Best Infant Car Seat with Crash Tests of 2021
$299.99 at Amazon
$293.95 at Amazon - 8% off
$246.60 at Amazon - 30% off
$299.99 at Amazon
$349.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Better crash test results, anti-rebound bar, easy install||Best crash results, easy LATCH, additional safety features, comfy||Load leg, easy belt install with and without base||Super easy LATCH install, easy to use, nice comfort and quality||Easy install, nice harness adjustment, naturally flame resistant fabric|
|Cons||Heavier, harder to install LATCH system, few strollers are compatible||Higher price, hard to use||Price, heavy carrier||Heavy, only compatible with limited strollers||Higher price, heavy carrier|
|Bottom Line||A great all-around seat with good crash test results, but limited stroller options||Compelling, quality seat with additional safety features and the best crash test score||Impressive performance but somewhat heavy and more money than most||Easy to install and use seat made with quality materials, but has limited stroller options||Stylish and impressive option that is easy, but pricey|
|Rating Categories||Peg Perego Primo Vi...||Cybex Aton 2||Peg Perego Nido||Chicco Fit2||UPPAbaby Mesa|
|Crash Test (20%)|
|Ease Of Install LATCH (20%)|
|Ease Of Install Belt (10%)|
|Ease Of Install W O Base (5%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Comfort Quality (15%)|
|Weight Size (15%)|
|Specs||Peg Perego Primo Vi...||Cybex Aton 2||Peg Perego Nido||Chicco Fit2||UPPAbaby Mesa|
|Minimum Passenger Weight||4 lbs||4 lbs||4 lbs||4 lbs||4 lbs|
|Max Passenger Weight||35 lbs||35 lbs||35 lbs||35 lbs||35 lbs|
|Max Passenger Height||32"||30"||32"||35"||32"|
|Belt Routing Style||European||European||European||American||American|
|Seat Weight||9.6 lbs||9.3 lbs||10.2 lbs||12.1 lbs||10.4 lbs|
|Shoulder Harness Positions||6||3||6||7||5|
|Crotch Strap Positions||1||1||2||2||2|
|Built in Lock Off||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Anti-rebound Device||Yes||High Back Base||Yes||Yes||High Back Base|
|Locking Handle Positions||5||3||5||4||3|
|Allowed Handle Positions For Auto Travel||1 for Base Install (even with the top of the seat),
1 for Seat Only Install (all the way forward)
|Carry Position||1 for Base Install (even with the top of the seat),
1 for Seat Only Install (all the way forward)
|Stage 1: Any
Stage 2: Base Storage Position (behind the seat)
|No Rethread Harness||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Onboard Manual Storage||Stores in a hard flip down pocket on the back of the seat.||Stashes in a pocket under the bottom of the seat.||Stores in a hard flip down pocket on the back of the seat.||Slot in head of base||Under the base.|
|Level Indicator On Base||Bubble Vial||Ball In Tube||Bubble Vial||Bubble Indicator||Weighted Wheel/Dial|
|Level Indicator On Seat||Line On Decal||Line On Decal||Line On Decal||Level Line On Seat Label||Line On Decal|
An infant car seat is one of the must-have baby gear purchases for every new parent. Yet not all car seats are the same, and our extensive testing reveals key differences between competing seats.
To help you find the right seat for you and your baby, we perform an extensive and scientific battery of 61 individual tests on each and every infant car seat, and combine those test results with the detailed results from our crash testing of each seat. To evaluate the 15 seats in this review, we performed a total of 915 individual tests. This comprehensive analysis puts BabyGearLab in a unique position to help you select the right seat for your needs and budget.
For our crash testing, we rely on MGA Research, the national testing laboratory that holds the compliance contract for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash testing protocol used to assess the safety of every car seat sold in the US. Every product in our review has been crash tested to the same exacting Federal safety standards, and we include the actual data from every seat for your review and transparency.
But, the safety of each car seat depends on other factors too, such as how easy it is to install and use the safety harness. So we extensively test those factors in our comparison of seats. A NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or restraint of the infant. A study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital shows that "95% of parents made at least one error in either the positioning of the infant or installation of the car safety seat." These kinds of mistakes could place your infant at an increased risk of injury in a crash. Our companion article, How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes, is intended to help you know what the most common mistakes are so you can be sure your baby's car seat is installed and used safely.
