Last Updated: Dec 22, 2021 @ 6:18 pm.

What is the best convertible car seat to give as a gift? If you've been tasked with buying a seat for a new grandchild (or friend's newborn), the choices may seem daunting. You want top-of-the-line safety, of course. But what other features make for an excellent gift? We've been writing and researching car seats since 1994—yes, that long! To help, we rounded up nine premium car seats that make an excellent gift. We poured over third-party crash tests and then asked our parent readers for their favorites. Here are the best convertible car seats we would recommend as a gift.

FYI: We are the authors of the baby gear guide, Baby Bargains. We don't take money or freebies from the brands we review. Our work is 100% reader-supported!


Best Premium Seat

Easy to buckle
Excellent side impact protection is the headline here—but we also think the premium fabrics and padding make it worth the investment. And yes, you even get two built-in cup holders.

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Best Premium Seat: Maxi-Cosi Pria Max 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

Like most baby gear, convertible car seats can be generally divided into two categories: utilitarian seats that are great for everyday use and premium models that have more bells and whistles. 

We know when considering a gift for a grandchild or baby shower, some folks want all the premium features of a top-of-the-line seat. We looked at several top-end seats before deciding Maxi-Cosi is the best bet for most folks.

We liked this seat’s side-impact protection (Air Protect) and covers that are easy to remove. The star feature, however, is probably the premium fabrics and oodles of padding . . . this seat looks sharp and will certainly make an impression at that baby shower.

The extended use of this seat (it can be used for infants, toddlers and then as a booster to 100 lbs.) is another major feature that separates it from lower-end seats.

What We Liked

Soft, plush cover.

• Side impact protection.

• Converts to booster mode for use up to 85 lbs.

• Rear facing to 40 lbs.

• Lighter in weight compared to other seats in this category, making it somewhat easier to move from vehicle to vehicle.

What Needs Work

• No lock-offs for belt installations. That means you’ll have to understand how to lock your vehicle’s seat belts when installing. This isn’t impossible, but just an extra step compared to other seats with lock-offs.

• LATCH connectors may be too short for some vehicles.

• Large seat size may not fit well in smaller vehicles.

• Must use a tether in forward-facing position.

• Pricey. 

Best Extended Use

Tried & true brand
One car seat to rule them all! We liked the side-impact protection and ease of install. Also great: carry handle, no rethread harness and yes, there are cup holders!

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Best Extended Use: Britax One4Life

All-in-one car seats are the trending item when it comes to car seats. If you are buying a seat as a gift, you might ask—what the heck is that? 

All-in-one seats are designed to grow with the child through three phases:

  1. Infant: The seat is rear-facing for newborns, with extended rear-facing use in this case up to 50 lbs.
  2. Toddler: After the baby outgrows the rear-facing limits, the seat is forward facing for toddlers up to 65 lbs.
  3. Booster: The seat morphs into a belt-positioning booster for use up to 120 lbs.

If this sounds like the right seat for your gift recipient, then the all-in-one we would recommend is the Britax One4Life. 

Known for its best-selling line of convertible car seats, this is Britax’s first effort in the all-in-one car seat category—a seat for newborns, toddlers and older kids up to age 10.

Britax is a tried-and-true car seat brand . . . we like their overall reputation and commitment to safety testing and design.

So what makes the Britax One4Life so splurge-worthy? Here’s a look:

What We Liked

• Extensive side-impact protection. Britax was one of the first car seat brands to bring extensive side-impact protection to the US—and this seat continues that trend with two layers around the head, neck and torso. (Less expensive seats just use side-impact protection in the headrest).

Simple install. This seat has Britax’s ClickTight installation—in our tests, we found this system easier to use than competing brands. Impressive, rock-solid installations.

• 9-position recline. Less expensive seats may only have one or two recline positions—the One4Life lets you dial among nine different choices.

• No added flame retardants. The One4Life has a “SafeWash” cover that can be machine washed and dried.

• Premium features: harness covers, 15-position headrest, fancy/comfy fabrics and more. Bonus: you can use this seat up 120 lbs. as a belt-positioning booster for older kids.

What Needs Work

• Pricey. 

Heavy. At nearly 30 lbs., this seat won’t be easy to lug from car to car. If you need a car seat for carpools, this probably isn’t the best bet.

Best Budget-Friendly

Installation is a snap
We loved the headline feature for this seat—a panel that pops out for extra legroom, enabling longer rear-facing use. Budget-friendly AND a narrow profile that enables a good fit in smaller vehicles.

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Best Budget-Friendly: Graco Extend2Fit

If you want more bang for your buck, this seat by Graco would be an excellent choice. It also offers another key advantage: extended rear-facing use.

Why is this important?

Extended use of rear-facing car seats has been the recommendation for babies since 2011, when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended all kids ride rear-facing until age 2 or longer if possible. That’s because crash testing shows young children are better protected in a crash when facing the rear of a vehicle.

Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, most seats are only rear facing to 40 lbs. That’s why this seat is unique—it is rear facing to 50 lbs. Here are more details:

What We Liked

• Recline in six positions. It’s deeper for infants and less for napping toddlers.

• Adjustable harness without rethreading.

• 10-position adjustable headrest. It grows as your baby does.

• Extended rear-facing use to 50 lbs! This seat has a special pop-out panel that provides five-inches of legroom.

• Machine washable cover.

• Affordable.

What Needs Work

• No premium features like harness strap covers.

• May not work in smaller vehicles. When fully reclined with the leg rest extension, this seat takes up a significant amount of backseat real estate. It may require the front passenger seat to be moved to the most forward position.

• Cover. We like the machine-washable feature, but we found it challenging to put the cover back on the seat when cleaned.

Best Travel Seat

Also great for grandparents
This seat's secret sauce is it's lightweight—perfect for an airplane, rideshare car and more. No, it doesn't have any fancy features, but it gets the job done. And yes, there are two cup holders.

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Best For Travel: Cosco Apt 50 Convertible Car Seat

Traveling with a car seat presents its own special challenges—some traditional gift car seats are simply too big to fit in an airplane seat or even a taxi.

That’s why we like this model: it is much easier to install and carry, thanks to its lightweight design.

Think about it: if you are lugging this seat through an airport or wrestling it into a rental car, you don’t want a 30 lb. behemoth (yes, some car seats weight that much!). The Cosco Apt weighs just 8 pounds.

Here’s more on why the Costco Apt 50 is a best bet for travel car seats for infants and toddlers:

What We Liked

• FAA certified for use on an airplane.

• 8 lbs. total weight. That’s much lighter than other travel car seats.

• Rear facing to 40 lbs. It is safest for infants and toddlers to ride rear-facing as long as you can—and this seat’s 40 lb. rear-facing limit allows extended rear-facing use.

• Forward facing to 50 lbs. And this seat has six harness height positions—that means it can grow with your child. Other affordable seats we tested had just four or five harness positions.

• Affordable. 

• Two recline positions. 

• Lowest harness slot (5″) is great for smaller babies.

• Cup holders!

• Machine washable and dry seat pad.

What Needs Work

• Not much padding. We thought this car seat had adequate padding for most trips, but it isn’t as cushy as other seats.

• Cup holders add to seat width—which makes it harder to fit into tight spots (some narrow airline seats, compact rental cars, etc.).

• Installation has a learning curve. We would definitely take this car seat out of the box and install it at home before you hit the road. That’s because it can be a bit complex to install. For example, for the youngest kids, you may need to shorten the harness (the instructions to this are clear, but it takes a bit of time).

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do extensive research, evaluating products with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability. When we purchase a product for hands-on testing, we do so with our own money.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!