Are you looking for the best convertible car seat for your growing baby? We considered over 40 possible contenders for testing before picking 17 popular convertible car seats to compared side-by-side to find the best choices. We take each car seat through months of in-depth testing that includes crash test performance, installation, ease of use, and more to give you the details you need to find the right car seat for your baby's needs and your budget. We purchased two of each car seat in this review, one for crash testing and one for in-house testing, so you can trust that our results are honest and unbiased.
Best Convertible Car Seats of 2019
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|Pros||Easy to install and use, cozy comfort, nice quality||Great crash test results, easy to use, attractive price, lighter||Great crash test results, easy to install, high quality and comfy||Best crash test results, rear-facing till 50 lbs, price||Price, easy to use, best head sensor crash test|
|Cons||Average crash test results||Harder to install using the vehicle belt||Expensive, heavier, stiff buckle||Not the best quality, harder belt installation||Less padding, somewhat harder to install using vehicle belt|
|Bottom Line||Impressive option with quality features and super easy installation parents will love||A lightweight, easy to use seat with excellent crash test result and price||Comfortable with better crash test results but this quality option comes with a higher price||Best crash test results on a budget-friendly seat that lets little ones sit rear-facing for longer||Better crash test results make this easy to use, inexpensive seat a winner|
|Rating Categories||Boulevard...||Britax Emblem||Nuna RAVA||Graco Extend2Fit||Britax Allegiance|
|Crash Test (35%)|
|Ease Of Install LATCH (20%)|
|Ease Of Install Belt (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Comfort Quality (10%)|
|Weight Size (5%)|
|Specs||Boulevard...||Britax Emblem||Nuna RAVA||Graco Extend2Fit||Britax Allegiance|
|Min/Max Rear Facing Passenger Weight||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 50 lbs||4 - 50 lbs||5 - 40 lbs|
|Min/Max Forward Facing Passenger Weight||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs||25 - 65 lbs||22 - 64 lbs||20 - 65 lbs|
|Max Rear Facing Passenger Height||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Not Listed||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint|
|Max Forward Facing Passenger Height||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.||49"||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the seat shell.||49" and the child's ears must be below the top of the head restraint.|
|Measured Rear Facing Seat Weight||29.5 lbs||18.8 lbs||25.8 lbs||18.7 lbs||18.5 lbs|
|Measured Forward Facing Seat Weight||28.4 lbs||18.8 lbs||25.4 lbs||18.7 lbs||18.5 lbs|
|Recline Positions||7||1 Rear Facing
2 Forward Facing
|5 Rear Facing
5 Forward Facing
|4 Rear Facing
3 Forward Facing
|1 Rear Facing
2 Forward Facing
|Max Recline Angle||51°||42°||40°||51°||42°|
|Shoulder Harness Positions||14||10||10||10||10|
|Crotch Strap Positions||2||2||2||2||2|
|Built in Lock Off||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|No Rethread Harness||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Onboard Manual Storage||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Level Indicator On Seat||Ball in Tube.||Line on Decal||Indicator on base||Ball in Tube.||Line on Decal|
|Seat Lifespan||10 yrs||7||10 yrs||7 yrs||7|
|Warranty||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year|
Best Overall Convertible Car Seat
The Britax Emblem is a quality convertible seat that has non-rethread height adjustment, push-button LATCH connectors, and better padding and fabric for comfort. This seat earned impressive crash test results indicating a higher potential margin of safety and is very easy to use compared to the competition. The overall look and feel of this product are better than most of the competition, and its self-contained design means it is easy to clean and looks sharp.
The Emblem is a little harder to install than other Britax options but only because you have to tighten the straps manually. A slightly harder installation might give some parents pause, but unless you have limiting factors that prevent you from pulling a strap, we don't think it's a big deal. It is easier than several competitors and similar to other high-ranking products. We believe the Emblem is a top contender that provides better crash test results for a reasonable price with easy to use features and an overall nice look and feel. Overall, the Emblem is a great convertible seat and one we'd recommend to a friend.
