Best All-in-One Car Seat
After researching and reviewing 17 different all-in-one car seats, we pick the Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit as the Best All-in-One Car Seat 2020.
As the name implies, all-in-one car seats can be used from birth to booster seat age. The Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit delivers on that promise with an exceptionally well-designed seat that can be used rear-facing (4 to 50 lbs.), forward-facing with five point harness (20 to 65 lbs.) and then as a booster—high back (40 to 100 lbs.) and backless (40 to 120 lbs.) for older kiddos.
The 2019 version of this seat adds Graco’s “Extend2Fit” feature that allows an extra five inches of legroom, thanks to an expanding base. Now the seat can be used for up to 50 lbs. rear-facing (the previous 4Ever stopped at 40 lbs).
The stand-out features here include a harness that adjusts without rethreading, side impact protection, six recline positions and headrest with ten height adjustments. As for safety, the Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit scored at the top of the class in recent third-party crash tests.
More details on our testing: Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit
The all-in-one car seat is the Fountain of Youth for car seat makers—the mythical seat that works from birth to college (ok, as a belt-positioning booster to 120 lbs., or when kids age out of booster seats and can correctly fit in a regular seat belt. That’s usually around age ten or later).
Yet like Ponce De Leon, Graco’s quest for the perfect all-in-one seat has been one of frustrating missteps. Their last effort, the SmartSeat, received mixed reviews from parents, many of whom cited negatives like the seat’s bulk and a harness that was hard to use.
We’ve always been a bit skeptical of all-in-one car seats. As the saying goes, jack of all trades . . . but master of none. Many all-in-one car seats in the past had one or two great uses, but fell down when it came to a third. But there is good news: we finally have an all-in-one car seat we can recommend: Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit.
Graco clearly has put a lot of thought into the 4Ever. Little touches like the harness that stores away in booster mode (you don’t have to remove it from the seat) are very nice. Unlike the giant SmartSeat, the 4Ever is easier to fit in a vehicle in rear-facing mode. The steel reinforced frame and EPS-lined seat are pluses. You also get premium “push-on” LATCH connectors, which you would expect at this price point.
Let’s talk crash tests: the Graco 4Ever (the previous version, before Graco added the Extend2Fit) scored “Best” on Consumer Reports latest third-party crash tests—that’s impressive.
Reader feedback and online reviews are very positive about the 4Ever Extend2Fit. Readers love how the fabric snaps off for cleaning. The 4Ever is easy to install and adjust. The seat earns a Best Bet in booster mode by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Flaws but not deal breakers
What’s not to love about the Graco 4Ever Extend2Fit? Readers say in rear-facing mode, the seat’s harness can be tricky to tighten. The lack of a belt lock-off for seat belt installs is a curious omission for a high end seat.
Minor quibble: there is a level indicator, but only on one side. And the fabric isn’t as soft to the touch as you’d expect say some critics. The 4Ever Extend2Fit is also quite heavy—if you are looking for a lighter weight car seat for carpooling, there are better choices out there.
Finally, let’s talk about one unspoken flaw of all-in-one car seats—wear and tear on the fabric. Graco promises you can use the 4Ever Extend2Fit until age ten or so. That’s ten years worth of fabric use and abuse, starting with diaper blow-outs and continuing through toddler tummy troubles. Yes, you can clean the fabric . . . but we can imagine some kids reaching the point where they reject sitting in a “baby” seat that is stained/worn from years of use. Just sayin’.
On the plus side, this seat is affordable. In a world of car seats that run three hundred bucks or more, it’s a good value.
Also Great: Evenflo EveryStage DLX All-in-One Convertible Car Seat
The big headline with Evenflo’s new All-in-One Convertible seat, the Evenflo EveryStage, is the in-seat recline. While the seat is being used rear-facing in infant car seat mode, the in-seat recline angles baby to the appropriate angle internally. There is also an external five-position recline when the seat is used facing forward as a convertible seat. In our testing, this was impressive and easy to use.
Another innovation on this seat: the EasyClick LATCH system with attached ratchet that allows you to tighten the LATCH up to three times tighter. Our parent testers note this makes it fairly easy to install compared to other seats. Note: the EasyClick LATCH is only available on the DLX version of the Evenflo EveryStage.
Other key features we like: one-hand adjustable headrest, and a 10-position no rethread harness.
The seat can be used from 4 lbs. to 50 lbs. rear facing, 22 lbs. to 65 lbs. forward facing and 40 lbs. to 120 lbs. as a belt-positioning booster. Evenflo’s big claim here is that seat can be used for up to 10 years, but we wonder if older kiddos may prefer a backless booster at that stage.
Flaws but not deal breakers
The EveryStage is a big seat—we measured the shell at 32″ long when used in a rear-facing recline mode. Yes, folks that is nearly THREE FEET. Hence, we see complaints from parents that this seat either doesn’t fit or is a tight fit in small to mid-size vehicles.
However, this is an issue with all all-in-one car seats, which need larger shells to accommodate those older kiddos in booster seat mode. As a comparison, the Evenflo EveryStage is at 19″ wide at its widest point with the cupholders; the Graco Extend2Fit is 20″ wide.
Another frustration was the harness, which a few dissenters said was difficult to adjust. And removing the seat from the car can be a bit of a pain, especially trying to release the ratchet.
Finally, parents in our tests hated the cup holders—they come off too easily.
Despite these drawbacks, we still think the Evenflo’s EveryStage is a good seat. We were impressed with the in-seat recline for newborns and infants and the ratcheting LATCH tightener, which outweighs the frustration with the seat’s cup holders and large bulk.
FYI: The Evenflo EveryStage is the latest evolution of Evenflo’s line-up. It succeeds the Evenflo SafeMax All In One seat, which we also recommended in a previous version of this review.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been rating and reviewing 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.
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!
How we picked a winner
With all the choices out there, how do we pick the best car seats? First, we visit car seat factories, watch crash tests and comb through government safety testing to come up with our ratings. Below is a Britax infant car seat crash test in a simulated rear-end collision (photo credit: Britax).
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.