Are you sick of your kids outgrowing their infant seats by six months? Do you tend to grow big babies? Do you live in a place where it would be nice to have an infant seat to use through two full winters?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, the First Years Via 35 infant seat might be the seat for you! From its bright, colorful labels to its tall shell, the Via is larger than life, yet surprisingly compact given its capacity.

The Via 35 (more officially known as the Via I470 and also sold under the Lamaze brand) is a redesign of the previous incarnation of the Via, which had a 22-pound limit.

Before we go any farther, let’s get the basic guidelines and measurements out of the way. (Keep in mind that measuring is not always an exact science, so your results might vary slightly. I did my best, though.)

  • The Via is rated for use from 5-22 pounds without the base; 5-35 pounds with the base.
  • Maximum height is listed as 32 inches or when there is less than an inch of shell over the child’s head. (This is illustrated with a red line in the manual and a sticker on the side of the seat, but is not marked on the seat cushion itself.)
  • Internal seat height (from bum to top of shell) is 20 inches.
  • Internal seating depth is 12 inches.
  • Interior seat width ranges from 10 inches at the feet and bum to about 8 inches at the very top.
  • The only crotch buckle position is 6.5 inches.
  • There are five harness positions.
  • The bottom harness position is approximately 7.5 inches without the infant insert. The insert is about an inch thick, although didn’t seem to add quite a full inch to my measurements. I’ll be generous, though, and say the bottom position 6.5 inches with the insert.
  • Top harness position is 12 inches (without the insert).
  • The widest part of the seat (with or without base) is at the lock-offs on the seat itself, at about 17.5 inches.
  • The base width is 16 inches at the belt path, tapering to 13 at the front of the seat.
  • The seat length (with or without the base) is about 27.5 inches.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Numbers are great, but what do they mean?” It can be hard to visualize things like this, and we all know that in the car seat world, two seats might have identical measurements, but fit very differently.

 

FIT TO CHILD

Let’s start with a discussion of how kids fit in the seat. My main subject for this experiment was my son, Oliver. In all of these photos, he ranged from 11-14 weeks, and weighed 12-14 pounds, with a height of about 25 inches. That puts him around the 26th percentile for weight, and 71st for height. Long and lean, basically. He also has a long torso. (He had outgrown most of his 0-3-month shirts by about six weeks.)

Remember I mentioned that the Via is big?

Oliver always had a lot of room over his head in the Via, but it didn’t strike me just how tall the seat was until my dad sent me a photo he took of Oliver in the seat, and I realized you couldn’t even see the top of the shell.

That sent me to Babies R Us to compare how he fit in the standard go-to “large” infant seat, the Graco SnugRide 35. When I put Oliver in, my first thought was, “Wow, when did the SnugRide 35 get so small?” I actually had to check the attached tags to make sure it was indeed the right seat. You know a seat is big when makes the SR35 look small in comparison.

Then I read that the Safety 1st OnBoard 35 is even taller than the SnugRide 35 (yes, I should probably know that…and now I do), so I went back and got a photo of him in that one, too. Here he is in the SnugRide 35, OnBoard 35, and Via 35, all taken within a couple days of each other. (Sorry I couldn’t get him to look at me in the OnBoard).

You can see that he has quite a bit of room in all the seats, but has miles left in the Via.

And just for another comparison, here is how he fits in the Cybex Aton, which is definitely a smaller seat:

Just for fun, I decided to put my 28-pound, almost-three-year-old in the seat. Anna is 36.25 inches, which puts her in the 59th percentile for height. She also has a longish torso (she’s in 3T shirts, but is just now getting into 2T pants).

I was shocked that she almost fit.

She had about half an inch of shell over her head, so the seat was outgrown, but just barely…and she’s almost THREE. (For a comparison, I stuck her in the Coccoro, and she fit exactly the same: half an inch of shell over her head.) Clearly people don’t buy infant seats with the intention of using them for 3-year-olds, but the point is: This seat will last a long time if you want it to.

We know the seat will fit big babies/toddlers, but what about itty-bitties?

As mentioned above, the bottom harness position is about 6.5 inches with the infant insert. That’s not atypical of infant seats, but not the lowest you’ll find.

