Cosco Scenera NEXT Review

The Cosco Scenera has long been a staple of the child passenger safety toolkit, especially for caregivers who travel or are on a budget, or coalitions who need to make their seat dollars count.  With an under 40 dollar price point, the Scenera has long stood as an example of how seats are available to keep kids safe in any budget.

The Scenera has had a few rebrandings over the years.  The Scenera 40RF was short-lived but dearly loved by advocates until it was replaced by the Cosco Apt 40. Cosco’s sister brand, Safety 1st, markets the Onside Air, which sits on a Scenera shell with a fancier cover and side impact ‘air bags’, but the seat available at box stores today is pretty much the same seat it was 9 years ago.

At Kidz in Motion Conference, Cosco surprised at us all with the announcement that the Scenera was getting quite the makeover.   I was lucky enough to get one of my own preceding the official commercial release, and without further ado, here is the new Cosco Scenera NEXT, which will be available for around $46 retail price.

SceneraNext1CSFTL Quick Stats

  • Rear-facing weight range:  5-40 lbs
  • Rear-facing height range: 19-40″
  • Forward facing weight range: 22-40 lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 29-43″
  • Shell depth: 23″
  • Lowest harness position: 5″
  • Highest harness position: 13″
  • Expiration: 8 years from date of manufacture
  • Lower Anchor limits: 40 lbs

 

 

 

Features

  • 3 buckle strap positions: 2″, 3″, 4.5″
  • No moving parts to adjust between rear and forward facing
  • Smoother shell with more rounded edges
  • Compact, lightweight, simple to install

INSTALLATION

Rear-facing Cosco Scenera Next

Rear-facing Cosco Scenera NEXT

Rear Facing:

Weight Restriction: 5-40 lbs
Height Restriction: 19-40″
Fit Restriction:  Harness positioned at or below the child’s shoulders, and head below the top of the 23″ shell
Age Restriction: Birth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenera Next buckle position 1

Scenera NEXT buckle position 1

 

The buckle may be in either the 1st or 2nd position for rear facing use.  The harness may be threaded through any of the provided slots as long as it is placed at or below the child’s shoulders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite frankly, the Scenera NEXT doesn’t need a forward facing belt path.  The inclusion of forward facing capability is simply a nod to market research (without the forward facing ‘capacity’, the seat won’t sell).   However, Cosco intended from the start to build a new seat that would work for even tiny newborns, and keep them rear facing as long as possible, to at least 3 for most kids, and possibly to 4 for those kids who carry more height in their legs than their waists.

The lower top harness position and the bare minimum of 2 years for forward facing use again emphasize this seat’s suitability for extended rear facing use.  In comparison, the original Scenera’s height limit of 36″ for rear facing, got 50th percentile kids to around 2.5 rear facing.  This limit wasn’t shoddy in 2005 but certainly doesn’t rate in 2015.

Unlike the original Scenera, the Scenera NEXT does not have a moveable ‘foot’ that must be swung back or forth depending on the direction the seat is installed. Over the years, experienced technicians  have learned the ‘tricks’ necessary for placing a Scenera at the required angle.  It often involves a pyramid of pool noodles and a bit of maneuvering.

It is unlikely you will need such ‘extras’ with the Scenera NEXT– with the possible exception of extremely sloped vehicle seats.  Read our tips for installing a seat without using noodles, even in a sloped vehicle seat.  Place the seat in the vehicle, apply force where necessary as you tighten, and you will have the correct angle without further intervention.

 

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Remember that whether installing with lower anchors or with the seatbelt, the connector strap or vehicle belt must be routed in front of and not behind the buckle strap.

 

 

 

 

10687420_10152441908821447_5843472664626248963_oThis seat permits one recline angle in rear facing mode.  It is a molded line along the side of the seat between the two belt paths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A shallower seatpan, as well as the deletion of the prominent protrusion at the front of the original Scenera means that the new Scenera NEXT takes up a less room in the rear facing position.  This means the Scenera NEXT will work well even in smaller cars, and will be a great choice in airplanes.  In the image below, the Scenera NEXT has a gap of about 4″ between it and the back of the driver’s seat (in the furthest back position).  The original Scenera is actually touching the similarly positioned passenger seat, which is not permitted by the vehicle manufacturer.  They are both positioned at the required angle.

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Scenera NEXT:  2 years 7 months,  2y 7m, 34.75", 25 lbs

Cosco Scenera NEXT: Model is 2 years 7 months, 34.75″, 25 lbs

This image shows a 2 year 7 month child, who currently weighs 25 lbs and is 34.75″ tall.     As you can see she has at least 2″ above her head, and her growth percentiles put her on track for not surpassing 40″ before her 4th birthday.  She could use the Scenera NEXT rear facing to four years.    She runs in the 20th-30th percentile for height, compared to same-age peers.

 

Scenera NEXT: side-by-side installation

Scenera NEXT: side-by-side installation

The broadest point of the Scenera NEXT flares at just shy of 17.5″ . Due to its low profile, you can see it puzzles nicely next to the original Scenera here, in a tight space but with independently tight installations (both seatbelt.)

 

Newborn Routing for the Harness:

Scenera NEXT with a newborn model

Scenera NEXT with a newborn model

Cosco faced a unique challenge in the Scenera’s lowest harness position redesign.  The original Scenera had a 7″ bottom harness position, which was adequate for most newborns, but didn’t work particularly well for smaller or premature babies.  Placing an additional slot at the 5″ mark solved the harness fit position, but created a new problem to solve: the amount of harness needed to work for the whole seat couldn’t be drawn tight enough for a little 5 lb baby.  The splitter plate on the back would get hung up on the back of the shell before all the slack was drawn out of the harness.

The solution requires a bit of clever routing for the smallest newborns.

Like the original Scenera, the Scenera NEXT employs a ‘continuous harness’.   If your newborn requires the lowest slots (the baby’s shoulders do not reach at least the second harness position from the bottom), you must weave your harness through two additional slots provided in the seat, under the pad where the baby’s bottom will rest.   The harness strap will end up effectively UNDER the adjuster strap when looking at the seat from the bottom.

If the baby’s shoulders reach at least the second harness position, the harness maintains the standard position, hovering OVER the adjuster strap when looking at the seat from the bottom.

Scenera NEXT: Standard routing on the left; Newborn routing on the right

Scenera NEXT: Standard routing on the left; Newborn routing on the right

The Scenera NEXT comes out of the box in the standard position and not the small newborn position.  If you are expecting an early delivery, have a history of tiny newborns, or are carrying multiples, it behooves you to adjust the harness prior to delivery.

FORWARD FACING INSTALLATION:

Cosco Scenera Next: forward facing installation

Cosco Scenera Next: forward facing installation

  • Weight restriction: 22-40 lbs
  • Height Restriction: 29-43″
  • Fit Restriction:  Harness placed at or above the child’s shoulders and ears contained within shell of seat
  • Age Restriction: TWO YEARS +

If I had one wish for this seat, it would be that a ‘forward facing installation’ section of the review were not necessary.   However, the two-year minimum for forward facing is a sufficiently soothing salve that I won’t hold it against Cosco or their marketing department.  In fact, the low top harness position (13″ from the seat pan) means that many children will have outgrown the forward facing capacity of torso height before they’ve even reach the age minimum permitted.   And because the seat can be used a lot longer rear facing than forward facing, the parent has the choice of either buying a new seat at that point, or just continuing to use a perfectly serviceable and safe seat for another year or more, rear facing.    I know what most budget conscious parents will choose!

 

Cosco Scenera Next: She will outgrow the forward facing mode within the next few months, but has several years left rear facing

Cosco Scenera NEXT: She will outgrow the forward facing mode within the next few months, but has several years left rear facing

 

 

Cosco Scenera Next: 3rd buckle position

Cosco Scenera Next: 3rd buckle position

Any of the buckle slot positions may be used for forward facing.  There are no other fit restrictions — they can be used or not used based on comfort and convenience.

Realistically, the most outward position will be the most reasonable for a forward facing child.   Due to the 40 lb harnessed max of this seat and the weight of only 7.59 pounds, lower anchor weight restrictions do not come into play.  If your seating position is equipped with lower anchors, you may use them for the life of the seat.

 

 

 

 

 

Cosco Scenera Next: tether anchor connector

Cosco Scenera Next: tether anchor connector

Remember that for a forward facing seat, the tether anchor connector should always be attached to a dedicated tether anchor position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosco Scenera NEXT left and Cosco Scenera, rightThe seats fit well next to each other forward facing.   You can also see here the difference in forward facing torso height capacity between the original and the new seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cosco Scenera NEXT has room to grow for this 2.5 year old model

The Cosco Scenera NEXT has room to grow for this 2.5 year old model

 

The same toddler is featured here.  You see at about 2.5 years she has maxed the torso capacity of the seat forward facing, but could easily fit rear facing in it for another year and a half or more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LATCH STORAGE:

Cosco Scenera NEXT: LATCH storage

Cosco Scenera NEXT: LATCH storage

 

 

When installing with a seatbelt, attach the lower anchor connectors to the provided rungs toward the foot of the seat, under the flare.

When installing rear facing, attach the tether connector to the provided spot on the center of the back of the seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CUPHOLDER:

Cosco Scenera NEXT cup holder

Cosco Scenera NEXT cup holder

The detachable cupholder may be attached to either side of the seat, or removed entirely (recommended when attempting to install seats next to each other).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOCKING THE BELT:

All vehicles manufacturers have required some sort of locking mechanism in passenger seatbelts since after 1996.   Lower anchors for installation have been required in vehicles since September of 2002.  In the event that your vehicle predates model year 1997, you may need an external mechanism to secure the 3-point vehicle belt into a locking mechanism, called a locking clip.  Cosco will no longer be providing locking clips as a standard piece of equipment with the seat.  However, you can find a locking clip at many baby product retailers, or by contacting Dorel Juvenile Products directly.

A TALE OF TWO SCENERAS

FEATURE SCENERA10446023_10152442061081447_6020436184266841410_o SCENERA NEXT10848811_10152442061076447_4308694740757905229_o
REAR FACING WEIGHT RESTRICTION 5-35 LBS 5-40 LBS
REAR FACING HEIGHT RESTRICTION 19-35″ 19-40″
REAR FACING FIT RESTRICTION Head even with the top of the shell Head even with the top of the shell
FORWARD FACING WEIGHT RESTRICTION 22-40 LBS 22-40 LBS
FORWARD FACING HEIGHT RESTRICTION 34-43″ 29-43″
FORWARD FACING FIT RESTRICTION EARS CONTAINED WITHIN THE SHELL EARS CONTAINED WITHIN THE SHELL
HARNESS POSITIONS 4 positions: 7.5″, 10″, 12″ 14.5″ 5 positions:5″, 7″, 9″, 11″, 13″
BUCKLE STRAP POSITIONS 3 positions:4″, 5.5″, 7″ 3 positions: 2″, 3″ 4″
WIDEST FLARE 17″ 17.5″
SHELL DEPTH 23″ 23″
SHELL SIDE DEPTH AT SHOULDERS 6″ 8″
SHELL SIDE DEPTH AT HIPS 6″ 8″
SEAT PAN: 11.5″ 10″

 

WHERE TO FIND IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

Cosco Scenera Next date of manufactureThe date of manufacture is found on the label on the right side of the side, directly in front of the rear facing belt path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosco Scenera NEXT expirationThe expiration information is molded into the plastic on the middle rear of the seat.

 

Cosco Scenera NEXT:  FAA approval sticker

Cosco Scenera NEXT: FAA approval sticker

The FAA certification is found on the label on the left side of the seat, directly in front of the rear facing belt path.  It is also printed in the manual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TAKEAWAY:

This seat will fit all but tiny preemies from birth, and will last almost all kids to 3 rearfacing, or even longer.  It is narrow, compact, lightweight and easy to install.  It should work well in subcompact cars, SUVs and airplanes, and when seats need to be installed next to each other.     The pricepoint of under 50 dollars makes it a reasonable option for nearly every parent’s budget, and a great choice for coalitions trying to maximize their purchasing power.       We are very pleased to give this seat a Car Seats for the Littles, Inc. seal of approval.

While Cosco provided the seat free of charge to the author, Cosco did not pay for or influence this review.   All opinions expressed, as always, are entirely our own.

The Scenera NEXT is slated to hit stores next month sometime. Our friends at Cosco were generous enough though to give one away to our readers though before you can buy them! To enter, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Diono Rainier Review

Since the first Radians were introduced, Diono has developed a legacy of narrow convertible car seats that work well for some specific situations. Their newest entries into the market, the Olympia, Pacifica,and Ranier, continue that trend while offering additional features that build on the well known Radian.

Diono Rainier installedCSFTL Quick Stats

  • Rear facing weight range: 5-50 lbs
  • Rear facing height range: 44″ or less, or head 1.5″ from the top of the head to the top of the shell
  • Forward facing weight range: 20-90lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 57″ or less
  • High back booster weight range: 50-120 lbs
  • High back booster height range: 40″ and taller, and child’s shoulders at or above 4th harness position
  • Shell height: 24.5″
  • Lowest harness position: 8″
  • Highest harness position: 16.5″
  • Highest booster guide position: 16.5″
  • Expiration: 8 years (harness), 12 years (booster)
  • Lower anchor weight limit: rear facing 35 lbs, forward facing 40 lbs

 

 

 

 

Features

  • 3 position adjustable crotch strap: 4″, 6″, 8″
  • 2 adjustable recline positions in forward facing position
  • Push button lower anchor connectors
  • Allows use of lower anchors in booster position
  • SuperLATCH system
  • Folds flat for travel and is FAA certified
  • Rear-facing tether capability

Special Ease of Travel Features

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One of the biggest pros to the Rainier is how easy traveling can be with it.  Diono makes the only convertibles on the market that can fold flat and be worn for easy transportation through an airport and used on a plane.

Diono Radian, folded with Diono carry straps.

Diono Radian, folded with Diono carry straps.

 

Although the seat weighs around 30lbs, carry straps can be bought separately.  You can attach one for a single shoulder carry or 2 for a backpack style carry.  It is also FAA approved.  One thing you will need if installing rear facing on a plane is a seat belt extender.  These can be attained via your flight attendant.  To find out more about air travel with children check out our article ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and On The Road Again — Another Look at Travel with Littles

 

Installation

The Rainier has several special requirements when installing that differ from other car seats on the market.

Rear Facing
Diono Rainier rear facing boot

Detachable Boot 

In rear facing position, the detachable boot is required for any install.  To install this, start with making sure the built-in forward facing recline is pushed into the seat.  The forward facing installation section will help you with this step.

To attach the boot, slide the posts into the hole, then push it towards the front of the seat where the child’s feet sit.  This allows the seat to be reclined enough for rear facing.  Once it is in place, the metal latch needs to be pushed in to lock it into place.

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Then place the seat on the vehicle seat, sliding the feet of the base into the seat bight.  Thread either the lower anchor strap or seat belt through the rear facing belt path and either buckle or attach the lower anchor connectors.  If installing with lower anchors make sure the arrows point up on the connectors.

Diono Rainier Angle Adjuster

 

Angle Adjuster

Due to the base having only one recline level, Diono sells an angle adjuster to help make the seat more upright, if needed.  It can only be used with children who can sit unassisted and have good head control.

Diono Rainier angle adjuster comparisonThis can help with front to back space as the child gets older and allows the seat to be at a more upright recline.  To install the angle adjuster, loosely install the car seat and then slide the adjuster between the car seat and vehicle seat bottom.  It should rest against the back of the recline boot, but not under it.  Then tighten using whichever install method you choose.

 

Appropriate Newborn Angle

Newborns have special requirements in the car.   A too upright seated position may lead to oxygen desaturation (lessening of the oxygen supply in the blood), as a newborn has poor head control.   Diono convertibles are unique in that their recline is extremely dependent to the slope of the vehicle seats on which they are installed.

Some very sloped vehicle seats may lead to a too upright position for your Diono convertible for a newborn.  If your baby’s head is slumping forward and can’t be safely positioned with the included infant insert, you may need to either move your seat to another seat in the vehicle and try again, or consider a different seat option until baby has better head control and can sit up safely.

If your seat is too upright you can install putting your weight where the baby’s bum sits when tightening.  If it’s too reclined, you can put your weight into where the baby’s feet sit when tightening.  These techniques have limited effectiveness in Diono convertibles, but may be enough to solve the problem in your vehicle.

Diono Rainier rear face tether

 

Rear Face Tethering 

Once the seat is installed, Diono allows the use of rear face tethering via tether connecting strap.  This strap connects to an immovable part of the vehicle, usually consisting of a front seat rail.  The tether is then attached to the D-ring on the strap.  I’ve found the tether anchor can sometimes be difficult to attach to the d-ring.  The tether should be tightened to the point where all the slack is pulled out.

Before performing this step, make sure to check your vehicle manual to find if there are any restrictions when attaching it to the front seat rail.  Rear face tethering is optional, so if your vehicle doesn’t allow it, you can still properly install the seat without it.

 

 

 

Forward facing

Diono Rainier forward facing recline

Forward facing recline

Diono requires the vehicle seat to be in its fully upright position when installing the Rainier forward facing.  Diono provides a forward facing recline foot to help to properly install on different types of vehicle seats.  To engage the built-in recline squeeze the 2 metal bars together on the underside of the seat and pull out.

 

Diono Rainier SafeStop SafeStop

The SafeStop is required for children under 40 lbs in the forward facing position.  Do NOT use it rear facing.  To install, detach the harness straps from the splitter plate, slip the loop on the SafeStop over the splitter plate, and attach the harness loops to the hook on the SafeStop.  While you have the harness straps off, you will want to adjust the harness to the correct position.  For forward facing, the harness needs to be at or above the child’s shoulders.  Only the 4th harness slot and above are allowed for forward facing use.  If the child is over 65 lbs, the larger harness pads will need to be used.  Please see the forward facing child fit section for more information on this.

 

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Easy reach installation path

The Rainier incorporates a ‘trick’ that all Diono convertible seats have had.  They provide a nice slit on each side of the cover for easy access to the seat belt or lower anchor connector strap.  To tighten either the connector strap or belt, just reach through the cover and tighten.

Diono Rainier forward facing seat belt bunch

 

I had an extremely difficult time installing the Rainier via seat belt in forward facing mode.  My van (2012 Nissan Quest) has rigid belt stalks which can be cumbersome with some seat belt installs.  The Rainier was no exception.  I was able to get it nice and tight when it was pushed all the way back into the back of the vehicle seat, but every time I would pull the harness adjuster, it pulled the front of the car seat out and loosened the install.  The belt was also very bunched in the latchplate.  So I enlisted the help of some other Diono knowledgable techs and it was suggested I pull the built-in recline out and pull it away from the vehicle seat back a bit.  Using this method I was able to get a good tight install without the tip forward, but I would still be concerned if an active child jumped into the seat quickly, it would push back into the vehicle seat back and become loose again.  Overall, I just wasn’t pleased with the forward facing seat belt install in my van and would be afraid of misuse by an everyday parent with no Diono experience.

Booster

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESConverting the seat to booster mode is a bit more labor intensive.  Overall the installation in the vehicle will be the same as the forward facing LATCH installation.  The Rainier allows you to install it with LATCH while being used as a booster as long as the lower anchor connectors don’t interfere with the seat belt.  This allows the seat to not have to be buckled when unoccupied.
Before installing in the vehicle the harness needs to be removed.  This is not an easy feat, unfortunately.  I’ll walk you through step by step on how to do this.  You will need a Phillips head screwdriver.

Diono Rainier harness removalStep 1

Buckle the harness and chest clip and remove the harness pads.  Then disconnect the harness loops from the splitter plate on the back of the car seat.  If the over 65 lb pads are being used, those will need to be removed at this time as well.

Step 2

Slide the harness straps through the front of the seat and slide the chest clip and buckle tongues off each strap.  Keep in a safe place.

Step 3

Detach the buckle.  Use the same method to remove this as you do to adjust the position for the child.  You will either need to slide the plate through by sliding your hand into the rear facing belt path or folding the seat bottom up and sliding your hand through space that provides.  The only part of the harness left on the seat at this point should be just the actual straps.

Diono Rainier harness removal 2

Step 4

Unscrew the 2 screws holding on the plastic piece on the side of the seat.  Under this piece, you’ll find the plate where the harness is attached to the bottom of the seat.

Step 5

Maneuver the plate through the hole on both sides.  They don’t leave much room for this step, so you may need to do some precise maneuvers.

Step 6

Using the harness plate attachment piece,  pull the harness straps through the bottom of the seat to remove, then screw the plastic pieces back on to cover holes.  I highly recommend keeping all the harness parts in a large bag to keep it all together.

 

 

To reattach the harness, follow these steps in reverse order.  Making sure everything lies flat and untwisted once finished.  Pulling the harness all the way back through can be a bit of a hassle.    The seam where the harness plate is easily gets caught up on the hole to slide the harness through on the seat bottom.

As you can tell, this is not something you will want to do often and has potential for misuse due to not getting everything threaded back through correctly.

Child Fit

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESDiono Rainier side bolsters

Support Inserts

It comes with both toddler and infant support cushions which helps with smaller child fit (can be used with any height or weight of child) as well as adjustable side bolsters for larger children.  These adjust by pulling out on the bolsters.  They feel sturdy but I am a bit concerned about how long they’ll hold up and not become damaged from kids getting in and out of the seat.

 

 

 

 

 

Diono Rainier headwing positionsHead wings & Low Profile Sides

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe low profile sides and adjustable head wings are nice features.  The biggest downfall with them is that the headwings cannot be used until the child in on the 3rd harness slot.  Before then, they need to be all the way up.  Although not a safety issue for kids with head control and the ability to sit unassisted, there is still considerable head slump, which can become a comfort issue.  The headwings can also be difficult to adjust as well.

 

 

Diono Rainier harness pads

 Harness Comfort Pads

The Rainier comes with 2 sets of harness comfort pads.  The seat is always required to have one set of harness pads on at all times.  The pads it ships with have attachment points both above and below the chest clip.  These are to be used until 65 lbs.  Once the child reaches 65 lbs, they need to be switched out with the larger pads.  These pads have a grippy material on the back of them, along with being attached to a clip that slides into the harness slots at the back of the seat.  These will most likely not be used by many children due to an overinflated harness weight limit in combination with the headwings, as will be discussed in the forward facing child fit section.

 

Diono Rainier harness pad instructions

The instructions for use with both sets of pads are on a tag on the inside of each.  The manual doesn’t say anything about the installation of the larger pads.
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Crotch Buckle Positions

There are also 3 crotch buckle positions that can be used to help with child fit measuring 4″, 6″, and 8″.  The outermost position must be used with children over 30 lbs.  Changing the buckle position can be a bit difficult.  With it being in the closed belt path you can either remove and adjust it by reaching into the side of the belt path or folding the bottom of the seat up and reaching through that area.  Make sure you are threading it through the corresponding slot in the shell, comfort foam (under the cover), and the cover.  I found that mine don’t match up well, so I really had to double-check to make sure its was in the correct position on all three.

 

 

Harness Tightener

The Rainier (like all Diono convertible seats) has a ratcheting harness tightener.  This means that it pulls smoothly until it’s just about tight enough, then you use a tug, tug motion to get the last bit of slack out of the harness.  I’ve found that I also need to pull from the back of the seat to get it nice and tight.  This can be a misuse issue due to parents/caregivers believing the harness is tight since it won’t pull smoothly anymore, whereas it still needs a few tugs to get that last little bit tight.

Rear Facing

  • Rear facing weight range: 5-50 lbs
  • Rear facing height range: 44″ or less, or head 1.5″ from the top of the head to the top of the shell
  • Lower anchor weight limit: rear facing 35 lbs

As stated before due to the Rainier’s taller shell and upper rear facing limits, this makes for a great extended rear facing car seat.  With the low sides it makes it easy for children to climb into the seat by themselves, which we know most toddlers and preschoolers would like to do to show their independence.

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Fiona – Huggable Images doll -newborn, 7lbs, 17″

Fiona fits well with the newborn and toddler insert.  The was right above the bottom harness slot. The harness was tightened to the end of its length with just barely passing the pinch test.  I would be concerned with getting the harness tight enough for babies any smaller than her.  The large chest clip in conjuncture with the large harness pads made tightening the harness a bit of a struggle with her.  The extra padding in the harness pads also had me second guessing whether the harness was tight enough with her.  Since she was only on the bottom harness slot, the headwings were in the highest position.

 

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Anders – 8 months, 20 lbs, 27″

He had a very good fit in the Rainier without the toddler and infant support.  As with Fiona, the large chest clip and large pads made me second guess fit as well as tightness.  My other concern was the harness possibly sliding off her shoulders due to the wide distance between the harness straps.  His shoulders were slightly above the 2nd harness position, so the headwings were left at their top position.  He definitely had a head slump issue, as you can see in this photo.  The infant head support would help with smaller children, but his head is too big to fit inside of the support.  This side to side head slump isn’t an issue with older children with head control and can sit unassisted, but as a parent I don’t like to see this.  Due to the lower profile and wider seat of the Rainier I also needed to make sure he was centered well in the seat before adjusting anything on every ride.  Overall, he seemed comfortable and has fallen asleep several times in it with no complaints.

 

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Freya – 2.5 yrs, 23 lbs, 33″

Freya also fit well in the Rainier sans inserts.  She is right at the 3rd harness position so the headwings were adjusted down for her to the lowest position so that her head fit nicely between the headwings.  I had the same issue with judging the tightness of the straps with her.  She’s also so narrow that I worry about her being able to wiggle her shoulders out of the harness.  The openness of the seat allowed for her to have much more leg room that other seats as well.  She was able to throw her feet over the sides and put her feet in many different positions so she could sit comfortably.  Remember lack of legroom does not equal a seat being outgrown rear facing or that she will be uncomfortable.  It just means she has more options.  She also seemed very comfortable with no complaints.

 

 

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESKenzie – 4 yrs, 34 lbs, 39″
Kenzie is right at the limits of most convertible seats available, but has plenty of growing room in the Rainier still.  She consistently asks to ride like her little sister  does (rear facing), but she is too big for most seats.  With this seat she would be able to ride rear facing for quite a bit longer.  She is on the 3rd harness slot, so like Freya, the headwings have been adjusted down to the lowest position for her.  The crotch buckle has been moved to the outer most position since she is over 30 lbs.  The lower anchor limits for the Rainier is 35 lbs rear facing, so the seat can be installed with lower anchors for another pound before switching to a seat belt installation.  She was really excited to be rear facing and was comfortable in this seat.

 

Forward Facing

  • Forward facing weight range: 20-90lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 57″ or less
  • Lower anchor weight limit: forward facing 40 lbs

I actually had a hard time finding a child that fit forward facing in the Rainier.  The combination of the tall shell height, tall maximum height limit rear facing, and the high maximum rear facing weight limit, most children can rear face until they fit the booster.  One of my models would actually still fit rear facing, but is showing what he looks like forward facing in it.

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Landon – 4 yrs, 40 lbs, 36″

*Disclaimer- the headwings are too high on him.  The pink line on the photo shows where it should be.  I had him harnessed in the seat and ready for the photo before realizing they weren’t adjusted correctly.  The headwings are extremely difficult to adjust with a child in the seat.*

Landon fit well in the Rainier with plenty of growing room until he reaches 50lbs and is mature enough for booster use.  Since he is 40 lbs, the SafeStop is not being used and the seat is installed via seat belt.  His shoulders were just barely over the 2nd to top harness slot, so he is on the top harness slot in this photo.

 

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Chloe – Huggable Images Doll – 6 yrs, 46 lbs, 48″
Chloe is still too light to use the Rainier as a booster, but as you can tell, she is right at the limits of the harness.  Diono allows the use of the harness with the child’s shoulders over the top harness slot, but the headwings pose a pratical impedence to this extended use.  The child’s shoulders will bump into the bottom of the headwings before the max height of 57″ or restriction of ears at the top of the shell are reached.  So she will technically reach the limit of the harness the same time as the booster, height wise, but may not even reach the minimum booster weight before outgrowing it.  Her overall fit is good in the harness though.

 

Booster

  • High back booster weight range: 50-120 lbs
  • High back booster height range: 40″ and taller, and child’s shoulders at or above 4th harness position

Once the parent/caregiver has removed the harness and used LATCH to attach the car seat to the vehicle seat, the seat belt needs to be routed through the shoulder belt clip behind the headwings.  This is no easy feat and can cause the belt to bind up in it.

Diono Rainier Adam

 

Adam – 7 yrs, 57 lbs, 52″

Adam has the perfect fit for the Rainier in booster mode.  His shoulder is below the headwings, yet above the top harness slot.  The belt sits nicely across his upper thighs as well as squarely on his shoulder.  He was comfortable with not much wiggle room.

Diono Rainier Brenna

 

Brenna – 9 yrs, 64 lbs, 55″

Although Brenna is quite a way from outgrowing the stated limits in booster mode, she didn’t fit as well as Adam.  The headwings pushed down on her shoulders causing her to have to keep from slouching down to get comfortable.  The belt fit was great though, similar to Adam.  Legally, Brenna is old enough to be in the adult belt only, but still doesn’t safely fit with no booster.  So she would need another booster before moving on to adult belt alone.

Diono Rainier Leif

 

Leif – 9 yrs, 115 lbs, 52″

I was very interested to see how my child would fit with being only 5 lbs away from the weight limit of the seat.  He also has a taller torso than both Adam and Brenna, even though his overall height is shorter.  He was extremely uncomfortable and had an unsafe fit.  His shoulders were above the bottom of the headwings.  The lap belt also kept slipping off the red belt guides at his hips.  Like Brenna, he is also legally able to ride without a booster, but cannot safely do it.  So he would also need another booster until he’s ready for the adult belt alone.

Diono Rainier Thomas

 

 

Thomas – Huggable Images doll - 8 yrs, 80 lbs, 57″

Thomas is right at the top height limit of the Rainier in booster mode.  As you can see, there’s no way that he would fit correctly at his height, even though he’s 40 lbs under the weight limit.  This is also an unsafe fit.  Like Leif and Brenna, even though he’s at the legal age and size to use the adult belt, he still doesn’t fit it properly.  So he would also need a different booster before he’s ready to move up.

 

Important Information: Where to find

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Date of Manufacture can be found on the side of the seat’s left hand side.  It states the model and manufacture date.

 

 

 

Diono Rainier Expiration

 

Expiration is only listed in the Rainier instruction manual on page 7.

 

 

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FAA approval sticker can be found on the back of the seat towards the top where the strap storage compartments are located.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diono Convertible Seat Comparisons

Diono currently has 6 convertible car seats on the market each with very slight variations.  Check out this chart to find out how each differs.  Also check out the following real life comparisons of the Diono Radian RXT, Diono Rainier, and Diono Pacifica.

Radian R100OlympiaRadian R120PacificaRadian RXTRainier
Specifications
RF Limits5-40 lbs
Up to 44"
5-45 lbs
Up to 44"
5-45 lbs
Up to 44"
5-50 lbs
Up to 44"
5-45 lbs
Up to 44"
5-50 lbs.
Up to 44"
FF Limits20-65 lbs
Up to 57"
20-70 lbs
Up to 57"
20-80 lbs
Up to 57"
20-90 lbs
Up to 57"
20-80 lbs
Up to 57"
20-90 lbs
Up to 57"
Booster Limits50-100 lbs
Up to 57"
50-110 lbs
40"-57"
50-120 lbs
40"-57"
50-120 lbs
40"-57"
50-120 lbs
40"-57"
50-120 lbs
40"-57"
Features
Headwings
Width (at widest point)17"18.5"17"18.5"17"18.5"
Depth (at top of seat)7"9.5"7"9.5"7"9.5"
IIHS Booster RatingBest BetNot RecommendedBest BetNot RecommendedBest BetGood Bet

Diono Rainier vs. Diono Radian RXT

Diono Rainier Radian RXT comparisonDiono Rainier is the updated version of the Diono Radian RXT.  The Rainier being the newer model has updated deeper and wider sides behind the headwings, as well as adding 5lbs to the rear facing weight limit, and 10 lbs to the forward facing weight limit .  Everything else about the 2 are the same.

The Rainier is 9.5″ from front to back at the deepest point (not including the headwings) compared to the RXT at 7″.  That 2.5″ doesn’t sound like much, but you can definitely see the difference.  What does this mean to the parent?  Not much besides making parents feel like it has a bit more side impact protection.  At this point, there are no side impact standards in the US though, so we don’t know how they compare in tests.

The Rainier measures 18.5″ from side to side at the widest point.  The RXT comes in at 17″.  The Radian has always been a great seat for those looking for a narrow seat for 3 car seats across a back seat.  This is where the side to side measurement makes a difference.  This 1.5″ can mean the difference between being able to fit 3 across versus not being able to.

So depending on your needs, make sure you look at these measurements as well as weight limits.

 

Booster Fit: Diono Rainier vs. Diono Pacifica

The Diono Pacifica is part of their newest line up of convertible seats along with the Rainier.  The Pacifica is the updated model of the Radian R120 and like the Rainier, adds 5 lbs to the rear facing weight limit and 10 lbs to the forward facing weight limit.  As well as adding deeper and wider sides.  The only difference between the Rainier and Pacifica is the headwings and how the seat belt is routed in booster mode.  The Rainier’s booster guide is behind the headwings and the Pacifica’s is at the top of the shell.  I wasn’t very pleased with the belt guide on the Rainier due to the extra effort it takes to get it threaded and it has to be threaded back up after releasing the buckle.  I was thinking the Pacifica would have better booster fit due to the belt guide being less encumbered.  So it surprised me that the 2014 IIHS booster ratings put the Rainier in the good bet category and the Pacifica in the not recommended category.  I was able to get my hands on a Pacifica to test the difference and it was pretty surprising.

Diono rainier Pacifica Adam

 

Adam

As we saw earlier, Adam had perfect booster fit in the Rainier with the lap belt positioned over his upper thighs/hips and the shoulder belt centered on his shoulder.  The Pacifica definitely had a worse fit with him.  The lap belt was still positioned correctly, but the shoulder belt isn’t on his shoulder at all and it cuts into his chin/neck.  Not a good fit at all.

 

Diono Rainier Pacifica Brenna

 

Brenna

Brenna was  a bit squished under the headwings of the Rainier so I thought the lack of headwings would help on the Pacifica.  She’s leaning forward a bit in the Pacifica and it still is pulled away from her shoulder and too high on her neck/chin.

 

Diono Rainier Pacifica Leif

 

Leif

Leif, like Brenna, has the issue with his shoulders being pushed down by the headwings.  The Pacifica solved this problem, but his shoulders were still very tight inside the sides of the Pacifica.  He also had the issue of the shoulder belt sitting too far forward.  With Leif being only 5 lbs away from the weight limit of the seat, this shows me that both the Rainier and Pacifica have a overinflated booster maximum weight limit.

 

Diono Rainier Pacifica Thomas

 

Thomas

Thomas had outgrown the Rainier already due to his shoulders going over shoulder belt guide.  He fits in the Pacifica, but like the other models, the belt sits too far forward from his shoulder.

 

 

Overall Impressions

Pros

  • Tall seat shell  and high rear facing height maximum for a long-lasting rear facing seat
  • High weight limits in all modes
  • Narrow to fit small spaces
  • Deep and low sided seat pan leaves lots of leg room
  • Headwings for extra head support when sleeping
  • Good booster fit for children within the lower limits of booster mode

Cons

  • Over inflated limits – Most children will not be able to fit to the high weight limits, thus giving parents a false sense of longevity.
  • Cumbersome to switch between modes, especially booster
  • Although it has good booster fit, the booster is outgrown by height about the same time as the harness in forward facing mode.
  • Ease of use – too many steps and directions to follow thus increasing the likelihood of misuse
  • Booster won’t last until a child is ready to move to an adult belt.

Interested in a Diono Rainier for your little (or big) one?  Diono is graciously offering to give a Rainier away to a lucky reader.  This giveaway is open to both US and Canadian residents!  Follow the Rafflecopter instructions below to enter for a chance to win!

Can’t wait and need one now?  The Diono Rainier can be found on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

Diono graciously provided the Rainier car seat used in this review.  As always, the opinions are our own.
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Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Review

The Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 is an update to the well-loved Pria 70 convertible car seat. The Pria 85 takes many cues from its European counterpart, incorporating plush fabrics and little details like the no re-thread harness, easy to remove cover , and harness holders to make buckling the child easier.

Pria 85 Rear FacingCSFTL Quick Stats:

  • Rear facing weight range: 14-40 lbs
  • Rear facing height range: 40″ or less
  • Forward facing weight range: 22-85 lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 29-52″
  • Shell height: 26″ (headrest fully extended)
  • Lowest harness position: 9″
  • Highest harness position: 17″
  • Expiration: 10 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 40 lbs

 Features:

  • 3 position crotch strap
  • 3 recline settings
  • Push button lower anchor connectors
  • No re-thread harness with 9 positions
  • Easy remove cover

 

Rear Facing

Pria 85 RF angle 2The Pria 85 requires a little bit of extra attention to detail when it comes to installation. The first essential step to installing any car seat is, of course, to read the manual. It’s especially important with the Pria 85 to ensure that none of the details have been overlooked. The Pria 85 features three recline settings: either position 2 or 3 can be used while rear facing, so long as the single level line is level to the ground after installation. The recline foot is clearly labeled, making it easy to tell which recline setting you have selected. In my vehicle, the more upright recline position 2 put the indicator nicely level with the ground.

Pria 85 Belt GuidesNext, thread the seat belt or lower anchor strap through the belt path. There are guides on both sides of the rear facing belt path, the lower anchor strap or lap belt of the seat belt must be threaded in those guides on both sides. The edges of the guides are a little bit sharp, and I was very careful about threading the seat belt through. If the seat belt were resting on the edge of the guide while pulling tight, it could result in damage to the seat belt.

Pria RF LineThe cover easily pulls up to access the belt path, but I found myself wishing for a couple of slots in the cover to be able to access the belt path without partially removing the cover around the path. It was painless to get a secure installation with either lower anchors or seat belt in each of the vehicles I tried. The Pria has a single line that must be level to the ground for rear facing, I found it to be a nice angle for the my rear facing toddler, and it fit comfortably behind the driver’s seat in my Honda CRV with plenty of room for the average adult to drive comfortably.

Fit to Child

The Pria allows rear facing from 14-40 lbs, up to 40″, as long as the child’s head does not exceed the top of the fully extended headrest (which measures 26″ in height). With a 14 lb starting weight and 9″ bottom harness position, this seat is designed for infants who are ready to transition out of their rear facing only car seat and are around 6 months old. There are three crotch buckle settings at 4″, 5″ and 6″ deep; Maxi-Cosi permits use of the inner and middle position when rear facing and recommends using the setting that provides a snug fit for the child.

Rear facing, the Pria 85 is limited to when the child is 40 lbs, 40″, or their head reaches the top of the fully extended headrest. This stated height limit is unfortunate, as CSFTL recommends rear facing until 3-4 years old and some taller kids may hit 40″ before then.

Pria_Anders

Anders – 8 months, 20 lbs, 27″

Anders is 8 months, 20 lbs and 27″ and is just moving into the Pria 85 from his rear facing only seat. The straps are just below his shoulders on the lowest setting and he is using the inner crotch buckle position. The strap covers are fairly large and a bit bulky on him so he is using the Pria 85 without the harness covers, which are easily removable with velcro along the sides.

 

Pria 85 RF 1 year old

Grace – 19 months, 22 lbs, 31″

Grace is 19 months and fairly small for her age, at 22 lbs and 31″ she is on the second headrest position. The Pria 85 gave her tons of leg room rear facing and gave a comfortable fit with the crotch buckle on the innermost setting. I did find the harness rather difficult to tighten. The Pria 85 does not have a continuous harness, like many of its Dorel Juvenile Group cousins, but the tightening strap requires a firm tug to pull snug and careful attention to ensure the straps are not twisted. I employed the method of pulling the slack through the shell from the back of the seat, and then pulling the front adjusting strap to tighten.

 

 

Pria_85_RF_3yo

Maverick – 3 years, 30 lbs, 36″

 

Maverick is 3.25 years old, weighs 30 lbs and is 36″ tall. He was very comfortable riding in the Pria 85 rear facing and his mom knows that he still is safest rear facing and loves that the Pria gives him plenty of room to grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forward Facing

Installation of the Pria 85 was just as easy as rear facing, but did, again, require some attention to detail. There are several methods for forward facing installation, and all have specific rules that depend on the child’s weight:

  • Pria 85 FF upright v recline

    Left: Recline position 1. Right: Recline position 2

    If the child is between 22-40 lbs, 29-43″, install the Pria 85 in recline position 2 using either LATCH or seat belt with tether.

  • If the child is between 40-85 lbs, 43-52″, install the Pria 85 in recline position 1 using the seat belt with tether.

This requirement could prove problematic – there is no overlap in the weight and height requirements for using position 1 versus position 2, so if a child is in the weight range for position 1 but the height range for position 2, the manual is unclear which position should be used for that child.

Installation in both recline positions was simple; there are no belt guides for the forward facing belt path and the cover easily unsnaps in the back to allow access to the belt path to achieve a tight installation without a lot of effort.

I appreciated Maxi-Cosi’s advisement to always use the tether when the Pria 85 is installed in the forward facing position to greatly improve the performance of the child restraint in a crash.

 

 

Fit to Child

Pria 85 Forward FacingThe Pria allows forward facing from 22-85 lbs and up to 52″, as long as the child fits with the harness at or above the shoulders and the midpoint of the head below the top of the fully extended headrest. The top harness position measures 17″, which unfortunately means the vast majority of children are going to outgrow the Pria 85 with their shoulders exceeding the top harness position long before ever reaching the height or weight maximum. Maxi-Cosi boasts that the Pria 85 is the only convertible car seat rated up to 85 lbs, and while that may be true, there just aren’t many children of that size that will truly be able to use the seat.

Maxi-Cosi permits use of any of the three crotch buckle slots when forward facing, and recommends using the position that will provide a snug fit for the child.

Pria 85 Harness Covers

Top: standard harness covers. Bottom: grippy covers required for over 65 lbs with no tether available.

The Pria comes with two sets of harness covers, one for comfort, and a second that is a requirement if the child is over 65 lbs and there is not a tether anchor available. The second, larger pair look the same upon initial inspection, but have a thick, grippy material on the back. They are stored in a storage pocket on the outside of the cover, where the manual may also be stored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pria forward facing 6 year oldPria 85 AsleepSam is 6 years old, tall and skinny for his age at 43 lbs and 47″. He is on the second to the top harness position on the Pria 85 and on the 3rd crotch buckle setting. He found the Pria 85 to be very comfortable; he is quite leggy and appreciated the leg support, cupholder and soft fabrics. On his second ride in the seat, he actually fell asleep which is rather uncommon for him.

Sam’s only complaint with the Pria 85 was that the buckle is very difficult to open. He regularly buckles and unbuckles himself in his other seats, but he couldn’t do the Pria. The strap material is also rather thin and tended to twist, he had a tough time getting in and out without twisting the straps. With two kids, it’s a real time saver to have my oldest buckle himself so it was frustrating for both of us that he needed my assistance each time we got in and out of the car. Similar to Grace, I had a difficult time tightening the harness the first time I adjusted it for him as well.

 

 

Pria_85_FF

Kenzie is 5.5 and tall for her age – 48.5″ and weighs 53 lbs. Despite being well within the stated limits of the Pria 85, she outgrew the seat some time ago. Her shoulders are above the top harness position, and the harness was only just long enough to get her buckled in, it was not comfortable for her at all.

Pria_8yoI also tested our Huggable Images doll, Thomas, is 8 years old, 80 lbs and 57″. He is well over the stated 52″ height limit for the Pria 85 forward facing, but at 80 lbs he is within the weight limit. I tried him in the seat to see if the straps were long enough to fit around his body, and they weren’t even close. Unfortunately, neither the length nor height of the straps were built to accommodate a child at the upper ranges Maxi-Cosi has placed on the Pria 85.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Features

Maxi-Cosi came up with a lot of fun details in the design of the Pria 85, here are a few:

Pria_norethreadNo Re-thread Harness

The Pria 85 no re-thread harness features 9 positions, which makes it easy to get a proper fit on just about any sized child. For rear facing, position the straps at or below the shoulders; for forward facing, position the straps at or above the shoulders. The headrest design places the headwings right around the child’s head without squashing their shoulders or awkward positioning like some other seats tend to do. To adjust the harness, squeeze the handle in the headrest and pull up or down. I found the adjustment a little sticky the first few times, but it did get easier as I moved it several times. The very top position was the most difficult to get the headrest to, I had to pull on the headrest as well as the adjuster on the back to get it all the way up.

 

 

Pria 85 cover removedEasy Remove Cover

Let’s face it: kids are gross. No matter how clean you try to keep your car, they will always find a way to make a mess. Whether it’s *ahem* organic fluids, goldfish crackers, apple juice, or some mystery substance that only a toddler can conjure, the bottom line is that you will have to wash the cover at some point. The Pria 85 features an easy remove cover that comes off without having to uninstall the seat or undo the harness. I was a little bit skeptical upon first reading about this feature, so I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised when it was just as easy as promised. It only took a few minutes and undoing a few snaps to completely remove the cover without uninstalling the seat. Plus, there aren’t any of those pesky little elastics with corresponding posts to find that secure the cover, it simply slips around the edges and then has a few snaps on the inner portion that keep it secured. I even washed the cover after a few weeks of use, and found the cleaning instructions in the manual easy to follow, and that the material washed nicely.

 

Pria 85Comfy Fabrics

The gray material of the Pria 85 looks and feels just like a comfy pair of sweatpants. It contrasts with sleek, navy fabric and the result is a handsome seat that combines comfort and style. Sam told me several times that his favorite thing about the Pria 85 is the soft fabric.

The seat featured in this review is Brilliant Blue; with a couple cameos from a Devoted Black model. The Pria 85 is also available in Passionate Pink.

 

Pria 85 Harness HoldersHarness Holders

Having to dig harness straps out from underneath a wiggly kid is, simply, the worst. The Pria 85 has these handy little clips on the side of the seat to hold the straps out-of-the-way. My kids have ridden in several other seats that have this feature and to be honest, I’ve never actually used it with any regularity. I always find that getting the straps into the little holders is more cumbersome than digging them out from under the child is to begin with. The Pria 85 changed that for me, however. The harness holders are in the perfect position to easily tuck the straps in

Overall Thoughts

mx-518_1zThe Pria 85 carries a lot of nice features and will last the average child a long time. I appreciated the plush fabrics, comfortable fit, and easy remove cover. I would love to see the rear facing height limit extended, and the forward facing limits set to a range more likely to be achieved by the size constraints of the seat. With a suggested retail of $299.99, the Pria 85 won’t fit all budgets, but the ease of use features make it a nice choice for many families. Would you like to win a Pria 85 for your Little? Maxi-Cosi would like to give one away to one of our readers, enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. You can also find the Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 on Amazon.com.

Maxi-Cosi generously provided the Brilliant Blue seat used in this review, however, we were not otherwise compensated and opinions, as always, are all our own.

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Maxi-Cosi RodiAP Review

Though booster seats don’t have as many moving parts as a harnessed car seat, there’s a large range of features and fit on the market.  Choosing the right one can be a real challenge!  For my booster rider, we need a booster that’s fairly padded and has a high top shoulder belt guide position since my kiddo is fairly tall and quite slim.

The Maxi-Cosi RodiAP is a mid-priced booster seat with a lot to offer.  Though it shares part of a name with the RodiFix, it’s got a number of differences that have quickly made the RodiAP one of my favorite boosters!

Maxi-Cosi RodiAP

Maxi-Cosi RodiAP

 

CSFTL Quick Stats

  • High back booster weight range: 30-120 lbs.
  • High back booster height range: 34-57”
  • Backless booster weight range: 30-120 lbs.
  • Backless booster height range: 34-57″
  • Highest belt guide position: 21.5″
  • Expiration: 6 years

 Additional Features

  • Hooks to keep the high-backed portion  connected to the backless portion of the booster
  • Lightweight, easy to move between vehicles
  • 2014 IIHS Best Bet in high back mode

 

 

 

High Back Booster Mode

Box and Assembly

RodiAP Comes In Two Pieces

RodiAP Comes In Two Pieces

 

The box for the RodiAP is quite a bit smaller than the RodiFix’s box.   This is because the RodiAP converts to a backless booster in addition to being a high back booster, where the RodiFix does not.

Assembling the RodiAP  was fairly painless — I had to tilt the high back portion down below being level with the openings on the backless portion, line up the hooks, then just sit the headrest upright and it all clicked into place.  This is easier than it sounds, I promise!

 

 

 

Those Hooks!

RodiAP stays connected

RodiAP stays connected

Sometimes, the smallest things are the biggest things.  The RodiAP has an ingenious set of hooks to keep the high back portion connected to the backless portion.  If you’ve ever attempted to carry almost any other kind of high back booster around, you’ll know how helpful this feature is!  No more thinking that the seat is fully assembled, only to have the bottom come loose and start flopping around or worse, fall off, while you’re taking it to the car.

For this feature alone, the RodiAP is one of my new best friends.

Thanks to these little hooks, I can carry the RodiAP around with one hand — the seat is very lightweight and it’s small footprint makes it easy to maneuver into and out of the car.  I was able to get the RodiAP into and out of my car’s third row through the hatch without the seat coming apart or banging around because it was too bulky.

 

 Fit to Child: High Back Mode

RodiAP is a great option for this kiddo!

RodiAP is a great option for this kiddo!

 

The RodiAP has a weight range of 30-100 pounds and height range of 34-57 inches tall, and AT LEAST 4 years old. Regular readers of CSFTL probably know that we don’t recommend a booster until the child is at least 5 years old; here’s more information about booster readiness.

My booster rider is 8 years old, she’s 50 pounds and stands 49 inches tall.  She’s also quite slim and this has made finding a booster that fits her well, while being padded enough for her needs quite a challenge.  The RodiAP features a fairly plush cover that was an instant hit with my kiddo.  This is no small feat!

The RodiAP fits my slender child very well.  It would likely fit slender to medium-sized children well.  Though it is rated to 120 pounds, a child that size would be unlikely to fit in the RodiAP.

 

 

 

 

Belt Guide Access and Retraction

RodiAP Shoulder Belt Guide

RodiAP Shoulder Belt Guide

 

The shoulder belt guide is fairly easy to access and threading the belt through was pretty easy.  The belt didn’t catch on any parts of the seat shell and it’s stayed in place.  The belt retracts without issue in my Mazda 5’s second row.

Because the belt guide is closed, once the seat belt is threaded through the guide, it’s kind of tricky to get it back out. The upside to this? It’s very unlikely that the belt will just slide out of place when you don’t want it to.

We’ve tried a number of different boosters and combination seats that convert to boosters over the years.   I was pleased to see that the RodiAP’s belt guide is among the easiest to use from our family’s sample data.

The top shoulder height on the RodiAP is an impressive 21.5 inches, making it one of the taller (and therefore, longer-lasting) dedicated boosters on the market.  For our family, this means that my booster rider can ride comfortably in a high back booster for a while yet.

 

 

AirProtect

RodiAP

RodiAP

The RodiAP includes AirProtect Side Impact Protection in the headrest.  The manual states that the “midpoint of the child’s head should be in the center of the headrest.”  This aligns the AirProtect with the correct location on the child’s head.  We struggled a bit with this requirement — moving the headrest up that high also moved up the shoulder belt to a place where it didn’t fit quite as close to my daughter’s shoulder as I would’ve liked but it still offered a good belt fit.

Cupholder

The RodiAP includes a detachable cupholder.  It’s sort of giant in comparison to the sleekness of the seat itself.  It’s not actually in the shape of a cup so it’s not well-suited to carrying the sorts of objects that often make their way into our cupholders. My kids are more fond of bringing craft items, acorns, pieces of halloween costumes, and random bits of paper in their cupholders than they are beverages so for us, the cupholder was kind of a bust.

I suspect that for families who actually carry drink-shaped objects in the cupholders, this one would work just fine.

 

Backless Mode

Converting to Backless Mode

RodiAP Backless Mode

RodiAP Backless Mode

 

 

The manual instructs to lay the high back portion of the seat on a table, then flip the bottom portion over the edge.  This will release the hooks and allow the back to be removed.  This process was pretty simple — it took a little more force to separate the pieces than on other high back boosters but that’s a fair trade for the convenience that those hooks connecting the pieces offers.

 

 

 

 

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RodiAP Lap Belt Guide

 

 

The belt guides on the lap portion of the seat are generously sized and allow the belt to pass through easily.  The edges of the RodiAP’s seat pan are curved up.  This provides a little extra support for my child’s legs — she found this quite comfortable.

 

 

 

 

Portability

One key feature of backless boosters for us is portability.  If my booster rider needs to hitch a ride after school, we send a backless booster with her.  The RodiAP is lightweight enough that she could carry it around but the shape of the seat makes it a little less suited for this part of the job.  For this purpose, she  prefers a booster with more defined armrests — those are easier to carry around.

 

Fit to Child: Backless Mode

RodiAP in backless mode

RodiAP in backless mode

 

Statistically, children can be just as safe in a backless booster as they are in a high back booster, provided that they sit properly for the entire ride and have a good belt fit.

In this case, the RodiAP places the lap portion across the top of my model’s thighs and the shoulder belt across the midpoint of her shoulder. As this seat does not come with a seat belt adjuster strap for use with the backless booster, the IIHS gave it a Check Fit rating. In high back mode it was given a Best Bet.

While the belt fit is just fine for her in both backless and high back mode, for this child, she tends to stay in the right position more consistently when she has a little extra support around her head and back.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts From A Booster Rider

My child finds the RodiAP quite comfortable. In my Mazda 5’s second row, she struggled a bit to get it buckled. Since the RodiAP doesn’t have LATCH or ISOFIX connectors to keep it affixed to the seat, it slides around as she’s getting settled. She had to scoot the seat away from the buckle a bit in order to get herself secured. Once she was settled, she found the seat quite comfortable in both modes.

We’ve also tried the RodiAP in our other car, a 2014 Prius V. The backseat in that car is a bench seat with a slightly different seat belt geometry than I have in my Mazda 5. This setup made it easier for her to get buckled so from a convenience standpoint, the RodiAP works better in that car for us.

 

Overall Thoughts From Mom
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There are a few key features that make the RodiAP a big hit for my family.  The high 21.5″ max shoulder height, the ingenious hooks keeping the seat together when I’m moving it around, and the solid belt fit in both high back and backless modes.  The main drawback is merely that it’s a little tough for my kiddo to carry around as a carpool booster and the cupholder didn’t really work for us.  Given everything else that is good about this seat, I am pleased to say that the RodiAP is a winner for us!

Ready to buy a RodiAP for your booster rider?  They’re available at Amazon.com.  Maxi-Cosi was kind enough to provide the booster in this review and they’ve partnered with us to give one away to a lucky winner!  Enter below for your chance to win!

*As always, our opinions are our own.*

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Phil & Teds Alpha Review

Phil & Ted’s isn’t a new name in the baby gear scene.  They have been a well known name in the stroller world for several years now and have just released a rear facing only seat that is compatible with a wide array of their strollers.  They have given us the opportunity to try it out and share our thoughts with our readers.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESCSFTL Quick Stats

  • Weight range: 4-35 lbs
  • Height range: up to 32″ or head 1” from the top of the seat shell
  • Shell height 19.5″
  • Lowest harness position: 5.5″
  • Weight (carrier only): 8.3 lbs
  • Expiration: 6 years
  • Handle must be fully up when traveling

Features

  • Integrated seat belt lock off on base
  • 2 position adjustable crotch strap: 4.5″ and 6.5″
  • Adjustable recline foot
  • Euro belt routing
  • Clip on lower anchor connectors
  • 2 position hip harness positions
  • Infant insert for infants and Preemie pillow insert for infants under 6 lbs

Installation

Phil & Ted's base installWith base:
The Alpha installs easily with either lower anchors or seat belt.  When installing with the base the seat belt or lower anchor connector strap is threaded under the blue lock off, tightened, then the lock off is closed.  The lock off is easy to use and allows for a very tight seat belt installation.

Phil & Ted's Alpha level ball

 

 

The base also has a ball level to show if the base is correctly reclined for the weight of the child.  There are 3 sections to the level; blue is 4-20 lbs, grey is 20-35 lbs, and red is not allowed.

 

 

 

Phil & Ted's Alpha recline foot

 

The base has an adjustable recline foot that can be either up or down to adjust help achieve the correct recline level for the child.  If the correct recline cannot be achieved with the foot, you may place a tightly rolled towel at the seat bight while leaving the recline foot up in the base.

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A unique feature of the base is that the release is located on the base rather than the infant seat.  This allows the seat to be lighter to carry when out of the vehicle.  This also means that 2 hands are required to release the seat.

 

 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBaseless:
Baseless installation is also simple.  The carrier is equipped with a clip on the back of the seat that allows for Euro belt routing.  Most rear facing only car seats are now allowing for this convenient feature that helps in getting a stable installation without the base.

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Euro belt routing consists of installing the carrier on the vehicle seat with the lap belt threaded through the seat belt guides on the carrier and the shoulder belt routed behind the back of the carrier.

There is one issue with Euro routing and the Alpha though.  According to the manual it is only allowed to be installed with Euro belt routing baseless, so it is incompatible with lap only belts or shoulder/lap belts that are too short to route around the back.  The stickers on both the seat and the base show a graphic of a lap belt installation.  After contacting Phil & Ted’s they stated that installing it using the standard installation (not Euro routing) is okay.  Follow the instructions on the side of the seat to install this way.


Child Fit

The Alpha is very versatile in that it will fit a wide age/size range.  It includes a newborn liner as well as a preemie pillow which is used in conjunction with the newborn liner.  The preemie pillow is required for newborns who weigh less than 6 lbs.  The newborn liner can be used at the bottom two harness slots, then must be removed.
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The harness, like many other rear facing only seats has incorporated 2 loops for different sized children.  The longer loop for larger children and the smaller for smaller children.  One of the unique features of the Alpha is the velcro on the end of the harness straps to store the excess strap length for smaller children.  This is both a pro and con to the seat.  The pro is that you don’t have excess straps hanging from the back of the seat, possibly snagging on items.  The con is that as a child grows and moves to the larger harness loop, the velcro can get caught on the harness slots.
Phil & Ted's Alpha hip slots

 

Another unique feature is the dual hip harness slots.  The inner slot is to be used for children under 12 lbs.  The outer is for children over 12 lbs.  This really helps keep small infants in position.  The Alpha has a continuous harness, so in order to change the hip strap position, the whole harness needs to be removed from one side, which can cause some issues with rethreading correctly.  The outer straps also need to be threaded through the seat bottom twice.  All this rethreading increases the instances of misuse, so make sure to follow the instructions in the manual.

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Jo – Preemie Huggable Images doll – 4 lbs, 17″

Jo used both the preemie pillow with the newborn liner due to her weight.  She was also required to use the inner hip harness slots.  Her shoulders were right at the lowest harness position.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMy only complaint with her fit was the liner wrapped around her hips.  It’s shaped as such that there aren’t any indentations or slits in the liner where the inner hip slots are.  This caused a lot of slack in the harness straps around her hips.

 

 

 

 

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Fiona - Newborn Huggable Images doll – 7 lbs, 17″

The infant liner was left in for Fiona, but the preemie pillow was removed due to her being over the 6 lb limit.  Her shoulders were right at the 2nd set of harness slots.  Due to her wider hips/thighs, the newborn liner didn’t wrap around the hip harness like it did on Jo.

 

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Anders – 7 months – 19lbs, 26″

Anders is at the upper limits of the Alpha for his height. He is right at the 2nd to top set of harness slots with about 2″ from the top of his head to the top of the shell.  He fits well in the seat, with no complaints.  The seat is on the narrower side, so he doesn’t have much wiggle room.

 

Overall Impressions

Although it doesn’t carry some of the extra ease of use features many rear facing only seats in this price range do, it’s a nice basic car seat that works well with a wide variety of children.

Pros:

  • I love how lightweight it is.  Makes carrying my larger baby much easier.
  • The harness is easy to adjust without much effort, except when the velcro hinders it.
  • The infant liner and preemie pillow do an amazing job of keeping small infants in place.
  • The Euro belt routing makes for an easy baseless installation.
  • Ability to change the recline depending on the child’s weight.
  • Seat belt lock off for an easy seat belt base installation.

Cons:

  • The carry handle is required to be up when traveling.
  • The Velcro on the harness straps can get caught up on the harness slots
  • Euro belt routing is the only allowed baseless install method, according to the manual.
  • Only 2 recline positions.
  • The fit and finish seems to be a bit thrown together.  A few examples of this includes the ball level sticker is stuck over another sticker, the carry handle gets caught up on the canopy, and the discrepancy between the stickers and manual for the baseless install methods.

Interested in one for yourself?  Phil & Ted’s is graciously giving away one Alpha rear facing only car seat to one of our lucky readers.  To enter, please follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.
***Giveaway is now CLOSED.  Congrats to our winner Robyn M!***

Can’t wait and need one now?  You can find it on Amazon.com

Phil & Ted’s graciously provided the Alpha rear facing only car seat used in this review.  As always, the opinions are our own.

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Graco Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 Review

argos_80_not_in_box

Argos 80 out of the box

 

For the last several years Graco has had two combination seats available for purchase,  the Argos 65 and the Nautilus. Both models have two modes: forward-facing harnessed mode and a booster mode that fits most children well.  These seats have been around for a while and are two very popular options at CSFTL because they fit a range of children well and have a lot of great ease-of-use features.

The range of Graco’s offerings in this category has expanded with the addition of the Argos 80.  It’s based on the shell and design of the Argos 65, but has a few added features that allow it to be rated for children weighing up to 80 pounds.

So… what makes the Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 car seat different from the Argos 65?  The obvious answer is 15 lbs, but there is more to it than that.  Let’s take a closer look.

 

 

 

CSFTL Quick Stats

argos_80_manual

  • Forward facing weight range: 20-80 lbs
  • Forward facing height range: 27”- 52″
  • High back booster weight range:  30-100 lbs
  • High back booster height range: 38-57″
  • Backless booster weight range: 40-120 lbs
  • Backless booster height range: 40-57”
  • Highest harness position: 18”
  • Highest booster guide position: 19.5″
  • Expiration: 10 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 45 lbs

 

Features:

  • Seat belt lockoff
  • Adjustable crotch strap (6″, 7.25″, and 8.5″ from the back of the seat)Argos80unassembled
  • Three recline settings
  • Body support cushion
  • No re-thread harness
  • Allows use of lower anchors in booster mode
  • Cupholder and cubby holes
  • 2014 IIHS Best Bet in both highback and backless mode

 

Assembly

Graco Argos 80 Seat Pan

Graco Argos 80 Seat Pan

 

 

The Argos 80 Elite comes out of the box in a prone position. The back portion needs to be rotated up perpendicular to the bottom portion. Even though that sounds tricky, the directions are clear and easy to follow. The only part to note is that the hip straps must be threaded through the slits in the padding. They can easily get caught in the crease when assembling.

 

 

 

 

Explanation of Features

Argos80harnessandrecline

Argos 80 Features

The no-rethread harness allows this seat to be easily adjusted for correct fit when used by different children, without uninstalling the seat from the vehicle.  It also means that you don’t need to uninstall the seat to adjust the harness height as your child grows. Simply squeeze the red handle to raise or lower the headrest. The harness straps travel with the headrest. Graco states to have the straps “even with or just above the shoulders” – this will place the headrest in the correct position.

 

A body support cushion is included in the box. It is required with a child from 20 to 22 lbs., and optional up to 30 lbs (it cannot be used over 30 lbs). Please note: A 10.5 month child in the 50th percentile would weigh 22 lbs. A child that young needs to be rear facing for safety. CSFTL recommends (along with the AAP and NHTSA) rear facing until a minimum of 2 and as close to age 4 as possible.

 

Three available recline positions serve primarily to assist in fitting the seat to different vehicle seats, but also can be adjusted to a position most comfortable for the child.   The most upright position MUST be used for children weighing over 65 lbs OR over 49 inches tall (this applies to both harness and booster mode).

 

Children will love the covered armrest with inside cubby holes, outer pockets and convenient cupholder.

 

Installation

Argos80LockOff

Argos 80 Lock Off

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Argos 80: cat ears not included.

The Argos 80 Elite comes with a lock-off for use with seat belt installation. This is a new feature of the Argos 80 and we’re pretty excited about it.  The Argos has a fairly high belt path so installing previous versions of this seat in some wider captain’s chairs with a seat belt was a bit of a challenge.

We’re pleased to share that the lock-off made a big difference in how easy it was to install the Argos with a seat belt.  Just thread the vehicle belt through the belt path, and close the lock-off over the shoulder portion of the belt (on the retractor side). The lock-off snaps closed very easily even with the belt threaded. The resulting installation was secure and held the belt firmly in place.

Graco allows the use of the lower anchors until 45 lbs of child weight in accordance with the 2014 LATCH changes. The lower anchor connectors are the “hook on” style.  They clip onto the lower anchors.  Removing them can be difficult, especially with a very firm install.  One trick to remove these anchors is to put some pressure on the Argos while loosening the lower anchor strap.

 Don’t forget the last part of the install: always use your tether.

 

Fit to Child: Harnessed Mode

 

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Taking the Argos 80 for a spin!

The Argos 80 Elite offers four different harness positions for growing children (note: there is a 5th headrest position that is only allowed in booster mode).  It also has rather wide harness covers that are required at all times.  These covers have rubberized backs and enable this seat to be used to 80 lbs.  The wide covers may provide an awkward fit on a smaller child.    The chest clip must sit on the pads and when positioned properly, the rounded top corners on the pads push into either side of the neck.  If you have a child that is sensitive to fabrics, materials or has sensory issues, you would want to consider this when purchasing.

 

Our three harnessed models ranged in weight from 36-38 lbs and 41″-42.5″ height.  They all liked the cupholder and “secret” compartments.  Two of them found the seat to be comfortable and enjoyed riding in it.  The 3rd child did not find the harness covers comfortable and claimed they hurt her neck.

The Argos Elite 80 does an excellent job keeping most children harnessed until they are ready for boosters.   It will last most children to age 6-7 in harnessed mode.

Argos80crotchbuckle

Argos 80 Crotch Buckle Settings

 

Crotch Buckle Adjustment and Use

In a small but important update, Graco has added a third position for the buckle, creating more room as children grow.  Use the one closest to, but not under your child.  To move the crotch buckle, thread the metal part through the slot and re-thread in the new slot.  We were excited to find the buckle easier to move than on previous Graco combination models.  

Fit to Child: Booster

argos_80_booster

High back booster mode

Simply remove the harness straps and crotch buckle, and you are ready for the high back booster mode.  Graco allows you to use the lower anchor connectors and tether to secure the booster to prevent it becoming a projectile when not in use.

 

The Argos 80 Elite does NOT allow any overhang when used in booster mode.  The entire bottom must be on the vehicle seat.  In addition some vehicle headrests may tilt forward causing the back of the Argos 80 Elite to not make contact with the seat.  Graco does not allow a gap behind the Argos 80 Elite.  Remove the vehicle headrest, if possible, to eliminate the gap.

 

Any recline position may be used in booster mode, but if the lap belt is not positioned correctly, adjusting the recline may help.  NOTE: The most upright position MUST be used for children weighing over 65 lbs OR over 49 inches tall (this applies to both harness and booster mode).

 

Thread the lap belt in front of the red guide.

Thread the lap belt in front of the red guide.

The shoulder belt goes through the red belt guide and the lap portion will thread in the vehicle belt guide behind the armrests.  The belt will actually be positioned vertically, not horizontally in front of this belt guide (see picture).  As always, check for a proper belt fit in booster mode: lap belt low and snug across the hips, and shoulder belt crossing mid-shoulder.  Adjust the head support (5 available settings) to improve shoulder belt fit.  The red belt guides should be even with or just above the child’s shoulders.

 

Backless booster mode

Backless booster mode

 

As a true 3-in-1 seat, the Argos 80 Elite also can be used as a backless booster.  Simple lift the seat pad on the base of the seat and slide the red buttons to release.  Once this lowers the back, you will see another set of red buttons.  Pinch them together to remove the back.

 

When using as a backless booster, there is an optional shoulder positioning clip.  This was shipped in a plastic bag and not attached to the seat.  In order to use, it attach it to the slot on the bottom of the seat.

 

 

 

 

OVERALL THOUGHTS

 

argos_80_claire_pouty

The Graco Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 will do all three modes – harness, high back booster, and backless booster- well for most children.  With its high weight limit, it allows parents to harness their children longer until they are mature enough for boosters.  Most children will enjoy the features and comfort of the seat, but if you have a child with sensory issues or that is sensitive to touch or materials, the harness covers may be an issue.

 

Currently the Graco Argos 80 Elite 3-in-1 is available in two color choices.  Gatlin, which is dark grey and black, is available at a variety of retailers.  Astro, which is black and cream, is exclusive to Babies R Us. Would you like to win one for your Little? Graco is giving away one Argos 80 Elite, enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

 

Graco graciously provided the Argos 80 Elite used in this review.  As always, the opinions are our own.
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Jané Montecarlo R1 Review

For those who have been around the car seat world long enough, Jané is a familiar name. In 2003, Jané brought boosters with lower anchor capability to the US. Jané has been quiet for a while in the car seat world though, in the US anyways. They introduced the Montecarlo R1 to their European market and just now brought it here to the US. Let’s see what this new seat has to offer.

Jane Monte Carlo

CSFTL Quick Stats: 

  • High back booster weight range: 30-100 lbs.
  • High back booster height range: under 57″
  • Highest belt guide position: 20″
  • Expiration: 7 years
  • Does not become a backless booster

Features:

  • One recline position
  • Three position adjustable arm rests
  • Rigid lower anchor connectors
  • Aluminum Integral Adjustment System
  • Torso wings and head wings adjust in width
  • EPS foam in head and torso areas
  • Comes with lower anchor attachment guides

 

The Montecarlo comes out of the box preassembled. I was so excited to see the Flame color in person, it’s much prettier than the pictures online show. Yale or Klein are also available color choices. All are very mature colors for older kids, which is nice. The cover on the Montecarlo is nicely padded and would be a good choice for even the most discerning booster users. The cover is also easily removed for cleaning. It’s held on to the booster with a series of snaps built on to the seat and velcro straps around the head support. The snaps have unsnapped a few times on the bottom front from regular use, but they’re super easy to resnap. The cover is made from a soft polyester blend that is meant to breathe in the summer and help retain heat in the winter. There are vent holes all along the back of the seat and on the side bolsters to help with breathability. Not something you see in most boosters.

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The storage spot for the manual is very clearly marked so there are no excuses to not read it! Manage to lose it even with a specially marked spot? No worries. There is a handy QR code on the side of the seat that takes you to the manual online.

qrcode

 

While going through the manual, one of the first things I found was the age limit was listed as approximately 1.5-12 years old for the Montecarlo.

Yay on the 12! Our booster seat science post goes over all the whys of using a booster that long. On the flip side, a child should be rear facing until two to four years old and should not be in a booster until at least five. Our harness or booster post goes over what to look for when thinking about switching to a booster.

 

If you’ve never used rigid lower anchor connectors, trust me, you’ll love them. We don’t know that having them on boosters add any safety benefit, but they are great for those kids who forget to buckle the seat belt over the booster when they get out of the vehicle. Unoccupied boosters can be a projectile in the vehicle like anything else that is loose; lower anchor connectors fix that. Rigid connectors make it that much easier for caregiver to use over the traditional ones. The Montecarlo does come with covers on the connectors to protect them (and the vehicle) if they are not in use. Remove those, slide out the lower connectors, attach to anchor bars, and push booster into the seat. The sliding out of the lower anchors is not an easy task. I find having it done it a few times now that the buttons you push have loosened up some making it easier, but it’s something you’ll need to read the manual for as it’s not necessarily self explanatory.
latch

 

Another feature is the aluminum integrated into the back support and head support. It gives it structure while still keeping it lightweight. The head support has five positions to fit a variety of children. When positioned correctly, the belt guide needs to be as close to even with the shoulder as possible, but never below. It also has three position adjustable arm rests. Having it in the highest position seems to help make buckling a little easier. The Montecarlo also features a mechanical recline position, which can only be engaged without the child in the seat, so you must adjust prior to the child climbing in. I didn’t see a big difference between the positions but it might be nice if you know you’ll be going on a longer trip and you tend to have a noodle kid when they fall asleep. The torso and head support should do a good job at keeping most kids positioned well though.
Jane Monte Carlo

 

The biggest feature of the Montecarlo is the fully adjustable torso and head support; both are lined with energy absorbing foam. This foam is meant to absorb some of the energy from the crash meaning less crash forces are transferred to the child. There are two knobs on the side of the seat, one makes the torso support adjust wider and more narrow and one controls the head support. This makes it a great seat for children of all sizes and can customize the fit to them. I found even with it fully open, this booster is more suited to children with a narrower frame. Also, the torso knob sticks out an odd angle in vehicles with side bolsters. You can see how above it is running into the side of my captain’s chair. This has made the knob loose and hard to use when the seat is installed in this vehicle. If you recline the vehicle seat, you will have better access to the knob. Be sure to put the seat back upright again before moving the vehicle.

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Olivia

This is Olivia showing off the most narrow and the most open head support positions. She’s just over 5.5 years old and right at 50 lbs. and 46″. Her favorite feature was the adjustable head wings. She liked them tight on her head to ‘squish’ her. She fit great in the seat and was on the fourth position (barely) of five with some growing room before she’d need the highest position.

 

Addison2This is Addison, she’s 6.5 years old, 41 lbs. and 45″. She is right on the cusp of being too tall for the bottom position, so the second seems to fit her a little bit better. She had great leg support even though she has such long legs for her height. You can see how torso height can change the length of time a booster can be used when you compare her to Olivia above. Olivia is only 1″ taller but needs the fourth guide position.

 

 

IlanaIlana will be 8 in less than a month and still uses a high back booster. She’s 67 lbs. and 49.75″ and using the highest belt guide position with little growing room. You can see it’s a bit shallow for her and I feel kind of pushes her forward. She didn’t complain though and seemed to find it comfortable and chose to use it over her regular booster when given the chance. She did mention she felt a bit squished in the shoulder and arm region because of the torso support but at the same time found it cozy. Eight year old girls might not be the best source of solid information. Unfortunately she has little room left height wise anyways and it does not become a no back booster.

 

Evan

 

Evan will be 10 in less than two months and still uses a high back booster as well most of the time. He’s 63 lbs. and 51″ and is also using the highest belt guide position. His torso isn’t quite as long so he has a little bit more room to grow than his younger sister. He liked being able to adjust the head wings himself and he too likes the seat to ‘squish’ his head. Silly kids! Again, it’s rather shallow for his legs but with more narrow build, it doesn’t seem as noticeable. He’s also not feeling as tight in the torso area because of his narrow build.

 

My favorite activity (maybe not favorite) is finding more seats that work in my three across in my third row. With five kids, all in some kind of seat, it’s like a game! We tried the Montecarlo in the back with an Evenflo Sureride and Harmony Folding booster. With its narrow frame (when the torso protection is adjusted inward) and adjustable arm rests, I thought we might have a winner. I was kind of right. It fit nicely and could get buckled, but because of the head wings it could only get to position four of the five settings which meant it did not work for either of the older kids back there. If it were next to a rear facing seat, you would have more flexibility in the torso protection position.

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latch

 

A feature I didn’t have much use for in my vehicle, were the lower anchor attachment guides. My lower anchors are right there, plain sight, you won’t miss them. I’ve worked with some parents in vehicles that where I almost gave up on lower anchors completely and just went to seat belt because the anchors were so hard to access. That’s where these little guys can come in handy. You simply attach them to your lower anchors and it helps guide the rigid connectors onto the bars. Releasing the connectors isn’t a concern, it’s just getting them attached in some vehicles that can be tricky.

 

Overall the kids give it a thumbs up with it probably being most suited to our younger booster user. It really grew on me as we used it. They loved the head wings and the cover was really nice and soft, much more than our other seats. The lower anchors make it easy to install and keep in place when unoccupied and it also seems it would work in a three across situation. It also kept the booster in place nicely. We tried it in our older Cavalier and it was a bit tippy for our newest booster rider. She had a hard time keeping upright, but it would probably be fine for an older, more experienced rider. For the price point though, I was hoping it would be a little deeper and the head support would adjust higher as it does not become a no back booster. The Montecarlo should get most children to around 8 years old, but as kids need boosters for 3-4 years after that, it’s disappointing it would be outgrown so soon. Now if you have a petite child like Evan above, or a smaller torsoed child like Addison, the price may work out better in the end. It also doesn’t have a cup holder. Not a big deal as I find most cup holders on boosters don’t do a good job at holding drinks, but my kids like having a little place to put things when we’re in the vehicle.

 

montecarloJané was generous enough to provide a Montecarlo for giveaway to one of our readers. Be sure to enter below. Can’t wait to win one? Buy it now! You can find the Jané Montecarlo R1 on Amazon.com. While Jané did provide the Montecarlo for review, no other compensation was provided. As always, opinions were all my own.

 

 

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Clek Fllo Review

 

It’s finally here! The day we’ve all been waiting for. Clek Foonf’s little sister has arrived, Fllo! The Clek Fllo is just as stylish and modern looking at the Foonf and I’m digging this Tank color. My first impression was definitely being pleasantly surprised at how much it weighs! Dragging it up my stairs was not the work out the Foonf had been. So let’s dive in!

fllo box

CSFTL Quick Stats:

  • Rear facing weight range: 14-50 lbs. (USA) 14-40 lbs. (Canada) and sitting unassisted
  • Rear facing height range: 25″ through 43″, so 43.99″ technically
  • Forward facing weight range: 22-65 lbs. (2+ years recommended)
  • Forward facing height range: 30-49″
  • Shell height: 27″
  • Lowest harness position: 10″
  • Highest harness position : 17″
  • Expiration: 9 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 35 lbs. rear facing and 40 lbs. forward facing

Features

  • Two buckle slots: 4 and 6″ with option for longer buckle
  • Push button lower anchor connectors
  • Steel reinforced frame
  • Optional anti rebound bar (ARB)
  • Crypton fabric is odor, bacteria, and stain repelling (except Drift)
  • Seat belt lockoff

Limits

The Fllo boasts an amazing 50 lbs. rear facing weight limit. It also has a steel reinforced frame and anti-rebound bar (ARB). Now we have no idea if steel anything actually makes a seat safer, but it sure does look and sound cool. It is important to note that the Fllo has a standing height limit of through 43 inches (so 43.99 inches is ok), so it is likely that most children will outgrow the Fllo rear facing by height well before they reach the 50 lb. weight limit. The Fllo also uses the one inch rule as well, so through 43″ or when the head is within one inch of the head rest when fully extended. Not sure why high rear facing height and limits are important for many children, Why Rear Facing has the answers!

The Fllo has five harness positions, ten head rest positions, two crotch buckle positions, and two harness lengths. All harness positions can be used when rear facing as long as the harness is even with or below the shoulders and the requirements above are met. They can all be used when forward facing as well as long as the harness is above the shoulders. The head rest can be in any position that is comfortable for the child as long as it is above the harness slot the child is currently using and keeping in mind the 1 inch needed above the child’s head when rear facing.

Fllo harness

There are two crotch buckle positions. The proper position is the one closest to the front of the child’s body without being in front of it. Either can be used for rear facing or forward facing as long as it’s in the proper position. The Fllo comes with a dual length crotch buckle. The longer buckle position is for use in the outer buckle position. It can be used rear facing if the child is able to use the farthest out position according to the manual. My two-year old is petite and still has quite a bit of room before she could use the farthest out position when she’s not in a cloth diaper. Be sure when switching crotch buckle position you are putting the buckle through the correct opening in the seat cushion as well. The Fllo comes with a crotch buckle pad that must be used for children under 22 lbs. There are also two loops at the end of the harness to adjust harness length. The shorter one is for smaller children and the longer one for older children. If installing the seat without a tether for a child weighing less than 40 lbs., you must use the smaller setting.

Rear Facing

To get the seat ready for use when rear facing, there were a few things that needed to done. To recline the Fllo, it has a recline block that flips forward on the seat. I didn’t even see it at first and had to look in the manual again to find the recline foot. It takes a little bit of force to make sure it locks into place in the recline position and to release it from that position as well. You would add the ARB next if you’re using it. I had to reread the manual here too. Once reading the manual the process was fairly easy. You must remove the seat cushion and lower anchors from their storage in order to get it on properly.

Fllorecline

There are two recline lines on the side of the seat. One for children under 22 lbs. and one for children over 22 lbs. Once a child is over 22 lbs, they can use any recline between the two lines as well. This can be important for those stockier, younger babies who still could use the extra recline. Pool noodles are not permitted to be used to change the angle though. I found using the ARB to adjust recline tends to work well. Move the ARB higher on the back of the vehicle seat and this will naturally recline the seat more. This tends to work better if you can get behind the seat and push the seat into the vehicle seat, but this can be hard to do because of the sheer size of the seat. I could not do it in my van and it made the seat want to slip out of the recline I needed as I was tightening so it was a bit tricky. There will be a gap with this method, but this is not a concern if the seat is installed so that it doesn’t move more than an inch side to side at the belt path. If you choose not to use the ARB, there cannot be a gap. It must be filled in with rolled towels, not pool noodles. I could not install the Fllo to the under 22 lb. recline line with the ARB attached and have the driver’s seat in a usable position. This is something to consider if you have a petite child, as Unity didn’t hit 22 lbs. until after 18 months old. Thankfully she is 25 lbs. now and able to use the more upright recline line.

reclinefllo

The nice thing about the Fllo is that the ARB is optional and can be removed if needed. This is helpful as the Fllo allows for no overhang when installed. Removing the ARB will give you extra space to move the seat closer to the vehicle seat back.  Putting the ARB on and removing it was quite easy too after you do it the first time. Once I took it off, I could have gotten the seat reclined to the under 22 lb. line on the passenger side of the van, but not the driver’s side. Here is the difference in using the ARB and not using it when reclining it to the over 22 lb. line. You can see it easily gives an extra 2″ more between the Fllo and the vehicle seat in front of it. I tried to install the Fllo in my Cavalier as well, didn’t even bother with the ARB, and it was a tight fit. At full recline, the front seat wasn’t usable and you could only use the bottom five head rest positions. In the more upright recline, I could sit in the front seat but was right up against the dash so I wouldn’t recommend it for a smaller car if you routinely have a front passenger.

UPDATE: After publishing this review, Clek created a FAQ for the Fllo. The FAQ states, “It is preferable to have infants under 22lb more reclined, such that the upper reference line (infants under 22 lb) is parallel to the ground. However, providing that the ground level falls within the Upper Reference Line for infants under 22lb (40 degrees from vertical )and lower reference line for children 22lb and over (30 degrees from vertical), you can safely use the seat.” This gives more flexibility to parents when using the seat and leaves it up to them to decide which angle between the lines will work for their child and vehicle.

ARBvsno

The Fllo can be installed rear facing with either lower anchors or seat belt. The seat cushion of the seat must be removed to access the belt path for installation. Neither installation was difficult though so choose your preference and keep kiddo’s weight in mind. Lower anchors can be used for installation until the child weighs 35 lbs. For 30-50 lbs., the seat belt must be used instead. This seat does also have built-in lock offs for both forward facing and rear facing. This is great if you have an older vehicle or switch vehicles often and don’t want to figure out how each of the seat belts lock. If you do want to know more, Lock It Up! has the information you need.

If  you choose to use the lock offs, they are not necessary if your seat belts lock, only one lock off is used. Neither is specified, just whichever gives the better install. In my Cavalier, I had to use the lock off closest to the buckle because of the seat belt button. Remember you’re looking for less than an inch movement side to side at the belt path. I chose lower anchors to install the seat the first time. The Fllo only has a tightening mechanism on one side of the lower anchor connector strap, which is fairly typical, but with as large as the seat is, it made it a little harder to get the seat installed tightly. I much preferred the seat belt install. Upon installing it again, it was easier that time. I think the latch connector strap was just stiff from it not being used much and that made it a little harder to tighten.

Fllo install

 

This is Unity, she just turned two last month and is roughly 25 lbs. and 32.25″ tall. She’s using the second harness slots from the bottom (almost to the third). As she is over 22 lbs., she doesn’t have to use the crotch buckle pad, and can use the steeper recline level. She does however have to use the closest crotch buckle setting with the shortest crotch buckle. It is a little tight though as she is in cloth diapers.

 

Forward Facing

The Fllo can be installed forward facing with the same methods as rear facing. Just like rear facing, the Foonf has lock offs for forward facing as well. When using the seat belt with a forward facing install, the lock off must be used. The recline foot needs to be moved back to the forward facing position. Clek recommends the use of the tether whenever possible. The seat requires a tether to be used when installing the seat with a lap belt though and when installing the seat with a lap/shoulder belt for a child over 40 lbs. Using a tether is always the safest option. The seat also requires the belly pad to be used up to 40 lbs. when installing with no tether.

fllo rfing

To install the seat forward facing, the lower anchor connector strap must be moved from the rear facing position to the forward facing. You simply remove the  strap on the right side of the seat (when facing the seat) and thread it through the forward facing belt path and the belt guides. You can use the lower anchors for installation until the child weighs 40 lbs. From 40-65 lbs. you must switch to a seat belt installation. To use the lower anchors, attach lower anchors and tighten as usual for the less than one inch movement side to side. Attach the tether to the vehicle’s tether anchor and you’re ready to go. The tether must always be used when installing with the lower anchors. With the addition of the belt guides in the forward facing belt path, there is less room to maneuver your hand and with the open back, the belts can be tricky to get all the way from one side to the other.

 

This is Olivia, she is 5.5, about 49 lbs. and 45.5 in. Olivia is tall for her age, but also has a long torso for her height. While she still barely meets the rear facing weight limit, she is too tall, so we put the seat in forward facing. You can see though, in this picture, that she is right at the top slots so the seat is pretty much outgrown. Once the child’s shoulders are over the top harness position, the seat has been outgrown. She was comfortable in it though and using the farthest out crotch buckle slot with the longer harness buckle.

 

 

 

Features

Integrated into every Clek Fllo is an Aluminum Honeycomb Safety System designed to reduce the forces transmitted to a forward-facing child in a collision. Fllo’s Energy Absorbing Crumple Technology (EACT) transfers forces away from the child and to the aluminum honeycomb deformable cores integrated into the seat base. http://www.clekinc.com/fllo/ Here is the pre and post collision drawings of the honeycomb cores.

Fllo

The fabric cover of the Fllo is made of Crypton odor, bacteria, and stain repelling fabric; making it easy to wipe down in case of everyday spills. Contact Clek customer service for an email set of instructions on how to fully disassemble the seat if a thorough cleaning is needed. If it is anything like the Foonf, try hard to keep the need for cleaning to a minimum!

fllo three

 

 

Another great feature of the Fllo is that it’s super narrow. The base of the seat measures only 13 inches, which the widest part is 17 inches. This can make it ideal for a three across when needed and the narrow base helps if you need to buckle in boosters next to it. Need more help with three across, Your Guide to Three Across may help. This is the Fllo, Evenflo Sureride, and Evenflo Big Kid in a 2002, four door, Chevrolet Cavalier.

 

 

 

Accessories

Foonf FlloYou can buy the Clek Drink Thingy (for Fllo or Foonf) and use it both rear facing and forward facing for those sippy cups and water bottles in your life. It’s $19.99 on Amazon.com.

 

clek copyThe Fllo is FAA approved and one of the available accessories for the Fllo is called the Weelee. It is Clek’s universal travel bag designed to protect your car seat from damage while traveling. While checking a car seat as luggage, or gate checking, is never recommended, the Weelee bag makes it easy to transport such a heavy seat through a busy airport. It then folds compactly to fit in an overhead compartment on a plane. You can purchase it at Amazon.com.

 

Overall the Fllo is not a disappointment and lives up to the Clek name. It’s sleek, narrow, and fairly easy to use. With the ability to remove the ARB as needed, the Fllo does have some leeway when it comes to making it work for various vehicles. I did find using it with the under 22 lb. recline line, even with the ARB removed, was not very compatible with our vehicles, but could be done if needed. My models found it comfortable and Olivia was sad she couldn’t use it everyday. Overall, it was a hit. While FAA approved for use, it would be bulky to travel with but otherwise moving it from vehicle to vehicle shouldn’t take much work.

 

tankThanks to Clek, we are going to giveaway a Clek Fllo to one of our readers! This is open to both those in the United States and Canada. Can’t wait to see if you win? You can buy the Fllo at Amazon.com.

Giveaway has ended, congrats to the winner Cristina B!

While Clek did provide the seat for this review, I was in no way compensated otherwise; and as always, opinions are all my own.

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KidsEmbrace Spiderman Review

Spidey

Kids Embrace Spiderman Car Seat

Over the last year we have reviewed several seats from KidsEmbrace, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Seat and the Batseat.  When KidsEmbrace announced that they were releasing new character seats, we were excited to see which characters would come next.  When the news broke that Spiderman was next up in the KidsEmbrace line up, I jumped at the chance to review the seat.  My 4.5 year old loves My Little Pony, Frozen, and of course, Spiderman. First, let’s get to the limits of the seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CSFTL Quick Stats:

  • Forward facing weight range:  22-65 lbs.
  • Forward facing height range: 29-52″
  • High back booster weight range:  30-100 lbs.
  • High back booster height range: 38-57″
  • Highest harness position: 17″
  • Highest booster guide position: 19″
  • Expiration: 7 years
  • Lower anchor weight limit: 45 lbs.

Features:

  • Push button lower anchor connectors
  • Lower anchors can be used in booster mode
  • Recline setting

 

Unboxing the Spiderman seat.

Unboxing the Spiderman seat.

 

Unboxing the seat involves little bit of assembly to get Spiderman ready to roll.  He comes in a plastic bag without his head attached.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HeadRest

Headrest for the KidsEmbrace Spiderman car seat

Attaching the headrest/Spidey’s head is very simple — just slide it onto the body and push in the plastic adjuster piece.  This piece also serves as the headrest adjustment when using the seat as a booster.  There is a bit of cardboard that is wedged into the adjustment piece that must be removed before attaching the headrest.  The tether anchor strap is threaded through the head rest as well.  When you are attaching the headrest, make sure that the slack of the tether anchor strap is removed so that it doesn’t get caught in the height adjusters.

AttachingHeadrest

Attaching the headrest on the KidsEmbrace Spiderman car seat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Registration card for the Kids Embrace Spiderman car seat

Registration card for the Kids Embrace Spiderman car seat

The Spiderman seat comes with the manual and registration card attached to the harness. Registering your new car seat is an important part of owning a car seat, because it allows you be notified in case of recall.  If you don’t want to register your seat via the good old-fashioned postal service, KidsEmbrace also allows you to register your seat on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-09-04-14.01.37The Spiderman seat that Kids Embrace provided to us for review has three sets of harness slots at 13 inches, 16 inches, and one harness slot that is over the back of the shell that is at approximately 17 inches.  This last harness slot is hard to find. At first glance, I completely missed it!

Note: As of October 2014, Kids Embrace seats are being shipped with 2 or 3 harness slots.   There is no way to know which version is being purchased.

When asked about this, here was Kids Embrace’s response:

In an ongoing effort to make a great car seat even better, while still maintaining our high safety ratings and dedication to excellence, design changes are always being considered and implemented here at KidsEmbrace.
You can be assured that the Batman seats you purchased from us do not have a manufacturer’s defect. The third harness slot to which you are referring was a change we made in design after we had been manufacturing our car seats for several years with only two slots. We implemented the change after Batman had already been in production and available for sale, and as such, they were not always intended to have a third slot.

The car seats that still have two harness slots have in no way been intentionally misrepresented or falsely advertised. There were some advocate groups who reviewed our Batman seat, stating the 3 height levels for each slot, and that may be why you thought they all came with a 3rd slot from first production. Unfortunately, a review from an advocate, or any other person or group is something we have very little control over. They are not paid for advertising or for any review they may give. Each review is based upon the reviewers individual experiences with and knowledge of the item they are reviewing, and they in no way take guidance from or take into account the opinions or advice of the manufacturer of the product.

There is no need for concern, as the change was implemented as a design change only, and not as a safety component change. You can be 100% assured that our car seats with 2 harness slots have passed and exceeded every stringent government standard as our car seats with 3 harness slots have done.

 

The seat also has two slots for the CrotchBucklecrotch buckle.  One at 5.5 inches from the back of the seat and one at 7′ inches from the back of the seat. When the crotch buckle is in the inner most position, it must be threaded through the back buckle first, and then kept into the first slot. Kids Embrace says that you must use crotch buckle position closest to, but not under the child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installing

Accessing the belt path for the KidsEmbrace Spiderman car seat

Installing the seat is pretty straightforward as well, but this is where I ran into a problem.  The belt path on the seat is very narrow, making it hard to thread the belt through to buckle it in.This makes buckling and tightening the seat, to get a solid installation quite difficult.  I had to lift up the cover of the seat in order to even get the buckle through the belt path. On the plus side, attaching the tether anchor was straight forward and easy, as was removing the slack from the top tether anchor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ReclineFootThe seat also features a recline foot that can be used in both harness and booster modes. The recline foot  is found on the bottom of the seat.  I will note, that with the recline foot out, a solid install of the seat was not possible in either of the vehicles I tried it in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower anchor limits

Lower anchor limits

Installing the seat with the lower anchors was a little bit easier, but still difficult because of the narrow belt path.  This seat was made after the new regulations for LATCH so it comes labeled with the weight limit for the lower anchors. Children weighting over 45 lbs. should not use the seat in harness mode when installed with lower anchors.  Once the child hits 45 lbs. you must switch to seat belt installation.   You may also use the lower anchors and tether anchor in booster mode.  Using the lower anchors and tether anchor in booster mode past the typical weight limit is allowed, because they are not restraining the child, merely preventing the seat from becoming a projectile when not in use by a child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fit to Child: Harnessed Mode

OliviaMeet Olivia.  Olivia is 4 years old, 43 inches tall and 44 lbs.She is using the last harness slot on the seat. The chest clip is large, making it easy to position in the correct spot; across the bony portion of her chest and not over the soft abdominal tissue, nor high in the neck area. The crotch buckle on the seat is very unique and features a push down button instead of the more standard button style crotch buckle that we see on many seats.

While this type of buckle may be beneficial to caregivers with arthritis or other physical disabilities, it is also concerning because it is easily undone by little hands. A bit of maturity is needed for the child using the seat to know not to unbuckle the harness at the wrong time.

The harness covers, although optional, are bulky and fairly rigid.  Despite the harness covers, she was smitten with the seat and has not stated quite loudly several times, that this is the only seat she will sit in.

Spiderman is a forward facing only car seat, making the seat appropriate for kids who have outgrown their rear facing convertible car seat and are at least two years old.

 

 

Fit to Child: Booster

HarnessRemoval

Removing the harness on the Kids Embrace Spiderman car seat

 

Switching the seat from harness mode to boost mode was tricky.  There are many hooks, velcro loops, and plastic pieces that need to be undone to unthread the harness and remove the crotch buckle.  KidsEmbrace does provide a nice spot to store the splitter plate when using the seat in booster mode.  It looks quite different in person than the manual depicts it and was initially threaded through the front of the seat.  In order to use it, I had to squeeze it through to the back of the seat.  Putting the harness back on was even more challenging than removing it.  Thankfully, this is a process that wouldn’t have to be done very often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BoosterFit

Booster belt fit on the Kids Embrace Spiderman car seat

Emma is 7 years old, 53 lbs., and 49 inches.  She is using the middle position for the booster.  The booster is secured into the vehicle using the lower anchors and the tether anchor.  This doesn’t provide additional protection for the child, but it prevents the seat from becoming a projectile when it’s not occupied.

Once a child is using a booster seat, the seat belt is restraining them, not the seat.  The booster function simply places the adult belt correctly on the child.  Emma did not care for the seat, claiming it narrow and uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Overall Impression

Spidey2While I have to commend Kids Embrace for making seats that make kids WANT to use them, there are many drawbacks to the seat.  The narrow belt path makes installation tricky, the crotch buckle has finicky rules in the closest position, the harness is difficult to remove and reattach.  While this doesn’t impact safety, it does increase the chance of misuse.  That being said, my daughter is in love with this seat, and is happy to know that “Spidey” will keep her safe in the car.  The seat is well padded throughout and does provide an excellent belt fit in booster mode.

Spiderman will be a regular in my car, even if he surprises me in the rear view mirror every now and then!

KidsEmbrace provided this seat for review, however, no other compensation was received.  All opinions are that of the reviewer.

spideyWant to win one for your own? Enter below!  Can’t wait to own one? You can find Spidey on Amazon.com.

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Harmony Dreamtime Review

The Harmony Dreamtime, one of Harmony’s multiple belt positioning options,  serves a niche market in that is one of the few high back boosters still available that may be an acceptable option in a three across, due to its narrow lines and plumb sides.   While it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of many of the market’s more showy options, it is affordable, and provides an excellent belt fit in high back and backless mode, and as such, does what it is needed to do.

Harmony Dreamtime, hbb, nbb, booster, three across

Harmony Dreamtime

CSFTL Quick Stats:

  • High back booster weight range: 30-110 lbs.
  • High back booster height range: 34-57″
  • Backless booster weight range: 30-110 lbs.
  • Backless booster height range: 34-57″
  • Highest booster guide position: 18.5″
  • Expiration: 6 years
  • IIHS Best Bet in both high back and backless mode

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assembly and Appearance:

The booster comes in three pieces.  The head rest is first snapped into the back rest, and then the entire back assembly into the bottom of booster.  It is then rotated up and locked into place.    The seat is made of blow-molded plastic.   The head rest does not have a mechanism for moving it between harnessed positions.  Rather, hand strength applied to the head rest moves it up and down to the desired position.     Two retractable cup-holders are placed on either side.   When retracted, they protrude about a half-inch from the side of the seat.    The wings surrounding the head and the torso are fairly deep, but not as wide as may be seen on other boosters, which is what makes it 3-across friendly.     The cover is a combination of a soft, brushed material, and mesh.    Fabric tabs at the belt paths feature red arrows indicating how the belt should lie. Harmony Dreamtime, hbb, nbb, booster, three across

 

 

 

 

 

High-back mode:

The seat’s one real draw-back, even for the very reasonable price point, is that the high back mode is very short-lasting.  The bottom position is a mere 14.5″ from the seat pan.   This generally correlates to the average 3 or 4 year old’s torso height.  At that age, children should be using a tethered, forward facing five point harness, or even a rear facing five point harness.   The topmost position is 18.5″ from the seat pan, meaning that the overall height limit of 57″ far surpasses the reasonable expectation of torso longevity.

Here, our 7-year-old model is 49″, 52 lbs, and as you can see, has maxed out the high back capacity of the seat.    However, he has an excellent lap and shoulder belt fit and declares it ‘comfy’.

Harmony Dreamtime, hbb, nbb, booster, three across

 

 

Backless mode:  


Our 8-year-old model is 65 lbs and 53″ tall.  Her torso is far too tall for the back on the Dreamtime, but she has a beautiful fit in backless mode.  The seat provides a shoulder belt adjuster but, as you can see here, it’s clearly not needed.   This seat excels in leg support; despite the narrow width, even a tall child has more than adequate support under her thighs.

Harmony Dreamtime, hbb, nbb, booster, three across

 

 

Fit in Vehicle:  

At its widest flare (at the tips of the armrests), the seat measures 16″.    The depth of the seat pan in backless mode is 16″ to where the seat begins to curve downward. Harmony requires that the entire base of its seats be supported by the vehicle seat.

Caveats:

Harmony recommends that when using this booster, the automatic locking feature be engaged effectively ‘locking’ the child in the seat.   This may increase the risk that a child experiences a submarining ejection from the lap belt and increases the risk of ‘torso ejection’ from the shoulder belt.

Harmony may have placed this suggestion in the manual to avoid very young children getting out of position.   With a bottom belt position of 14.5″, a bottom height restriction of 34″ and a bottom weight restriction of 30 lbs and no stated minimum age, most three-year olds, and in fact, some two-year olds, could ‘legally’ use this seat.   Car Seats for the Littles strongly recommends that 2 and 3 year olds continue to use their rear facing harnessed seats as long as they fit by height and weight, and then transition to a forward facing 5 point harness with tether.   A belt positioning booster is not an appropriate seat for this age group.

The good news is that if you keep your child restrained according to best practice standards, a child who might ‘wiggle’ out of position will still be restrained in a five point harness.   A child in a booster should be fully mature and ready to sit upright without added assistance.

Bottom-line:

This is a basic, well-designed, low-cost option that definitely fills a niche need for narrower seats.  And now, following the directions below, our readers have the opportunity to win one of their own. Congrats to Heather J. on winning the Dreamtime! Harmony did not provide this booster for review and I received no compensation from them. These thoughts are all my own. The giveaway is open to our US friends only, sorry!

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