Are you trying to find the best convertible car seat for your growing baby? So were we! We considered over 30 possible contenders for our review and testing before picking 15 popular convertible seats to determine which options are the best. We took each car seat through months of in-depth, side-by-side testing that includes crash test performance, installation, ease of use, and more, to give you the details you need to choose the best seat for your little one's needs and your wallet. We purchased the convertible car seats in this review for crash testing and in-house testing so you can trust that our results are honest and unbiased.
The Best Convertible Car Seats of 2018
$329.99 at Amazon - 13% off
$449.99 at Amazon
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|Pros||Easy to install and use, cozy comfort, nice quality||Anti-rebound bar, easy to install, steel frame||Price, better crash test results, easy to use, lighter||Easy ClickTight installation, comfy quality||Price, easy to use, best head sensor crash test|
|Cons||Average crash test results||Higher price, heavy, rethread harness||Harder to install using the vehicle belt||Heavier, price, clip LATCH anchors, below average crash test results||Less padding, somewhat harder to install using vehicle belt|
|Bottom Line||Impressive option with quality features and super easy installation parents will love||Innovative seat with unique features that looks cool and is easy to install||A lightweight, easy to use seat with better crash test result and price||Lower crash test results hurt this option that is otherwise impressive||Better crash test results make this easy to use, inexpensive seat a winner|
|Ratings Categories||Boulevard ClickTight ARB||Clek Foonf||Emblem||Marathon ClickTight ARB||Allegiance|
|Crash Test (25%)|
|Ease Of Install LATCH (25%)|
|Ease Of Install Belt (20%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Comfort Quality (10%)|
|Weight Size (5%)|
|Specs||Boulevard ClickTight ARB||Clek Foonf||Emblem||Marathon ClickTight ARB||Allegiance|
|Min/Max Rear Facing Passenger Weight||5 - 40 lbs||14 - 50 lbs||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 40 lbs||5 - 40 lbs|
|Min/Max Forward Facing Passenger Weight||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs||20 - 65 lbs|
|Max Rear Facing Passenger Height||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint||43"||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||Childs head must be at least 1 in. below the top of the head restraint|
Britax recently made changes to their convertible car seat lineup and have retired the Britax Boulevard G4.1, Marathon G4.1, and the Roundabout. While we no longer see the Roundabout online, you can still find the other two for purchase at this time. The company has launched a new sub-brand of products called Essentials™ by Britax®, which currently includes two convertible car seats that are similar to the retired seats. We have updated this review to include these two seats, plus other competitors.
Best Overall Convertible Car Seat
Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB earned the highest overall score in our tests. The Boulevard earned perfect scores for both types of installation creating a practically foolproof car seat for any parent concerned with or worried about proper installation. 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 design, closed shell design, and three layers of padding for baby's comfort.
This product is not the best choice for parent's on a budget because it is one of the most expensive options in this review. It also isn't a top choice for families who want the best crash test results as they are below average with a result of only 4 of 10. However, the Boulevard scored well in most metrics making it a good seat we recommend if your budget allows. When you consider that many injuries in accidents result from a car seat that is incorrectly installed, this seat may be the winner you are looking for given the ridiculously easy installation method.
Read review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB
Economical All-around Seat
Essentials by Britax Emblem
The Essentials by 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 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, no matter which method you choose with the vehicle belt creating the most trouble. This makes it a poor choice for parents who are worried about installation or struggle with getting car seats adequately tightened. However, it is still easier than several competitors and similar to other high-ranking products. Despite this issue, we believe the Emblem is a real competitor that provides better crash test results for a reasonable price. Parents will love how easy this option is to use, while little ones will enjoy its nappable design.
