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The Best Infant Car Seats of 2017

We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
By Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz
Tuesday
Looking for the best infant car seat? We can help you! We evaluated more than 40 possible choices for our review and purchased 15 of the most popular infant car seats for testing. We evaluated the seats over several months for crash test performance, ease of install, carrying weight and more. Our goal is to provide all the details you'll need to find the best car seat for you and your baby. Read on to discover which car seats performed better than the others so that you can find just the right product at the right price.

High-quality Choice


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35
Editors' Choice Award

$299.99
at Amazon
See It

Better crash test results
Easiest to install without base
Comfortable
Higher price
Harder to install using LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 earned the highest overall score in our review with impressive points for crash testing, installation, and comfort/quality. While it has one of the higher price tags in the competition, it has the performance scores to back up its price and we feel confident that parents will enjoy how easy the seat is to use and babies will enjoy how comfortable it is. The Peg earned an 8 of 10 for crash tests, the third highest score in the group, and it earned impressive scores in two installation metrics and comfort/quality. No matter what you are looking for in an infant car seat, the Peg Perego is sure to please. Unfortunately, this impressive option is not compatible with many top scoring strollers.

Read full review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35

Easiest LATCH Installation


Chicco Fit2


Editors' Choice Award

$280.00
List Price
See It

Easiest LATCH install
Easy to use
Nice quality and comfort
Heavy
Limited stroller compatibility
The Chicco Fit 2 is a high-end Chicco seat with a perfect score for LATCH installation making it a good choice for parents that worry about installing a car seat correctly. This sleek looking seat is easy to use and has additional padding and features for comfort making it a carrier parents and baby can agree on. We like this product and would recommend it to a friend, but it might not be the best choice for parents on a strict budget or for those who live in the city. Thanks to a higher than average carrier weight, we suspect most parents will hate lugging this option for long distances, even though it is easy to install without the base.

Read full review: Chicco Fit2


Best All-around Option


Chicco KeyFit 30


Chicco KeyFit 30
Editors' Choice Award

$179.99
(10% off)
at Amazon
See It

Ease to install
Better crash test results
Reasonable price
Heavier
Rough fabric
The Chicco Keyfit 30 has a third place rank with a relatively nice price making it an Editors' Choice winner. This seat earned a high score for ease of install and a good score for crash test results. With an easy to use LATCH system and unique features that help make installation easier this seat is a parent favorite. The Chicco has somewhat unfriendly fabric and is on the heavy side, so it may not good be good for those who plan to carry it, but its nice ease of use score and crash test performance can make up for these shortcomings for some parents. We think parents will appreciate the thoughtful design of the Chicco's LATCH system as well as its compatibility with many of the top scoring strollers and a quality frame stroller option.

Read full review: Chicco Keyfit 30

Best Bang for the Buck


Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air


The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air
Best Value Award

$111.42
(30% off)
at Amazon
See It

Budget friendly
Side impact tested
Easy to install
Lower quality
Harder to install using LATCH
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is the standout budget-friendly option with an above average rank. With a list price of $160, the Safety 1st impressed with its scores for crash test results and two forms of installation. This seat earned better than average scores in most metrics, and it ranked higher than several more expensive products. We feel most parents will be happy with this seat, and parents on a budget can feel confident they are getting a great seat that scored well in crash test analysis. Perhaps the only drawback to the Safety 1st is it is not compatible with many strollers. However, if you don't plan to use your infant seat attached to a stroller (and many parents don't), then you won't be missing a thing. If your budget allows, there are other options that offer more stroller compatibility and might be worth the extra dollars if you want to attach your infant car seat to a stroller.

Read full review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air

Top Pick for Taxi Ease-of-Use


Doona


Top Pick Award

$500.00
List Price
See It

Stroller capability
Fills niche for public transportation
Easy to use
Heavy
Price
The Doona is an innovative car seat that doubles as a stroller. This makes the Doona a standout option for parents in the city that frequent taxis and Ubers. 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 no other car seat can. While this is not the best choice for every parent and the higher price and heavier weight will be a turn off for some, it can't be beaten for urban dwellers that may otherwise skip using a car seat in a taxi or that doesn't want to lug around a compatible stroller. We see this as a great way to get from your loft to the taxi and back on the sidewalk at your destination with ease.