Our infant car seat testing protocol was developed by an expert panel including Dr. Juliet Spurrier, Board-Certified Pediatrician. Dr. Spurrier's background in urgent care pediatrics influenced her concerns with crash-related injury and the common safety risks of improperly installed car seats. To that end, our testing includes a comprehensive 360-degree assessment of the factors that impact safety and practical day-to-day use. Our seat installation and ease-of-use tests were developed by Certified Passenger Safety Technician and Senior Review Analyst, Bob Wofford. Those tests are designed to assess car seat installation difficulty for maximum safety. We consulted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) experts, and the crash-testing experts at MGA Research, to develop our testing protocol and analytical methods for crash testing data. Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, mother of two, has been a lead analyst of our infant car seat test results since 2014. Wendy has examined, compared, and rated the detailed results of more than 2,680 individual car seat tests.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, and really not sure where to start, then take a look at our infant car seat buying advice article, which covers all the various types of baby and child car seats, and can help you make it all make sense.
We also invite you to take a look at our other articles you might find helpful, such as our reviews of disposable diapers, cloth diapers, baby carriers, and strollers which we suspect are all timely and relevant for you right now.Editor's Note: this review was updated on June 17, 2021 to provide more safety data on risk of injury if an infant case seat is improperly installed or used.
Best Overall Infant Car Seat
Cybex Aton 2
The Cybex Aton 2 is a quality choice with one of the best crash test results in the lineup, making it an infant option we highly recommend. This car seat combines top-ranked crash-test analysis with a sleek design and additional safety features such as a load leg and "side-impact crumple zone." This Cybex has an easy to install LATCH system (that potentially translates to increased safety), making the Cybex Aton 2 an excellent contender for many families.
While the Aton 2 has a super easy LATCH installation system, some of its daily functions are a little less easy to use. This product also has a higher than average price, so anyone on a tighter budget might need to plan and save or add it to their registry. The Aton 2 is compatible with several strollers, but we suggest choosing a stroller with a click-in adapter instead of one that uses straps. Overall, if your budget allows, and safety crash test results and easy installation are what you want, then the Aton 2 (with the load leg) should be a top choice on your shortlist.
Read review: Cybex Aton 2
Great for Longevity
The Chicco Fit2 is a high-quality infant seat with a perfect LATCH installation score, making it a good choice for parents concerned about installing a car seat correctly (studies indicate this can potentially influence safety). This innovative Chicco can potentially work for months longer than the average seat in this review, given its taller height range. This stylish contender has easy to use features and thicker padding for comfort, all of which makes it a competitor that you and your baby might enjoy for longer.
We really like this Chicco option, but it might not be the right choice for families who live in the city or may need to carry it regularly. This infant carrier has a higher than average weight, and we suspect most parents will dislike carrying it as a result. You can avoid carrying it by combining it with a compatible frame stroller. This pairing can decrease the burden, creating an excellent combination for city dwellers who have extra gear space. While the Fit2 has a higher than average price, it might be able to justify it as you can potentially use this infant seat for longer, thereby delaying future costs. Overall, the Fit 2 is an impressive long-term contender for families who value longevity and ease of use.
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Top Performer, but Limited Stroller Compatibility
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 has impressive scores for crash test results, installation, and comfort/quality that helps earn it the highest rank in this competition. This Peg has an 8 of 10 for crash test result analysis and is one of the easiest contenders to install. Easy installation potentially translates to a safer experience as some documented injuries from real-world crashes are directly related to car seat installation errors instead of the seat's design. This Peg is lightweight, easy to carry, and has simple features that work well.
Unfortunately, this safety seat isn't compatible with many strollers other than the Peg Perego brand, which sort of locks you into Peg Perego products or babywearing (which we love and is a highly viable choice). The Primo also has one of the highest prices in our review, making it potentially a no-go for parents on a budget. Overall, the Primo Viaggio has the quality and comfort you expect for the price, and we believe it will please parents who are worried about stroller compatibility.
