Please Note: This seat has been discontinued
“I want to buy the last seat I need for my 8 month old.”
This is a hopeful statement Child Passenger Safety Technicians often hear from parents, who become anything from confused to irritated when we try to explain there really isn’t any such thing.
Several companies have tried, with varying levels of success, to create the elusive 3-in-1. Dorel makes various models of the Alpha Omega Elite, Evenflo makes the Symphony 65 and each Diono convertible is marketed with a booster mode of use. All of those seats, while perfectly safe, have significant drawbacks.
CSFTL Quick Stats:
- Rear facing weight range: 5-40 lbs
- Rear facing height range: 19-43″
- Forward facing weight range: 22-80 lbs
- Forward facing height range: 34-52″
- Highback booster weight range: 40-100 lbs
- Highback booster height range: 43-57″
- Shell height: 28.5″
- Lowest harness position: 7.5″ with insert
- Highest harness position: 17.5″
- Highest booster guide position: 18.5″
- Expiration: 8 years
- Lower anchor weight limit: 40 lbs
- No rethread harness
We reviewed the Alpha Omega a few months ago here. Technicians and advocates have hoped for many years to see this seat go away, simply due to the shortcomings.
Until now, the term ‘3-in-1’ has made me wince. Until now.
Dorel 3-in-1s (under the Alpha Omega Elite) have three major drawbacks. 1) Despite being rated from 5 lbs and 19″ they rarely fit babies until about 9-12 months old 2). They are outgrown rapidly 3) They do not position the seatbelt correctly in booster mode, garnering them a ‘worst bet’ rating from the IIHS booster evaluations.
The new Elite 80 Air from Safety 1st, (a Dorel subsidiary) addresses these problems brilliantly, and quite frankly, hit it out of the park for the 3-in-1 model. While it still will not be the only seat a family needs to buy, I can comfortably say that it will last most children from birth to age 8, and after that, a backless booster is only a few dollars.
I was initially impressed when the UPS man lugged this thing up to my front door; the box is BIG and heavy. The seat itself weighs in at 24.4 lbs.
The first thing that catches your eye on the outside of the box is the rear facing limits. 40 lbs (standard for new Dorel convertibles) and….wait, what’s this? Not the 40″ we’ve all come to expect but a whopping 43″, making the Elite 80 Air comfortably in the very short list of seats that can get above average children rear facing the 4th birthday. As it turns out, those figures represent an 80th percentile boy by weight and a 94 percentile boy by height.
The seat has a no rethread harness with 9 head rest settings.
At the lowest, it measures 8″ without the infant inserts (There are two and you may use either, neither or both), and 7.5″ with. This is more than adequate for typically sized newborns, although the seat is not in the running for premature babies, multiples, or very small newborns.
At the highest, it measures 17.5″ for the harness and 18.5″ for the shoulder belt adjuster.
It has 3 crotch strap positioning slots at 4, 5 and 6″ from the seat back. The interior and middle position may be used for rear facing; any of the three may be used for forward.
The seat pan measures a whopping 15+ inches, ideal for leg room for a long-legged rear facing preschooler, and great for thigh support for boostered children.
At its broadest point, the two integrated cupholders (no more Dorel clip ons!) it measures 21″. The width at the back is about 13″. The interior sports a great deal of shoulder room.
The fully extended shell depth is 28.5″
The seat comes with 4 manual recline positions. Any of them may be used to achieve the two level lines (one for 5-22 lbs, the other for 22-40 lbs in the rear facing position). The 4th, (most upright) must be used for forward facing and booster mode.
It has a single LATCH strap that may be moved to either belt path, with push on IMMI made connectors, that connect to the side of the seat when not in use. The belt paths are coded green for rear facing and blue for forward, with purple plastic for the booster belt guides. These colors correspond to installation instructions in the user manual.
Naked shows off the color scheme best. You can also see the ‘air’ technology pads in the headwings, the boasted “G-cell” patented EPS foam in the sides, and the metal reinforcement curved rod along the back.
Rear facing: 19-43″, 5-40 lbs and head contained within the fully extended shell.
The seat was relatively easy to achieve a secure installation in my vehicle, a 2011 Honda Odyssey, in both LATCH and seatbelt mode. While the seat allows you to use a rolled towel or pool noodle to achieve a proper installation (around 45 degrees for a child under 22 lbs, and around 30-45 degrees for a child 22-40 lbs), the mechanical reclines on the base make it unlikely that a parent or caregiver will need the added tool in all but the most inclined of vehicle seats.
I did find one drawback to the 45 degree angle; remember the depth of this seat? You are not going to want this seat for a child under 22 lbs in a compact car. Even in my spacious vehicle, I had to move the front seat forward substantially to accommodate it. There was still plenty of room for an adult passenger, but that wouldn’t be true in a 2 door Honda Civic.
The model is 16 months, 19 lbs, and 30″ tall. Note there is more than 7″ torso growth to the top of the shell.
Forward facing; 22-80 lbs, 34″-52″ and at least 1 year of age.
Again, a fairly straight forward installation. While the manual does not indicate a limit on the lower anchors, 2014 lower anchor regulations will call for a 65 lb maximum capacity. As the seat weighs 24.4 lbs, this means a max 40.6 lb weight of child. If you use this seat to max capacity rear facing, you will be by default only using the seatbelt as an option for forward facing installation. In rear facing mode the top tether may not be used and should be stowed, but in forward facing mode it is long enough to reach even further away tether anchors for forward facing use.
The model is 6 years, 46.5″ and 44 lbs.
Booster mode: 40-100 lbs, 43-57″ and at least 4 years of age
The manual gives clear instructions for removing the crotch strap and stowing the harness in booster mode. Removal of the harness before use as a booster is required.
Booster mode is where the Alpha Omega Elite falls spectacularly short, with shoulder belts that get stuck in the belt guide and leave the shoulder belt half off the shoulder, and a lap belt that is positioned squarely over the occupant’s belly. I held my breath as I buckled my model in (7 1/2 years old, 4’4″ tall and 60 lbs).
The picture speaks for itself.
The shoulder belt is positioned perfectly. She obligingly leaned forward, moved and wiggled for me, and the shoulder belt properly retracted back each time. The lap belt lies flat and low on her thighs, touching her hips but is far away from her soft, vulnerable internal organs. Thigh support is excellent.
Out of curiosity, I tried my forward facing model in booster mode, because he is well within the limits. While the belt still fit him, I wasn’t as pleased with the fit. He wasn’t bulky enough to truly fill up the seat at the hips, and the lap belt is nearly suspended off his hips. Because the head restraint is moved further down the shell, it does hinder the flow of the shoulder belt slightly on movement, although of course this will greatly depend on where your shoulder belt is anchored in your vehicle.
This truly is a booster for big kids; if you use the harness to its max capacity before switching to booster mode, you should not run into any trouble.
While no seat is perfect for every child, and the ‘best’ seat will vary depending on your budget, your car, your child, and your family’s needs, I am comfortable saying that Safety 1st hit it out of the park with the new Elite Air 80. The Elite Air retails for $229.99 and is a Babies R Us exclusive.
In light of that, I am pleased to announce that we are partnering with Safety 1st to give away one new Safety 1st Elite Air to a lucky winner, and I happily will recommend the seat to parents who think a 3-in-1 will suit their needs. Safety 1st kindly provided this seat for our review, no other compensation was given.
Enter the giveaway using the Rafflecopter widget below, contest open to US residents only.
Giveaway is now closed, congrats to the winner – Eva F.!!