Read review: Britax Emblem
Best Crash Test Result
The Graco Extend2Fit has the best score for crash test results with combined head and chest sensor results that surpass the competition. This seat also earned impressive results for LATCH installation, which could translate to increases safety as many injuries in accidents are related to installation errors. These results mean the Extend2Fit potentially provides an additional margin of protection over the competition in this review, making it an excellent choice for those looking for top safety results. Add to this that the Extend2Fit can stay rear-facing for longer than the majority of seats (up to 50 lbs) and you have a delightful cocktail of factors that creates a safer environment for baby and makes parents smile.
The Extend2Fit isn't the best quality, and it feels like it doesn't offer as much for comfort as similarly priced seats, so it might be less cozy over long distances. However, despite this concern, the Graco is a good choice for parents who want the very best crash test results and see value in the rear-facing safety potential over style and padding.
Read review: Graco Extend2Fit
Best Bang for the Buck
Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX is not a top-ranked seat, which makes it a dark horse compared to our usual Best Value winner. Why the award then? This car seat has the second best combined crash test results and the lowest price making it a standout that proves it is a worthwhile competitor for parents on a strict budget or looking for a second seat. The Evenflo has a price significantly lower than the competition, a machine washable cover, easy to use vehicle belt pathway, and one of the easiest buckles in the business. This option is also the lightest seat in the review at just over 9 lbs and is narrow at 17 inches. These factors make it one to consider if you need to carry a car seat regularly or need to fit multiple safety seats in a row.
While it may not be what every family wants given the lower quality materials and lack of added comfort features, we believe it is a good product for the price and a great choice for parents with limited funds. You may need to pay more attention to installation to ensure it is done correctly given the lower installation performance we experienced. But, for us, it feels right to honor any product that provides an additional margin of safety that almost anyone can afford.
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB earned the highest overall score in our tests with perfect scores for both installation methods creating a practically foolproof car seat for installation, which is how it earned a Top Pick for Ease of Installation award. Thanks to the innovative ClickTight and strap tightening design, this product practically installs itself with only a little help from you. We love the non-rethread harness with ten height variations, seamless fabric, closed-shell design, and three layers of padding for baby's long term comfort.
This product is not the best choice for parent's on a tight budget as it is one of the most expensive choices we tested. It also isn't the one if you are looking for the absolute best crash test results, as they are only average. However, the Boulevard has impressive performance in most metrics, making it a good seat we like if your budget allows. Given that many injuries result from an incorrectly installed car seat, this seat is a contender for parents worried about installation, thanks to the ridiculously easy ClickTight technology.
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
Top Pick for Narrow Width
The Clek Foonf is an innovative car seat that earns top marks for ease of installation using the LATCH method with cool forward-facing rigid LATCH anchors that are so simple you'll think you missed a step. The Foonf is also easy to install using the vehicle belt, and it offers impressive comfort and quality you can see and feel compared to the competition. This seat features a detachable angle booster, anti-rebound bar, steel frame (similar to a vehicle seat), and an adjustable headrest for comfort, making it an option parents and babies will enjoy.
The Foonf is not cheap, so parents on a budget will need to plan ahead or pick another great seat. It is also really heavy, and you probably won't want to move it from car to car regularly or plan to travel with their seat. Despite these issues, the Foonf brings a lot to the table and offers additional safety features many parents desire. This seat is a cool option we think parents will love and one our founder and Mom-in-Chief, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, uses with her children. Dr. Spurrier loves the Clek's quality, finds it easy to use, and her kids love it.
Read review: Clek Foonf
Not all competitors can be award-winners, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth considering. The seat below is an impressive option you might consider, especially if you have the Britax Emblem on your list of possibilities but need something with a smaller price tag.
Quality at a Good Price
The Britax Allegiance is an affordable car seat that brings Britax quality together with a lower price. The Allegiance earned the second-highest score for crash test results thanks to the best head sensor result; it is also easy to install using LATCH which creates a seat with an additional margin of protection compared to the competition. This car seat is also easy to use, making it an all-around great option for families who want a straightforward, safe, easy to use choice.