Read review: Essentials by Britax Emblem
Best Bang for the Buck
Essentials by Britax Allegiance
The Essentials by Britax Allegiance is part of a new Britax line that brings Britax quality to the market at affordable prices. The Allegiance is very similar to recently discontinued Britax products but stands alone under the "Essentials" name. The Allegiance earned the second highest score for crash test results with the best head sensor result and is easy to install using the LATCH to create a seat with an additional margin of protection compared to the competition. This car seat earned top marks for ease of use as well making it an all-around great options 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 you get it right. It is also a poor choice for parents looking for extreme comfort thanks to the limited padding and unbolstered headrest design. Despite these few disappointments, the Allegiance is one we think parents will love for everything it offers and its budget-friendly price.
Read review: Essentials by Britax Allegiance
Best for the Tightest Budget
Evenflo Tribute LX
The Evenflo Tribute LX is not a top-ranked seat overall, which makes it somewhat of a dark horse compared to our usual Best Value winner. Why the award then? Well, this product is a standout in a way that makes it a worthwhile competitor for parents on a strict budget or those looking for a second seat to round out their baby gear lineup. The Evenflo has a price tag of only $70. Yep, you read that right! Only $70! This price is significantly less than the competition and the lowest in this review. However, the Evenflo is more than just a pretty price tag. This car seat has the second best-combined crash test results in the group, a machine washable cover, easy to use vehicle belt pathway, and one of the best buckles in the business. This option is also the lightest at just over 9 lbs, so it is one to consider if you need to carry a car seat regularly or take one on travel.
While it may not be what every family is looking for 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 with a price that almost anyone can afford.
Read review: Evenflo Tribute LX
Safety on a Budget
The Graco Extend2Fit is the first Graco car seat to win an award in any of our safety seat reviews. This Graco seat has a top score for crash test results and the second place for installation using the LATCH method. These results mean the Extend2Fit potentially provides an additional margin of protection. Add to these facts that the Graco can stay rear facing for longer than the majority of seats (up to 50lbs) and you have a delightful cocktail of factors sure to make any parent smile.
The Extend2Fit earned a below average result for quality, and it feels like it doesn't offer as much for comfort as similarly priced seats. While we can accept less for comfort in the Evenflo with a price of $70, it is a harder pill to swallow in a $200 option. However, despite this concern, the Graco is the right choice for parents who want the very best crash test results and value rear-facing potential over style and padding.
Read review: Graco Extend2Fit
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 earned impressive marks for comfort and quality 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.
The Foonf is not the best choice for parents on a budget due to a higher list price than most of the competition. It is also really heavy and a bad option for parents who will be moving their car seat from car to car regularly or plan to travel with their seat. Despite these flaws, the Foonf brings a lot to the table and offers additional safety features many parents are looking for. 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
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 you and your budget. We determine the overall scores for each product using performance test results from the individual metrics with an emphasis on how easy the seats are to install and their crash test results.
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 test process and 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.
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 at least 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 up to 50 lbs.
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 and use, or offer an additional margin of protection compared to the seat next to it on the shelf.
There are good deals everywhere in this lineup complete with a variety of Best Value winners and lower-priced options, some with rather impressive scores for crash test results and ease of installation, things we value in a really good car seat. With four award-winning car seats under $240 with crash test results of 8 of 10 or better, you can feel comfortable that you are getting a car seat that offers a potential additional margin of protection without breaking your wallet. The Evenflow Tribute LX has a list price of $70 with crash test results of 8. The Essentials by Britax Allegiance also sports a score of 8 for crash test results with a price of $200. Looking for top marks for crash tests? The Graco Extend2Fit is only $200 and has the highest score for crash test result analysis in the review and the ability to stay rear-facing longer.
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 collected from each car seat's crash sled dummy to determine how each option performs compared to the competition and the Federal safety standards. To help you understand a bit more about crash tests, we include graphs that compare the actual crash test results to the top performing products in each's individual review, and they are summarized below.So, what is the most important 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 greatest risks of fatal or serious injuries.
All of the convertible car seats we test have passed the Federal minimum safety standards. Therefore, every seat we test 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 are placed 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 above shows the actual G-forces recorded on the head of the crash test dummy for the Essentials by 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).
