I’ll start this review with a confession: I’m a huge fan of Britax seats. My oldest daughter rode in a Britax Wizard for most of her rear facing years and my younger daughter still rides in a Britax Boulevard occasionally. I’ve found these seats very easy to install and use properly and the Wizard made me an early fan of the no rethread harness. For the record, the “best” seat is the one that the caregiver can install and use properly *every* time. That’s not the same brand or the same seat for every situation. As my kiddos have grown, they’ve had a variety of seats but most of them have been Britax because we’ve found them easy to install and use properly for our kids. When we turned my youngest daughter’s car seat from rear-facing to forward-facing, it was no great surprise that the first place I looked for a combination seat was Britax. Britax has three offerings in the combination seat category: the Pioneer 70, The Frontier 90, and the Pinnacle 90. Britax released the Pioneer at the same time as the Frontier and the Frontier gets much of the attention. It’s understandable — the Frontier features the ClickTight system, which allows caregivers to install the seat with ease. ClickTight is kind of like magic, and for a lot of situations, that’s worth every penny. The Pioneer is essentially the same seat without the ClickTight system. That sentence alone makes the Pioneer not for everyone. Because of that, I avoided the Pioneer…until now.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Forward facing weight limit: 25-70 lbs.
- Forward facing height limit: 30-58″ *
- High back booster weight limit: 40-110 lbs.
- High back booster height limit: 45-62″ *
- Highest harness position: 20.5″ *
- Highest booster guide position: 21″
- Expiration: 9 years
- Lower anchor weight limit: 40 lbs.
- Two crotch strap positions
- Push button lower anchor connectors
- No re-thread harness
- Compatible with Secure Guard anti-submarining clip
- 2014 IIHS Best Bet for 2014 models
*Pioneers made before 4/4/14 have 18.5″ top harness slots, 56″ harness height limit, and 60″ booster height limit.
*Pioneers made between 4/2014 and 10/2015 have 19.5″ top harness slots, 56″ harness height limit, and 60″ booster height limit. Current models have a top harness height of 20.5″.
The Pioneer is a nice option for caregivers who don’t need that extra height and who are willing to work a little harder to install the seat. The Pioneer is also about $100 less than the Frontier, a price difference that told me I’d be willing to make the leap. My 4.5 year old just turned forward-facing this spring. She’s of moderate height but has a pretty short torso so I thought the Pioneer would be a good option for her. I also figured we could use the Pioneer as a booster for her down the road so when I found a deal on one, I went for it!
Installing with the seatbelt was a little tricky, though no more so than the Graco Argos we also have. Second confession: part of the reason I got the Pioneer was to avoid installing the Argos.
But I digress. Back to the Pioneer install. There’s a plastic panel covering the area where the Click Tight would be if this was a Frontier. The seatbelt goes *over* this space. We learned later that the lower anchors of the LATCH system would go *under* this space. Even with the manual on hand, this is not obvious at first. Since my kiddo is over the max weight limit of 40 lbs for those lower anchors, I installed it with a seatbelt, over the plastic piece.
Note: the Pioneer G1.1 manual states that lower anchors and seatbelt are routed through the green belt path (though not at the same time!) so there isn’t a separate belt path for lower anchors or seat belts on newer models.
The cover opens to reveal the belt path, making it fairly easy to thread the seat belt through. Once that’s threaded, I used my non-dominant hand to push the seat down and remove slack with the seatbelt. It took a bit of pushing, tugging and sweating to get the seat in but eventually, I was able to get a rock-solid install.
The Pioneer has two cupholders, plus a little cubby that’s about the right size for a juice box at the end of each cupholder. Those features are very important to my kiddo — she loves being able to keep a small assortment of snacks, stickers, and flowers in there. The no rethread harness makes it easy to adjust the strap height. This is nice if a friend is riding with us — just grab the handle, squeeze, and pull up or push down to adjust. This feature alone makes me a huge fan of the seat — I’ve had a few seats over the years and for us, the convenience of not having to take the seat out to adjust the slot height has guided us toward no rethread harnesses being a top selection criteria.
Initially, the Pioneer, Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90 were not approved for use on aircraft due to the Click Tight system (which is not present on the Pioneer). Britax has issued a retroactive approval for these seats to be used on an airplane. I’m not sure this will ever be a travel seat for us — I prefer to travel with a lighter weight seat like the Britax Boulevard, but it’s good to know that it’s an option.
I was very hopeful that the Pioneer would be equally nice in booster mode. Our booster rider is 8 years old, 50 lbs and 49 inches tall. She is very particular about how the seat feels; if it’s not padded enough, it’s not for her.
Converting the Pioneer to booster mode is fairly simple. The harness just tucks out-of-the-way and stays in the seat. The crotch buckle flips over and tucks underneath the cover. Having these parts remain in the seat makes switching between modes pretty simple. The Pioneer’s belt guides are tucked below the shell of the seat. This means that for shorter children, threading the shoulder belt can be a bit tricky. In my Mazda 5’s third row, this made for a pretty hard-to-use belt guide. Threading it was a challenge and the belt had a hard time retracting properly once it was in the belt guide. I wouldn’t choose to put this seat in my third row as a booster.
However, in my Mazda 5’s second row, it has a nice belt fit and my older daughter found it easy to use in booster mode. While it’s not her everyday booster, it’s nice to know that this would work as a backup for her or her friends. The Pioneer only works as a high back booster — it does not convert to backless mode.
Since installing the Pioneer isn’t the quickest process in the world, the no rethread harness makes transitions smooth. One other nice feature is that you can swap the cover out without having to uninstall the seat in the process. I was able to purchase a replacement cover and get it onto the seat without uninstalling the seat. That’s thanks to these little velcro bits behind the flap that covers the harness.
- No re-thread harness
- Push button lower anchor connectors
- Two crotch buckle positions
- Recline mode
- Easy off cover
- Can use LATCH in booster mode
- Basically a stripped down version of the Frontier 90 with slightly lower harness heights and none of the fancy features like ClickTight or EZ buckle pad
- On the Pioneer 70, install is a little quirky — seatbelt goes OVER the plastic panel in the belt path, LATCH anchors go UNDER.
- On the G1.1, seat belt or lower anchors installations use the same belt path (though not at the same time!)
- *Pioneers made before 4/4/14 have 18.5″ top harness slots, 56″ harness height limit, and 60″ booster height limit.
- *Pioneers made between 4/2014 and 10/2015 have 19.5″ top harness slots, 56″ harness height limit, and 60″ booster height limit.
The Pioneer fits my younger daughter very well and works nicely as a high back booster for my older daughter. Both kids were pleased with how it feels and we’re pleased with how easy it is to use, once installed. Though the Frontier gets so much of the attention, the Pioneer is an excellent choice for budget-minded caregivers who are willing to work with a more traditional install. Standard disclaimer: CSFTL was not compensated in any way for this review, nor was this seat provided by the manufacturer. As always, our thoughts and observations are all our own! Want to try a Pioneer for your Little? Check them out at Amazon.com.