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Best Bang for the Buck
Chicco KeyFit 30
The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a good overall score and a budget-friendly price than many of the higher-ranking competitors in our review. These qualities make the Keyfit an impressive value to us. This contender is easy to install and has some of the best crash test results in our lineup. The Keyfit has an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation as straightforward as possible, and parents love that this can translate to a potentially safer riding experience as statistically, some crash-related injuries are a result of errors in use or installation. Combine this knowledge with an attractive design and vast compatibility with various high-ranking strollers, and you get a car seat parents absolutely love.
The Keyfit 30 is somewhat challenging to install minus the base compared to the competition, though it isn't difficult. The carrier portion of the seat weighs over 10 lbs, which is average but fairly heavy if carrying your baby in the carrier is in your plans. These minor issues make this option less ideal for anyone who uses public transportation or frequently commutes and doesn't want to lug a stroller around. Still, we believe the Keyfit 30's better ease of use and crash test performance easily override these issues if you use a stroller or wear your baby, and own a car where the base can stay. Overall, we believe the Keyfit 30 is hard to beat for budget-savvy families and those who just love a great deal at a good price.
Read review: Chicco Keyfit 30
Best for the Smallest Budget
Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc
The Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc is one of the least expensive contenders in this lineup of options. However, there is still a lot to love about this safety seat than just the impressively low price. The Flex-Loc is a straightforward infant seat that is easy to install with two different methods, including without the base, which is useful since it is also lightweight, making it a potential option for those who commute or regularly travel.
This Baby Trend only earned average results in the majority of our tests, with some features being more challenging to operate when compared to the competition. It also has thinner comfort padding and somewhat rougher fabric than we'd like. While not the top-ranking choice in this review, this Baby Trend is an economical option that can make an excellent secondary seat, grandma's go-to, or for anyone on a super tight budget who needs to reduce costs without sacrificing safety.
Read review: Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc
Best for Urban Life
The Doona is a cool, unique infant seat that doubles as a simple stroller making it an innovative, one and done option. This functional and useful design makes the Doona a standout for urban living where taxis, Lyft, and Uber are the go-to transportation for families. This seat installs quickly and is ready to stroll quickly upon arrival at your destination, making it a real game-changer in a world without similar competitors. This safety seat/stroller is easy to use, easy to install without the base, and meets a niche that no other car seat can giving you a safer option for transporting your little one than going without a seat (which is legal on public transportation in many bigger cities).
This seat's higher price and heavier weight can make it a potential turn off for suburban parents. However, it is hard to beat for city parents who might skip using a car seat on public transportation or don't want to mess with carrying a stroller. On the flip side, the Doona's lower crash test analysis might make it a less desirable choice for those who don't need this kind of solution. Overall, we believe this seat/stroller is an excellent choice for transporting your little one from your apartment to a cab to the sidewalk with ease. We believe the Doona fills a specific need in a way that no other safety seat can. If you live in a world where you may be tempted to forgo a car seat legally, the Doona is a significantly better, safer, and more convenient solution than skipping a safety seat.
Read review: Doona
Analysis and Test Results
We conduct side-by-side testing and analysis over several months on every car seat in this review, including in-house day-to-day functionality, crash testing, and real-world use.
We performed our tests under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. We conduct comprehensive testing that we use in combination with Crash Test data to determine how each seat's performance regarding measured forces of impact during crash tests. While each product conforms to the minimum safety guidelines required by the federal government, they are not all easy to use and install, nor do they all have impressive crash-test results.
Finding a great infant car seat with a budget-friendly price might be easier than you think. Multiple competitors in this lineup have a lower list price than much of the competition. The Chicco Keyfit 30 is an easy-to-use car seat that performs well overall with better crash test results than the average seat, and it has a lower than average price. The Baby Trend EZ Flex-loc also performs well in several metrics with one of the lowest prices in this review. While other award winners have higher prices, their features, performance, or crash test analysis could indicate they are a good value if their strong points are relevant to you.
Crash Impact Tests and Ratings
A key part of our testing is the analysis of the crash test results we commission. We purchase 2 copies of each car seat we review. We then send one seat to MGA for sled crash testing. We commission MGA to run independent, third-party testing using the same crash sled testing used by NHTSA. We then use the test results to analyze and rank each seat against the competition. We also have a relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data for analysis.
In our analysis, we focus on the options that provide an additional margin of safetyrelative to the competition based on an analysis of the crash test sensor data. For example, if a seat's sensor measures significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors of the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, we believe the seat offers a higher margin of protection than competitors with higher (more forces) HIC scores.
We analyzed the crash sled test data of each car seat to determine how they perform compared to competitors and the federal safety standard. We include graphs comparing the actual crash test data in each product review and summarize them below.
So, what matters most when analyzing crash impact test results?
- Risk of a head injury (HIC score)
- Risk of a chest injury (G clip score)
Shown above is the crash test data for HIC scores and the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each car seat in the review. We focused on examining how large a margin of protection each product offers below the federal maximum HIC score of 1000. Products that are further left (with higher bars) can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.
Above is the % below the federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 that each seat achieved. As with the HIC score, we focus on how large a margin of protection each option provides below the federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 in their crash test. Seats that are further left (with higher bars) are farther below the Federal maximum Chest score and can be considered as providing an additional margin of protection.
Analysis of child auto crash injuries shows that head and chest injuries present the two highest risks for serious or fatal injury.
Additional Crash Safety Features
Some of the car seats in this review have other features that can potentially impact their overall safety. In general, we didn't factor these features or claims in our analysis as there is little to no real-world or test data available to support or analyze the claims or features. While you might be intrigued by a product that brags about side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we recommend that you avoid making your selection solely based on these features or claims as any substantial information about efficacy is surprisingly lacking. Also, there are no agreed-upon definitions for most of the terms batted about in the safety seat industry, nor are there universally accepted tests to investigate any of the claims and features. For these reasons, we feel it is smarter to stick to the crash test data analysis when comparing potential safety instead of buying into an unsupported or unexplained claim.
We compared crash test data from the Cybex Aton2 and the Peg Perego Nido using the load leg and without the load leg to evaluate the load leg safety feature. Testing results indicate that using the load leg improved crash test performance and could potentially impact real-world crash scenarios for the Aton 2, but not the Nido. Begging the question of what is the real efficacy of this type of feature? The Aton 2 has a HIC score of 340 using the load leg and 521 without the leg (a lower number is better); these results indicate a higher margin of protection when using the leg with the Aton 2. Alternatively, the Nido has a HIC score of 573 with the load leg and 430 without it, indicating a more significant margin of safety not using the leg with the Nido. So, while there may be some validity to the concepts of features like the load leg, we don't think parents should be swayed by every safety advantage manufacturers' claim. With the details we have gathered, we can't account for the difference in efficacy from seat to seat and leg to leg. What we can say is all other factors during testing were identical, and the results speak for themselves and create some lingering questions.
Crash tests and results are important, but most parents don't know that improper installation and misuse of infant car seats are a significant cause of injury in car accidents. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that car seat misuse is a more significant safety issue than the differences between the crash test performance of each seat. A NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or restraint of the infant. A study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital shows that "95% of parents made at least one error in either the positioning of the infant or installation of the car safety seat." These kinds of mistakes could place their infant at an increased risk of injury in a crash.Given the crucial importance of correct installation to keep your baby safe, we strongly encourage you to seek installation help. It is vitally important that you install and use your car seat properly every time with NO exceptions. To ensure that your seat is installed correctly, seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician (it's free!). Also, consider consulting an expert when you move the seat to a new vehicle or position.
Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis
Analyzing crash test results, we rate each option on a 1-10 scale to identify the seats that, in our opinion, offer an extra margin of safety, over and beyond the required protection for all safety seats.
The Cybex Aton 2 (with load leg) earned our highest crash test rating of 9 of 10. The Aton 2 has impressive crash test results, with the lowest G clip result in this review and the second-lowest HIC result (lower is better). Given its performance in other test metrics, we think the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for parents concerned with crash test sensor data and analysis. Its results indicate that it offers an extra margin of protection over the competition. Also notable for offering additional protection are the Chicco KeyFit 30 with the lowest HIC result, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.
While each car seat sold in the United States must meet certain federal safety standards, neither NHTSA nor any other government entity conducts actual testing on every single seat. Rather, they rely on the manufacturers to ensure that their seats comply with the standards. The federal government only conducts testing on a random selection of seats, not all car seats.