The chart above is the crash test result data for the HIC scores for the convertible seats in this review. It also displays the percentage that each result is below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC (lower is better). We focused on analyzing how large a margin of protection each product offers below the Federal maximum 1000 HIC. One could consider the car seats represented by the taller bars on the left 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 recorded by the chest sensors were 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 area. To pass the Federal safety requirements, all of the seats must achieve a score less than 60 for the Chest (g) Clip.
The chart 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.
The chart above is a graphic representation of the percentage below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 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. The taller bars on the left of the chart are further below the Federal maximum chest score, and one could consider them as potentially providing an additional margin of protection.
Additional Safety Features
Even though some of the seats have additional features that manufacturers claim will improve the seat's safety, we chose not to include the presence of these features or claims in our crash test score analysis. Because manufacturers do not publish comparison test data for us to analyze or test the claims, it is impossible to determine their efficacy. We understand that some parents may be curious about seats that boast side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar (ARB), but we encourage parents 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 truly 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 properly installed in the car according to the manufacturer guidelines. Poor installation of a car seat or a harness that is not properly fitted 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. You may also want to read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes for additional help. While this article focuses on infant style car seats, much of the information applies to the installation of all safety seats.
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 a 9 of 10 thanks to excellent Chest (g) Clip and HIC scores. While it did not have the best score in either category, it did have the best combined scores when considering both Chest and HIC result. The Essentials by Britax Allegiance has the best (lowest) HIC result for the group with a just over average result for the Chest Clip; these results help it earn the second-best score in the group with an 8. The Clek Foonf has the best Chest Clip score in the group, but its HIC 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 not installed correctly, or the harness is not properly fitted. Because of this, we consider ease of installation and ease of use to be critical metrics to consider when purchasing 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 them 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. According to NHTSA, around 60% of parents install their car seats on one of the side positions in the rear seat.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia produced the video below; it is an excellent overview of the LATCH system and how to use it:
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 connectors enough to properly secure the seat.
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 also earned a 10, while the Essentials by Britax seats and the Chicco NextFit are almost as easy to install with 9s. 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 motor 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.
An excellent overview of this issue can be read on The Car Seat Lady's article on using LATCH in the center of the back seat.
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 that 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 the side seat locations as most cars don't have enough room for a side and center installation at the same time. If your vehicle doesn't offer LATCH anchors for the center seat, but you are sold on center seat installation only, our next section on ease of installation with a vehicle belt can help you identify which seats are easier to install using a seat belt. Additionally, you can always locate an installation professional for assistance installing your seat using the vehicle belt.
The LATCH clips and anchors are just part of the LATCH equation. Whether or not the straps attached to the clips are easy to tighten and loosen are also factors for ease of install. As previously noted, 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.
The video above shows the installation of the Clek Foonf.
Alternatively, we had trouble getting the straps on the Safety 1st tight enough for the seat to feel secure. The LATCH straps on the Evenflo Tribute LX are relatively easy to tighten, but we had difficulty loosening the strap to uninstall the seat. For scoring, we gave more points to the products that didn't require body weight to tighten or any significant struggling inside the car to achieve 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 so you can master the details to ensure a secure fit. Many center seats do not offer LATCH anchors, even though it is the safest location to place the seat. Even if you don't plan to do this, most of the products in this review have a weight limit related to using the LATCH method of installation. Most have a limit of about 40 — 50 lbs of child weight before the seat will need to 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 with 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 quickly help you 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 this installation business all dialed in, just to be sure. Finding an inspection station or technician near you is easy; all you need to do is enter your zip code on this website. You may even find that your local fire station or police department has a CPS technician on staff to help you. Better safe than sorry is our moto on this issue.
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 on board.
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 offer a more secure feeling installation in our tests than the seats that don't provide 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 any lock-off 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 nicely located on the outside of the shell.
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB is the easiest option we tested to install using the belt thanks to the "ClickTight" design and installation method. With this method, all you need to do is lift the seat bottom, thread the belt across the bottom, take out the slack (do not tighten), and close the seat bottom until it clicks. The seat bottom tightens and secures the seat for you. The Boulevard earned a 10 of 10 for installation with the belt.
