Infant car seats are the first in a long line of car seats designed to keep children safe on the road. Designed solely for rear-facing use, infant car seats often have deep shells and ample padding to better protect and cushion small babies. They also have five-point harnesses with chest chips to keep children secure, and like most car seats, they allow for both LATCH and seat-belt installation.
The Chicco KeyFit 30 (Est. $200) has topped many parents' wish lists for the past several years, and for good reason. Despite an increasingly crowded field of contenders, reviewers say other manufacturers' seats still can't beat this one for ease of use. The KeyFit 30 accommodates babies from 4 to 30 pounds and up to 30 inches tall.
The KeyFit 30 has earned a reputation as the easiest-to-install infant car seat. The seat has a single-strap LATCH adjuster and push-button LATCH connectors that are easy to position. Its base easily adjusts to different heights, so parents can obtain a proper angle without bolsters such as towels or pool noodles. The base also has two built-in level indicators that take the guesswork out of whether the seat angle is correct. The harness must be rethreaded through the back of the seat to adjust the height, but experts say it's an easy process. The seat fabric is machine-washable, and reviewers say the cover is easy to remove.
The KeyFit 30 is a safety standout, too, scoring the highest possible marks in independent crash tests. It features energy-absorbing foam for increased side-impact protection and a five-point harness with a chest clip. Parents like that they can safely leave the seat handle in any locked position while driving, including upright, which experts say reduces the chance of misuse.
While the KeyFit 30's well-padded seat is appreciated, some parents say the fabric doesn't breathe well and causes babies to sweat on hot days. At just over 9½ pounds, the seat is about the same as or slightly heavier than similar seats, and experts say the big base can hog space in some smaller vehicles. The canopy also isn't big enough to fully shield babies from the sun, many complain.
Britax is known for its safe, easy-to-use convertible car seats, and reviewers say the Britax B-SAFE 35 (Est. $170) infant car seat lives up to that reputation at a slightly lower price than the Chicco KeyFit 30. This recent update from the original B-SAFE accommodates children from 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32 inches tall.
Experts with CarSeatBlog.com give the B-SAFE 35 solid marks for installation, if not raves like the KeyFit 30. It has easy-to-use push-button LATCH connectors, but the LATCH straps are a bit too short for an easy install in some vehicles, they say. You may also need a rolled towel or pool noodles to get a proper recline when installing the seat without the base. The fabric is spot-clean only, and experts say it can be tough to reattach to the seat shell. Adjusting the buckle position can also be tricky, they add. You'll have to adjust the harness height from behind the seat unless you spend $30 more to upgrade to the B-SAFE 35 Elite (Est. $200), which has a no-rethread harness. The B-SAFE Elite also has two more harness-height slots.
The B-SAFE 35 is still undergoing crash testing as of October 2015, but Britax has added its upgraded SafeCell impact protection to the seat. Features include a deeper shell for more side-impact protection, a steel frame, and an impact-absorbing base. It also has the energy-absorbing foam, five-point harness and chest clip common in most infant seats. The B-SAFE 35 Elite adds a head-restraint pillow with extra padding.
One downside of the B-SAFE 35: It is a relatively heavy 10 pounds -- almost a half pound more than the original. The B-SAFE Elite is even heavier at 11½ pounds. While some parents appreciate this, saying the seat and base feel stable and safe, others complain the seat is too bulky to tote comfortably. Others say the deep shell leaves little room for growing babies to stretch out. However, they say the canopy is ample and easy to adjust.
If you're on a tighter budget, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 (Est. $95) offers the most bang for your buck, reviewers say. Ample padding, a generous canopy, and a smaller, more lightweight shell are among the seat's perks. The Click Connect 30 can accommodate babies from 4 to 30 pounds and up to 30 inches tall. There are pricier versions of the SnugRide with 35- and 40-pound capacities, but you'll probably ditch the infant seat long before your baby hits those weights, so we don't recommend spending the extra money.
The SnugRide Click Connect 30 has older hook-style LATCH connectors and the base lacks seat-belt lock-offs to ease belt-only installation, but reviewers say it's still easy to get a proper installation in most vehicles. If you want an adjustable-recline base and upgraded LATCH, the LX version of the seat has both and will cost you about $20 more. The LX also has a front-adjust harness, whereas the basic SnugRide Click Connect 30 harness must be rethreaded through the back to adjust the height. The seat has a machine-washable cover, but it lacks a more sophisticated level indicator like the Chicco KeyFit 30 has that helps parents obtain the right angle during installation.
The SnugRide Click Connect 30 is being independently crash tested as of October 2015. It has energy-absorbing foam and a five-point harness with chest clip, but lacks the beefed-up side-impact protection of some pricier seats. The handle can be left in any position while driving. Note that this seat was among the millions recalled by Graco in 2014 for stiff buckles that made it difficult to remove a child from the seat. For that reason, we recommend checking that any SnugRide you buy has the new style of buckle by visiting GracoBaby.com.
Most reviewers say the SnugRide Click Connect 30 is well-padded and comfortable, and at 7½ pounds, it is much lighter than the KeyFit 30 and Britax B-SAFE 35. The smaller shell is also a better bet for fitting in compact cars. Parents say the canopy provides enough coverage but can be tricky to maneuver under the handle. The Click Connect system makes the seat compatible with several Graco strollers.