Best Overall Infant Car Seat
Cybex Aton 2
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 9.3 lbs
Best crash test results
Easy LATCH install
Comfy & high quality
Harder to use
The Cybex Aton 2 is a high-quality seat with the best crash test results in this review, making it a car seat we highly recommend. This seat combines a top crash-test analysis score with a sleek design and added safety features such as a load leg and the side impact crumple zone. With an easy to install LATCH system (that translates to potentially increased safety), the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for almost any family.
While the Aton 2 is easy to install using LATCH, some of its other features are slightly less straightforward. It also has a higher than average list price, so those on a tight budget will need to plan ahead if they choose this seat. The Aton 2 is compatible with many of our favorite strollers, but we recommend finding a stroller that offers click-in attachment as opposed to straps. Overall, if your budget allows, and safety crash test results and easy installation are what you prize, then the Aton 2 (with the load leg) is definitely a top contender.
Read review: Cybex Aton 2
Great for Longevity
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 12.1 lbs
Easiest LATCH install
Easy to use
Can use for longer
Limited stroller compatibility
The Chicco Fit2 is a high-quality car seat with a perfect score for LATCH installation, making it the smart choice for anyone who stresses about correctly installing their car seat (which studies indicate correlates to safety in an accident). This innovative option has the potential to work several months longer than the average seat in this review, which is fairly unique in this group. This stylish seat has easy to use features and thicker padding for comfort, making it a car seat that you and your baby will enjoy for the long haul.
While we love this Chicco, it may not be the first choice for those who live in the big city. Thanks to a higher than average carrier weight, we suspect many parents will loathe carrying the Fit2 very far. Luckily, the Fit2 is compatible with award-winning frame strollers, which can offset the carry burden and create an excellent gear combo for city dwellers who have the space for a stroller. While the Fit2 costs slightly more than the average option, this may be less concerning as you should theoretically be able to use the seat for longer, potentially delaying future costs. Overall, the Fit 2 is a great long-term option for families looking for longevity and ease of use.
Read review: Chicco Fit2
Top Performer, but Limited Stroller Compatibility
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 9.6 lbs
Better crash test results
Easy install without base
Limited stroller compatibility
Harder to install with LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earns the top spot with impressive scores for crash test results, installation, and comfort/quality. This seat earns an 8 of 10 for crash tests and is one of the easiest to install. Easy installation potentially translates to safer as many injuries sustained in real-world crashes are related to installation errors. This seat is lightweight, a breeze to carry, and has straightforward features that work as expected.
Unfortunately, this impressive seat isn't compatible with strollers from other brands, which locks you into Peg products or babywearing (which we love). It also has one of the highest prices in the review, making it potentially a non-starter for families on smaller budgets. However, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio features the quality and comfort required to support the larger price, and we think it will please most parents who aren't concerned with compatible strollers.
Read review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Best Bang for the Buck
Chicco KeyFit 30
: 4-30 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 10.1 lbs
Easy to install
Better crash test results
The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a good overall score and a lower price than most top-ranking options, which makes it a Best Value winner in our opinion. This car seat earns a high score for ease of installation and has some of the best crash test results in the group. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation as simple as possible, this seat is a parent favorite that could translate to "safer" as statistically many crash-related injuries derive from incorrect installation or use. Combine all of this with style and compatibility with most of our favorite strollers, and you have a car seat to swoon about that can also save you money.
The Keyfit 30 has a lower installation score without the base, and it is over 10 lbs, which while average, is sort of heavy if you plan to carry your baby in the carrier. These shortcomings make it less than ideal for parents who frequent public transportation or frequently commute. However, its better ease of use and crash test performance easily override these misgivings if you plan to use a stroller or wear your baby, and own a car where the base can stay connected. Overall, we feel the Keyfit 30 is a budget-savvy winner that is hard to beat when finances are a factor, and even if they aren't.
Read review: Chicco Keyfit 30
Best for the Smallest Budget
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 8.5 lbs
Easy to install
Better crash test results
Harder to use
The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 is an inexpensive car seat with some useful features that potentially override its less impressive results. The SnugLock 35 is easy to install with most methods and works well with the vehicle belt installation. Also, being lightweight and easy to install sans base makes it a potential budget contender for those who use public transportation or travel regularly. This Graco also performs better than average in crash tests with a chest sensor result rivaled by few competitors, making it an impressive, inexpensive safety contender parents can feel good about using.
The lower price of the SnugLock comes with less impressive comfort and quality, with less padding and thinner fabric. We suspect this seat may look worn before it gets a chance to reach hand me down status. It is also has a stiffer buckle release and a handle canopy collision that makes holding the handle with an open canopy frustrating. Despite these minor hiccups, this seat is a smart choice if you have a small budget, or you need a second seat for grandma's car that doesn't compromise on safety compared to most of the higher-priced competition.
Read review: Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35
Best for Urban Life and Taxis
: 4-35 lbs | Carrier Weight
: 16.8 lbs
It's a stroller!
Fills a public transportation niche
Easy to use
Lower than average crash tests
The Doona is an innovative seat that doubles as a stroller for a unique all-in-one product. This capability makes the Doona a standout option for families who live an urban lifestyle and frequently use taxis, Lyft, and Uber. With the Doona in play, you can quickly install the carrier in a vehicle and be ready to stroll within seconds of reaching your destination. This product is easy to use, easy to install without the base and meets a need that no other car seat can giving you safer options to transport your baby than forgoing a seat (which is surprisingly legal on public transportation in many big cities).
This carrier style's higher price and heavier weight could be a turn off for many suburban parents, but it is tough to beat for urban dwellers who may otherwise skip using a car seat in a taxi, or who don't want to mess with a separate stroller. Its lower crash analysis results could make it a less desirable choice for families who don't need an all-in-one solution. Still, we think this seat/stroller is an excellent way to get from your loft to a cab and back on the sidewalk at your destination with ease. We believe the Doona fills a niche like no other car seat. If you live in a world where many legally forgo a car seat, the Doona is a significantly better, safer, more convenient solution than skipping a seat altogether.
Read review: Doona
The American belt path can also be chosen for the Nido by only utilizing the lap portion of the belt across the lower half of the carrier.
Why You Should Trust Us
With over five years and 500 hours of hands-on infant car seat testing and crash tests, BabyGearLab is in a unique position to provide details and information on how the seats compare to one another and how they fare in crash testing compared to the federal guidelines and one another. Our expert panel was led by Dr. Juliet Spurrier, Board-Certified Pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Dr. Spurrier's background in urgent care pediatrics informed her concerns with crash-related injury and the common safety risks of improperly installed car seats. As a result, our testing includes crash testing each car seat, as well as hands-on evaluation of ease-of-installation, and everyday use, to create a comprehensive 360-degree assessment of the factors that impact safety and practical day-to-day use. Our testing protocol was developed by Certified Passenger Safety Technician, Bob Wofford, to assess how challenging or easy each product is to install correctly for maximum safety. We consulted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) experts about their testing protocol and resulting crash test data. For our crash testing, we hired MGA Research, the national testing laboratory that holds the compliance contract for the NHTSA crash testing protocol used to assess the safety of every car seat sold in the US. Every product in our review was crash tested to the same exacting standards, and we include the actual data from every seat for your consideration and transparency. Our Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, mother of two, has been leading the analysis of our infant car seat test results for five years and has examined, compared, and rated the specific performance of more than three dozen competitors.
Our testing starts with crash testing each car seat and continues with more than 200 hours of in-house testing and real-world use. We put each seat through the wringer, taking them in and out of three vehicles, installing them with LATCH and seat belts, carrying them, and assessing every detail. While others rely on second-hand review research and make recommendations based on popularity or manufacturer offered free products, BabyGearLab performs an extensive side-by-side comparison to provide details to guide your decision. To ensure complete independence, we purchase two of each car seat we review, one for crash testing, and another for extensive hands-on analysis. Our review process provides you with the most current information on infant car seats (without outside pressure) to help you make the best decision on which option is the best for your situation and baby.
Related: How We Tested Infant Car Seats
Analysis and Test Results
We facilitated side-by-side analysis and testing for several months on each product in this review including in-house testing and real-world use.
We have tested over three dozen infant car seats for this review since its first version, including crash tests for each one. This picture includes the original lineup, several of which have been replaced as some seats have been discontinued and others replaced with new and exciting potential options.
Our tests are performed under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician. We perform comprehensive testing to use in combination with Crash Test data to determine how each product performs regarding measured forces of impact during crash tests. While each competitor 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 the best infant car seat with a budget-friendly price is easier than you may think, with multiple contenders sporting a list price significantly lower than much of the competition. The Chicco Keyfit 30 is an easy to use option that performs well overall with better crash tests results. The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 also performs well with a list price far below the average. Many of our other award winners have higher prices, but their features and performance are justifiably a good value depending on what features and metrics are most important to you.
The Mesa uses the so-called "American belt path" method over the lower portion of the carrier. This is super easy to do and helped it earn a Top Pick award in our review.
Crash Impact Tests and Ratings
A key part of our testing is the analysis of the crash test results we commissioned. We also have a relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data for analysis.
All of the products in this review passed the federal safety requirements, and therefore, provide a minimum or basic level of crash safety protection and are considered safe.
In our analysis, we focus on seats that provide an additional margin of safety, relative to competing seats based on an analysis of the crash test sensor data. For example, if a seat 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 tests 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 percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
This image uses the crash test data for HIC scores and displays the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each car seat in the review. We focused on examining how large of 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.
Shown above is the percentage margin by which each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA safety standard. The taller the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
This picture shows the % below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 that each seat achieved. As with the HIC score, we focused on how large a margin of protection each 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.
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
Additional Crash Safety Features
Some seats have features that potentially improve safety. For the most part, we didn't consider these features or claims in our analysis because there are no real-world or test data available to confirm, dispute, or analyze the claims. While you might be curious about a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution not to make a decision based solely on these claims because information about their efficacy is surprisingly lacking. Also, there aren't agreed-upon definitions or test procedures to test the claims and features. We think you should stick to the crash test data analysis when comparing the potential safety of each seat.
We did, however, compare crash test data from the Cybex Aton2 and the Peg Perego Nido while using the load leg feature and without the load leg. 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. The Aton 2 has a HIC score of 340 using the load leg and 521 without the leg (a lower result is better); these results indicate a higher margin of protection when using the leg. 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 features like the load leg, we don't think parents should be swayed by every safety claim manufacturers' toss around. 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.
Ease of Installation is Related to Safety
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 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 critical importance of proper installation to keep your baby safe, we strongly
encourage you to seek help for installation. It is vitally
important that you install and use your car seat correctly every time with NO
exceptions. To ensure that your seat is correctly installed, 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.
Related: How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes
Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis
Based on crash test result analysis, we rate each product on a 1-10 scale to identify the products that, in our opinion, offer an extra margin of protection, over and beyond the required protection in all seats.
The Cybex Aton 2 comes standard with a load leg. We crash tested two Aton 2 seats: one without the load leg deployed and then second crash test with the load leg. We found the Cybex load leg was very effective in significantly improving crash test performance.
The Cybex Aton 2 with the 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. Given its performance in other test metrics, we think the Cybex Aton 2 is an excellent choice for parents who value crash test sensor data and analysis as its results indicate that it offers an extra margin of protection over other seats. Also notable for offering additional protection are the Chicco KeyFit 30 with the lowest HIC result, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.
The middle of the foot portion on the Chicco Fit2 has the SuperCinch pull strap unique to the Fit 2 that makes tightening the LATCH anchor straps efficient and easy.
Ease of Installation with the LATCH System
Studies show that more than 7 out of 10 car seats are incorrectly installed or have the baby improperly restrained, and 93% of parents mess up car seat use on the way home from the hospital. This information is why we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical factors and encourage parents to include these metrics results in their decision-making process.
The easiest way to install a car seat, and the method we recommend, is the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news is that your infant 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 easily see the child. The middle position is also popular.
If you look in the crease of your car's back seat, you should find little metal bars like those shown above. These are the LATCH connectors. Nearly every car seat and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system.
The LATCH system should make installing a car seat correctly easier by reducing the opportunity for mistakes.
In our tests, we find that some seats are significantly easier to install using the LATCH method than other methods. Part of what makes a seat easier to install with LATCH is the connector type. Lower cost seats use clips to connect to anchors, but the easiest-to-use products provide click-in push-button connectors (both are safe).
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 the competition. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa with its self-ratcheting LATCH straps that help it earn a 9, as well as 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 connectors 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.
The Chicco Keyfit 30 base has a single center pull strap that tightens the LATCH anchors to pull the base firmly against the vehicle seat back
Tightening and Loosening Straps
LATCH anchors are just the first part of the strap equation when dealing with car seats. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten and loosen is also an installation factor. 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. We prefer products that didn't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling to achieve a secure attachment, including the Nuna Pipa and Chicco Fit2.
Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation
The top score for installation with LATCH went 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. Theoretically, easy installation translates to a safer experience during an accident as many injuries are related to installation errors or harness adjustment mistakes.
The level on the base of the Graco SnugLock 35 indicates when the seat is correctly positioned based on the age of your baby.
Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt
If you plan to place your car seat in the center of the back seat, which is considered the safest location for car seat placement, then on most vehicles you'll probably need to master seatbelt installation of your car seat. Our tests show which products make this process a no-brainer.
Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station
Certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians are a free nationwide resource in the US who can help you learn how to correctly install your infant car seat
. We can't recommend this service enough.
A Seat Belt Lock-off is Key
Some car seats are much easier to install using a seat belt than others, and the "lock-off" feature is the reason. About half of the seats in this review have a base with a belt lock-off. A lock-off should prevent the base from sliding up and down the seatbelt. A good lock-offs helps make seatbelt installation as secure, if not more secure, than LATCH installation. So, if your car lacks LATCH anchors, or you want to install the car seat in the middle seat, then you will need to install the seat using the vehicle belt.
The belt lock off on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 shown in light grey with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it. Notice the side belt threads are open as opposed to closed like the majority of bases we looked at
The 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.
Can't find the center seatbelt?
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.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.
Ease of Installation Without the Base
You might be wondering, why do I care about installing the seat without the base?
The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes; some parents frequently use public transportation.
In our opinion, if you don't expect to take your infant on public transportation very often, then you can happily ignore this part and skip to Ease of Use. However, if you think you might travel with your baby or need to install the carrier in a car that isn't your own, then this section could be critical to your buying decision.
For those living in urban environments, who frequently utilize taxis or services like Uber, learning to install your seat without the base is vital. Also, for traveling on airplanes, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat calling it the safest way for babies to fly. Many parents hold their baby on their lap, saving the price of a second ticket, and wearable baby carriers are also common for air travel. But, if you use an infant seat on a plane, then you'll likely install it without the base.
There are two belt paths for installing a carrier without the base, European, and American. Each seat in this review uses at least one way, and some allow both. If your carrier uses the European path, but your car only has a lap belt, then 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 route. 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 feel that the shoulder belt offers a more secure feeling that results in less carrier shifting. We can't say it is more secure only that it feels that way.
We believe seats with the European belt path offer a more secure feeling attachment with less movement than the American method. However, the American path is less convoluted. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) uses the European path, while the Graco SnugLock 35 (above right) features the American path.
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!
The Doona has a European belt path and comes with a seat protector to protect your car from the dirty wheels of the stroller component of the seat.
If you live in the city and use taxis or Uber, we encourage you to seriously consider the top performers in this metric. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned impressive scores for ease of installation without the base, and are potential choices for city-dwellers. The Doona only earns an 8 for sans base installation, but it is also a stroller which eliminates the need for carrying extra gear, making it an excellent choice for urbanites. In fact, we feel the Doona is one of the best choices for urbanites.
The Chicco Fit 2 is one of the easiest seats to use with straightforward features.
Ease of Use
At first glance, the infant seats seem similar and look like they would function about the same. Not so. The competitors in this review are all over the board when testing ease of use. Many of the buckles are different, and harness adjustments can be straightforward or a lesson in patience and pain.
