Convertible Car Seat Review: Cosco SceneraPrice: $39 (Scenera)$35 (Scenera Next)

Type: Convertible seat.

NHTSA ease of use rating:
Scenera: Rear facing: Two out of five stars. Forward facing: Two out of five stars.
Scenera Next: Rear facing: Two out of five stars. Forward-facing: Three out of five stars.

Limits: 5 to 35/40 lbs. rear facing, 22 to 40 lbs. front-facing.

Pros: Affordable car seat for a second car. Good for airplane travel.

Cons: No side impact protection or EPS foam. Fabric and padding is very basic. Top harness slot only 13″ tall (Scenera Next).

Comments: The Cosco Scenera is simple seat is our top pick for that occasionally-used second car or Grandma’s vehicle. The Scenera isn’t fancy: you get a five-point harness with four height positions and three crotch slots. The padding is very simple and there isn’t any EPS foam, side-impact protection or other goodies. But then again, this seat starts at just $39—perfect when you need an affordable seat that is easy to install and use.

We should point out that there are two Sceneras—an original version (which has a 35 lb. rear-facing limit; pictured above) and the newer Scenera NEXT (below). The Scenera Next works to 40 lbs. rear-facing and has a narrower profile (17″ wide). At $35, the Cosco Scenera NEXT is probably the most affordable convertible car seat on the market today.

Convertible Car Seat Review: Cosco Scenera NextConsumer Reports was not impressed with the original Scenera, which earned only a “basic” for crash protection. The Next, however, was rated rather highly by CR overall with “better”crash protection. As for ease of use, the Scenera earned just two stars from the NHTSA, with rear facing installation hassles holding the seat’s rating down. This is echoed by readers, who say the rear-facing installation is challenging, to put it mildly.

Overall, we think this is a good, basic seat for secondary use—that little used second car or as a back up to your main seat. Most reader feedback on this seat has been positive, with many parents finding it lightweight and easy to use. The only hitch: the original Scenera has a kick-stand that has to be flipped out when forward facing. Some folks forget to do this and complain about difficulty of installation. FYI: Cosco has eliminated this feature from the Scenera NEXT as well as the similarly priced Apt seat (which is somewhat wider).

Critics note the lack of padding or fancy fabric; the Scenera also does not have an infant insert, which means the smaller newborns may not fit well in the seat. And the top harness slot is only 14.5″ (Scenera) or 13″ (Scenera Next), 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.

The Scenera NEXT scored “better” on Consumer Reports most recent car seat crash tests (CR uses a three point scale: basic, better, best). That’s better than the original Scenera, which got a “basic” rating. Overall, the Scenera NEXT snagged the #5 spot out of 32 car seats tested—that’s impressive for a $35 car seat.

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.

Bottom line: between the two, we recommend the Scenera Next as a good, affordable bet for a caregiver’s car or Grandma to use.

Rating: B+