Ease of Installation with the LATCH System
Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 car seats are incorrectly installed, or the baby was improperly restrained, and 93% of parents make mistakes on car seat use on the way home from the hospital. This information is why we believe that ease-of-installation and ease-of-use are critical considerations and encourage parents to include these metrics in their review process before making a buying decision as it encompasses more than just making life easier.
The easiest way to install a car seat, and therefore, the method we recommendis the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news is that your infant car seat and vehicle are likely LATCH-compatible on the left or right side of the back seat. Nearly every car seat, and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, have the LATCH system. According to NHTSA, over 60% of parents place their infant car seats on the left or right side. Most choose the passenger side so that the driver can more easily see their baby while driving. The middle position is also popular but often lacks LATCH anchors making it unsuitable.
The LATCH system should make correctly installing a car seat easier by reducing the chances of mistakes.
During testing, we experienced that some options are significantly easier to install using the LATCH method over other installation types. Part of what makes one seat easier with LATCH is the connector type. Lower cost seats use clips, but the easiest-to-use options have click-in push-button style connectors (both are safe, just vary in ease of use).
The Cybex Aton 2 uses a push-button connector that clicks onto the LATCH anchor point (above left). The Chicco Fit2 earned a 10 of 10 for the LATCH installation. The top-scoring seats all have unique LATCH anchors or tightening systems that make installation significantly more manageable than other contenders. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa with its self-ratcheting LATCH straps that help it earn a 9, the Nuna Pipa with rigid LATCH connectors, and the Britax Endeavours.
Our Child Passenger Safety Technician swiftly installed the UPPAbaby Mesa using LATCH. After clicking the Mesa to the LATCH anchor bars, you push down on the base and the straps self-retract to tighten. Once adequately tight, the indicator turns green; it could not be easier than this.
Tightening and Loosening Straps
LATCH connectors are only the first part of the strap equation for infant car seat installation. Whether or not the straps on the connectors are easy to tighten and loosen is also important. We love the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps and the Chicco Keyfit 30 also sports an easy to adjust strap, while the Graco LATCH straps are more challenging to tighten and loosen than most of the competition. We prefer products that didn't require body weight to tighten or struggling to complete a secure attachment, including the Nuna Pipa and Chicco Fit2.
Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation
The best LATCH installation score goes to the Chicco Fit2 and Nuna Pipa with perfect 10s. The UPPAbaby Mesa, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2 all tied with impressive 9s. Studies indicate that easy to accomplish correct installation can translate to a potentially safer experience in an accident as injuries from real-world crashes are often related to installation mistakes or harness use errors. The Baby Trend seat earned a 7, making it a higher scoring and inexpensive choice many parents will be able to install easily.
Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt
If you'd like to use your car seat in the center of your back seat, which is considered the safest location for a car seat, then you'll need to master seatbelt installation in most vehicles. Our tests give you the information to determine which contenders are easier than others.
Certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians are a free nationwide resource in the US who can help you learn to correctly install your infant car seat . We can't recommend this service enough.
A Seat Belt Lock-off is Key
Some of the options are significantly easier to install using a vehicle belt than others, and the "lock-off" feature is typically the key. About half of the seats in this review include a base with a vehicle belt lock-off. A lock-off will prevent the base from being able to slide up and down the seatbelt. Good lock-offs create a more secure feeling seatbelt installation than the LATCH installation. If your car lacks LATCH connection points or you want to install the seat in the middle vehicle seat, you will probably need to install the car seat using the vehicle belt.
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Peg Perego Nido have the best belt lock-off systems in our tests.
Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation
The lock-offs on the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, and the Peg Perego Nido make installation a breeze compared to seats without a lock-off or with challenging lock-offs. The lock-off on the Chicco Keyfit 30 is harder and makes this type of installation frustrating. We struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock thanks to strap curling and bunching. Despite this, with all else being equal, we still prefer a challenging lock-off over no lock-off. We believe a lock-off is critical to achieving a secure installation using the vehicle belt with the base.
The majority of bases lacking a lock-off didn't perform well in our tests. In general, they feel less secure because they often slide on the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt, resulting in the seat tilting, which feels unstable. The Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc wants to flip up, and it could loosen up over time as you drive and the seat bounces.
Look up. It might be in the ceiling! Some SUVs and wagons have a center seat belt in the ceiling that can be easily overlooked if you aren't used to that many passengers.