This metric encompasses the features and functionality you use daily, such as buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handles.
Never Leave Baby in the Car Seat Outside of a Vehicle
While it may be tempting to leave your baby in a carrier outside the car if they are asleep, this practice is potentially dangerous
and not recommended. Babies left to sleep in car seats, swings, and bouncers are at risk for positional asphyxiation
. Positional asphyxiation occurs when the body's position prevents breathing. It can occur when a baby's head falls forward potentially blocking the airway. A 2015 study
of children under two years old who died in a sitting or carrying device, showed that a little over half of the 31 deaths involving car seats were a result of positional asphyxiation. To be safe, always remove your baby from the car seat and put them to sleep on their back in their crib or bassinet
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness
Buckle Release Buttons
Some seats have stiff, hard to use buckle buttons. 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.
The strangely placed rear tighten and loosening system on the back of the Graco SnugRide Classic Connect is ridiculously complicated compared to the more traditional pull strap and release button found on all the other seats we looked at. It also functions as the rethread slots for harness height adjustment
For harness tightening and looseningin 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 heights 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 back on the splitter (above left). The other method is more straightforward and includes disengaging the height adjustment assembly 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 usually requires an empty carrier and can be challenging to thread and adjust depending on the straps, the slots, or padding. We believe parents are more likely to maintain a correctly fitted harness if it is easy to adjust, can be changed quickly, and is alterable when there is a need (i.e., when you put your baby in the carrier). Making immediate adjustments when you see the need is better than waiting for a more convenient moment. For this reason, we believe non-rethread harnesses are theoretically safer.
The height adjustment on the Fit2 is non-rethread and includes moving the headrest up and down with the pull of a tab on the top of the assembly.
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 harness 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 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 harder, the indicator helps prevent a mishap.
Notice that the canopy and handle are the same height on the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35; this design flaw is one we hoped Graco would address in new car seats.
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 are allowable for driving varies (see your manual), but the operation is virtually the same. The major issue is the handle/canopy collision we found in several seats. This problem is most prevalent in the Graco carriers, though the Peg Perego Nido also struggles. All of the Graco handles and canopies are the same height, which makes 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.
LATCH storage impacts the ability to connectthe carrier and base. Designs that prevent efficient and correct seat installation lost points. Small attachment rods on the base are standard LATCH storage features. Many of the cheaper seats in our review have straps that could 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.
leave your baby in a car seat unattended! Also, never put a carrier on countertops or high places where it can fall, causing injuries. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also hazardous as the carrier can tip and potentially smother your baby. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than 8,000 infants a year are treated in hospitals because of fall injuries suffered using an infant seat or baby carrier outside of a vehicle
. Seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation
. Safety first! Move your baby to a crib when you get home, and never leave them unattended in a car seat.
Overall, the Peg Perego has a nice quality feel to it, from the fabrics to the hardware, this is one cushy seat.
For comfort and quality, we consider the materials and how well they come together. We consider factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how to translate to comfort, use, and longevity.
All seats have similarities such as dense foam for impact protection and a hard plastic shell. However, some offer thicker padding or friendlier fabrics. Overall, the products that increase comfort with attention to detail score well for comfort and quality.
The Nuna is a high-quality seat with padding and fabric designed for comfort, but some of the features are harder to use than they need to be.
Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality
The top 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.
The Doona infant car seat is a different kind of seat with stroller capabilities, giving parents more opportunities to move baby from home to destination without toting a heavy carrier.
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 8.48 lbs for the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 (above left) and 16.8 lbs for the Doona; the average for the group is 10.5 lbs. This difference makes the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. Luckily, this unique option isalso a stroller, which means you don't need to carry it. While we don't think weight is the number one consideration, we do believe it is relevant and can break a tie.
There is no one perfect car seat for every family, which is why we test so many and assign multiple awards. We believe our testing and analysis will help you narrow the field to a few top competitors that will meet your needs and are within most budgets. Between the award winners and top ranked products, we think there is something for everyone and every lifestyle.