The Clek Foonf is the second easiest seat in our tests to install using the vehicle belt. The lock-off works smoothly, and the belt is easy to thread. It earned a 9 in the metric, which is almost as good as its LATCH score and is better than the LATCH score of much of the competition. The Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB is also easy to install using the vehicle belt earning a 9. The most difficult seat to install using the vehicle belt is the Safety 1st. It doesn't have a lock-off, and during our testing, we struggled to get the belt tight enough for the seat to feel secure.
With the exception of the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible, the seats lacking a lock-off did not score higher than 7. 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 where they earned only 5s. The Chicco NextFit and the Peg Pergo Primo Viaggio Convertible earned 8s in this metric.
Some SUVs, trucks, and wagons have a center seat belt located on the roof of the car. Given that many people rarely or never use their rear center seat you might not have used it before, and it will be fully retracted. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a center seatbelt located on the roof of the vehicle, and how you use it. Consult your car's user manual for more information about your center seat restraint belt.
Ease of Use
At first glance, many of these convertible seats have the same look and overall design with few minor differences most of which appear to be cosmetic. Where they start to diverge is in their ease of use, with some being far easier to use than others, either due to extra features or better performance on standard features like buckles and chest clips.
The video below shows some of the features of the Clek Foonf. While not the highest ranking seat in ease of use, it does have some unique features.
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 described or you could end up unhappy with your seat choice.
Buckles and Chest Clips
None of the buckle release buttons were easy to use in our testing. 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 result in painful fingers.
The chest clip is part of the harness attachment process 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 also has the worst buckle. None of the seats offer great buckles and chest clips, but the Britax seats (including the Essentials by Britax options) and the Safety 1st Alpha Elite are okay for both. Given that buckles are more difficult in general, it is probably best to focus on buckle use over challenging chest clips.
The Chicco NextFit has a unique chest clip with a two-setting adjustment feature for a more customizable fit. While this feature is interesting, we can't say it is entirely necessary, and we think it makes the clip a little harder to use because you could think you unclipped it when you didn't.
Harness Tightening and Loosening
Tightening and loosening the harness uses the pull strap at the bottom of the seat and the release button usually found under the cover near the tightening strap. Some of the straps are harder to pull, and the buttons come in two varieties of either press or lift. The Graco MyRide and Britax Boulevard, CLickTight ARB, earn the high scores for tightening and loosening with a score of 9. The Clek Foonf and the Evenflo Tribute have very easy to operate straps and buttons earning second place scores. The hardest to use is the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with a button that is somewhat hidden and a strap that is challenging to pull tight enough without excessive force. While some are harder to tighten than others, it is fair to say that none of the options are impossible.
Adjusting the Harness
There are two primary ways of adjusting the harness height on the convertible car seats with some variation within the two methods for design differences. The simpler method is a non-rethreading design that adjusts by moving a headrest/harness shoulder strap assembly up and down the back of the seat (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 necessarily challenging, the latter method takes more time, requires removing the baby from the seat, and if forward facing you will need to remove the seat from the car as well. Alternatively, the non-rethread option can be done with baby in the seat and as soon as you notice there is a need for an adjustment. We prefer the non-rethread version because it is simpler. We think parents are more likely to adjust the harness when necessary instead of putting it off to a more convenient time. Our fear for the rethread products is parents will recognize the harness needs adjustment after their baby is in the seat and put off moving it until they use it again, then they will forget and the next time they put the baby in they will once again push off the responsibility to a more convenient time. Given that injuries can occur when harnesses are not properly fitted, we prefer the non-rethread styles.
