When Graco announced their first 4-in-1 car seat, I was equal parts suspicious and intrigued. In general, multi-mode child restraints tend to fall short in at least one mode. It’s no small task to make a restraint suitable for a 4 lb newborn all the way up through an 80 lb 10 year old. The expression ‘jack of all trades; master of none’ is apt when it comes to multi-mode seats. But, when I learned that we would be receiving the 4Ever to review and fit with our safety training dolls, provided by Huggable Images, I resolved to keep an open mind.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Rear facing weight range: 4-40lbs
- Rear facing height range: 1″ below adjuster button on headrest when fully extended
- Forward facing weight range: 22-65lbs (seats made before 2015 may have a lower minimum weight; always follow the manual that came with your seat).
- Forward facing height range: <49″
- High-back booster weight range: 30-100lbs
- High-back booster height range: 38-57″
- Backless booster weight range: 40-120lbs
- Backless booster height range: 40-57″
- Shell height: 28″
- Lowest harness position: 6″ with infant insert
- Highest harness position: 18″
- Highest booster guide position: 19″
- Expiration: 10 years
- Lower anchor weight limit: 45 lbs (Note: older models of this seat have a 42 lower anchor weight limit. Please verify your seat’s limit in the manual before installing with this method.)
- Two buckle slots, 4.5″ and 6.5″
- Push button lower anchor connectors
- LATCH in booster mode
- Hideaway harness for booster mode
- No rethread harness
- 2014 IIHS Best Bet in both high-back and backless mode
- Width at widest part of the shell: 19″
- Seat pan: 12.5″ deep
- Seat pan interior: 15″ across, with 14″ of interior hip room
- Base width: 14″ at the front of the base, 20″ at the cup holders, 13″ at the back of the base.
The 4Ever comes nearly completely assembled and ready to go for a newborn straight out of the box. The one exception is the cupholders, which come separately, presumably to make a slightly more compact storage situation while the seat is in transit. Directions for assembling the cupholders can be found in the manual. Once assembled, the cupholders are required to remain attached to the seat.
The people at Graco clearly have listened to feedback about the Smart Seat, their last attempt at a multi-mode restraint, and put a great deal of thought into the design of this seat. If I had to characterise it, I’d describe it as though a Snugride 30 Classic Connect, Size 4 Me and Argos all came together to make a smooth, sleek, and fabulous baby.
The 4Ever comes with two separate manuals, in English and Spanish.
The 4Ever boasts a ‘steel-reinforced frame’. While we have no idea if this means it’s actually safer, we do know the trend in child restraint manufacturing is toward energy flow management, and not just retention in the car.
The 4Ever has multiple recline positions. The first three are for rear facing mode. The second three are for forward facing. Of those, the 4th recline position MUST be used for a forward facing child between 20 and 40 lbs, and the 6th must be used in booster mode. The recline glide is smooth, and simple to use.
There are no restrictions on which of the first three positions must be used during rear facing, but the seat provides a recline angle indicator. In general, for a newborn, you want the max recline available. As they get older and develop head and neck control, you can move up to a more inclined position.
The harness should be positioned at or below the shoulders, and the buckle should be in the position nearest to but not under the child. Either crotch buckle position may be used for either direction.
In rear facing mode, the 4Ever is compact enough that it would work even in a small sedan. Rear facing size can be problematic with any seat intended to fit a child all the way through seat belt age; Graco clearly took this into account, as size was problematic in the Smart Seat too. As the head restraint extends for taller rear facing toddlers and preschoolers, it maintains its compact shape by going up rather than back.
The harness mechanism is a smooth pull, and does not require significant strength to tighten. Graco used their ‘roller bar’ method at the rear of the seat to achieve the smooth pull.
While the 4Ever has only one lower anchor strap, it has a unique system for moving the strap between belt paths. I describe the method more thoroughly further down.
The belt paths are color coded and match the relevant pages by color in the manual.
The bottom of the seat is smooth and solid, designed to minimize the pressure marks that occasionally result on vehicle upholstery from a tightly installed seat.
At its widest flare, the seat measures 19″.
Rear Facing Usage
The manual of the 4Ever contains several references to the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 should use a rear facing restraint. NHSTA recommends that children 1-3 years continue to use a rear facing restraint as long as they fit by height and weight. CSFTL echoes this recommendation. 40 lbs is an 80th percentile 4-year-old. This seat has a sufficiently tall rear facing shell that all children regardless of build can get to 40 lbs rear facing.
With the impressive insert (very firm, not plush), the bottom harness position is 6″ from the seatpan, and the buckle has a depth of 4″ from the seatback. The insert itself has a separate head and body support, with an adjustable elastic to attach the head support so that it can be raised as the baby gets taller. The insert must be used if the baby’s shoulders do not reach the harness position in the lowest head rest position. It may not be used in the forward facing position. The body support may be used without the head rest, but the head rest cannot be used without the body support.
Graco rates the seat from 4 lbs but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. I tried Jo in the seat, held my breath and…
Yes, indeed, that’s a 4 lb preemie fitting correctly and snugly in the 4Ever, with the harness coming out from just at her shoulders. Keep in mind that not all preemies are built the same, and just because it fits the Huggable Images preemie does not mean it will be suitable for all preemies.
The newborn, 1 year old, and 3 year old all fit well, with plenty of room for legs and comfortable buckling. The seat pan measures 12.5″ deep.
Update, January 2015
CSFTL has added a new baby to our team, and she has used the 4Ever since birth. She fits great in the seat and we are looking forward to watching her use it “4Ever”!
This model is 25 months, 22 lbs and about 33″. She seemed comfortable and had plenty of leg room. The seat allows for rear facing to within 1″ of the adjuster at the top, which allows for a seated height of 27″.
The model here exceeds the weight limit of the seat for rear facing by 6 lbs. He is merely modeling it to show the rear facing capacity. He is 47 inches tall.
Installation itself was fairly straightforward. Lower anchor connectors come out of the box set for rear facing installation. Secure the lower anchor connectors to the vehicle, and tighten to less than 1″ of movement. I did note that the lower anchor connector strap was unusually short. I suspect Graco was trying to decrease the chance of installing a seat with the strap through the wrong belt path, but that’s only conjecture on my part.
For seat belt installation of the 4Ever, the connectors stow to bars forward of the belt path, and the seat belt is placed through the rear facing belt path. The belt path is an open design, which allows easy threading, no scraped knuckles, and quick access for tightening the shoulder belt. Here you can see the access slot in the seat pad.
Here I compare it with the Graco My Size, which is known for being compact. The vehicle is a 2013 Grand Caravan. At the most reclined angle, the 4Ever garners about 3″ of space to the front seats (moved all the way back), relative to the My Size’s 1″ of space.
Fully extended, the 4Ever continues to allow about 1.5″ of space. I was unable to completely extend the My Size head rest at the fully reclined angle. It struck the head restraint of the front passenger seat.
Forward Facing Usage
The seat can be used forward facing with the five point harness for a child who is at least 1 year of age (CSFTL recommends rear facing to the maximum allowed by the child restraint ), between 20 and 65 lbs, and under 49″ tall. The topmost harness position measures at 18″ with the seat pad compressed.
The seat must be used in the 4th, 5th, or 6th recline positions when forward facing. If the occupant is under 40 lbs, it must be in the 4th position.
The harness should be positioned at or above the shoulders and the buckle should be in the position nearest to but not under the child.
The seat comes with the lower anchor connectors set in the rear facing position. To move them to the forward facing belt path, loosen the harness and extend the head restraint, unsnap the cover, expose the seat, and slide the lower anchor connectors along the interior bar into the forward facing position.
This seat may only be installed with lower anchors for children weighing under 42 lbs. If you max out the rear facing capacity, to save yourself a hassle, simply go straight to a seat belt and tether installation when moving to forward facing. If you have one of those mini 35 lb 6 year olds, though, lower anchors are an available option.
Regardless of whether the a forward facing install uses the lower anchors or the seat belt, always use the top tether.
This is located at the top of the seat.
Below is the 3 year old safety training doll, installed at the required recline for an under 40 lb child. As you can see, it’s quite reclined, and a bit awkward appearing.
However, the Grand Caravan has very sloped seats; in vehicles with more level seats, the restraint may install more easily at the 4th recline level.
To install the seat forward facing for a child weighing between 20 and 65 lbs, using the seat belt, store the lower anchor connectors in the provided bars for the forward facing position and insert the seat belt through the belt path. Always use the tether.
Children from 40-65 lbs may be in recline positions 4-6. The seat fit the 6 year old safety training doll with about a half-inch of growing room in the torso. The live model is 6 years, 10 months, about 46 lbs and 47″. He fit at the tallest harness position of 18″.
We mentioned the tether, right? Always use it! Graco clearly states a 42 lb limit for the lower anchors in the manual, but requires the tether be used with either installation. There is no option for installing the 4Ever without it.
High Back Booster Usage
NHTSA recommends that children ages 1-3 continue to rear face as long as they fit by height and weight, and then use a forward facing 5 point harness. Children from 4-7 should continue to use their 5 point harness as long as they fit by height and weight, and then move to a belt positioning booster. 3 year olds do not ever belong in high back boosters. We encourage Graco to update this misguided low-end minimum on a seat that can certainly accommodate older children in the harness.
Once the child outgrows the harness, the height capacity of the shoulder belt adjuster (19″) should give the child another year or so in the high back booster. Graco devised a nifty system for harness storage in booster mode. The harness is never removed from the seat. Instead, it is tucked away in a little door behind the seat pad, guaranteeing that you don’t accidentally lose it. Extend the head restraint, expose the seatback, and open the door.
Buckle the retainer clip together but leave the buckle tongues unbuckled. Secure the harness pads, retainer clip and buckle tongues in the compartment behind the door and shut it. Store the buckle itself in the compartment provided in the seat bottom. The base must be set in the 6th recline mode for booster use.
Graco permits use of lower anchors and tether when using the seat in booster mode. As always, if you choose not to use this feature, be sure to buckle the booster in when not occupied, to prevent it from moving unhindered through the cabin in an accident.
The booster mode fit both our 6 year old safety training doll, and our 6 year old not-doll well. The lap belt lies low on the lap, where it belongs, the belt moves freely through the shoulder guide and rests comfortably and correctly across the chest.
It should be noted that just because the seat claims a 57″ maximum in high back mode does not mean a child of that height will fit that way. Featured here are our 57″ safety training doll and a real live 8 year old of about 53″ and 65 lbs. You can see that their shoulders far exceed the top booster position.
Backless Booster Usage
In addition to continuing to use a harness to its capacity, CSFTL recommends backless boosters for older children who have outgrown their high backs, and do not need the support of a back to remind them to sit correctly, even when sleeping. Of course, you must have vehicle head support to use a backless booster.
To change the seat from high back booster mode to backless, detach the harness from the splitter plate behind the seat. Expose the seat under the pad, locate the two red tabs, rotate them upward, and then push them in together. Then simply lift the entire back off the bottom, harness and all, move the red tabs to their original position, and replace the seat pad. The splitter plate can be stored, and the pad now has two additional elastic tabs to secure it to the base. Tuck the remaining end behind the seat when in use.
The interior of the seat sports a 15″ seat pan. It has 14″ of interior hip room.
The backless booster has no LATCH option, so remember to buckle it in when not in use. For younger children, use the provided belt guide to correctly place the shoulder belt. For older children, the shoulder belt will likely fall in place on its own.
The final model is 4’10”, 80 lbs, and almost 10 years old. Despite his size, he still needs a booster to correctly fit the belt in this car. While he exceeds the stated height limit, we tried him in it to see what would happen. You’ll notice that the shoulder belt is nearly slipping off his shoulder, and he complained that his head was near hitting the ceiling. A child of this size would be better suited to a lower profile seat.
Important Information: Where to Find
- Fits newborns and children through booster age
- Fairly compact and good in small spaces
- Two crotch buckle positions
- Push button lower anchor connectors
- Can use LATCH in high back booster mode
- Hideaway harness for switching to booster mode
- No re-thread harness
- Cannot use lower anchors in backless booster mode
- If used from birth, will most likely expire before the child is truly ready to travel without a booster
- High price
CSFTL can give this seat a hearty and non-conditional thumbs up. It is easy to use, well designed, solid in feel, designed to be compatible in many vehicles, and will truly span a significant age rage, from preemie on up.
I will offer the caution that unless you have a giant, off the charts child (like my 9-year-old above), this cannot be the only seat you’ll need. Children generally need boosters until they are around 4’9″-5′, the size of a 10-12 year old. As the seat expires in 10 years, it will expire before most children are ready to ride in a seat belt alone.
At $300 on Amazon.com, this is not a budget friendly purchase. However, if you divide the cost over 10 years, and you reasonably could use the seat over a 10 year period, you’re looking at a cost of 2.50 a month, which might make it seem a little more palatable. If you’re a family on a budget and simply cannot afford to spend quite that much at one time, this may not be the restraint for you.
For a family who needs to transport different sized children, (for example, those who provide foster care, or child-minder services), this seat could cover all potential possibilities. For a family who wants to not think about car seats again for the next 10 years? This absolutely could fill that need.
Graco graciously provided this restraint to Car Seats for the Littles for a full review, but opinions, as always, are entirely our own.