The Allegiance is somewhat harder to install using the vehicle belt over the LATCH system. With a score of 7 of 10, it isn't challenging, but it will take more care and attention to detail to ensure a secure fit. It also isn't most comfortable with less padding and unbolstered headrest design. Despite these minor hiccups, the Allegiance is one we think parents will love for everything it offers and its budget-friendly price. The Allegiance failed to win an award because of its similarities to the Britax Emblem and the small price difference. However, we think it is a notable and respectable option that could potentially save you some money while providing a great seat.
Read review: Britax Allegiance
Why You Should Trust Us
With 5 years and over 400 hours of convertible car seat analysis and crash testing under our belts, BabyGearLab is uniquely qualified to relay detailed information on convertible car seats and how they compare to the competition and the Federal safety guidelines. Our panel of experts was pulled from our Infant Car Seat review to leverage the knowledge obtained during that testing for this review of convertible car seats. Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a Board Certified Pediatrician, mother, and founder of BabyGearLab once again led the team to create a comprehensive testing and analysis plan. Dr. Spurrier has a background in urgent pediatric care that helped inform her about crash-related injuries and the safety risks of commonly occurring car seat installation mistakes, which has been shown to significantly influence the potential for injury. Because of this, our process encompasses professional convertible car seat crash testing, in-house installation testing in a variety of vehicles, and ease of use, to create an analysis of every factor that impacts both safety and everyday use.
The development of our in-house testing regime was overseen by Certified Passenger Safety Technician, Bob Wofford. Bob assesses first hand how to install each seat properly (or improperly) for the highest level of safety. In the beginning, we consulted with experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about their protocol and crash test results. We contracted with MGA Research, the same national testing facility that has the compliance contract for FMVSS 213 assessing the safety of every car seat in the US. Each convertible car seat included in our review was crash tested according to the same crash test protocol used by the US Federal Safety Standards. We analyze the crash test data to create our crash test scores, and we also share the actual data from each seat's crash test, so you get the real data to help you make a decision.
Senior Review Editor, and mother of two, Wendy Schmitz, once again leads the analysis of the convertible car seat results as she has for the last 5 years examining, comparing and rating each seats specific performance against the competition.
Testing for the best convertible car seats of 2019 starts by purchasing two units of each seat, one for crash testing with MGA, and another for extensive testing with over 200 hours of abuse and observations on seats from real-world parents and our in-house testers. We have a rigorous testing process that includes installing each seat in at least 3 different vehicles using both installation methods with multiple testers. We review each products padding, covers, harness adjustments, and more.
We perform 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 comprehensive set of tests based on our infant car seat testing process. We used these methods in conjunction with the crash test data, to determine how seats perform in everyday use and impact force measurements recorded during structured crash tests.
Each convertible car seat in this review is compared side-by-side in multiple metrics. While all of the safety seats for sale in the US meet the minimum safety guidelines outlined by the Federal government, not all of them are easy to install or offer an additional margin of protection compared to the competition.
Related: How We Tested Convertible Car Seats
Analysis and Test Results
In this review, we include the information you need to make an informed decision about which convertible car seat is the right choice for your baby and your budget. We determine the overall scores for each product using performance results with an emphasis on how easy the seats are to install and their crash test results.
Experts agree that you should keep your child rear-facing until at least two years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as the NHTSA, both recommend keeping your baby rear-facing as long as your car seat allows, and at least until age 2. A study published in Injury Prevention in 2007 shows that the rear-facing position results in a 5.3 times lower risk of death or serious injury in a car accident compared to the forward-facing position for children age 1-2 years old. The Clek Foonf and the Graco Extend2Fit can both remain rear-facing until your child weighs 50 lbs.
