The Best Convertible Car Seat

Best Convertible Car Seat

Last Updated: Apr 20, 2017 @ 2:58 pm
After researching and reviewing 50+ different convertible car seats, we pick the Britax Boulevard ClickTight ($304 on Amazon) as the Best Convertible Car Seat.

Scroll down for our picks for Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Car Seat and Best Convertible Car Seat for Urban Parents.  New to car seat shopping? Read our 7 Things No One Tells You About Buying Convertible Car seat.

The Britax Boulevard comes in three versions, ClickTight ($304); G4 ($264); and the ClickTight ARB ($328); more on the differences in a minute. All versions enable a child to ride rear-facing to 40 lbs. and forward facing to 65 with the five-point harness. The Boulevard features a no rethread harness, side-impact protection and excellent ease of use.

The most recent Boulevards feature “ClickTight” technology—the seat pops open for an easier belt installation. The result is a rock solid install. Crash protection is also excellent—the new anti-rebound bar (ClickTight ARB model) adds another layer of safety to keep the seat from rebounding in a collision. Although the price tips the scales at $300, the Boulevard ClickTight is worth it. Our own reader reviews on this seat are quite positive and the Boulevard scores an 83% approval rating on Amazon (4 and 5-star reviews). (Scroll down for a detailed review of this seat and the Britax brand).

The Best Convertible Car Seat

The Britax Boulevard ClickTight. This seat’s pop-open base makes belt installation a snap and safety is top notch.

Britax Boulevard: More details

Britax is the king of convertible car seats and the Britax Boulevard is their flagship model. There are two major headlines for the Boulevard: the new ClickTight base and added side impact protection. Let’s take a look at the ClickTight base—this new feature allows for ease of installation, thanks to a seat base that pops open to help with belt installations. Here’s what ClickTight looks like: ClickTight base Here’s a quick video on how ClickTight works:     The other major feature for the Boulevard (versus the less expensive Britax Marathon) is enhanced side impact protection. This takes the form of deep side walls and a head cushion (see below): b6bf17f5-5259-433e-a352-17a1e8fe4841._V321241563_ Additional key features include a quick-adjust (no rethread) harness that moves both the harness and headrest in 14 positions. The Boulevard has seven recline positions plus an automatic level indicator helps guide the correct angle for the seat. Thanks to its wide distribution, you can find the Boulevard sold in many stores and online. That means you can often snag one on sale. One tip: watch for discontinued patterns, which can sell for 20% to 30% less. All in all, we found the Britax Boulevard very easy to install. Helpfully, Britax has an extensive series of installation videos for the Boulevard. To explain the difference between the seats, here is an installation video page for the G4 versus the ClickTight.

The difference between Boulevard G4, ClickTight & ARB

As we mentioned above, there are now three Boulevards on the market: the ClickTightG4 and the ARB. All three seats feature “SafeCell” technology which lowers the seat’s center of gravity and makes it safer in a crash. In the picture below, you can see the SafeCells in the seat base (the red plastic area): 71+RApZAyKL._SL1000_ As you might have guessed, the G4 models do NOT have the ClickTight bases (discussed above). Other differences between the ClickTight and G4 version (besides the base): the G4 has ten harness positions versus 14 for the ClickTight; the G4 has only three recline positions versus seven for the ClickTight. The G4 lacks a level indicator. Released in September 2016, Britax now has a third version of the Boulevard: the ARB. That stands for anti-rebound bar. This padded steel bar keeps the seat from rebounding in a vehicle front-facing crash. Britax claims safety testing showed anti-rebound bars reduced seat rebound by 40% and helped stabilize the seat even in side-impact and rear-end crashes. FYI: the ARB model is identical to the Britax Boulevard ClickTight, the only difference is the added anti-rebound bar. What if you have a Britax Boulevard ClickTight and want to add the anti-rebound bar? Yes, you can—Britax is selling the anti-rebound bar as an accessory for $40.