Read full review: Doona

Top Pick for Urban Life and Travel


UPPAbaby Mesa


UPPAbaby Mesa
Top Pick Award

$299.99
at Amazon
See It

Easy to install
Easy to use
Good for using without the base
Higher price
Unfriendly fabric

The UPPAbaby Mesa earned a second place rank out of 15 seats. This option received impressive scores for all types of installations including a high for LATCH. These scores helped it win its Top Pick award for urbanites and travelers looking to securely install a car seat without carrying the weight of the base. The Mesa also has easy to use, unique self-retracting LATCH straps and an overall sharp design. The downside to this seat is fabric that is at best unfriendly and at worst abrasive. Given the above average $300 list price point, we wish UPPAbaby would choose a skin friendly fabric like other similar priced top-performing seats. The Mesa works well with several top-scoring full-size strollers, including the UPPAbaby Cruz and the UPPAbaby Vista making it easy to combine for a cool award-winning travel combination for life in the big city.

2017 Update
UPPAbaby has a newer version of the Mesa for 2017, which should be available in mid-2017. The new Mesa claims to be the first flame retardant-free infant car seat in the industry that uses naturally flame resistant wool in place of chemicals. If the Mesa seems like the option for you, and the timing allows, you might consider delaying your purchase for a chemical free option.

Read full review: UPPAbaby Mesa

Top Pick for Safety


Cybex Cloud Q


Top Pick Award

$400.00
List Price
See It

Great crash test results
High quality
Super comfortable
Price
Heavy
Limited stroller compatibility
The Cybex Cloud Q is a high-quality seat with top crash test results using the included load leg for added potential safety. This high ranking product is easy to install using LATCH and without the base. However, using it in the city is probably not a good choice thanks to its higher than average carrier weight that makes it hard to lug for longer periods. We like the look and feel of this futuristic looking option and feel it has a place for parents that value the crash test results over all else. It may not be a good choice for parents on a budget or those looking for an easy to use option that will pair well with a stroller. The Cloud is both more expensive than the average car seat and it has a limited number of stroller options it will worth with.

Read full review: Cybex Cloud Q

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
76
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 $300
Editors' Choice Award
Best all-around option with impressive crash tests
71
Chicco Fit2 $280
Editors' Choice Award
Quality option that is easy to use and install but works with fewer stroller choices
68
UPPAbaby Mesa $300
Top Pick Award
Stylish and impressive option that is easy to install and use
68
Chicco KeyFit 30 $200
Editors' Choice Award
Good crash test results and a lower price make it a nice option for most families
67
Cybex Cloud Q $400
Top Pick Award
Great choice for parents with a higher budget and safety concerns
67
Cybex Aton 2 $320
Interesing option with added safety features but it is hard to use and higher priced
66
Phil and Teds Alpha $200
Hard to use seat that is comfortable with nicer features
65
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air $160
Best Value Award
Best bang for the buck for families on a budget
62
Recaro Performance Coupe $270
Average seat but other options cost less and scored higher
60
Doona $500
Top Pick Award
Niche filling choice for safe transportation for those who fequently use taxis and Uber
60
Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 $220
Better than other Graco options, but not the best at this price
59
Baby Jogger City GO $230
Average option with below average crash test results
57
Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 $150
Disappointing performance but has better crash test results
57
Britax B-Safe 35 $210
Installation with LATCH is easy but the overall performance is poor
56
Evenflo Embrace LX $100
Low quality seat that is difficult to install

Analysis and Test Results


We performed a variety of tests over a two month testing period comparing each infant car seat side-by-side. The rating table above is a comparison of the scores for each infant car seat we tested.

We have tested over 15 infant car seats for this review since its first version in 2016. This picture includes the original lineup  four of which have been replaced with new and different popular seats to replace those that have been discontinued.
We have tested over 15 infant car seats for this review since its first version in 2016. This picture includes the original lineup, four of which have been replaced with new and different popular seats to replace those that have been discontinued.

We worked under the supervision and guidance of a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician to develop a set of comprehensive tests we could use in conjunction with Crash Test data to determine how seats perform both in day-to-day use, and in terms of measured forces of impact in crash tests. While all of the seats have conformed to the minimum safety guidelines set forth by the Federal government, not all are as easy to use or have crash test results as impressive as the seat next to it on the shelf.