There are good deals everywhere in this lineup complete with a variety of Best Value winners and lower-priced options. Some seats with impressive crash test scores and ease of installation, things we value in a really good car seat. With several award-winning car seats sporting relatively affordable prices and crash test results of 8 of 10 or better, you can rest assured that you are getting a seat with an additional margin of protection without breaking the bank. The Evenflow Tribute LX and the Britax Allegiance sport a score of 8 for crash test results yet are among the most inexpensive seats. Looking for top marks for crash tests? Take a look at the Graco Extend2Fit, which is affordable, yet has the highest score for crash test result analysis in the review and the ability to stay rear-facing longer. The Britax Emblem maybe a little more than those mentioned above, but it is still cheaper than the average for the group, and it is one of the best overall seats in the group.
Crash Test Performance
BabyGearLab contracts with the same crash test facility that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses to perform our convertible seat crash tests. The seats are all tested using the same protocol NHTSA uses based on the guidelines outlined in the FMVSS 213 standard.
We perform a detailed analysis of the sensor data from each car seat's crash dummy to determine how they perform compared to the competition and the Federal safety standard. To help you understand a bit more about crash tests, we include graphs that compare crash test results of each option to the top-performing products.
While it might seem intuitive that a more expensive seat should be safer, this isn't necessarily the case as we've found during our testing. A great example are the Britax ClickTight seats that have super easy installation features and higher prices but did not perform well during professional crash testing (repeated testing). In fact, the cheaper Britax Emblem and Britax Allegiance both have better crash test sensor results than the ClickTight options proving price isn't always a factor when it comes to potential safety or crash test results. Another example includes the best-combined sensor results from the Graco Extend2Fit, which has a below-average list price that is significantly lower than the ClickTight models. We encourage parents to consider the crash safety results outside of what the product costs.
So, what is the most critical information from crash impact tests when analyzing results?
- The risk of head injury related to the HIC result
- The risk of chest injury related to the chest clip (g clip) result
An analysis of auto crash injuries for children show that head and chest injuries are the two most significant risks of fatal or severe injuries.
All of the convertible car seats we test have passed the Federal minimum safety standards. Therefore, every seat has at least 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 exceed the Federal requirements by a wide margin. These car 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 in the head and chest of a crash test dummy that is buckled into a car seat 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 risk of injury is greater when children are forward-facing, and the heavier 3 yr old test dummy provides a more strenuous test of the seat's ability. 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 measurably. 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 graph shows the actual G-forces recorded on the head of the crash test dummy for the Britax Allegiance (green line) and the Diono Radian RXT (black line). Both the Allegiance and the Diono results are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Allegiance is the seat in this review that offers the highest margin of protection with a HIC score of only 186 — this is the lowest HIC score for the seats we tested. The Allegiance also shows lower G-forces (with a max G-force of 43 Gs vs. 53.2 Gs for the Diono).
When analyzing crash test results, we ranked seats by the percentage that each result is below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC (lower is better). We focused on how large a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum 1000 HIC. One could consider the car seats with lower HIC scores as providing an additional margin of protection compared to the competition.
Understanding the Chest (g) Clip Score
The same crash dummies include sensors in the chest region to measure impact forces in the chest. The results from the chest sensors are used to calculate the Chest (g) Clip result, which is the value that attempts to measure the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs located in the chest. To pass the Federal safety requirements, all of the seats must achieve a score less than 60 for the Chest (g) Clip.
The graph 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 chest clip result of 33.4 Gs; this is significantly lower than Diono's maximum of 53.2 Gs. Once again, lower values are better.
We looked at the percentage below the Federal maximum 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 maximum Chest (G) Clip score. Seats further below the Federal maximum chest score have a more significant percentage difference, and one could consider them as potentially providing an additional margin of protection.
Additional Safety Features
Even though some seats have additional features that manufacturers claim will improve the seat's safety, we did not include these features or claims in our crash test score analysis. Because manufacturers do not publish comparison test data for us to analyze or test, it is impossible to determine their efficacy. We understand that you may be curious about side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar (ARB), but we encourage you to proceed with caution when it comes to making a decision-based solely on these features. In the end, there is no way to tell what each manufacturer means when they use terminology that lacks an agreed-upon meaning (like SIP). This lack of information makes it difficult (or impossible) to compare seats that make similar claims, especially without a universally agreed-upon language to describe what the claims genuinely mean.
We will say that preliminary test results do indicate that anti-rebound bars can potentially improve the results from the crash test dummy sensors in comparison to not using the anti-rebound bar.
How well a seat performs in a crash test environment means little if it isn't installed properly in the car according to the manufacturer guidelines. Poor installation of a car seat or a poorly fitted harness can potentially result in injury or death in the event of an accident. It is an excellent idea to seek professional help from a car seat inspection technician when you purchase a new seat or move a seat to a different vehicle.
Best Seats Based on Crash Test Analysis
We rated each seat compared to the competition using a 1-10 scoring system using crash test report analysis. The scoring helps quantify the products that offer an additional margin of protection, in our opinion, over and above the basic level of protection found in all of the seats.
The Graco Extend2Fit earned our best crash test rating with 9 of 10 thanks to excellent Chest (g) Clip and HIC scores. The Nuna Rava has similar sensor results earning an 8 of 10. While neither have the best score for either sensor, they do have the best combined scores when considering both Chest and HIC result. The Britax Allegiance has the best (lowest) HIC result for the group with a just over an average result for the Chest Clip; these results help it earn the second-best score in the group with an 8. The Britax Emblem, Evenflo Tribute LX and Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 also earned 8s. The Clek Foonf has the best chest clip score in the group, but its HIC result is below average, which results in a third-place rank and a crash-test score of 7.
Ease of Install Using LATCH
Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 car seats are incorrectly installed, or the harness is not properly fitted. Because of this, we consider ease of installation and ease of use to be critical metrics when choosing a safety seat as they potentially impact the overall safety potential of the seat.
The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) method for installation was created to make it easier for parents to install car seats correctly, with fewer mistakes. This assumption means the easiest way to install a car seat should be using your vehicle's LATCH system. We recommend the use of LATCH if possible, to increase your chances of installing the seat correctly. Nearly all convertible car seats have the LATCH connectors 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.
In our testing, we discovered that some seats are easier to install using LATCH over the vehicle belt, but surprisingly at least a third are easier to install using the vehicle belt instead of LATCH. The main culprit to using LATCH? Some testers have difficulty tightening the LATCH connector straps enough to secure the seat correctly.
The Clek Foonf (above left) uses a rigid LATCH connection for forward-facing installation. It is stupidly easy and requires NO strap tightening. You just push the rigid LATCH connectors onto the anchors, and that's it! The Clek Foonf tied with the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB for the highest score for LATCH installation as both seats do not require tightening by the user. The Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 has the clip style of LATCH connection (above right) that we find harder to use; this clip is more complicated to remove and requires twisting to the side to disconnect. The Safety 1st earned the lowest score in the review for LATCH installation with a 3 of 10. While both anchor styles are considered safe, we find the button style easier to use.
Our favorite seat to install using LATCH is the Clek because of the rigid LATCH for forward-facing installation. This LATCH style is part of why the Clek Foonf earned a Top Pick for Innovation. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB is also super easy, while the Britax Emblem and Allegiance seats and the Chicco NextFit are almost as easy. The Chicco NextFit has a unique LATCH with a 2-step strap tightening system that is very easy to use and tighten with little strength required.
Studies show that the center of the vehicle rear seat is the safest spot to install your car 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 LATCH connectors that should be the easiest and safest way to install a car seat. What's the problem? Most vehicles do not offer LATCH anchors in the center location, and even if the inner LATCH anchors from the side positions are close enough to use, most vehicle and seat manuals do not allow the use of these LATCH anchors for the center position installation.
If your vehicle doesn't allow the LATCH method in the center location, then 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 the seat is securely and tightly anchored to the vehicle.The questions on installation in the center seat are:
- Should you make an effort to install the seat with the vehicle belt?
- Is the seat as secure when anchored to the center seat with a vehicle belt as it is on the side seat using LATCH?
Using the vehicle belt to attach a car seat to the car is a perfectly safe and acceptable method of installation (and possibly the only option for center positioning), as long as you can 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 installation of the seat is correct than the location of the seat is in the center. If you have two children, you may not have a choice but to use the side seat locations as most cars don't have enough room for a side and center installation simultaneously. If your vehicle doesn't offer LATCH anchors for the center seat, but you are sold on center seat installation, 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. Also, you can locate an installation professional for assistance using the vehicle belt.
The LATCH clips and anchors are only part of the LATCH equation. Whether or not the straps attached to the clips are easy to tighten and loosen are also factors. As previously noted, the Clek Foonf lacks straps for forward-facing installation, and the Chicco NextFit has its "SuperCinch" method with a 2-step tightening system engineered to do the hard work for you.
Alternatively, we had trouble getting the straps on the Safety 1st tight enough for a secure feel. The LATCH straps on the Evenflo Tribute LX are relatively easy to tighten, but we had difficulty loosening the strap to uninstall the seat. We gave more points to products that didn't require body weight to tighten or any significant struggling for a secure fit.
Ease of Install — Vehicle Belt
If you plan to install your seat in the center position of your vehicle or it doesn't have LATCH anchors, then you will need to know more about installing your seat with the vehicle belt. Many center seats do not offer LATCH anchors, even though it is the safest location to install the seat. Even if you don't plan to do this, most of the products in this review have a LATCH use weight limit. Most have a limit of about 40 - 50 lbs of child weight before the seat will require vehicle belt installation. Given that many of the products have a weight limit of 50-80 lbs, you can see that your child could be using the seat for an extended period utilizing the vehicle belt installation.
Don't despair! We are going to tell you which seats were the easiest to install using the vehicle belt and give you information on installing them correctly or where to get help if you are unsure or something doesn't seem right.
There is a fantastic FREE resource for parents nationwide that can help you quickly learn how to 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 to all parents, even if you feel like you have installation dialed in. You may even find that your local fire station or police department has a CPS technician on staff to help you. Better safe than sorry is our motto for installation.
Simplicity is the Benefit of the Seat Belt Lock-Off
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.
Several seats 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 of these seats ranked near the top and have 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. The Britax ClickTight car seats don't have a traditional lock-off, but the pressure of the seat bottom closure acts as a lock-off and prevents the creeping car seat problem (sliding back and forth on the vehicle belt) we often see in car seats without a lock-off.
Coincidence? We think not.
Some lock-offs work a little better than others, but even those that are difficult to manage still provide a more secure feeling installation in our tests than the seats that don't have a lock-off. We found that the options with a lock-off were every bit as secure when installed with a belt as they were with the LATCH and some even more so. This fact can be a relief when you need to install the seat with a belt, which is highly likely given the weight limit associated with the LATCH system.
We find that lock-offs can help a seat feel more secure, but some lock-offs are easier to use. The Clek Foonf lock-off (above left) is super easy to use, even though you need to lift the seat bottom to access the rear-facing lock-off. The Chicco NextFit (above right) is also easy, and the lock-off is conveniently located on the outside of the shell.
In our tests, the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB is the easiest option to install using the belt thanks to the "ClickTight" 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 bottom until it clicks. The seat bottom tightens and secures the seat for you. The Boulevard earned a 10 of 10 for this installation method.
The Clek Foonf is one of the easier seats 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, which is almost as good as its LATCH score and is better than the LATCH score of much of the competition. The Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB is also easy to install using the vehicle belt earning a 9. The most challenging seat to install using the vehicle belt is the Safety 1st. It doesn't have a built-in lock-off, and during our testing, we struggled to get the belt tight enough for the seat to feel secure.
Except for the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible, the seats lacking a lock-off did not score as well as those with a lock-off. The Evenflo Tribute LX and the Graco MyRide 65 LX both earned just 6, but interestingly they are still easier to install with the vehicle belt than using LATCH. The Chicco NextFit and the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible earned 8s.
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, it will be fully retracted.
Ease of Use
At first glance, many of these convertible seats have a similar overall design with few minor differences, most of which appear to be cosmetic. Where they diverge is 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 Ease of Use metric includes everyday functionality. These features include items like harness adjustment and buckles, ease of tightening or loosening the harness, and cover removal and cleaning. If your daily experience with a seat is frustrating, you might be tempted to avoid using it as indicated by the manufacturer, or you could end up unhappy.
Buckles and Chest Clips
None of the buckle buttons are easy to use. While some buckles like the Evenflo Tribute and Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 were easy enough with sides that pop out with the push of the button, others like the Diono Radian RXT are so hard you'll need two hands. Most of the seats have a middle of the road buckle that is stiff but won't require cuss words or steel fingers.
The chest clip is part of the harness attachment along with the buckle. The Graco chest clips are the most difficult to use in our tests, with clips that require excessive squeezing of small buttons that hurt to operate. The best chest clip is the Diono Radian, but it has the worst buckle. None of the seats offer great buckles and chest clips, but the Britax seats are okay for both. Given that buckles are more difficult in general, it is probably best to focus on buckle ease over chest clips.
The Chicco NextFit has a unique chest clip with a two-setting adjustment feature for a customizable fit. While this feature is interesting, we think it makes the clip a little harder to use. The Cybex Sirona M with SensorSafe 2.0 also has a unique chest clip that includes the SensorSafe technology that relays a variety of different information to a device connected to the car and your smartphone. While interesting, it does emit EMF, and you'll need to decide if the feature is compelling enough to expose your child to EMF.
Harness Tightening and Loosening
Tightening and loosening the harness uses the pull strap at the bottom of the seat, and the release button found near the tightening strap. Some of the straps are harder to pull, and the buttons come are either press or lift. The Graco MyRide and Britax Boulevard, CLickTight ARB, earn the high scores for tightening and loosening. The Clek Foonf and the Evenflo Tribute also have very easy to operate straps and buttons. The hardest to use is the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with a somewhat hidden button and a strap that is challenging to pull. While some are harder to tighten than others, none are impossible.
Adjusting the Harness
There are two ways to adjust the harness height on convertible car seats with slight variations for design differences. The simpler method is a non-rethread design that adjusts by moving a headrest/harness shoulder strap assembly up and down the back of the seat (above left). 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 (above right). While not 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 immediately with the baby in the seat. We prefer the non-rethread version because it is simpler and we think parents are more likely to adjust the harness when necessary instead of delaying. We worry parents will realize the harness needs adjustment after their baby is in the seat and will put off adjusting the straps repeatedly over time. Given that injuries can occur when harnesses are not properly fitted, we prefer non-rethread functionality.
About half of the car seats in our review offer non-rethread harness adjustment. The easiest to use are the Britax Marathon ClickTight, Britax Boulevard ClickTight, Britax Advocate ClickTight, Nuna Rava, and Cybex Sirona M with SensorSafe 2.0 with squeeze handles and harness assemblies that move smoothly up and down. The Britax Emblem and Britax Allegiance are also easy to use. The most challenging non-rethread version is the Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 that has dual levers you turn simultaneously before the assembly can move. This process isn't straightforward, and the plastic levers fall off easily. Unfortunately, the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 height assembly broke during testing and would not engage automatically. We had to manually engage it from the back (which is not safe in the real world and the seat should be replaced), resulting in it earning one of the lowest scores. We can't say they will all break, just that ours did with minimal use in a short time. The rethread options take more time and effort, which inherently makes them more challenging.
LATCH storage on infant car seats is critical as the straps can cause interference when attaching the carrier to the base. LATCH storage isn't as important for convertible car seats, but it is helpful if the straps are not accessible by children and can't cause potential injuries. Some seats have pockets to contain clips, while the typical design includes attaching the clips to back loops or to each other.
