Canada’s convertible and 3 in 1 car seat options are fairly limited, but thankfully the market is growing and more options are available, including the Safety 1st Enspira 3 in 1. This multimode car seat has 3 functions: rear facing, forward facing, and booster mode. We were pleasantly surprised at all this seat has to offer. Join us as we share more!
CSFTL Quick Stats
- Rear facing weight range: 5-40 pounds
- Rear facing height range: 19-36 inches tall
- Forward facing age minimum: 1 year (and walking unassisted)
- Forward facing weight range: 22-65 pounds
- Forward facing height range: 29-52 inches
- Booster age minimum: 4 years CSFTL advocates that children be at least 5 years old before moving to a booster seat
- Booster weight range: 40-80 pounds
- Booster height range: 40-52 inches tall
- Expiration: 10 years
- Lower anchor weight limit: Dorel defers to the vehicle. If the vehicle does not give a weight limit, or defers to the child restraint, the vehicle seat belt should be used when the child weighs 40 pounds or more
- Lowest harness position: 9 inches
- Highest harness position: 17 inches (other harness positions 11.5, 13, and 15.5 inches)
- Booster belt guides at 14 and 18 inches (only to be used if necessary to correctly position the shoulder belt on the child)
- Crotch buckle slots at 4, 5.25, and 6.5 inches from the back of the seat pan
- Shell height: 24 inches with headrest fully extended
- Width at widest point: 18 inches (across the back and at the hips)
- Seat weight: 12 pounds
Rear Facing Recline Angles
The Enspira features two rear facing recline angles. The bottom level to ground line is to be used with children who weigh between 5-22 pounds, cannot sit up unassisted, and are under 36 inches tall.
Installed at the most reclined rear facing angle, the Enspira is fairly sizeable front to back.
The top level to ground line may be used with children who weigh between 22-40 pounds,can sit up unassisted, and are under 36 inches tall. In addition to the 36 inch and 40 pound rear facing limits, the top of the child’s head must be even with or below the top of the Enspira’s headrest when rear facing.
Some models of the Enspira come with a substantial infant body pad, infant head pad, and/or harness covers. All of these are optional, but the head support must be removed when the infant’s head has reached the top, inside part of the infant head support.
The Enspira also features an adjustable headrest that must be positioned above the harness at all times. It adjusts easily by lifting the horizontal metal bar at the back of the seat, sliding it up or down, then locking it in place. The midpoint of the child’s ears must be aligned with the midpoint of the headrest.
Harness Height Adjustment
To adjust the harness height, unthread the straps from behind the seat at the splitter plate and rethread them through the slots in the cover and seat. Dorel (the parent company of Safety 1st) has included a clear warning on the back of the seat for caregivers to ensure that the straps are to go BELOW the headrest adjustment bar. The manual also specifies that the sewn ends of the harness strap loops face towards you when rethreading the harness.
Flip Out Stand for Forward Facing and Booster Modes
For forward facing and booster modes, the Enspira uses a flip-out stand to make the seat sit upright. This stand must always be used in forward facing and booster modes and is prohibited rear facing.
Our favourite feature of the seat, aside from the cushy cover (which all of our models commented on when testing the seat) is the Velcro harness adjuster lever flap, which covers the cam lock (the metal lever that secures the harness in place). Not only does the velcro flap prevent unwanted crumbs/sand/pebbles/road salt from entering the cam lock and potentially interfering with the locking mechanism, but it also may help deter little escape artist attempts.
The cover is not particularly easy to remove for cleaning (and may require a flat head screwdriver to help remove the lower harness guides), so if you are in need of a seat that can be washed often or easily, the Safety 1st Enspira may not be the best choice for you.
Installation – Rear Facing
Weighing in at a light 12 pounds, the Enspira installs well using the noodle-less installation method. The cover lifts easily from the sides to expose the belt path, which makes tightening the vehicle seat belt or UAS fairly simple.
For children who weigh less than 22 pounds and who cannot sit unassisted, the bottom recline line must be parallel to the ground. The top recline can be used for children weighing between 22 and 40 pounds who can sit unassisted.
We were very impressed at how compact the Enspira was at the most upright installations. It was a similar size front to back to the Britax Marathon G4.1, which is considered one of the more compact seats available in Canada.
A Couple of Notes on Rear Facing
While the Safety 1st Enspira is rated to allow a 19 inch, 5 pound newborn in the seat, unfortunately a child that size will not fit properly due to the high bottom harness position of 9 inches. This seat is best suited to children moving from their rear facing only seat to a convertible, as opposed to the caregivers looking to use a convertible seat from birth.
Page 16 of the manual has a couple of typos in the “Rear-Facing Position” highlights, but we have confirmed with Dorel that they intended for the warning to read “If the lowest harness slots are above the child’s shoulders with the headrest in the lowest position, do not use this child restraint.” A manual revision is in the works at the time of publication of this review.
The Enspira allows only the inner two buckle positions to be used when rear facing. The instruction manual says to choose the slot that is closest to the child. Any harness position may be used rear facing, provided the child fits the seat otherwise within the stated limits.
The 36 inch height limit is the biggest obstacle to following best practices with the Safety 1st Enspira. All major health organizations recommend rear facing as long as possible, and as 36 inches is the height of an average 2 year old, it is possible that tall children may not be able to rear face to the widely accepted minimum of 2 years in this seat.
Store that Top Tether in Rear Facing Mode
When using the seat both rear facing and in booster mode, ensure the tether is properly stored on the back of the seat. When forward facing the tether must be used at all times.
Fit to Child – Rear Facing
Six Months Old
This model is 6 months old, 25.5 inches tall and 18.5 pounds. He normally rides in a Chicco Keyfit, and this was his first time in a convertible car seat.
He did not seem impressed with the deep recline that is required for a child who is under 22 pounds and cannot sit unassisted, as he seemed to be almost lying flat in the seat. Even though he wears a size 6 month onesie, he only just fits the Enspira with the harness in the lowest position.
We did like using the substantial body pillow with this model. It filled in the seat and provided great support for this little guy while preventing any potential head slump.
Two Years Old
This model is 2 years old, 26 pounds, and 35.5 inches. She is average height for her age, and is under the rear facing maximums of the Enspira for now, but will likely hit the 36 inch height maximum with her next growth spurt.
She has tried many car seats in her short life, and she was quite vocal about how comfortable she found the Enspira. When she was offered the choice between the Enspira and a few other seats, she almost always chose to ride in the Enspira. This was not surprising, as the cover feels very cushy, and the harness is very smooth and easy to tighten.
Converting from Rear Facing to Forward Facing
To install the Safety First Enspira forward facing, extend the recline stand. This stand flips out from the base of the seat. For lower anchor installation, it’s easy to switch the lower anchors between the rear facing and forward facing belt paths. The anchor strap is fastened to the outer shell of the Enspira, which allows you to remove the lower anchor strap completely from the rear facing belt path, and easily rethread it into the forward facing belt path. Remember to always use the top tether when forward facing.
Fit to Child – Forward Facing
Four Years Old
This model is 4 years old, weighs 42 pounds, and is 44 inches tall. She only recently turned forward facing and has a lot to say about the comfort of seats she rides in.
She was quite vocal about her love of the Safety 1st Enspira. It may be the padded cover, or the fact that she could throw her legs over the sides of the seat for the duration of the ride, but when given the choice, she chose the Enspira over many other seats. The biggest complaint she had was the lack of cup holders, which Dorel has confirmed are not available for the Enspira.
The top harness position of the Safety 1st Enspira is hidden by the adjustable headrest. Because of this design, it is difficult to show how much room this model had to grow before the Enspira is outgrown by torso height, but she does appear to have about a year of growth left in the seat, which will likely get her to a safe booster age. She is quite tall for her age, so a smaller child (or child with a shorter torso) should be able to harness to 5 or 6 years old in the Safety 1st Enspira.
Converting from Harness Mode to Booster Mode
The Safety 1st Enspira converts easily from harnessed mode to booster mode. Simply unhook the harness from the splitter plate at the back of the seat and remove the straps from the seat. Secure the splitter plate by pulling the harness adjustment strap all the way out and tucking it under the seat. Remove the crotch buckle, and the seat has been converted to booster mode. Be sure to store the harness, chest clip, and buckle in a safe place.
Fit to Child – Booster Mode
5 Years Old
This 5 year old model is 47.5 inches tall and weighs 50 pounds. The shoulder belt fit her much better without threading the vehicle seat belt through the belt guides.
When we used the shoulder belt guide, it pushed the shoulder portion of the vehicle seat belt off her shoulder. She had an excellent lap belt fit with the belt sitting low on her hips but the shoulder portion of the vehicle belt was not centered on her shoulder and therefore did not fit her well.
6 Years Old
Our next model is 6 years old, weighs 41 pounds, and is 42 inches tall. He normally rides in a harnessed car seat, but he was willing to test the Enspira’s booster mode for us and let us know his thoughts.
While he was able to obtain a good shoulder belt fit both with and without the optional belt guides, unfortunately his lap belt fit was too high on his vulnerable abdomen, and we would not allow him to go for a test drive in this booster.
6 Years Old
Our last model is 6 years old, 48 inches tall and 53 pounds. Like our 5 year old model, this kiddo has a much better shoulder belt fit without threading the vehicle seat belt through the belt guides. When we used the guide, it pushed the shoulder portion of the vehicle seat belt off his shoulder. He achieved an excellent seat belt fit in the Enspira, with his lap belt low on his hips and the shoulder belt centered on his shoulder.
Thoughts on Booster Mode
We tried the Enspira in booster mode for 3 models and it didn’t offer a consistent vehicle seat belt fit, even for our models who were similar sizes. While the Enspira has a lot to offer in both rear and forward facing harnessed modes, it falls pretty short in booster mode.
Important Information: Where to Find
Date of Manufacture: The Date of Manufacture Label and National Safety Mark are located on each side of the back of the Enspira’s shell.
Manual Storage: The manual is stored on the recline stand underneath the seat.
Expiration Date: The expiration date is stamped on the back of the seat.
Multimode car seats that work well in all modes are difficult to come by anywhere, but especially in Canada. While the Safety First Enspira would work well for average to small children both rear and forward facing, unfortunately the booster mode seems to work best on bigger 5 and 6 year olds, which may potentially leave a child in between stages.
Dorel has done a great job at providing a basic convertible car seat that is both easy to use and install, and has a lower price point for those parents who are not looking to spend a lot of money on a child restraint. We didn’t find the Enspira’s booster fit consistent enough to recommend it as a sure bet for new booster riders, but it works well enough in both rear and forward facing modes that we can say for sure that it makes a solid option as a convertible car seat.