Half of the car seats in our tests offer non-rethread harness height adjustment features. The easiest to use are the Britax Marathon ClickTight, Britax Boulevard ClickTight, and Britax Advocate ClickTight with squeeze handles and harness assemblies that move smoothly up and down without a struggle. The Essentials by Britax Emblem and essentials by Britax Allegiance are also easy to use. The most challenging non-rethread version in the group is the Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 which has dual levers that must turn simultaneously before the assembly can move. This process isn't as straightforward as it should be and the plastic levers fall off easily revealing just a round metal bar. Unfortunately, the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 height assembly broke midway through testing and then would not engage automatically. We then had to engage it manually from the back (which is probably not safe in the real world and the seat should be replaced), resulting in it earning one of the lowest scores for the group. We can't say if they will all break, just that ours did with very minimal use in a very short time under controlled circumstances. The rethread options all take more time and effort which inherently makes them more challenging than the non-rethread products.
LATCH storage on infant car seats is more critical as the straps can cause interference when attaching the carrier to the base. LATCH storage is arguably less essential for convertible car seats, but it is useful if the straps are not accessible by children and aren't flying around causing potential injuries. Some of the options have pockets or cubby storage where the clips are out of sight. The standard storage option includes attaching the clips to loops on the back or clipping to each other.
The photos above show a few of the various LATCH storage features in this review. From left to right the features shown belong to the Evenflo Tribute LX, Chicco NextFit, and the Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65.
The Chicco NextFit has cool side pockets where the LATCH components tuck in and a special pocket for the tether. It is one of the few products in this review that keeps the straps and clips truly 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 out of the way. One of the least productive storage options belongs to the Safety 1st Alpha Elite with clip attachments on the seat back that allow the straps to dangle.
Cover Removal and Cleaning
Because car seats see a lot of action from messy little ones, we test how hard the seat covers are to remove and whether or not they are machine washable, hand wash, or spot clean only. We prefer product covers that are easy to remove and machine washable. We prefer hand washing over spot cleaning, but given the potential for vomit and diaper blowouts that may befall the cover, it would be best if they are all machine washable. The Clek Foonf has the lowest score here because it 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 still may need a steam cleaner if the mess is big enough. 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 still goes back on the shell without a hiccup. This process is a significant boon over the competition that requires hand washing and laying flat to dry. The Britax ClickTight products have covers that come off in four parts and are hand wash and line dry only.
When it comes to comfort and quality, we compared each seat and the materials used to make them. We looked at the padding, fabric, foam and how well it all comes together to make the final product. We considered each factor and how it contributes to baby's comfort, parent use, and seat 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 were compared side-by-side and ranked in comparison to one another.
The Chicco NextFit (above left), Britax Advocate ClickTight ARB, Britax Marathon ClickTight ARB, and the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ARB are stand out 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 finished and sleek look. Alternatively, the Evenflo Tribute (above right) is more bare-bones but still functions well despite the lack of extras found on the competition and in spite of an open back that looks unfinished. However, it does have a machine washable cover and a higher crash test score. The Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Essentials by Britax Emblem, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible came in second place with 8s.
We check the weight and width of each seat we review. We considered their forward-facing and rear-facing total weight and the width at the widest point of the seat. While the weight of your convertible seat is not as important as the carrier weight of the infant car seats, it might be an important metric if you plan to travel with your seat or live where taxi or Uber services are the norm. If the seat stays in the car most of the time, then you probably don't need to worry how heavy it is.
The Clek Foonf is the heaviest seat in the group. For the rear-facing configuration, it is over 38 lbs thanks to the addition of the anti-rebound bar and seat angle attachment. The forward facing configuration isn't much better with a weight 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 and a person in the middle. The Evenflo Tribute (below right) is the lightest seat in the group at slightly over 9 lbs, and it is also only 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 who won't want to carry accessories for installation. 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 difficult 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 parents, the weight of a convertible seat is unlikely to impact their buying decision because it usually remains in the car without much movement. However, the width of the seat bottom could be a factor if you have more than one child in a safety seat or a back seat that is narrower than average. If your car seat plan includes it remaining in place in one vehicle most of the time, then we don't think you need to worry too much about its weight and recommend you pick the highest ranking choice that meets your needs.
Purchasing a convertible car seat doesn't need to be a challenging task. With the information provided in this review and our corresponding Buying Advice article we believe most families will be able to narrow the field down to one or two contenders that meet both their budget and needs.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz