Convertible car seats accommodate a wide range of growing children since they can be used both rear- and forward-facing. Unfortunately, they can be harder to install than infant car seats that have convenient click-in bases and bulkier than compact convertible car seats, both of which we cover elsewhere in this report.
First introduced in 2013, the Chicco NextFit (Est. $300) immediately made waves as one of the easiest-to-install convertible car seats. Its popularity hasn't faded in the past few years, with reviewers continuing to rave about its safety, versatility and ease of use. The NextFit can accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing and 20 to 65 pounds forward-facing. Children must be less than 49 inches tall.
Reviewers say it's hard to beat the NextFit on installation. Experts with CarSeatBlog.com say they ran into few issues installing the NextFit in a wide variety of vehicles, reserving particular praise for the SuperCinch straps that make it easy to get tight LATCH installations. Built-in lock-offs make seat-belt installations easy, too. The NextFit also has nine built-in reclines that help parents achieve a proper angle. A no-rethread, front-adjust harness makes adjusting the seat's harness height a snap, and the cover is machine-washable. For a small price premium, the Chicco NextFit Zip (Est. $350) lets parents zip the cover off and on instead of fussing with snaps and hooks, which might be worth the money – experts with BabyGearLab.com say it is hard to remove the fabric on the non-Zip NextFit.
The NextFit has deep head wings to protect against side-impact crashes, a steel-reinforced frame and energy-absorbing foam. It receives very good marks for crash protection in independent testing. Like all convertibles, the seat has a five-point harness, chest clip, and tether for use forward-facing.
Despite the NextFit's high height and weight capacities, it doesn't hog as much space rear-facing as other seats, experts say, and it is one of CarSeatBlog.com's picks for extended rear-facing. However, it is still heavy at 25.5 pounds. Some parents also complain that the chest clip is too easy for a toddler to undo, while others say the harness is too difficult to tighten, particularly when the seat is rear-facing. Several reviewers also complain that the seat's deep sides make it trickier to get children in and out of the seat, especially older kids who want to climb in themselves.
For years, Britax has been a convertible car seat juggernaut, earning a reputation for easy-to-use seats with industry-leading safety features. Reviewers say the Britax Boulevard ClickTight (Est. $300) lives up to this billing in spades. The seat can accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing and 20 to 65 pounds forward-facing. Children must be less than 49 inches tall.
While LATCH is typically the go-to installation method for ease of use, the Boulevard ClickTight turns that idea on its head, notes CarSeatBlog.com. It "practically installs itself" both rear- and forward-facing using the seat belt – users simply open a panel, route the seat belt through a belt guide, remove belt slack, and close the panel. Because this method is nearly fool-proof, experts recommend it over LATCH with this model, especially because the Boulevard ClickTight has older hook-style connectors that can be difficult to uninstall. The seat has seven recline positions and a level indicator for parents to double-check their installation. It has a no-rethread, front-adjust harness that BabyGearLab.com says is a cinch to use, though testers there also note that the cover is not machine-washable.
The Boulevard receives solid marks in independent safety tests. It features Britax SafeCell crash protection: an impact-absorbing base, top tether, harness, and steel frame. It also has a deep shell and beefed-up head protection. Like all convertibles, it has a five-point harness, chest clip, and tether for use forward-facing. The harness makes an audible click when it is properly tightened. You can also purchase an optional anti-rebound bar from Britax for $20. Note that Britax recalled some ClickTight Boulevards in August 2015 because the harness adjuster was sticking in the "release" position. Double-check affected models at the Britax website before buying.
Experts with CarSeatBlog.com recommend the Boulevard ClickTight as a seat that will allow children to rear-face for longer, saying there's little chance kids will get too tall for the seat before hitting the rear-facing weight limit. However, the large shell makes it bulky, and it is a heavy seat at 29.4 pounds – definitely not one you'll want to avoid having to move much. Most parents say the fabric is soft and breathable, but several dislike not being able to throw it in the washer.
The well-reviewed Evenflo SureRide DLX (Est. $90) shows that convertible car seats don't have to blow a several-hundred-dollar hole in your wallet. Also sold as the Evenflo Titan 65, the SureRide only commands a third of the price of the Chicco NextFit and Britax Boulevard ClickTight, but it draws solid reviews for keeping big kids rear-facing longer – rare for a budget seat. It can accommodate children from 5 to 40 pounds rear-facing and 22 to 65 pounds forward-facing. The height limit is 54 inches, 5 inches more than the NextFit and Boulevard.
Experts with CarSeatBlog.com say LATCH installation on the SureRide is fairly easy despite older hook-style connectors, but they warn that it might require a rolled towel or other bolster to achieve a proper recline angle, especially in vehicles that are very sloped. They say seat-belt installation isn't bad either despite a lack of belt lock-offs. Parents are less happy with the seat's harness, which must be rethreaded through the back to adjust for height. They also say there's an awkward gap between some of the harness-strap slots that make it hard to get a precise fit on a growing child. On the bright side, the cover is machine-washable and can even be tossed in the dryer.
Despite its low price, the SureRide actually notches the highest possible safety ratings in independent safety tests. The seat has side impact protection, LATCH connectors, a five-point harness, and a top tether for use forward-facing. Unlike some other budget seats, it does have energy-absorbing foam. Some SureRides manufactured in 2012 and 2013 were recalled for hard-to-release buckles; Evenflo's website lists affected seats.
At just 14 pounds, the SureRide is relatively lightweight for a convertible car seat, making it an attractive choice for anyone who may have to move the seat between cars frequently. While not as thickly padded as pricier seats, the SureRide is still cushioned enough for most kids to be comfortable, parents say.