Flaws but not deal breakers

So, what’s not to like about the Boulevard? Well, first, this is a big and heavy seat. The Boulevard’s bulk (23.5″ height; 23″ in depth) may make it hard to fit into smaller vehicles, especially rear-facing. And the seat’s weight (about 30 lbs.) probably makes this a no go for carpools. There isn’t much leg room when the Boulveard is in rear-facing mode and a child is near the limits of the seat (40 lbs.). This will depend on the slope of your backseat, but just an FYI. We’ve seen a few complaints about broken buttons on the ClickTight base, which suggests Britax had a few hiccups in its initial production runs. Given the brand’s overall reputation for quality, however, we assumed they have ironed this out by the time you read this. We also see a few customer online reviews that claim the un-installation from LATCH for this seat can be difficult. We assume Britax is pushing folks to do more belt installations with the ClickTight base, but if you have your heart set on using LATCH, this might not be the best seat if you plan to install and uninstall it regularly. FYI: All of Britax ClickTight seats were recalled in August 2015; see details here. The seats were fixed and returned to the market in September 2015.

Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Car Seat

Can you buy a no-frills convertible car seat for under $100? Yes, and this one is under $50!

Can you buy a no-frills convertible car seat for under $100? Yes, and this one is under $50!

For a decent, no-frills car seat, we recommend the Cosco Scenera Next. Yes, it lacks the whiz bang features of newer models, but this seat is the quiet, unsung hero of car seats. That’s because it retails for $47 at Walmart—yes,  you read that right: $47. This seat’s low price makes the Scenera perfect for that little-used second car or Grandma’s vehicle.

The Scenera is a basic, bare-bones convertible that is easy to install. With the prices of some car seats pushing $400, it’s nice to know you can find a decent seat for well under $100.

The Cosco Scenera has been around for many years. In a recent refresh, Cosco debuted an updated version of this seat called the Scenera Next, which works to 40 lbs. rear-facing and has a new narrow profile (17” wide). It is a Walmart exclusive at $47.

Key features of the Scenera Next include:

• Machine washable pad—it’s amazing more seats don’t allow you to throw the pad in the washing machine. As any experienced parent will tell you, just about anything can happen in a car seat. Kudos to Cosco for this.

• Comes fully assembled. Five harness slots—the top one is only 13”, however.

• Light in weight—compared to other convertible seats, the Scenera is lightweight and a good choice for airline travel.

• A zillion color choices. The Scenera has many fabric choices, so you aren’t locked into just one or two colors.

Consumer Reports picked this seat as a best buy in their most recent rankings, giving it a “better” in crash protection. As for ease of use, the Scenera earned just two stars from the NHTSA, with rear facing installation holding the seat’s rating down. Nonetheless, we think this is a good, basic seat for secondary use.

Reader feedback on the Scenera Next is much the same as the Scenera—the same complaints about rear-facing installation and skimpy padding are outweighed by the light weight and the 40 lb. rear-facing limit. The cover on the Next is machine washable and dryer safe.

Flaws but not deal breakers

Perhaps the biggest concern we have with the Cosco Scenera is the lack of side impact protection. Here is a video that shows the Cosco Scenera side impact crash test:

As you can see from the video during the side impact crash, the Scenera’s lack of side impact protection could mean a child could make contact with the vehicle door in such a crash—especially if your vehicle does NOT have side-curtain air bags in the rear seats. If this keeps you up at night, consider our other picks that have more side impact protection.

While the  Scenera Next garners mostly positive reviews (most parents finding it easy to install and use), there is one possible issue: in order to install the Scenera with the proper recline in rear-facing mode, you may have to use a rolled-up towel or pool noodle to get the proper angle. This depends in your vehicle (those with deep sloping back seats are more of an issue when installing the Scenera). Using these aids is perfectly safe, we should note.

Critics note the lack of padding or fancy fabric; the Scenera also lacks an infant insert, which means the smallest newborns may not fit well in the seat. And the top harness slot is only 13,″ so it is doubtful a kid will hit the 40 lb. weight limit before outgrowing this seat by height. But that’s the trade-off for getting the price so low—again, we think this seat is best for that little-used second car or Grandma’s car. Fans love the Scenera for airplane travel, where the seat’s light weight is much appreciated.

Also: the Scenera lacks EPS or EPP foam for additional crash protection. This is helpful in a side impact collision to prevent injury to a child. Despite this omission, Consumer Reports still gave this seat “better” marks in crash protection given their crash tests. We deem the lack of foam an acceptable trade-off for a seat that will only get occasional use in grandma’s car or a second vehicle. The lack of foam keeps the price low.

A final negative: the Scenera shell edges can be rough. Without a seat protector (a thin towel will do), your car’s upholstery may get scratched or damaged when using the Scenera.

Best Convertible Car Seat For Urban Parents

Combi Coccoro

If you live in a city and need to take an Uber or cab, the Combi Coccoro is a good solution: lightweight and easy/quick to install. $240 on Buy Buy Baby.

Parents who live in an urban city center have always faced an unique car seat challenge: when you have to rely on Uber, Lyft or a cab to get from point A to point B, what do you do with a baby who’s outgrown an infant car seat? What convertible seat is both light in weight and quick to install?

We suggest the Combi Coccoro ($240 at Buy Buy Baby). First it is lightweight—14 lbs. That’s 10-15 lbs. less than other convertible seats. Despite the light weight, it has scored well in crash tests.

We found the Coccoro very easy and quick to install—which is important when the meter is running. Bonus: you can even install the Coccoro with your child buckled in the seat.

What happens when you arrive at the local park or shopping district? If you need to stroll around a bit, we suggest a Go-Go Babyz Travelmate ($81 on Amazon):

The Go-Go Babyz Travelmate turns any convertible car seat into a stroller—perfect when you have to go from Uber to restaurant.

The Go-Go Babyz Travelmate turns any convertible car seat into a stroller—perfect when you have to go from Uber to restaurant. $81 on Amazon.

Strap your Combi Coccoro into this contraption and voila! You have a adhoc stroller which functions like a rollerboard suitcase. (Go-Go even has a specific install guide for the Coccoro).

Obviously, this isn’t designed for long outings like a regular stroller, since there isn’t a basket or other comfort features. But the telescoping handle is nice. If you need to roll a convertible seat through an airport, the Travelmate is perfect.

And when you live the city, we realize you may have to walk a bit between an Uber and your end destination. So there you go!

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing convertible car seats since 1994. In addition to hands on inspections of car seats, we have also visited manufacturer facilities, watched crash tests and met with safety regulators—and when we travel, we pay our all of our own expenses.

We look to our reader feedback to give us a real world perspective on car seats—our message board on car seats has 23,000 (!) threads. We also evaluate consumer reviews posted on sites like Babies R Us and Amazon. Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples for contests, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby gear reviews. We’ve been writing and reviewing baby gear since 1994. Yes, that long! Learn more about our work and how to support our site.

How we picked a winner

We visit car seat factories, watch crash tests and comb through government safety testing to come up with our ratings.

We visit car seat factories, watch crash tests and comb through government safety testing to come up with our ratings. Above is a Britax infant car seat crash test in a simulated rear-end collision.

We evaluate car seats with hands on inspections, checking seats for ease of use (installation and adjusting the seat). We also gather significant reader feedback, tracking seats on quality and durability. Besides interviewing parents, we also frequently talk with car seat “techs,” certified child passenger safety technicians who install hundreds if not thousands of seats at safety check points nationwide.

We’ve been rating and reviewing car seats since 1994. During that time, we have also visited manufacturer facilities and watched car seat crash tests. While we don’t personally crash test seats, we compare our reader feedback with crash tests done by organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Consumer Reports. We also look at third-party evaluations of seats by groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which focuses on booster car seats.

7 Things No One Tells You About . . .

7 Things No One Tells You About Buying A Convertible Car Seat!

1. Pro tip: how easy is it to remove the cover for washing?

zip-off-cover

Yes, all car seats come out of the box looking fabulous. But any experienced parent will tell you how things can get ugly there in the back seat: spit up, juice spills and diaper blow outs. (Let’s not visualize. Let’s just move on). So then what? You have to remove the cover for cleaning.

That sounds simple, but the truth is some covers remove (and go back on) much easier than others. The best have zip-off or “easy remove” covers. Not so good: seats with multiple loops, snaps and other attachments.

Also: check to see if the cover is machine washable and dryable? Can you remove and wash the harness?

2. Some reclines are easier than others.

How easy is it to recline the seat, especially rear-facing?

How easy is it to recline the seat, especially rear-facing?

Most convertible seats recline for napping babies, but how EASY is it to recline? Remember that when a convertible seat is REAR-FACING, a lever on the front of the seat will be jammed up against the back seat.

