The Graco Contender has been a popular car seat in the United States since it was first released. This convertible car seat is particularly well liked among our users because it’s lightweight, long lasting, and budget-friendly all at the same time. We wanted to see if the Canadian version lived up to the standards set by its American cousin, so we decided to take a look!
There are two flavours of this seat available for Canadian families: the Contender and Dimensions. The Dimensions takes everything we know and love about the Contender and adds some harness strap covers, plus premium UAS connectors. This review will focus on the Contender.
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Rear facing weight range: 5-35 pounds (the United States version of this seat has a 40 pound rear facing weight limit)
- Rear facing height range: 18 to 43 inches, or when the child’s head is 1 inch below the adjuster handle when the headrest is fully extended
- Forward facing weight range: 22-65 pounds
- Forward facing height range: 27-49 inches tall
- Forward facing age minimum: 1 year* (and walking unassisted) *CSFTL advocates that children ride rear facing until they’ve reached the height or weight limits of their convertible or multimode car seats.
- Expiration: 7 years
- Forward facing UAS weight limit: 45 pounds
- Rear facing UAS weight limit: 35 pounds
- No rethread harness
- Body pillow (must be used if shoulders are below the lowest harness position)
- Premium lower anchor connectors (Dimensions only)
- Strap covers (Dimensions only)
- Lowest harness position: 8 inches with insert
- Highest harness position: 18 inches
- Shell height: 28 inches with headrest fully extended
- Width at widest point: 19 inches at shoulders (or 20 inches at the hips when optional cup holder is used)
- Seat weight: 15.5 pounds (the Dimensions weighs slightly more, thanks to the premium UAS connectors)
- Two crotch buckle positions: 4 and 6 inches from the back of the seat pan
Recline Angle Indicator
The Contender/Dimensions includes a ball style recline angle indicator on the side of the seat. The ball must be fully contained within the blue zone any time the child is rear facing and fully within the light blue for babies who are less than 3 months old.
Harness, Buckles, and Chest Clip
The harness, buckle strap, and chest clip are all standard-issue Graco hardware. I had no problems buckling in any of the models I used for this review. The harness straps did not easily twist, even when I moved them around quite a bit while a variety of children tested the seat for us. The headrest adjusted smoothly and without issue through all eight positions.
Crotch Buckle Positions
There are two crotch buckle positions. Either can be used for rear or forward facing. The manual requires using the closest slot to the child without the slot being underneath the child — if the child is sitting on the buckle slot, it’s time to move that buckle to the outermost position.
Our friends at Graco tell us that the Contender/Dimensions’ cover is smooth and almost seamless because that makes it less costly to manufacture and helps keep the price down. That’s all well and good but the smooth cover also translates to a happier ride for some kiddos who have sensory issues. If too much quilting or padding or seams in unexpected places are an issue for your kiddo, this seat is absolutely worth a second look.
The body pillow can only be used when the crotch buckle is in the inner position, so it is not likely to be useable for a larger child.
The Contender/Dimensions also includes one optional cup holder. It can be attached to either side of the seat’s shell when the seat is installed rear or forward facing. It slides into a slot on the side of the seat for easy installation and removal. In tight situations with three car seats or booster seats across the vehicle seat, the cup holder may not be useable but removing it could make this type of setup feasible.
The cupholder represents the most significant change between the model that’s sold in the U.S. and the Canadian version of this seat. Our U.S.-based editor calls this change a bit of sorcery.
In typical Graco style, the seat has colour-coded their labels and manual — blue is for rear facing mode, orange is for forward facing mode, and grey is for general information. We always applaud this level of clarity in labelling since it helps caregivers use the seat properly.
Installation — Rear Facing
The recline block on the bottom of the seat’s shell has just two positions — rear facing and forward facing. The labels on the block itself are kind of ingenious — if it’s in the correct position for that direction, you can read the label. If the label is upside down when the car seat is in the vehicle, then the block is facing the wrong direction.
The recline block flips easily between the rear facing and forward facing position.
The top tether stores when it’s clipped onto a little plastic bar on the top of the seat’s shell. It must be stored at all times when the seat is installed rear facing.
The Contender/Dimensions allows rolled towels under the base of the seat if necessary to achieve a rear facing installation with the level indicator in the light blue range for a child who is 3 months old and under. The seat can be manually manipulated to install a bit more upright for older children.
We found that installing the Contender/Dimensions more upright depended almost solely on the vehicle. In vehicles with flatter seats, the Contender/Dimensions naturally installed in the newborn recline angle range. In these vehicles, a more upright installation was pretty much impossible since there was no way to manipulate the recline.
Even at the newborn recline angle, the Contender/Dimensions is fairly compact front-to-back. It fit easily behind the passenger seat of this 2013 Dodge Dart with the front seat in a comfortable position for an adult passenger.
When installing the Graco Contender/Dimensions with UAS, the manual indicates that the UAS webbing must pass between the buckle positions.
In rear facing mode, the UAS connectors can be used until the child weighs 35 pounds.
Conveniently, that’s the entire rear facing weight range of this seat!
In forward facing mode, the UAS connectors can be used until the child weighs 45 pounds. After the child weighs 45 pounds (or anytime beforehand), the Contender/Dimensions must be installed with the vehicle seat belt.
Setting Up: UAS Storage
Before installing the Contender/Dimensions with the vehicle seat belt, the UAS webbing must be stored under the front of the seat’s shell. To move the UAS from one belt path to another, the straps move along a metal bar on the left hand side of the seat. This requires moving the full UAS webbing to the left side of the seat, sliding the webbing to the other belt path, then rethreading the webbing through the seat itself.
Installation: Vehicle Seat Belt
The Contender/Dimensions has a closed belt path — moving the cover to access either belt path isn’t possible with this seat. Thankfully, the belt paths are quite large, so reaching through the seat to thread the vehicle seat belt or move the UAS webbing between the belt paths is an easy task.
Thread the seatbelt through the rear facing belt path (which again has a nice, large opening), buckle, lock the belt, and tighten. Depending on the vehicle seats, moving the headrest to the lowest position and using the noodle-less installation method to install the Contender/Dimensions rear facing may be the best approach.
Fit to Child
We mentioned the 8 inch lowest harness position (with body pillow) earlier in this review, but we wanted to show how that translates into newborn fit since we know that’s what you’re here to find out!
Here we see the newborn Huggable Images doll, who weighs 7 pounds and is 17 inches long. While this doll is 1 inch shorter than the height minimum of the Contender/Dimensions, it was built to model an average newborn size, including an approximately 7 inch torso.
As we can see, the harness is above the shoulders of our newborn Huggable Images doll. The manual states that the “harness straps should be at or just below the child’s shoulders”, so we can’t assert with confidence that this seat would be a great choice to use from birth.
We had no issues tightening the harness enough to pass the pinch test on the newborn doll, and we are confident that if a baby of similar size was given a chance to grow taller, the Contender/Dimensions would be a great seat choice.
2 Year Old
This model is 2 years old. She weighs 30 pounds and is 37 inches tall. We removed the body pillow because we have moved the crotch buckle to the outer position for her. She is very comfortable in the Contender, and has lots of room to grow. She is likely to be able to rear face in this seat until the 35 pound weight limit. At her current growth trajectory, this should be somewhere around her 4th birthday!
Installation — Forward Facing
To transition the Graco Contender/Dimensions from rear facing to forward facing mode, simply flip the recline block to the back of the seat. The orange label will be right side up when the Contender is placed on the vehicle seat. Then unclip the top tether from the rear of the seat and connect it loosely before beginning to install the seat.
The UAS forward facing weight limit is 45 pounds. When this seat is installed forward facing for a child who weighs between 45-65 pounds, it must be installed with the vehicle seat belt.
Installing the seat with the vehicle seat belt is quite straightforward. Simply thread the seatbelt through the large, smooth plastic forward facing belt guide, and buckle the belt. Be sure to remember to lock the seatbelt and check for less than one inch movement at the belt path.
Because the Contender/Dimensions has a single forward facing recline setting, ensure the base of the car seat is flat on the vehicle seat while installing. A gap at the back of the seat is acceptable, provided that the base is flat on the vehicle seat, there is less than 1 inch movement in any direction at the belt path, and 80% of the seat’s base is supported by the vehicle seat.
Fit to Child
4 Years Old
Our 4 year old model weighs 44 pounds and is 45 inches tall. She is quite tall for her age, but carries most of her height in her legs, so she has quite a bit of growing room in the Graco Contender. She is riding with the headrest in the 7th position and still has rooom to grow in this seat!
6 Years Old
Our 6 year old (who wants you to know that he will be 7 in less than two weeks!) model weighs 60 pounds and is at the height limit of this seat at 49 inches tall. The headrest is at the 8th (top) position, which places the straps slightly above his shoulders. We wanted to include him in this review to show that this seat is very likely to be able to accommodate a child right up to the stated forward facing limits of 65 pounds or 49 inches tall.
Important Information: Where to Find
National Safety Mark: is located on the inner shell at the back of the seat. This is the label required to show the seat is approved for airline travel
Manual Storage: The manual attaches nicely to a compartment on the back of the seat’s shell.
Date of Manufacture label: is located on the inner shell at the back of the seat.
Expiration: the useful life is stamped on the plastic shell at the top of the back of the shell.
Since the moment it was released in the United States, the Contender has been a fan favourite among our team and among our readers. It’s budget-friendly, long-lasting (one CSFTL admin’s kiddo outgrew it by height at almost 7 years old!!), plus it’s fairly easy to install and use. It’s also reasonably lightweight so it’s a good option for travel.
Canadian Caution: It’s unlikely that a child would reach the 43 inch rear facing height limit before they reach the 35 pound rear facing weight limit. We’d recommend that caregivers pay attention to this limit when considering the Graco Contender/Dimensions.
Because this seat is so easy to move from forward facing to rear facing modes, and adjust between children of varying height, the Graco Contender/Dimensions is a seat that should appeal to many parents and caregivers, and provide a long lasting option for their children.
Our friends at Graco are giving away one Graco Contender to a lucky reader from Canada. Read our terms and conditions, then enter below for your chance to win!