Ease of Installation Without the Base
You might be wondering, why do I care about installing the seat without the base?
The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes; this installation method is a useful solution for any parent that frequent public transportation.
In our opinion, if you don't expect to take your infant on public transportation very often (or ever), then you can ignore this section and move on to Ease of Use. However, if you think you will travel with your baby or need to install the carrier in a car that isn't your own, then this section might be essential to your buying choice.
For those living in urban areas who frequently travel by taxi or services like Uber, learning to install your seat without the base is critical. Also, for traveling on airplanes, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat, calling it the safest way for babies to fly. If you use an infant seat on a plane, then you'll likely want to install it without the base to avoid carrying the base through the airport.
There are two belt paths for installing a carrier without the base, European and American. Every seat uses at least one way, and some allow both. If your carrier has the European path, but your car only has a lap belt, you can use the American method without impacting overall safety.
The American pathway threads the seatbelt across the leg portion of the carrier through the designated pathway. This path is straightforward and creates a secure attachment that passes safety regulations in the US. This style does not utilize the shoulder strap on the vehicle belt even if it is there.
The European path also routes the vehicle belt across the lower part of the carrier, and it wraps the shoulder portion of the strap around the back of the carrier under a retention clip. We think the shoulder belt offers a more secure feeling that results in less carrier shifting. We can't say it truly is more secure, only that it feels that way.
We believe the European belt path offers a more secure feeling connection with less movement than the American method, thanks to the shoulder belt holding the back snug to the vehicle seat. However, the American path is more straightforward and quick to perform. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) uses the European path, while the Graco SnugLock 35 (above right) features the American method.
Best Rated Seats for Installation Without the Base
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido use the European color-coded belt path with easy lock-offs that help them earn 10s. This result means they have the highest scores in our tests for two installation methods! Depending on your installation method of choice, either seat could easily meet your requirements.
If you live in the city and use taxis or Uber, we encourage you to consider the top-ranked options in this metric as you'll typically need to install your seat without the base to avoid lugging both components around town. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa have impressive scores for ease of installation without the base and are potential contenders for public transportation. The Doona only earns an 8 for installation without using the base, but it converts to a stroller when you reach your destination, eliminating the need for additional gear, making it an excellent choice for urbanites looking to decrease the hassle of baby transportation. In fact, we feel that the Doona is one of the best options for city dwellers, thanks to the strolling capabilities.
Ease of Use
At first glance, the infant seats seem similar and look like they function virtually identical. Not so. The contenders in this review are different when it comes to our test results for ease of use. Buckles, harness adjustments, handles, and carrier release mechanisms can be simple or frustrating and everywhere in between.
While it is tempting to leave your sleeping little one in a carrier when you reach your destination, this action could be potentially dangerous and is definitely not recommended. Babies sleeping in car seats, swings, and bouncers have a higher risk of positional asphyxiation. Positional asphyxiation happens when the baby's body position prevents breathing. This issue can happen when the baby's head falls forward and potentially blocks their airway. A 2015 study of children under two years old who died in a sitting or carrying device showed that slightly over half of the 31 deaths involving car seats were a direct result of positional asphyxiation. To avoid potentially dangerous issues, always remove your baby from the car seat and put them to sleep on their back, in a crib or bassinet.
Buckle Release Buttons
Some seats have stiff, hard to use buckles. Getting your baby out of the carrier can be challenging if the buckle requires two thumbs. We think the Graco buttons are hard to use, and some also have challenging chest clips. The Peg Perego Nido and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have buckles we dream about that virtually fall apart when you push them. However, the Nido chest clip is stiff and can create pain. Removing your baby swiftly and without complication is a must, and we favor products with easy buckle and chest clip combos.
For harness tightening and loosening in our tests, the Doona impresses. The strap pulls smoothly, and the release button requires less pressure than the competition. The Peg Perego Nido and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 harnesses are also easier to use.
