Infant car seats are traditionally used for babies up to 22 pounds. Because recent recommendations advise parents to continue the rear-facing position until their child is 2 years old, a number of manufacturers have begun making car seats with a larger weight capacity of 30 or even 35 pounds. The trade-off for this added capacity is weight; higher-capacity car seats are heavier and more cumbersome to carry. The primary convenience of an infant car seat is the ability to remove and replace the seat without disturbing a sleeping infant.
However, most parents say that after their babies reach the 22-pound weight limit, it's easier to remove the child than the entire seat, negating the need for a car seat that doubles as a carrier. For these reasons, many parents continue to opt for a 22-pound capacity car seat and transition to a convertible car seat (we cover these models in a separate report) when their babies reach 22 pounds.
In this category, the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite (*Est. $80) gets excellent safety ratings at a budget-friendly price. The seat accommodates babies from 4 to 22 pounds and up to 29 inches in height. Features include an adjustable infant insert, five-point harness and adjustable canopy. In a recent independent test, the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite (also known as the Cosco Comfy Carry) receives the highest rating for crash protection, along with very good ratings for fit to vehicle. It's also a top choice at Parents.com, where editors praise the lightweight, 6-pound seat for being easy to carry.
However, the Safety 1st car seat gets slightly lower ratings for ease of use, largely because the straps are hard to adjust and the recline of the base is not adjustable. If that is an issue, the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus (*Est. $90) has an adjustable recline and costs just a bit more; it has similarly excellent safety ratings. Unfortunately, few owners have weighed in on the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite. The few reviews we found were mostly positive -- parents like the affordable price tag and say the seat is easy to install (using either the vehicle's seat belt or LATCH system), but other users complain that the handle feels flimsy, it's tricky to install and doesn't seem safe.
The Chicco KeyFit (*Est. $180) is another option for babies from 4 to 22 pounds, and it earns very good ratings in one independent test for safety and ease of use. However, most parents opt for the more popular Chicco KeyFit 30 (*Est. $200), which is rated for babies up to 30 pounds. The Chicco KeyFit comes with a removable newborn insert, spring-assisted leveler and a five-point harness. In addition to its good safety reputation, the Chicco KeyFit earns praise for its easy installation; seasoned parent reviewers who have bought and tried more than one infant car seat say installing the KeyFit was much easier than other car seats. NHTSA agrees, rating the KeyFit 4 out of 5 stars for ease of use and giving it a perfect rating for installation features. A number of parents praise the harness-release button, which makes it easy to remove their child from the seat.
As with most other car seats, we found complaints that the fabric covering the Chicco KeyFit does not breathe and their babies get hot and sweaty. This is a common complaint with infant car seats, particularly when the infant insert is used. The Chicco KeyFit costs more than twice as much as the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite, which gets a better crash protection rating. Ease of use is a plus, but some parents don't think that justifies the higher price.
Another reviewer favorite is the Graco SnugRide (*Est. $90), which accommodates babies from 5 to 22 pounds and 29 inches tall. The Graco SnugRide is relatively lightweight, weighing 7.5 pounds without the base, but it weighs 1.5 pounds more than the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite. Parents give it very high ratings, but the SnugRide infant seat lags behind the Chicco KeyFit and Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite in the latest independent test, where it receives a lower rating for crash protection. According to this test, the harness straps are hard to adjust, and the car seat doesn't install easily without the base.
On a positive note, parents posting to Walmart.com, Viewpoints.com and Amazon.com (where the Graco SnugRide averages between 4 and 5 stars out of 5) comment on its durable fabric, comfortable handles and washable seat cover. Parents of smaller newborns say their babies fit nicely in the car seat. In addition, owners of two-door vehicles say this car seat's compact size and light weight make it easy to get in and out of small cars. But not all parents agree; while some say it's easy to install, others say it isn't (we found this type of dichotomy throughout car seat reviews in general). Some parents also comment that the fabric is not very breathable, but, again, this is a very common complaint with all car seats.
The Maxi Cosi Mico (*Est. $190) is another highly rated choice among car seats for infants up to 22 pounds. It accommodates babies starting at 5 pounds and 19 to 29 inches in height. Numerous color combinations are available, and the seat comes with a removable infant insert. The Maxi Cosi Mico earns the highest score for crash protection in one recent test, where editors also laud the seat's ease of use and installation features. Indeed, many parents posting to review sites praise the car seat for its easy-to-adjust straps and say the lightweight design is easy to carry.
However, the seat can be difficult to remove from the base, according to one test, and some parents complain that the canopy doesn't shield their baby from the sun very well. In addition, the Maxi Cosi Mico car seat was recalled in February 2011 because of a defect in the harness-adjustment system. The recall affected models manufactured between May 1, 2008, and April 30, 2009. The faulty harness has been corrected on car seats manufactured after April 2009.