Bugaboo Cameleon Stroller Base

Web site: bugaboo.nl

Bugaboo. It’s Dutch for “priced as if from a hotel mini-bar.”

The models. Here’s an unlikely recipe for success in the stroller biz. Take a Dutch-designed stroller, attach a $700 price tag and voila! Instant hit, right? Well, chalk this one up to some creative marketing (or at least, lucky timing).

Bugaboo’s breakthrough success was the Frog, named as such for its small wheels in front that give it a frog-like look. The Frog ($760) is a clever hybrid of an all-terrain and carriage stroller, pitched to parents for its multiple uses. The Frog comprises three parts: an aluminum frame and bassinet that can later be replaced by a stroller seat (included with canopy and basket). It weighs about 20 lbs., which is rather amazing. (Bugaboo is closing out the Frog although it was still available at press time.)

Oh, and we forgot the fourth ingredient of the Bugaboo—hype.

The Bugaboo folks were in the right place at the right time. How did the Bugaboo become so hot? Sure, it was fashionable, but that doesn’t quite explain it. Nope, the answer is Bugaboo had one of the great product placements of all time . . . it was the featured stroller on HBO’s Sex in the City. The rest is stroller history. In no time, celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow were swishing their Bugaboos across the pages of People magazine. The Bugaboo was the first baby stroller to cross paths with the white-hot supernova that is celebrity culture these days.

It didn’t hurt that Bugaboo debuted during the boom in baby luxury products during the early 2000’s (remember those days?).
Cleverly, Bugaboo played on its Dutch design roots . . . even though (shhh! don’t tell anyone!) the Bugaboo is made in Taiwan, not Amsterdam.

Bugaboo’s sequel to the Frog—the aptly named Cameleon (20 lbs.) runs $880. The Cameleon adds a more springy suspension on the front wheels, plus a slightly larger seat frame and higher chassis. Unlike the Frog, the Cameleon is available in a wide range of color combinations—you can choose from six base colors and nine top colors, mix and match. Also new: a height adjustable handle.

Bugaboo has added to its line at a slow pace. In 2007, the company launched its first compact stroller, the Bee ($600, 22 lbs.). Pitched to urban dwellers with its narrow width (20”; about four inches narrower than other Bugaboo’s), the Bee has an oversized canopy, reversible seat, and four-position seat recline.

Yet the Bee was never the runaway hit that the Frog or Cameleon were, so Bugaboo went back to the drawing board and launched a refreshed Bee in 2010. Dubbed the Bee Plus, it features a wider, height adjustable seat, adjustable canopy height and upgraded wheels. The company seemed to listen to its critics when it dropped the original Bee’s much-hated seat “wings.”

The big news for 2011 will be Bugaboo’s first double stroller, the unfortunately named Donkey. The unique feature here is a frame that can expand toaccommodate a bassinet, storage basket or sec•ond baby seat. In its single or mono configuration, the stroller is 23” wide; for a duo, it expands to 29.” Unfortunately, all this presto•chango goodness comes at a price, both literally and figuratively. The weight of the Donkey is a hefty 32 lbs. as a single and a whop•ping 40.3 lbs. as a duo (with the added second seat).

And the cost? $1200 for a “mono” version, $1500-$1650 for a double. No kidding.

FYI: Bugaboo also sells a raft of accessories for its strollers such as cup holders (what? You thought that would be included?). Example: a $45 car seat adapter lets you attach most major brand infant car seats to the frame. That cup holder is $25, parasol $40, foot muff $130.

Our view. The rise and fall of Bugaboo at first blush looks like a tale that mirrors the economy: at first, parents (and grand parents) couldn’t wait to spend nearly $1000 on a Bugaboo stroller, wanting the very best for their baby. Now frugal is in and luxe is out—so naturally, Bugaboo has suffered.

But some of Bugaboo’s woes go beyond macroeconomics . . . and are more self-inflicted. The company’s notorious slow and arrogant customer service is Exhibit One. When you spend this much on a stroller and something breaks, you expect white glove treat•ment from the company. Yet reader reports and online reviews again and again slam Bugaboo for indifferent customer service, long waits for parts and other hassles.

Quality issues have also dogged Bugaboo (plastic parts that break, inflated tires that go flat and so on) and that’s on top of some of the built-in design hassles of the strollers, particularly on the Cameleon. Readers gripe that the assembly and folding on the stroller takes too darn long. To fold a Bugaboo Frog or Cameleon, you must first remove the seat—that’s a major pain, especially for folks who live in the suburbs and plan to fold it up frequently to fit in a trunk (and you’ll need a big trunk). Hence, setting up the Bugaboo requires re•attaching the seat to the frame. Sure, this takes 30 seconds or so, which isn’t forever—but about 25 seconds longer than most strollers.

Bottom line: a Bugaboo is probably best for urban dwellers or folks who don’t plan to frequently disassemble and throw it in a trunk. (The Bee is an exception—it is easy to fold and set-up).

Fans of Bugaboo love the strollers’ smooth steering, ride and suspension. The multi-function aspect of the Cameleon also earns kudos, although this has been matched in recent years by the Uppa Baby Vista and even Britax. And while we think the Donkey’s amazing expandable frame is a key innovation, it’s hard for us to sug•gest anyone spend $1500 on a stroller.

Given its quality and customer service issues, we will drop our rating for Bugaboo this time out. Except for a few well-heeled urban parents, the hassle and expense of Bugaboo’s flagship Cameleon or Frog makes this a questionable purchase. Rating: B