Experts say that easy installation is the most important feature in any car seat, because if you can't get it in the car properly, it can't protect your baby properly.
The Chicco KeyFit 30 (Est. $190) has topped many parents' wish lists for the past few years, and reviewers say other manufacturers still can't beat it for ease of use. The KeyFit 30's LATCH connectors are a cinch to use, and the adjustable base and level indicators make getting the right recline a no-brainer, experts say. The seat is a safety standout, too, scoring well in independent crash tests. Parents also appreciate the wide range of sophisticated color combinations that don't scream "baby seat." Of course, there are a few downsides: Some reviewers complain that the fabric runs too hot, especially in warmer climates, and many wish for a canopy that offered more protection from the sun. The KeyFit 30 is also pricier than several seats with similar features.
Britax has long set the standard in the convertible car-seat market, but reviewers say the company has a winning infant seat in the Britax B-SAFE (Est. $135) . True to its name, the seat receives the highest marks in independent crash tests. While installation isn't quite as smooth as it is with the Chicco KeyFit 30, reviewers say the B-SAFE is still easy to secure and a good pick for situations where parents may not install the seat with a base, such as rental cars or taxis. Parents also like the large sun canopy, but they say the fabric can make for sweaty babies and the harness straps twist too easily. The wide base can also take up a lot of real estate in compact cars.
Parents who appreciate modern design and don't want to lug around a heavy seat will want to check out the Maxi-Cosi Mico (Est. $150) . The seat boasts a sophisticated, streamlined look and a range of vibrant colors. It's also among the lightest seats on the market and receives the highest marks in independent crash tests. Reviewers say the cotton fabric is more breathable than the covers on competing seats. However, the Mico will accommodate babies up to only 22 pounds, while seats such as the Chicco KeyFit 30 and Britax B-SAFE top out at 30 pounds. Some reviewers also complain that the base can be hard to use and the sun canopy should be bigger.
With all things being equal, and not much difference in the price, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is tops for ease of use, comfort for baby and a wide range of color options. Best of all, pair the Chicco infant seat with a Chicco stroller and you have a travel system that will go the distance.
If your baby is on the upper end of the curve when it comes to height, you may want to consider an infant car seat with a higher capacity, so you don't have to replace it before you're ready.
A top-seller in Graco's popular line of infant car seats, the Graco SnugRide 35 (Est. $140) can accommodate babies up to 35 pounds and 32 inches. Parents appreciate the generous sun canopy and wide range of stroller options -- SnugRides are compatible with several Graco and non-Graco models. The seat is also amply padded, and the cover is machine-washable. But installing the seat without LATCH can be tricky, experts say. Many reviewers also complain of stiff buckles and say the wide base may not be the best choice for smaller cars. And while perfectly safe -- all infant car seats meet the same federal standards -- the SnugRide 35 didn't impress as much as other seats in independent crash tests.
Another seat with room for bigger babies, the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air (*Est. $160) is also a good pick for wee ones with long legs because of an extra-tall shell. Like the Graco SnugRide 35, it accommodates babies up to 35 pounds and 32 inches. The seat receives the highest ratings in independent crash tests and boasts "air protect" side-impact technology to keep little ones safe. Most reviewers say installation is easy, but some say it can be hard to tighten the harness straps enough. Others complain about the seat cover, which they say pills easily and is hard to remove. The fabric also must be hand-washed. Also, while the OnBoard 35 Air is nice and roomy for babies, the shell can take up lots of room in smaller cars.
Those who want a high-capacity infant car seat without breaking the bank should look into the Evenflo Embrace 35 (Est. $80) . The seat also has a 35-pound weight limit, though it only allows babies up to 30 inches tall -- 2 inches short of the Graco SnugRide 35 and Safety 1st OnBoard 35 Air. The Embrace 35 gets good crash-test marks and is very lightweight at 7.5 pounds -- rare for a high-capacity seat. Parents say it is nicely padded, and experts praise the seat's fit for very small babies, as well as taller children. But some reviewers say the buckles are stiff and the harness straps twist, and many also criticize a skimpy, flimsy canopy. Buyers should also beware that Evenflo only provides an anemic 90-day warranty, while most other manufacturers back their seats for a year.
Considering price, versatility and safety features, the Graco SnugRide 35 is a top choice to hold taller babies safely for a longer time.