The Saga of my Third Row

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We bought my Mazda 5 when my youngest daughter was on the way.  I loved how roomy it is, how it has 3 rows, and most of all, those sliding doors.  It’s narrow enough that I can park in the skinniest parking spaces and still unload both of my kids without trouble.

Seven year old Val normally rides in a high-backed booster

Seven year old Val normally rides in a high-backed booster

Most of the time, my daughters ride in captain’s chairs in the second row.  This works out fine because those seats are adjacent to my beloved sliding doors so it’s easy to get them in and out.  But sometimes, we have company in the car and somebody needs to move to the third row for a while.  When my oldest daughter rode in a harnessed car seat, this was mostly fine.  I’d just move her seat back there (except for the Diono Radian we had, this seat is incompatible with the seats in my third row.  Nice to learn that AFTER fighting with it on a cold winter’s night.  But I digress…) and we’d be all set.

These days, she’s 8 and rides in a booster.  I foolishly thought that I could just move her booster to the third row and we’d be all set, just like the old days.  But noooooo.  The weird geometry of the seatbelt/seating area has turned something as simple as moving a booster seat into a complicated process.

Her default booster in my car is a Diono Monterey.  She finds it amply padded, plus she likes the two cupholders where she stores all of her trinkets.  I like it because it’s got a nice belt fit for her and helps remind her to stay upright on the rare occasions when she sleeps in the car.  So when my parents came to town, I put the Monterey in the third row.  It didn’t take long to see that the wiggling around she has to do in order to buckle her seatbelt back there caused the side wings to open to their widest position.  Every time she got in.  While there’s not any apparent safety impact of this, it irked me and more importantly, my daughter prefers to have those wings in the right place.

Diono Sante Fe, not awful in the 3rd row but not great

Diono Sante Fe, not awful in the 3rd row but not great

Fine, I thought, she could ride in a backless booster back there.  The seats sit up a little higher than the ones in my second row, so that makes for a shorter seat, effectively raising her up a bit so a backless booster could fit her just fine in that location.  Also, the actual car’s seat is quite padded behind her, so she finds this very comfortable.   Great, I thought, until we realized that really and truly, the seatbelt is so far in front of the seat, it makes for a really weird belt fit that I’m not comfortable with.

The manufacturer of her favorite backless, the Clek Olli, says this: “What you’re looking at specifically with usability of the Olli back there, is comfort – if the gap is sufficient enough that it’s making the child slouch or complain, that would be an issue; and then seatbelt fit.”

Backless Oobr, not working in the Mazda 5's 3rd row

Backless Oobr, not working in the Mazda 5’s 3rd row

Unfortunately, both the Olli and the backless portion of our Clek Oobr have the same poor belt fit — where the belt hits her too low on the shoulders.  I really, really wanted this to work.

Moving on, we tried the backless version of her Monterey. I was so sure this would work, I bought a Diono Santa Fe, which is really just the backless portion of the Monterey.  In hindsight, I should’ve taken the back off the Monterey and tried it in the third row before investing in another seat.  This also put the seatbelt way in front of her shoulder and didn’t place it in the right spot at all.



The Harmony Olympian also doesn't work in my third row

The Harmony Olympian also doesn’t work in my third row

For funsies, we tried the Harmony Olympian, which had about the same awful belt fit as our other backless contenders.


After thinking about it WAAAY too much, I took my daughter out on a shopping trip recently.  We visited two large baby stores and she sat in 8 different high-backed booster seats.  Before I could try any of them in the car, she rejected all of them.  The common theme?  Not enough padding on her back.



There’s a big difference in the amount of padding she’d been used to in her harnessed seats and in many boosters, which feature almost no padding.  For example, the older style Britax Parkway we used to have fit nicely in the third row but had no padding at all under the cover on her back.  She had the same complaint about the lack of back/head padding on the RECARO Vivo, First Years Compass, Graco TurboBooster, and Graco Affix.  Other rejected options were the RECARO ProSport (which converts to a booster), and Britax Frontier 90 (a harnessed seat that also converts to a booster).

Because she’s old enough to have an opinion, and we have another Little in our family to hand seats down to, I let her choose which seats would work for her.

All The Boosters!

All The Boosters!

We worked through all of the options at store #1 and all of them were rejected, save one.

Snugli Booster -- a Surprise Favorite!

Snugli Booster — a Surprise Favorite!

I was surprised to find that her favorite seat at store #1 was the Snugli Booster Car Seat.  I guess I shouldn’t have been since it’s so padded and has two cupholders!  While she liked it at first, the narrowness of the mid-section got to be uncomfortable after just a few minutes (see how squished she looks?) so we gave up at store #1 and moved on to store #2.

The (Very Surprising!) Winner

At the second store, there weren’t as many booster options but there was the biggest surprise of all — a seat she liked!  By this point, we were both growing frustrated and ready to give up until she found her way to the Safety First Elite Air 80.

We have a winner!

We have a winner!

CSFTL had a chance to review one last year.  We found that it is a nice seat for rear-facing, forward-facing, and yes, for boostered kiddos.  For me, the biggest feature is the ample padding all around.  My daughter agrees 100%, which is why one of these seats is now sitting in my third row.





The Elite Air 80 works for both my booster rider and her little sister!

The Elite Air 80 works for both my booster rider and her little sister!

A couple of caveats:

  1. If we didn’t have a younger kiddo to pass this seat down to, it wouldn’t be a good choice for us.  She’s only got one click above her on the harness so this isn’t likely to last her very long.  My hope is that she’ll grow into a better belt fit on a backless booster by the time that happens.
  2. It’s huge and heavy, which many boosters aren’t.  Again, this is a fine compromise for us since my daughter has such a hard time getting comfortable.
  3. I’m still extremely surprised that this is the seat she chose.  It was by no means my first choice (or 14th) for this spot but it works, it really works.

Second Place and Honorable Mention

Graco Argos works pretty well in the Mazda 5's third row

Graco Argos works pretty well in the Mazda 5’s third row

Other booster options that worked reasonably well for the 3rd row were the Graco Argos and the Maxi-Cosi RodiFix.  Of the two, the Argos is the easiest to use so that’s our second choice, after the Elite Air 80.

I had heard that later models of the Mazda 5 have an improved seatbelt geometry so when a friend offered to let us try a few seats in her 2012 Mazda 5, I said yes!  The results weren’t too much better than in my 2009.

Backless Boosters in the 2012 Mazda 5’s Third Row

Hamony Olympian features a poor belt fitHamony Olympian features a poor belt fitClek Olli, also not a great belt fitClek Olli, also not a great belt fit in the third rowDiono Santa Fe also features a poor belt fit hereDiono Santa Fe also features a poor belt fit here

Update: Surprise Entry Takes The Prize!
We got a RECARO ProBooster the other day because the cover on the Elite Air gets too hot for summer use. Holy cow! It’s comfy enough for every day use in the second row, even in warm weather. And! It works in the third row.  We were able to take my daughter and a friend on an outing the other day without me worrying about them fitting properly.

Two RECAROS are better than one in my third row!

Two RECAROS are better than one in my third row!

This experience re-affirms CSFTL’s position that there’s no one best car seat for every situation.  By keeping our options open, my daughter and I were able to find our way to a solution that works for everyone and keeps her safe in all spots in my car.    Both the Elite Air 80 and the Argos have become a nice backup for her little sister, who loves riding in both seats harnessed.