The video below is of our crash test for the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40.



Crash Impact Testing


A key part of our testing process is a detailed analysis of crash test data for every car seat we test. BabyGearLab contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to perform crash tests using the same protocol as NHTSA and under the FMVSS 213 standard. Also, we established a working relationship with NHTSA to utilize their crash test data, to augment NHTSA data with our infant car seat crash tests.

Note that all the seats we reviewed passed the NHTSA Federal safety requirements, and thus all the seats in this review provide at least a basic level of crash safety protection and are therefore considered safe.

In our analysis, we focused on seats that offer an additional margin of safety, based on our analysis of crash test data relative to competing seats. For example, if a seat was measured to deliver significantly lower impact forces (better) in the head sensors of the crash test dummy, resulting in a lower Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, our view is that seat offers a higher margin of protection to the baby than competitors with a higher HIC score. Additional details on our crash test scoring methodology are included below.

Ease of Installation and Use Matters


It is no surprise that crash tests are a major part of our review, but few parents realize that improper installation and misuse of infant car seats is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving babies. In our conversations with safety engineers at NHTSA, they emphasized that misuse is a bigger safety issue than the differences between crash test performance for each seat. A NHTSA study that showed that 84% of infant seats exhibited critical misuse, either in the installation of the seat or improper restraint of the infant. A more recent study of 267 families by Portland's top Children's Hospital showed that "93% made at least one critical error a mistake that put their infant at increased risk for injury in a crash when positioning their baby in a car safety seat or when installing the safety seat in their vehicle."

Learn how to install your car seat safely
We urge parents to read our article on How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes, for tips avoiding common installation mistakes.

We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests  and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.
We contracted with the same national testing facility used by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) for crash tests, and also obtained NHTSA's crash test data for analysis. Above you see the Phil and Teds Alpha seat on the test sled with a 12 month old crash test dummy strapped in.

Crash Test Ratings


We analyzed the data from the crash sled tests of each seat to determine how well they performed compared to the competition as well as the Federal safety standard for acceptable performance. To help you understand more about crash tests, we've included graphs comparing the actual crash test results in each product review and summarized them below.


So, what matters most when analyzing crash impact test results?
  • Risk of head injury
  • Risk of chest injury

Analysis of child auto crash injuries show that head and chest injuries present the two greatest risks for serious or fatal injury.

Head Injury Criteria (HIC) Score


In each crash test, there are sensors placed in the chest and head of a 12-month-old CRABI test dummy (a crash test dummy designed to simulate a 22 lbs baby who is 12 months old). The Federal safety standard developed by NHTSA uses a scoring factor called the Head Injury Criteria (HIC) score, which is a measure of the likelihood of injury arising from the impact. Each seat must achieve a HIC score of 1000 or lower to pass. The further below the Federal HIC maximum of 1000, the better.


The graph above shows the actual resultant G forces on the head of the crash test dummy for the Doona (black line) and the Chicco KeyFit 30 (green line). Both the Doona and the Chicco are under the NHTSA safety HIC score requirement of 1000. However, the Chicco was the seat in our review that offered the highest margin of protection with a HIC score of 329.6 — the lowest Head Injury Criteria score in our review compared to Doona's 603. The Chicco also shows significantly lower G forces (the Chicco has a max G force of 45.6 G's vs. 60 G's for the Doona).

The chart above shows the % margin 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).
The chart above shows the % margin 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).

The chart above uses the crash test data for HIC scores and displays the % below the NHTSA maximum of 1000 HIC score for each seat in the review. We focused on examining how large a margin of protection each seat offered below the Federal maximum HIC score of 1000. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, can be considered to provide an additional margin of protection.

Chest (G) Clip Score


The crash test dummy also includes sensors to measure chest impact forces. The data from these chest sensors is used to calculate a second score, called the Chest (G) Clip score, which is an attempt to create a measure of the likelihood of injury to the heart, lungs, and other organs. To pass the Federal safety standards, all seats must achieve a Chest (G) Clip score of 60 or less.


The chart above compares the G score from the Phil and Teds Alpha (black line) to the best performing seat for chest forces, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 (green line). The Graco had a maximum force of 43.7 G's, significantly lower than the Alpha's max of 60.2 G's.

The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score  Chest (g) Clip  established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar  the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).
The chart above shows the % margin each seat exceeded the maximum chest injury score, Chest (g) Clip, established by the Federal NHTSA standard. The higher the bar, the better the margin of protection. (Click on the chart to enlarge).

The chart above 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 seat provided below the Federal maximum Chest (G) Clip score of 60 in their crash test. Seats that are further left, with higher bars, are further below the Federal maximum Chest score and can be considered to provide an additional margin of protection.

The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
The Peg Perego offers a solid anti-rebound bar on its base
Additional Crash Test Safety Features
While some seats have additional features that may improve their overall safety in the event of an actual crash, we did not include these features or claims in our analysis given that there is no real world or test data available to analyze to confirm or dispute the claims. So while some parents might be drawn to a seat that boasts side impact protection (SIP) or an anti-rebound bar, we caution making a final choice based solely on SIP claims because information is lacking, and there are no agreed upon safety test procedures in place in the industry as a whole. We think parents 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 Cloud Q using the load leg feature and without the load leg. Results seem to indicate that using the load leg improves crash test performance overall. The Cloud has a HIC score of 376 using the load leg and 641 without using the leg (where the lower score is better), indicating a higher margin of protection when using the leg.

Safety Reminder
One of the most important things you can do to keep baby safe is to install your infant seat correctly. An improperly installed seat, or one that is not adjusted properly for your baby, can lead to potential injury or death. Read our article on How to Install an Infant Car Seat and seek advice from a professional car seat inspection technician to ensure your seat is installed correctly before you have your baby, or when you move the seat to a different vehicle.

Best Rated Seats in our Crash Test Analysis


Based on crash test report analysis, we rated each of the products in relation to one another on a 1-10 score to identify the products that in our opinion offer a extra margin of protection, over and above the basic level of protection provided by all seats.

The Cybex Cloud Q and the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 earned our highest crash test rating of 9 of 10. Both products have very impressive crash test results, with the two lowest G score for products tested and nearly the lowest HIC score.

Also notable for offering significant extra protection are three products that earned an 8 of 10 rating. The Chicco KeyFit 30 has the lowest HIC score, and the Baby Jogger City Go and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 both offer significantly better crash test scores than the competition.

The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze
The self-ratcheting LATCH system on the Mesa is easy to use and makes tightening the straps a breeze

Ease of Installation with the LATCH System


Studies show that more than 7 of 10 seats are improperly installed or have the baby improperly restrained. This is why we consider ease-of-installation and ease-of-use critical rating factors.


The easiest way to install a car seat, and the method we recommend, is your vehicle's Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. The good news here is that both your infant seat and your vehicle are very likely set up for use with the LATCH system on the left or right side of the rear seat. Nearly every infant seat, and most vehicles manufactured since September 1, 2002, are required to have the LATCH system. According to NHTSA, over 60% of parents place their infant car seat on the left or right side rear positions. Most choose the right passenger side so the driver can easily see the child; this is where LATCH connectors should be available in most cars.

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.
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 was developed to make it easier for parents to install car seats correctly, with reduced risk of mistakes. The video below, produced by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, provides an excellent overview of the LATCH system and how to use it:



In our tests, we found that some seats were significantly easier to install with LATCH than others.

Part of what makes a seat easier to install with LATCH is the type of connector used to attach to the lower anchors. Lower cost seats use clips to attach to anchors, but the easiest-to-use seats provide click-in push button connectors.

The Aton 2 has the easier to use LATCH anchors with the red release button
The clip style of LATCH anchors on this Graco are harder to disconnect than the other type of anchor

The Cybex Aton 2 uses a seat belt style anchor that clicks onto the LATCH connector (above left). The Graco car seats (above right) use clip style connectors, which we found much harder to use, though both are considered safe. The Chicco Fit2 earned the high with a 10 of 10 for this form of installation. All of the top scoring seats offered some kind of unique LATCH anchor or tightening system that made installation significantly easier than their more basic counterparts. This group includes the UPPAbaby Mesa and its self-ratcheting LATCH straps that helped it earn a 9.



The first part of the video above shows the UPPAbaby Mesa being installed with LATCH by our Child Passenger Safety Technician. You'll notice the process is very fast. The secret of the Mesa is you don't need to manually tighten the LATCH connectors. You simply click-in the connectors to the LATCH anchor bars, and push downward on the base; the straps automatically self-retract to tighten. Once properly tightened, the indicator shows green. It is simple and very fast.

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
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


The anchors themselves are just the first part of the equation. Whether or not the straps are easy to tighten and loosen is also a factor in ease of install. As we noted above, we loved the UPPAbaby Mesa's self-retracting straps, and we also found the Chicco Keyfit 30 to have an easy to tighten and loosen mechanism. In contrast, most of the Graco products were very difficult to tighten or to get loose again (if you managed to get it tight). We gave higher points to seats that didn't require body weight to tighten or significant struggling inside the car for a secure fit.

Best Rated Seats for LATCH Installation





Top score for installation with LATCH went to the Chicco Fit2 with a perfect 10. The UPPAbaby Mesa, Chicco Keyfit 30, and the Cybex Aton 2; all tied with impressive 9s.

Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center  by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.
Phil and Teds Alpha is shown above installed in the center seat in a vehicle that lacks LATCH support in the center, by using the belt on the base. The Phil and Teds Alpha and the Peg Perego both earned top scores of 9 of 10 in ease-of-installation with the seat belt.

Ease of Installation with a Seat Belt


If you want to place your child in the center of the rear seat, which is the safest location to place the seat, then with most vehicles you will need to master the more complex process of anchoring the seat with the seat belt. But, do not fret. We're going to help you here, and most importantly, we can tell you which seats make this process a breeze.


Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in Your Area
There is a fabulous free resource available for parents nationwide in the form of certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technicians who can quickly help you learn how to install your infant car seat correctly. This is helpful for all parents, and we highly recommend it. It is particularly useful for those trying to learn how to install a base with a seat belt, which is a bit more complicated. Finding an inspection station near you is easy, just enter your zip code on this website. You'll likely find that your local fire station or police department has one or more CPS technicians who are happy to help.

Seat Belt Lock-off is the Key


We found that some of the seats were much easier to install using the seat belt. And, they use a trick to make it so.

Introducing your new friend, the "seat belt lock-off" feature.

About half of the seats in our review offered a base with a lock-off feature. When used correctly this feature helps prevent the base from sliding back and forth across the vehicle belt. Lock-offs make belt installation every bit as secure, if not more so in some cases, as LATCH installation. So if your car doesn't have LATCH or you want to locate the seat in the center, then you can still easily install the seat using the seat belt.

The belt lock off on the Phil and Teds Alpha shown in blue with a yellow mock seatbelt running through it
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 photos above show some of the best belt lock-off systems in our review. From left to right they are the Phil and Teds Alpha, and the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35.

Best Rated Seats for Seat Belt Installation


The belt lock-offs on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha both earned 9 of 10, and make installing the seat a breeze compared to seats that don't offer a lock-off. The lock-offs on the Britax B-Safe 35, and the Chicco Keyfit 30 on the other hand, were harder to use and made installation frustrating as we struggled to get the vehicle belt in the lock without it curling or bunching. That being said, we'd take a hard to use lock-off over no lock-off at all; we feel it is a critical component in achieving a secure fit for installing a base with the vehicle belt.

The video below, by The Car Seat Lady, explains how to install a base using the center seat belt:


Most of the bases without a belt lock-off did not score well. We feel these were not really secure because they had a tendency to travel up the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt leaving the seat tilted, like the Evenflo Embrace LX, which earned the lowest score in our tests for belt installation.

Can't find the center seat belt?
It might be in the roof! Some SUVs and wagons have a center seat belt that comes from the roof of the car. If you've never used it, it might be fully retracted. This helpful video from The Car Seat Lady shows a typical center seatbelt coming from the roof of the vehicle, and how to use it.

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.
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


The first question that may come to mind when reading this section is, why should I care about installing the seat without the base?

The answer is simple: taxis, Uber, buses, and airplanes.

From our point of view, if you never expect to take your infant in a taxi ( Uber, limo, airport shuttle, etc.) then you can happily ignore this whole section and skip down to Ease of Use.


For those of you who live in an urban environment, and frequently rely on taxis or services like Uber, learning how to master installation without the base is an important parenting skill. Also, for airplane travel, the FAA recommends using an approved car seat on the plane as the safest way for babies to fly, but that will require you to buy a separate seat for your infant. Many parents just carry their baby on their lap, saving the cost of another plane ticket, and baby carriers are very popular for air travel. If you do use an infant seat on the airplane, you'll install it without the base, using the seatbelt to secure it just like you would in a car.

There are two belt path styles for installing a carrier without the base, European and American. Each seat we tested uses one or the other, and if you only have a lap belt without a shoulder strap for a European style, then it can be installed using the American path.

The American method is simpler and places the belt directly across the lower portion of the carrier through the designated belt threading pathway. This routing path is easy to learn and creates a relatively secure attachment that has passed all crash testing required in the US. This style does not utilize the shoulder portion of the belt even if part of the vehicle seat.

The European belt path starts off the same, routing the seat belt across the lower part of the seat just like the American style, but it adds the shoulder portion of the belt across the back of the carrier and threading the belt through a clip for this purpose. We found that the additional use of the shoulder belt in the European version provides a more secure feeling installation.

The European belt path on the Peg Perego
The Safety 1st seat uses the American belt path method that goes across the lower portion of the carrier only

We discovered that seats with the European belt path tended to score higher and offered a more secure feeling attachment with little movement after installation. The American method is an easier process to learn because it requires fewer steps. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above left) has the European belt path, while the Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air (above right) features the American belt path.

Live in New York City?
Consider getting a lesson from The Car Seat Lady, and learn what every New York parent needs to know about installing your infant seat in a taxi or a car for just $75 per seat.

The video below by The Car Seat Lady offers an excellent description of how to install a seat without a base using the American belt path. She also has a video for those with the European belt path, such as the Peg Perego Primo VIaggion, Cybex Aton 2, Phil & Teds Alpha, and Recaro Performance Coupe seats.



Best Rated Seats for Installation Without the Base


The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 uses the European method and has a color coded belt path that helped it earn the highest possible score in this metric with a 10 of 10. This means the Peg earned the highest score in our tests for two different installation methods! Phil and Teds Alpha is close on its heels with a score of 9, as is the Cybex Cloud Q.

When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe
When using the European belt path the shoulder strap wraps around the back of the carrier and tucks in or under a clip to hold it in place as seen here on the Recaro Performance Coupe

If you are a city dweller who will be using taxis more than your car, this metric could be of the utmost importance to you, and we encourage you to look closely at the high scorers in this test as possible purchase contenders. Given the unlikelihood of you lugging a heavy base around town, this will be your installation method of choice. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa earned impressive scores for ease of install without the base, and both are great options for city-dwelling parents. The Phil & Teds Alpha was close behind. The Cybex Cloud Q is easy to install, but on the heavy side and possibly not a great pick. The Doona on the other hand only earned an 8 for this form of installation, but it has stroller components incorporated all but eliminating the need for carrying the car seat, making it a great choice for city dwellers who frequent public transportation.

Find a Child Car Seat Inspection Station in your Area
Installing an infant seat without the base can be tricky on your first go, so once again we urge you to find a local inspection station that can help you learn how to do it properly with your chosen seat. It is easy to find an inspection station near you, just enter your zip code on the SaferCar.gov website.

The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX  but unlike the Evenflo  it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality
The Recaro Performance Coupe tied for the highest ease of use score with the Evenflo Embrace LX, but unlike the Evenflo, it also scored relatively well for comfort and quality

Ease of Use


At first blush, all the infant car seats seem so similar that it feels like they would all be about the same when it comes to ease of use. Not so. The seats we tested are all over the board when it comes to ease of use. As it turns out, a buckle isn't a buckle, and a harness isn't a harness.


The Ease of Use metric includes all the features and functions that you regularly use on the seat. Features like buckles and chest clips, as well as harness adjustments and handle use make up this metric. The higher a car seat ranks in this metric, the easier it will be for parents to use on a regular basis.

Buckle Release Buttons


The release buttons for some of the seats are really stiff and hard to press. Getting little ones out of the carrier can be a problem if the release requires two thumbs to operate or your fingers lack the strength to press the button fully to the point of disengagement. We found all of the Graco seats have hard to use release buttons and some have difficult chest clips as well. Yet, the Recaro Performance Coupe and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 have release buttons we dream about, that virtually fall apart when the button is pushed (yes, we do dream about release buttons here — you would too if you spent as much time testing 5-point harness systems as we do). Being able to remove baby swiftly and easily from the seat is a must, and we favored the seats with a reliable and consistently easy to use buckle release and chest clip combo.

We had difficulty using the buckle  chest clip and shoulder pads on the Graco 40
The Cybex Aton2 has one the easiest buckle to undo on its 5 point harness

The Graco 40 (above left) has a difficult to use stiff release buckle. Alternatively, the Cybex Aton 2 (above right) has an easy to operate buckle.

The tightening strap and loosening button on the Recaro are very easy to operate
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

Harness Adjustment


For tightening and loosening the harness after it is fitted, the Recaro Performance Coupe (above left) impressed us earning a 9 in our tests. The strap pull smoothly without much effort and the release button only takes firm pressure to pull the harness loose.

Many of the seats used a rethread height adjustment with shoulder straps that thread through slots in the back of the seat and attach to a splitter like the one seen here.
The UPPAbaby Mesa shoulder strap height adjustment is a non-rethread adjustment you operate from the front. It can be done with or without baby in the seat by pulling the release tab and raising the padded headrest

Adjusting the Harness as Baby Grows


Adjusting the shoulder strap height on the harness is a whole 'nother ball of wax. This feat comes in two basic varieties with one being an involved process where you have to detach the straps from a splitter on the back and then rethread them through a higher slot and back on the splitter (above left), and the other a less convoluted method where you disengage the height adjustment and slide an assembly up to the desired position (above right). The latter can normally be done with baby in the seat and on the fly. The former requires baby to be out of the seat and some seats are difficult due to the size of the straps, the slots, or how much padding is in the way when threading. We think parents are far more likely to keep a properly fitted harness on baby if it is easy to do, can be done quickly, and can be executed as soon as they notice it needs an adjustment (i.e. when baby is in the harness). The non-rethread options mean parents can quickly make the adjustment and get on their way, as opposed to noticing it needs to be done but deciding to wait until they have more time because it is a hassle to remove baby from the seat, often remove the seat from the car, rethread the straps, and put baby back.

The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly
The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 has a non-rethread height adjustment you adjust from the back by squeezing the red side buttons and sliding the assembly

Only a few seats in our review were the non-rethread style height adjustment. Most of these can be operated entirely from the front of the seat with the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 40 operating from the back. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and Cybex Cloud Q earned the highest score in our tests with a 10, but the Baby Jogger City Go, Recaro Performance Coupe and UPPAbaby Mesa were hot on its heels with 9s. The Chicco Fit2 earned an 8 for its sliding height assembly. The hardest seat for shoulder strap height adjustment is the Cybex Aton 2 with straps that were harder to get on and off the splitter than the rest of the competition.

Attachment to the Base


The Chicco Keyfit 30 and the Chicco Fit2 are the easiest carriers in the group to attach to the base with a 9 of 10 in our tests. They both fall into place and we didn't experience any mistakes trying to install either. The UPPAbaby Mesa and the Safety 1st onBoard Air came in a close second with scores of 8 a piece. The hardest to set on the base is the Graco Click Connect 40 with a score of 2. We managed to install this carrier incorrectly multiple time by different testers. We thought it was on, heard the click, but it wasn't fully attached. The fear is parents will believe that they have the carrier on correctly when baby is actually just free floating in the backseat (Yikes!). We also struggled somewhat with the Cybex Aton 2 connection. However, it is one of only a few seats that have a visual indicator that when the seat is correctly attached to the base. So while it is harder to connect the carrier, at least parents can use the indicator as a guide to prevent a connection mishap.

Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.
Notice that with the handle and canopy in the upright position on the Graco Click Connect 40 that it is impossible to grip the handle without the canopy getting in the way. All the Graco handles rubbed on the canopies and made it difficult to use both at the same time.

Handles


Most of the handles in the review were about the same and largely unremarkable. They mostly operate by squeezing or pushing buttons in on the pivot points on both sides of the carrier, and rotating to the desired position. The number of location options and what positions they need to be in to drive varies, but the operation is about the same. The major issues we found concerning handles is the handle/canopy collision present in several of the seats, but is most prevalent in the Graco carriers. All the Graco handles are the same height as their canopies, which means it's hard to use the handle and have the canopy open at the same time. It seems like a silly oversight, but it is annoying and we hope they alter the design in the future to avoid it. The easiest handles to use in our tests are the Recaro Performance Coupe and the UPPAbaby Mesa.

The LATCH anchors on the UPPAbaby Mesa automatically retract into the base body and the connection clips store in a little pocket to keep them out of the way
The Peg Perego has anchors that resemble slim seat belts that push onto the U anchor on the vehicle and release by pressing the red button. We feel this anchor style is easiest to use. You can also see the anchor storage location in this photo

LATCH Storage


For storage of the LATCH system the UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) excelled with anchors that didn't need storing thanks to their cool ability to self-retract. The bases with LATCH storage that might conflict with installing the carrier were the ones we gave lower scores to. Anything that might prevent parents from easily installing a seat correctly took a hit point wise in our tests. The majority of the storage options were small rods to clip the anchors to located on the underside of the base. Most of the cheaper seats in our review scored poorly in this test with LATCH straps that could prevent a proper install.

Best Rated Seats for Ease of Use


The Recaro Performance Coupe, Evenflo Embrace and Doona came out on top with scores of 8 of 10 for ease of use. Right on their heels with 7s were five options including the Chicco Keyfit 30, UPPAbaby Mesa, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio, Baby Jogger Go, and the Chicco Fit2 each offering strong performance for ease of use.

NEVER leave a baby in a car seat unattended. Also, never place an infant seat on countertops or in high places where it could fall and injure a baby strapped inside. Soft surfaces such as a bed or waterbed are also a potential hazard as the carrier can tip and potentially smother baby on the soft surface. A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that more than 8,000 infants a year were treated in emergency departments as a result of fall injuries suffered while using an infant seat or baby carrier, and seats overturning on soft surfaces resulted in 15 instances of suffocation.

The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality
The Peg Perego tied for first place on comfort and quality

Comfort/Quality


For comfort and quality, we consider the materials used and how well the final product brought them together. We look at factors like padding, fabric, and canopies, and how well those translated to baby's comfort, parent use, and longevity.


All of the seats share commonalities when it comes to materials used, like dense foam for impact protection and harder plastic for shell design. However, some offered significantly nicer padding or friendlier fabrics than others, and in the end, it is the seats that provide increased comfort for baby and a nice fit and finish that topped the charts in our comfort and quality tests.

Phil and Teds Alpha comes with 2 different inserts to help ensure the best fit for infants of all sizes
The Graco Snugride Classic Connect 22 earned the lowest score in our tests for comfort with very little padding  cheaper feeling fabric  and a thin infant head rest

Best Rated Seats for Comfort and Quality


The standouts in this metric were the Chicco Fit2, Cybex Cloud Q, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the Phil and Teds Alpha (above left) with 8s. These products provide additional padding, softer fabric, and nicer overall fit and finish compared to the competition. The lowest scoring seats were the Graco products with none scoring higher than a 4 in our tests.

Weight


We looked at the weight of both the base and carrier of each seat. Some of the bases were seriously heavy, but we only considered the weight of the carrier itself in our scoring.


We feel the portion of the seat that parents will be lugging around is more important when considering which product to buy given that the base is typically installed in the car and stays there.

Being one of the lightest seats in the group is arguably one of the best things about the Evenflo
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.

Best Rated Seats on Weight


The weight of the carriers varied in our review between 7.56 pounds for the Evenflo (above left) and 16.8 pounds for the Doona (above right). That is a significant difference that makes the Doona feel like a non-starter for carrying. Luckily, this unique option has stroller components attached (creating the heavier weight), which means you can avoid carrying this seat most of the time by pushing it instead. The average weight for the group is 10.5 pounds. While we don't think that weight should be your number one deciding factor, we do think it is relevant and can potentially help break a tie after narrowing down your options using other metrics like crash tests and ease of install first.

Conclusion


So, what's the right car seat for you and your baby? We don't think there is one single answer that works for every family. However, we believe our testing and analysis can help you narrow the field of products down to a few top contenders that meet your needs and are within your budget.

Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz
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