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Best Infant Car Seats

By: Saundra Latham on October 27, 2016

Infant car seats keep the smallest babies safe

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 have deep shells and ample padding to protect and cushion small babies. They also have five-point harnesses with chest chips to keep children secure, and like most car seats, 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. Reviewers say other manufacturers' seats still can't beat this one for its combination of value and 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 one of the easiest-to-install infant car seats in its price range. It 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 parents can spring for the Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip (Est. $230) for a seat cover, canopy and boot that can be zipped on and off.

The KeyFit 30 is a safety standout, too, scoring high 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 just doesn't breathe well and causes babies to sweat on hot days. It weight just over 9½ pounds, on a par with most infant seats, and experts say the big base can hog space in some smaller vehicles. The canopy is a bit on the small side, but most infant seat canopies aren't particularly large.

Parents with a more generous car-seat budget should check out the UPPAbaby MESA (Est. $300). This seat puts a premium on convenience and design has a slightly longer lifespan than the KeyFit, accommodating babies from 4 to 35 pounds and up to 32 inches tall.

Experts with BabyGearLab.com give the MESA a near-perfect score for an extremely easy LATCH installation, and CarSeatBlog.com says the seat makes good on a 10-second installation promise. LATCH connectors slide out of the base with the push of a button, and the base self-tightens with a couple of small pushes from above. Two built-in indicators turn green when a proper angle has been achieved. Seat-belt installations are also easy thanks to an easy-to-use lock-off on the base. Where the seat really shines, though, is how quickly it installs without the base using a color-coded belt path and intuitively designed clips – a great feature for parents who need to travel light. The no-rethread harness can be adjusted for height from the front of the seat.

The MESA scores well in experts' independent crash tests, and it features side impact-protection with thick energy-absorbing foam. UPPAbaby boasts that the seat's integrated headrest helps it pass a proposed NHTSA standard for side-impact protection. Like all infant seats, it has a five-point harness and chest clip. The handle can be locked in any of three available positions, including upright, while the seat is in the car.   

At just under 10 pounds, the MESA is on the heavier side for a car seat. Parents who don't want to lug it around may want to spring for a compatible UPPAbaby Vista (Est. $900) stroller, which is well-reviewed but pricey. Some parents complain that their seat covers didn't completely cover the underlying foam, and the fabric, though machine-washable, draws mixed reviews: Some say it's not as soft as it could be, though recent models have improved fabric quality around the head rest and on the infant insert. Parents like being able to fold away the canopy when it isn't needed, but it can sit awkwardly close to the handle when it's extended.

Inexpensive infant seats are just as safe

If you're on a tighter budget, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 (Est. $90) 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.

The SnugRide Click Connect 30 has older hook-style LATCH connectors, and the base lacks seat-belt lock-offs that can help ease belt-only installation. Despite that, reviewers say it's still easy to get a proper installation in most vehicles. Parents dislike having to adjust harness tightness from the back, however – a big ding against ease of use. For about $30 more, the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 30 LX (Est. $120) adds a front-adjust harness as well as an adjustable-recline base, level indicator, and an infant support pillow to better cradle smaller babies. The seat cover is removable and machine-washable.

The SnugRide Click Connect 30 receives strong marks in independent crash tests. 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 like the MESA. 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. 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 7 pounds, it is lighter and easier to tote around than the KeyFit 30 and MESA. The smaller shell is also a better bet for fitting in compact cars. Parents say the sun canopy provides a good amount of coverage but can be tricky to maneuver under the handle. The Click Connect system makes the seat compatible with several Graco strollers.

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