3. Twisty straps: the pain that keeps on giving.

Better quality car seats have thicker straps that don’t twist. The result: it’s easier to get a child in and out of a seat. Cheaper seats have cheaper webbing that can be a nightmare— “twisty straps” are a key reason why parents hate their car seats. Our top picks on this site avoid the twisty strap issue.

4. Give a second look at that harness buckle.

For obvious safety reasons, the harness buckle (which holds the two shoulder straps in place) shouldn’t be too easy to unclip. Only an adult should be able to do it. But each car seat brand takes a different approach to this critical piece of safety gear. When shopping, take a second to open and close the buckle yourself. Think about any caregivers who might be buckling in baby (grandparents may have less strength, etc).

Hint: “puzzle” or compound buckles can be particularly vexing! As implied by the name, a puzzle buckle must be put together in a particular order to latch. These buckles tend to be seen more on lower-price seats.

Here’s a look at how a typical puzzle buckle works:

Puzzle Buckles

puzzle-2

puzzle-3

5.  The sun is not always your car seat’s friend.

car seats can get overheated, especially with plush black fabric

That plush, black velour car seat cover may look stunning out of the box, but when installed in a car that sits in the hot summer sun  . . . you’ve got a recipe for Sweaty Baby Syndrome. If you have a choice between a dark color and one that is somewhat lighter, we’d go for the latter.

Another related issue: some car seats have exposed metal buckles and hardware. In the hot sun, these buckles can get toasty and possibly burn a child. Pro tip: look for a seat that has buckle clips or holders that keep metal away from direct sun.

6. Convertible does not necessarily equal portable.

Convertible car seats vary widely in weight, with some as low as 8 lbs. (Cosco Scenera Next) and others topping 34 lbs. (Clek Foonf, for example). Note that both seats pass federal crash test standard for safety.

While you shouldn’t base your entire convertible car seat decision on weight, it may be an important factor for some parents. If you live an urban city center and don’t own a car, then you’ll need a lightweight seat when using Uber or a cab (see above for our convertible car seats for urban parents). If you see yourself moving a convertible seat between multiple vehicles on a frequent basis, buying a 30 lb.+ seat isn’t going to make that very easy.

7. There is no crash test standard for side impact protection—yet!

Side impact protection

As you car seat shop, you’ll see lots of seats promoting “side impact protection” with various headrests, cushions and gadgets. But remember this: as of this writing, there is NO federal side impact safety standard that car seat makers are required to pass. Hence, we have little information to verify which seats are best. (Manufacturers do their own internal side impact crash testing, but aren’t required to share those results with the public).

We should note that there is a PROPOSED side impact car seat safety standard that was published back in 2014. But that rule isn’t final yet and it isn’t clear when that will take effect. We’ll update this tip in the future when that happens.

safety iconSafety Alert

Certifications to look for when convertible car seat shopping:

NHTSA Ease of Use Rating: The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTS) publishes Ease-of-Use Ratings that cover four areas:

  • Evaluation of Instructions: Content and clarity of the instructions manual for the child restraint.
  • Vehicle Installation Features: Features that pertain to installing the child restraint in a vehicle.
  • Evaluation of Labels: Content and clarity of the labeling attached to the child restraint.
  • Securing the Child: Ease in securing a child correctly in the restraint.

Seats are ranked on a one to five star scale. While you can find these ratings here, we have also included NHTSA rankings in each of our reviews (see below).

Textile Certifications: Orbit (now discontinued) is the only car seat to have its fabric certified by OEKO-TEX.

OEKO-TEX is a German organization that offers a Standard 100 certification program for textiles at all steps in the manufacturing process.

“Products marked with the label ‘Confidence in textiles (Standard 100)’ provide effective protection against allergenic substances, formaldehyde, heavy metals such as nickel or for example forbidden plasticizers (phthalates) in baby textiles,” say the organization.

OEKO-TEX offers a second certification called Green by OEKO-TEX, which means the “materials (were) tested for harmful substances,” the product was “made in environmentally friendly facilities” and it was “made in safe and socially responsible workplaces.”

FYI: Despite claims to the contrary, no car seat makers currently use OEKO-TEX certificated flame retardant foam in their car seats.

Reviews of 40+ convertible car seats

The Best Convertible Car Seat

The Britax Boulevard ClickTight. This seat’s pop-open base makes belt installation a snap and safety is top notch.