The Chicco NextFit (above left) has cool pockets where the LATCH components and tether stow. It is one of the few products in this review that keeps the straps and clips out of the way. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible, Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB, Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB, and the Clek Foonf also offer storage that keeps the clips contained. One of the least productive storage methods are clip attachments on the seatback of the Safety 1st Alpha Elite (above right) that cause the straps to dangle.
Cover Removal and Cleaning
Because car seats see a lot of action, we test how hard the fabric covers are to remove and how difficult they are to wash. We prefer covers that are easy to remove and machine washable. We like hand washing over spot cleaning, but given the potential for vomit and diaper blowouts, it is best if the cover is machine washable. The Clek Foonf is the only seat without a removable cover. This seat is spot clean only, and while you can purchase a cleaning kit from Clek, you may need a steam cleaner if the mess is big. The Evenflo Tribute LX is the top scorer for both ease of fabric removal and ease of cleaning. This simple cover comes off quickly, is machine washable, can be thrown in the dryer, and goes back on the shell without a hiccup. This process is a significant boon over the competition that requires handwashing and laying flat to dry, like the Britax ClickTight products four-part covers.
When it comes to comfort and quality, we compare each seat and their materials. We look at the padding, fabric, foam and how well it all comes together to make the final product. We consider each factor and how it contributes to baby's comfort, parent use, and longevity.
All of the products share commonalities like plastic shells, dense foam for impact absorption, and comfort padding with a fabric cover. However, some of the car seats offer significantly thicker padding, softer or more durable fabric, steel frames, or foam that doesn't off-gas. Because this metric is somewhat subjective, the seats in this review are compared side-by-side and ranked in comparison to one another.
The Chicco NextFit (above left), Nuna Rava, Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB, Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB, and the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB are standouts for comfort and quality. These products offer exceptional padding with seamless fabric attachments and pockets that provide a place for everything. The Chicco fabric is soft and skin-friendly; the seat is self-contained with a sleek look. Alternatively, the Evenflo Tribute (above right) is bare-bones but functions well despite the lack of extras and in spite of an open back that looks unfinished. However, it does have a machine washable cover and a higher crash test analysis. The Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Britax Emblem, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible came in second for comfort and quality.
We check the weight and width of each seat we review. We considered their forward-facing and rear-facing weight and the width at the widest point. While the weight is not as important as the carrier weight of an infant car seat, it might be important if you travel with your seat or live where taxi or Uber services are the norm. If the seat stays in your car most of the time, then you probably don't need to worry about weight.
The Clek Foonf is the heaviest seat in the group. For the rear-facing configuration, it is over 38 lbs thanks to the anti-rebound bar and seat angle attachment. The forward-facing configuration isn't much better with a weight of over 33 lbs. However, the Clek Foonf (below left) is narrow measuring only 17 inches. This width means you may be able to fit three seats across a typical back seat or two seats with a person in the middle. The Evenflo Tribute (below right) is the lightest seat at slightly over 9 lbs, and it is also 17 inches wide. The Evenflo, Clek fllo, and the Clek Foonf are the narrowest products in this review. Unfortunately, the Evenflo requires a towel for proper rear-facing installation in our tests, so it may not be the best for travelers. The majority of high scoring seats are on the heavier side, presumably thanks to increased padding and a steel (or alloy) frame design that can add considerable weight. Several top scoring seats weigh in around 18 lbs, which is neither light nor super heavy. The widest option in the group is the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 and we think it will be challenging to use this seat with more than two across and even then, an average-sized adult will not be able to sit between the seats.
For most, a convertible seat's weight is unlikely to impact their buying decision because it typically remains in the car. However, the width of the seat bottom could be a factor if you have more than one child in a safety seat or narrow back seat. If your car seat will remain in one vehicle most of the time, then you don't need to worry much about its weight, and we recommend that you pick the highest ranking choice that meets your needs.
Purchasing a convertible car seat doesn't need to be a challenge. Armed with the details from this review, we believe you can narrow the field to one or two contenders that meet both their budget and needs.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz