be out of the question.
The Clek Foonf (above left) is a heavy seat weighing in between 34-38 lbs. But convertible seat weight isn't a big deal for most people since it usually spends most of its life installed in your car. However, if you need to run to catch a cab carrying the seat with the baby in tow, you are likely to prefer the scant 9 lbs of the Evenflo Tribute LX (above right). Don't mind carrying extra weight if it means more features or higher performance scores than the Evenflo Tribute LX? The Essentials seats are about 18.5 lbs with reasonable prices below $250.
When considering infant seats the weight of the carrier may play a role for similar reasons. Carriers can be heavy, and when combined with baby's weight, could be prohibitively heavy. If you plan to attach the carrier to a stroller, then weight may play less of a role, but if you plan to hold your carrier or you travel frequently, then weight may be more of a factor.
Are you an urbanite looking for an infant carrier? Then you might consider the ease of installation without the base when making your choice, as you are more likely to be installing the seat in an Uber sans base to save yourself the lugging around weight. This is perfectly safe to do, and the seats are designed with this in mind, but some are far easier to install without the base than others, so choosing the easiest, high-ranking option will make your life easier. The UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) scored well in our tests for installation without the base, and it also attaches to several popular and award-winning strollers, like the UPPAbaby Vista and UPPAbaby Cruz. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above right) also scored well for installation without the base, but it is compatible with fewer full-size strollers, so depending on your needs, the Mesa may be a better choice. Want to go for a stroll once you get where you are going? The Doona lets you install and stroll with ease thanks to the connected stroller parts that fold under the carrier when installing in a car.
Is a broader weight range better?
Infant style seats make claims of being appropriate for baby up to a defined weight limit, convertible seats have limits as well, only higher. Infant seats usually range between 4 lbs and a maximum weight of 30-45 lbs, while convertible seats are 5 to 55 lbs (or higher depending on the seat). Should this range be a consideration when you make your purchase? No, probably not.
Well, most babies will outgrow the height limits before they reach the weight limit for most infant seats, and the same can often be said of the convertible seats as well.
According to the CDC's infant boy age vs weight growth chart (pdf), a 95th percentile baby boy (which means a baby growing faster than 94 babies out of 100, that's one big boy!) will still weigh under 28 lbs and be close to 32 inches on their 1 year birthday. Most infants will transition out of their infant seat and into a convertible seat between 9-12 months based on height. You can see from the data that even the fastest growing boy will fail to exceed the maximum weight of the majority of seats in this review, but he could grow too tall for the seat, which will prompt the transition before his weight plays a role. So while having an idea of how long baby can use the seat is good, it is really only a vague estimate, and in the end, restrictions will have more to do with height than weight. For this reason, we wouldn't make a seat's weight range a deciding factor in your purchasing decision unless it is below 30 lbs for an infant seat. Even if your baby is super tall, you would just move to the convertible seat earlier, which is no big deal and still safe.
Your little one should stay in a rear-facing seat as long as possible. This will be limited by your baby's weight and the manufacturer recommendations for the seat as not all options allow for extended rear-facing time. The law in most locales require that babies stay rear-facing until 2 years old, but it is ideal for babies to sit rear-facing as long as the seat will allow. Even if your toddler's legs are bent, the rear-facing position is still the safest installation. The Clek Foonf has rear-facing capabilities up to 50 lbs; this is the highest in this group.
All of the top scoring infant seats we tested have height limits of at least 30 inches, and weight ranges from 4 to at least 30 lbs. Convertible seats have a height range of 46 to 49 inches or ears below the top of the shell and weight ranges of 5 to 40 lbs rear facing and 20 to 55 lbs forward facing (with several top-ranked seats working up to 65 lbs). The Evenflo Tribute LX is the exception with a forward facing limit that tops out at 40 lbs, which will necessitate an additional purchase before the competition.
What about travel systems?
Travel systems include an infant carrier and a compatible stroller. These can come as a predetermined set or you can buy a seat and compatible stroller separately. Given the safety considerations, we do not think parents should choose an infant seat based on a desired stroller. In addition, pre-arranged sets often have slightly less impressive components than you'd get if you created a combination and bought them separately yourself. We think it is best for parents to decide on the right infant seat for their baby before determining the best stroller that works with the seat. With a few exceptions, like the Safety 1st onBoard Air 35, most infant seats are compatible with at least a couple of popular strollers with the purchase of an adapter. We found the Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat to be compatible with the majority of the full-size strollers we've personally tested. Choosing this affordable, high-scoring seat, will give you the most versatile seat for stroller compatibility.
Narrowing your possibilities based on how you plan to use the seat and the ease of installation test results should provide you with a handful of top contenders. From there, you can base your purchase decision on crash test results and/or budget-related concerns. The award winners above are great seats with a variety of features and functionality to suit almost any need or lifestyle. They also include a range of prices providing an option for almost every budget. We think parents should focus on the correct style for their baby's age (infant or convertible) to narrow the field, and we encourage parents to resist the temptation to buy a convertible option for their infant. Most importantly, we encourage you tocontact an expert for assistance with proper car seat installation no matter what style or model you choose. You can make a free appointment, get help fast, and feel confident that your chosen seat is correctly installed to ensure maximum safety for your baby! It won't matter how your chosen seat performed during crash testing if you don't install or use it correctly.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & the BabyGearLab Testing Team