The Best Convertible Car Seat 2021
Best Convertible Car Seat 2021
Scroll down for our picks for Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Car Seat. New to car seat shopping? Read our 7 Things No One Tells You About Buying Convertible Car seat.
The Britax Boulevard comes in two versions, ClickTight ($324.99) and the ClickTight ARB ($364.99). Both 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.
A key feature is “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 these seats are pricey, the Boulevard ClickTight is worth it. Our own reader reviews on this seat are quite positive.
(Scroll down for a detailed review of this seat and the Britax brand).
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 base looks like when open:
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):
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.
Additional videos (and instructions) will help parents understand how to adjust the harness straps for older toddlers (two years and up). Reviews on Amazon.com occasionally mention difficulty adjusting the straps to fit older, bigger kids. Parents may not realize there is a way to upsize the seat for bigger kids.
The difference between Boulevard ClickTight & ARB
As we mentioned above, there are now two Boulevards on the market: the ClickTight, the ARB. Both 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):
As for the Boulevard ARB, that stands for anti-rebound bar. This padded steel bar keeps the seat from rebounding in a head-on 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 $48.99.
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 legroom when the Boulevard 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.
Bottom line: despite those small issues, we recommend the Britax Boulevard as the best convertible car seat. It combines the best safety features with easy of installation and a price that is accessible for most families—considering some convertible seats are now $400+.
Best Budget-Friendly Convertible Car Seat. 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 $53—yes, you read that right: $53. 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).
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.
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 a side impact crash, the Scenera’s lack of side impact protection could mean a child could make contact with the vehicle door—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.
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 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 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 Buying A Convertible Car Seat!
1. Pro tip: how easy is it to remove the cover for washing?
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.
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:
5. The sun is not always your car seat’s friend.
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!
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.
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
BabyBargains.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and its related sites. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.