Adjusting the Harness as Your Baby Grows
Adjusting shoulder strap height has two methods. One is an involved process where you detach the shoulder straps from a splitter on the back and rethread them through a higher slot before sliding the straps back on the splitter (above left). The other method is more straightforward and includes disengaging the height adjustment assembly (usually with a button or lever) and sliding it up or down (above right). The latter can occur with your baby in the seat immediately when you notice a need. The former typically requires an empty carrier and can be challenging to thread and adjust depending on the straps, the slots, or padding. We feel parents are more likely to maintain a correctly fitted harness if it is straightforward, quick, and is immediate when there is a need (i.e., when you first put your baby in the seat). Making immediate changes when the need arises is better than waiting for a more convenient moment. For these reasons, we believe non-rethread harnesses are better and theoretically safer for little ones.
Only a few options are the non-rethread harness style. They can operate from the front or back, depending on the design. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Peg Perego Nido earned the highest scores with 10s and smooth moving, easy to operate assemblies. The UPPAbaby Mesa received a 9. The Chicco Fit2 has an 8 for its sliding assembly. The most challenging shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with a challenging strap and splitter connection.
The Chicco Keyfit 30 and the Chicco Fit2 carriers are the easiest to attach to the base with a 9 of 10 in our tests. They both fall smoothly into place, and we didn't experience mistakes. The UPPAbaby Mesa comes in a close second. The most challenging to connect is the Cybex Aton 2, but it includes a visual indicator when the carrier is on correctly, so while more challenging, the indicator helps prevent a misconnection.
Most of the handles in this review are similar and unremarkable. They operate by squeezing or pushing buttons simultaneously on side pivot points and rotating the handle to the desired position. The number of positions and which positions are allowable for driving varies from seat to seat (see your manual), but the operation is similar. The major issue is the handle/canopy collision we found in several seats. This problem is most prevalent in the Graco seats, though the Peg Perego Nido also struggles. All of the Graco handles and canopies we've ever tested are the same height, making it challenging to use the handle when the canopy is open. It is a silly design flaw, but it is annoying and not necessary. We hoped they'd alter the design in newer seats, but the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 remains the same. Other problems involve sharp plastic where fingers grip. The most comfortable handle is the UPPAbaby Mesa. The most unique may be the BabyTrend EZ Flex-Loc with its odd, triangle-shaped padded grip at the top.
LATCH storage can impede your ability to connect the seat carrier to the base. Designs that limit or prohibit efficient and correct seat installation lost points. Many of the cheaper options in this review have straps that can hinder a carrier connection.
Best Rated Seats for Ease of Use
The Doona earned top results for ease of use with an 8 of 10. Right on its heels are the Chicco Keyfit 30, UPPAbaby Mesa (above left), and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, Peg Perego Nido, and the Chicco Fit2 with 7s.
For comfort and quality, we compare the materials and how well they are assembled and work together. We consider details such as padding, fabric, and canopies and how these translate to comfort, use, and longevity.
All of the seats have similarities, such as dense foam for impact protection and a hard plastic shell. However, some have thicker padding or softer fabrics. Overall, the seats with superior comfort with attention to detail are top performers for comfort and quality.
Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality
The most impressive option for comfort and quality is the Nuna Pipa (above left) with a 9. Other standouts include the Chicco Fit2 and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 with 8s. These products have thicker padding, softer fabric, and a better overall finish than competitors.
We considered the weight of the base and the carrier of each product. Some of the bases are seriously heavy, but we only factored the weight of the carrier in our scoring because the base usually stays in the car. If a carrier is too heavy, it will be challenging to carry for long.
Best Rated Seats on Weight
The carrier weights vary between 7.44 lbs for the Graco SnugRide 35 Lite LX and 16.8 lbs for the Doona; the average for the group is 10.5 lbs. This vast difference can make the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. However, this unique car seat doubles as a stroller, which means you won't need to carry it if you don't want to. While we don't believe that weight is the top consideration for most families, we do think it is relevant and can help break a tie. The BabyTrend EZ Flex-Loc is only 8.63 lbs, making it a good choice if you need to carry the seat for longer periods or plan to travel with your infant seat.
With a large variety of safety seats available, it's hard to say that any one seat can meet all families' needs. As every family will have different needs and goals, we've ranked the seats and given awards to help guide parents as they research the right seat for their needs and budget. Using our testing details and MGA crash test data analysis, we believe you narrow the vast field potential choices to a handful of competitors that can meet your needs and fall within your budget. We think there is a seat for everyone in our list of award winners and top-ranked competitors, making this the only review you'll need to make a final infant car seat choice you'll be happy with.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz