I was intrigued from the first moment we saw the prototype model at the ABC Kids Expo last fall.  But I was also a bit skeptical.  Could Dorel really make a budget-friendly infant carseat that would be easy to use correctly, have all the important features and also fit smaller-than-average babies really well?  And could they really keep the price under $100? Yes, yes they can. :)
Introducing the Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus (CCEP).  It’s a mouthful but it’s important to ask for it by its full name because there are multiple versions of this seat and only the Elite Plus has all the features that you really want to have in an infant carseat.  Unfortunately, the models of this seat that are currently sold in stores like Wal-Mart, KMart, Sears & Target are usually not the “Elite Plus” model and are lacking some key features.  The good news is that you can purchase the Safety 1st Elite Plus model from Amazon and in most cases get free shipping too!  Hopefully some retail stores will start to carry this particular model in the near future.

Here is a breakdown of the differences between the Comfy Carry models:

  • Cosco Comfy Carry $69.99 – rear harness adjuster, non-adjustable base, no head support insert
  • Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite $79.99 – front harness adjuster, non-adjustable base, head support insert
  • Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus $89.99 – front harness adjuster, adjustable base with recline foot, head support insert with velcro sides for easy removal

The model provided by Dorel for this review is the Wildflowers pattern (model # IC030AYG). Let’s take a closer look at all the features, specs and measurements of the Comfy Carry Elite Plus:

  • Weight range: 4-22 lbs
  • Height range: 29″ or less
  • Carrier weight: 6.6 lbs (according to my digital bathroom scale)
  • 4 harness slot heights: (slots are slanted) approximately 5″, 7″, 9″, 11″
  • 3 crotch strap/buckle positions: 3 1/4″,  4 5/8″,  6″
  • Height of shell: 19″
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam
  • 5-point harness with front harness adjuster and splitter plate
  • Standard metal buckle (*update – this feature has been replaced by a plastic compound buckle on newer models)
  • Adjustable crotch strap length for newborns
  • 3 position handle – any position allowed when in the car
  • Narrow stay-in-car base with recline foot (2 positions) and hook-style lower LATCH connectors
  • Canopy & head-hugger insert with velcro sides for easy removal

 

Fit to child:

I found excellent harness fit when I tried the preemie doll from Huggable Images (4 lbs, 17″) in this seat and shortened the crotch strap as per the directions in the instruction manual. Shortening the crotch strap was really a simple process and proved very effective in terms of creating an optimal harness fit on the little doll.  All you have to do is thread the metal anchor from the crotch strap back through the opening for the middle position.  The final result was that the harness straps were snug and even with the little doll’s shoulders.

I also found excellent harness fit with my 20″ newborn size doll using the 7″ harness slots and not shortening the crotch strap.

On the opposite end of the weight/height range – here are pics of a petite 14 month old who is 19 lbs and somewhere between 28-29″ tall.  She could still have some growing room left in this seat but she is technically very close to the stated height limit of 29″.   And look at all that leg room!

 

Fit to vehicle:

I installed the CCEP in two vehicles – 2005 Ford Freestar minivan and 2006 Honda Pilot. I did some installs with seatbelt and some with lower LATCH anchors.  I even installed the carrier directly without using the base.  I did have some installation issues but I was able to work around them.

In the 2006 Pilot, lower LATCH install was simple and there were no issues.  I didn’t even need to use the recline foot on the base to get a perfect 45 degree angle.  However, installation with seatbelt was problematic.  I could not get a tight enough install just by tightening the seatbelt and switching the retractor to lock it.  I had to use a locking clip but it wound up in a bad spot in the beltpath.  So I twisted the buckle stalk 2 full turns and tried again.  With the buckle stalk shortened, the locking clip wound up in a much better spot but then it was a huge pain in the rear to get the seatbelt buckled again.  I’m not exagerating when I tell you I spent a good 5 minutes just trying to get the darn thing buckled again.  It wasn’t fun but in the end I wound up with a nice, tight installation.

In the Freestar captain’s chair, I had a similar issue with the seatbelt. Despite several attempts to get it as tight as possible, the base still moved more than 1″ from side-to-side when installing with lap/shoulder belt and switchable retractor.  Using a locking clip was the solution (once again) and at least this time it was an easy locking clip install with no compatibility issues.  However, LATCH installation wasn’t as easy as it was in the Pilot. Because my lower anchors aren’t recessed into the seat bight at all, the distance between the hook (lower anchor connector) and the adjustment mechanism on the LATCH strap was shorter than what may be typical in most vehicles.  I was having a hard time getting the LATCH strap tight enough.  Then I realized that the adjuster was getting caught on the entrance to the beltpath. Once I manuevered the adjuster into the beltpath a little bit – I was able to get the seat installed properly (less than 1″ of movement from side-to-side).

Just to recap, in each case I was able to achieve a proper installation but 3 out of 4 installs gave me some measure of trouble or required an extra step (locking clip).  Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll have any problems with installation in a different vehicle but I do think this seat could really benefit from some type of lockoff device on the base for lap/shoulder belt installs with a switchable retractor.

Pros:

  • Great harness fit – even for smaller, low birth weight babies
  • Front adjuster makes it easy to tighten & loosen harness straps
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam lines the entire upper portion of the shell
  • Recline foot on base should help to achieve a proper recline angle in vehicles with a sloped seat cushion
  • Narrow base should fit well in narrow seating positions
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to remove cover

Cons:

  • Canopy is very flimsy
  • Cover has minimal padding
  • Plastic shell is very thin and flexible
  • Carrier only latches onto the base in the front which is fine but may be confusing for parents or CPS Techs
  • Compound buckle is more difficult to buckle and unbuckle and is not “grandparent-friendly”
  • Recline foot may be difficult to lock into place under plastic tab
  • Ridges near beltpath on base could potentially damage seatbelt or latch belt webbing if user accidentally routes belt over them

 

The Bottom Line:

Despite some challenges with my installation attempts, I’m very pleased overall with this new budget-friendly infant seat. We have tons of nice pricey infant seats on the market right now, but only a few dismal choices for seats priced under $100.  The Comfy Carry Elite Plus has all the really important features covered and a price tag that won’t break the bank.  That’s great news not just for budget-conscious families but also for CPS programs that are always looking to balance cost and value with products that are easy to work with and fit the vast majority of babies well.

Thank you Dorel & 360 PUBLIC RELATIONS for providing the sample used for this review.