Oliver, my largish three-month-old, fit just fine in the second-from-the-bottom harness position with the infant insert. However, the instructions say to remove the insert at 12 pounds, so I did. Without the insert, Oliver is just even with the second position. Each setting is about 1.25 inches apart, so he’s not tremendously over the bottom slots. That made me wonder two things: 1) How would a tiny baby—a preemie or small newborn—fit? and 2) What happens if your baby is 12 pounds but doesn’t have shoulders above the bottom slots?

Let’s tackle the second question first. Because Oliver is rather lean and has that long torso, I could easily see a shorter, plumper baby weighing 12 pounds before her shoulders are even with the bottom slots (as they need to be, per the manual). So I called and asked what one should do in that situation. The customer service rep told me that it would be better to continue using the insert in that situation. I tend to agree, although it would be nice if the manual reflected that.

As for the first question, I suspect that tiny babies will not fit well in this seat until they have grown a bit. I didn’t have an actual teeny baby at my disposal, but I did have an 18” doll with a 6- to 6.5-inch torso. (That’s about the size of the preemie Huggable Images doll.) With the insert, she had about an inch until she reached the lowest position.

If you have or are expecting a very small baby, you might want to go with another infant seat, at least at first.

Finally I tried it with another doll, whose torso is about 8 inches. She fit just fine.

 

SIZE

A seat that can fit a slightly-tallish 3-year-old must be enormous, right? Well, it’s not tiny. It is, however, surprisingly compact given its capacity. My somewhat-scientific measurement gave me 27.5 inches from front to back. Again, though, what does that mean?

Well, at Babies R Us, I lined up the SnugRide 35, OnBoard 35, and the Via against a wall (all with their bases). The SnugRide and OnBoard took up about the same amount of room, but the Via looked like it took a good two inches less. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a photo because the car-seat-section guy was “helping” me, but my husband confirmed that it looked at least two inches shorter.

I also installed the Via and the Cybex Aton in my truck. The Aton is on the smaller side for infant seats, and is possibly the shortest front-to-back. The longest part of each seat was in a different place relative to the front headrest, but by my best measurement, the Via only took up half an inch more space than the Aton. That’s saying a lot for a seat that would likely last a year longer.

It also looks like a wide seat, but at its largest external point (the lock-offs on the seat itself), I measured 17.5 inches, which is just a half-inch wider than the KeyFit, and 1.5 inches more narrow than the SnugRide 35 (according to the data in the car-seat.org Data Forum).

Here is how the seat fit in my 2010 Dodge Ram MegaCab and my 2010 Honda Odyssey. There was plenty of room in both, although both are large vehicles.

 

INSTALLATION

Most people would agree that ease-of-installation is a pretty important characteristic of car seats. How does the Via do? Well, it’s a mixed bag.

 

RECLINE

The recline on the base is very easy to adjust by pulling out a knob that raises or lowers the foot. The level indicator is on the seat, so you’ll need to have the seat in the base to check the angle. The indicator consists of a ball with a red-and-green zone, and there’s one on each side of the seat, which almost feels like overkill. I would have preferred to have one on the seat and one on the base. The indicators are very large, so no squinting is required. The balls made a fun rolling-clacking sound while I was rocking Oliver in the seat at a restaurant, but I can see how that might eventually become annoying, too. I did notice the rolling noise now and then while carrying the seat, but they don’t roll around in the car.

 

LATCH

The base is quite easy to install, overall. You set it on your vehicle seat with the infant carrier attached, adjust the level, then remove the infant seat. My push-on LATCH connectors were stored at the side of the seat, although there is also a place to store them right at the belt path. I’m not quite sure why there are two locations, but two is better than one, I suppose.

In either case, you just retrieve the connectors and snap them onto your anchors. The manuals suggests using a knee to push down on the seat while tightening, but I was fine using just my hand.

My seat has a separate strap for each LATCH connector, although the illustrations and instructions imply that there’s just one, so maybe there are slightly different versions available. Some people don’t like having to use two different straps to tighten, but it’s not something I’ve ever minded. I was able to install with LATCH in my 2010 Odyssey and my 2010 Dodge Ram MegaCab in under a minute.

 

SEATBELT

Installing with the seatbelt can come with a few minor challenges, but is still very straightforward. The lock-off on the base is easy to open and can be easy to close.

A snag you might run into (as I did in both vehicles I tested) is that the device that keeps the latchplate from sliding down too far on the seatbelt always seemed to hit exactly in the center of the lock-off, making it impossible to close. In my Odyssey, which has a button for that purpose, I was able to slightly loosen the belt to move the button out of the way. The seat was still sufficiently tight. In my Dodge Ram, which has a sewn-on loop of webbing, I was able to just fold the webbing out of the way. In both cases the seat installed just fine, but it was a minor annoyance.

The manual instructs to use the lock-off on the base, but also says that a locking clip must be used on free-sliding latchplates if the lock-off on the base isn’t used, so there does seem to be the option of bypassing it if you absolutely have to. Unless there really is no other solution, though, try to get the lock-off to work.

One other issue is that in my Odyssey, the belt stalks are fairly long. This caused the latchplate to rest just under the inner edge of the belt path. It didn’t wind up at an angle and didn’t affect the fit, so it wound up not being a concern. If you have long belt stalks, though, you might need to twist them down with this seat. Again, not a huge problem, but something to be aware of.

BASELESS

Now… One feature of the seat that a lot of people seem to really like (in theory, at least) is that the carrier itself has lock-offs, making for an easy and secure baseless install. I couldn’t wait to try it out, so I played with it the first chance I got.

First, a few caveats: 1) The two lock-offs on the foot of the seat are always required for the baseless install—no exceptions. 2) You can install without the base until the child is 22 pounds. After that, the Via can be used only with the base.

My first attempt with the baseless install was secure, for sure. Easy? Not so much. First, the lock-offs are extremely hard to open. Extremely. Thankfully I had just cut my nails earlier that morning, because if I hadn’t, I surely would have ripped off at least one of them. As it was, I wound up with two bloody knuckles.

After installing the seat without the base one time, I never wanted to do it again. You know those experiments they do, where they electrify cheese and see how many times a rat will try to get the cheese before it realizes it’s being electrocuted? The baseless Via was my electrified cheese, and I’m not a Dumb Rat. I just wanted to go inside and lick my wounds (or, more appropriately, put Neosporin on them), and never touch the seat again.

However, you and my blogmates don’t want me to be a Smart Rat. You want me to go back for more. So I installed it again and again, and even made you a video!

 

As you saw (if you watched the video…which you should), to install with the belt routed around the back (preferred), you need to use three lock-offs. But what if your belt isn’t long enough, or it causes the seat to tip, or you just don’t want to? Not to worry: You can go ahead and not route the belt around the back. BUT! That means you need to use a locking clip in addition to the two lock-offs on the foot of the seat.

I’ll let that sink in for a second.

For real. Two lock-offs, plus a locking clip.

The manual was quite clear about that, but I called customer service to make sure they really meant it. The guy I talked to had to go check, but he came back and said that yes, indeed it is true. He said it’s necessary because “it needs to be more secure than with the normal lock-offs.” Take that for what it’s worth.

To be honest, I was very disappointed with the baseless install of this seat. I regularly use the Coccoro and Aton, both of which offer around-the-back European belt routing. (The Coccoro isn’t technically an infant seat, but it installs similarly.) What I love about installing both of those seats is that if the seat shifts while you’re installing, all you have to do is loosen the belt a bit, get the seat back into position, and re-tighten. If the seat is too loose, you just tighten some more. You do still need to lock the belt in some way, but that comes at the end of the process. With the Via, if something goes wrong during installation, you need to keep undoing the lock-offs.

Bottom line: The lock-offs on the base are supposed to be a convenience feature, but they wind up being just the opposite.

 

ANTI-REBOUND HANDLE

The Via boasts a Rebound Energy Management handle that flips toward the seatback to provide anti-rebound protection. The Via requires the handle to be all the way forward (in anti-rebound mode) whenever the seat is being used in a vehicle. The manual states this several times, in red letters no less. But then one illustration toward the back of the manual shows allowable handle positions, and it does include Position E (all the way back, or toward the front of the car) as permissible in the vehicle, although they strongly recommend Position A. It sort of irks me when a company stresses something repeatedly, then says “Just kidding!” But the point is, you probably need to move the handle anyway, so go ahead and put it in the anti-rebound position.

I did find that I forgot to move the handle forward…a lot of times. Like anything, the more you do it, the more used to it you get, but I suspect that needing to adjust the handle will lead to some misuse. (Not that I don’t find the anti-rebound handle to be a benefit, you just have to remember to move it.)

The handle is covered in a slightly squishy/grippy material that gives it a modicum more comfort than a standard, non-coated, hard plastic handle. It also has a square-ish shape to it, which seems to work nicely for balancing along the length of a forearm for a little more stability. Something about the handle (possibly the square shape?) makes it a bit awkward to move up/down when it’s in the car (i.e., when you’re off to the side). I can’t quite place what makes it weird, but I can’t just reach in and press the buttons; I have to sort of contort my arms a bit. I got used to it, though. I’d consider it a minor issue, at most.

The handle also has two oval-shaped compartments on either side for putting a photo of your child and/or identifying information (or anything else you’d like, I suppose). I didn’t bother using them, but it’s a nice touch for emergency contacts, or if you need to be able to identify your seat quickly (like if another child at the daycare center happens to have a Via, too). The covers on the little compartments pop off easily–perhaps a little too easily, as my two-year-old figured out by mistake.

 

COVER

The Via boasts an easy-off cover, and is it ever! You basically undo about a dozen snaps, push the harness out of the way, and pull the cover off. Reverse the process to put it back on. They’re fairly easy, normal snaps, too, not anything you’ll need to struggle with.

One thing that I found slightly annoying is that the slits in the cover are quite narrow, to the point of making the harness fold a bit as it comes out of the cover. It doesn’t keep the harness from tightening properly, but bothered me aesthetically. I would have preferred larger horizontal openings at each harness “slot,” but I imagine that kind of detail would drive up the cost.

The seat also comes with the aforementioned infant insert (for use up to 12 pounds), a head support, and harness covers (both optional at any weight). At first the head support appeared flimsy and seemed like it wouldn’t stay in place well, but in actual use, we had no problems with it. It seemed a bit cramped for my large-headed kid, but for a smaller baby, it would probably provide great support.

The harness pads are probably too long for use with a newborn, but they come off and go on easily (with Velcro or a Velcro-like material).

The cover can be hand-washed in cool water, and air-dried.

 

OTHER STUFF

IMPACT PROTECTION

The seat is lined with EPS foam from the bottom harness position to the top of the shell. The First Years boasts that the Via is side-impact tested to international standards, although their website doesn’t specify which standards those are.

 

WEIGHT

Obviously a seat as tall as the Via is likely to have a bit more heft to it, right? Right. I’d like to say that The First Years managed to make the seat feather-light, but there has to be a trade-off somewhere. Babies R Us lists the weight of the carrier alone at 11.5 pounds, though my bathroom scale said 12. The next-heaviest seat I could find at Babies R Us was the SnugRide 35 at 9.5 pounds. That’s a rather significant difference, and it’s obvious, too. The Via is not an easy seat to carry, and keep in mind that my baby is only 14 pounds! I didn’t even try picking it up with my 2-year-old in it.

 

LABELING

Inspecting the seat, I was very impressed to find big, bold labeling on just about everything. Need to adjust the harness height or figure out where to store the LATCH connectors? There’s no digging around or guessing—just look for the bright red, yellow, or purple indicators. I suspect First Years was trying to score some ease-of-use points, and they hit the mark on that one.

 

HARNESS ADJUSTMENT

I love no-rethread harnesses, which makes adjusting the harness height on the Via is a cinch: Just grab the bright yellow block on the back of the seat, pull it out, then slide up or down. Each position has a cut-out in the shell where the harness comes through. One thing to be cautious of is to make sure the harness itself is lying flat through the appropriate opening in the shell after you adjust the height. I found that the harness would get “caught” in the notches above after I moved the knob down. It’s not a big deal to push your finger through to shove the harness down if necessary, but definitely do it. I was actually able to completely tighten the harness while it was still sitting in the slot above my child’s shoulders and I wondered why adjusting the height hadn’t changed the way it fit on him. Here you can see the knob and the harness notches.

Tightening the harness is also a breeze: Very nice, smooth pull. The harness has individual ends, so this is not a “continuous” harness. Some people like continuous harnesses, but I’m not one, so I consider that a benefit.

 

CANOPY

The canopy has a nice, sturdy feel to it. At first I thought it only extended half-way, but then I discovered the snaps holding it onto the back. If you unsnap it, the canopy can rotate all the way to the front, although you can’t cover more than half the seat at any given time. I did find that the canopy’s bulk makes it very hard to rotate the handle back, to the point that I gave up wrestling with it and didn’t bother putting the handle back any farther than I needed to.

 

BALANCE

One thing about this seat is that it’s top-heavy. Almost every time I had the seat on the floor and removed Oliver, the seat would fall backwards. It never did that with the child in the seat, but you do have to use some caution to avoid having the seat crash back during very quiet moments in your older child’s class, for example…

 

RELEASE MECHANISM

The seat releases with a typical pull-up lever in the back. It did seem a bit harder to pull than some other seats, but not significantly so. Snapping the seat onto the base was also standard and straightforward.

 

STROLLER USE

The Via is compatible with The First Years Wave, Indigo, and Wisp strollers. In my research, I didn’t find any other brands that were compatible, but if you know of any, let us know in the comments section.

 

MANUAL/SAFETY WARNINGS

The manual is pretty clear, but there are a lot of typos, including references that don’t align with the page numbers given. The manual included the typical statements and safety warnings, but also a few less common ones that are worth mentioning.

  • Do not use the Via in the rear seat of a compact pickup truck due to the possibility of head injuries.
  • The First Years allows the Via to be used with side airbags only if the airbags deploy downward from the ceiling. If your car has another type of side airbag you need to consult your vehicle manual or call the manufacturer to learn about the appropriate use of the child restraint. I’m not sure if that means that First Years would defer to the vehicle manufacturer if that manufacturer says it’s ok to install next to another type of side airbag, or if they are saying that you must install the seat in another approved spot.
  • There are explicit instructions (including a drawing) not to use the seat on the top of a shopping cart.
  • Instructions state not to use the seat after the date stamped onto the back. I looked at the back of the seat, and the bottom, and all over, but didn’t see a stamped date. I called customer service and the woman seemed a bit perplexed but not overly concerned. She said to stop using it seven years from the date of manufacture (which is clearly visible on the seat).
  • The manual advises that once the seat has expired, you should throw the seat away in a dark trash bag and not give it to a thrift store or sell it at a consignment sale.
  • You must discontinue use after a collision unless it meets NHTSA’s guidelines for a minor crash. The manual refers you to page 49 for crash guidelines, although they are actually found on page 50.
  • There is a warning that says, “NEVER put the infant seat on your hip. Carry the seat at your side at all times.” Then there is a drawing of a person holding the seat by the handle, with the foot of the seat resting against his hip…but there isn’t a “no” line going through the drawing. I’m not really sure if that was meant to illustrate what you should or shouldn’t do.
  • The manual advises parents to say that the car can’t go unless everyone is buckled.
  • You can use accessories made by J. J. Cole.

My very favorite part of the manual was this passage, which isn’t a safety warning, but reads like an excerpt from a turn-of-the-century advertisement:

Some companies charge outrageous prices when their parts wear out. At The First Years, we will sell you replacement parts at or near our cost plus what it costs us to handle and ship them. They are still expensive, but we promise they are fair prices.

I actually laughed out loud, but at least they’re honest.

 

ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES

ADVANTAGES

  • Size: You get a super-long-lasting seat in a not-too-humongous package. If you want a seat for a large baby or one you can use for a long time, this is a great choice.
  • Base install with LATCH: Very straightforward, very easy.
  • Harness adjustment: Again, very straightforward, easy adjustment for both height and tightness.
  • Anti-rebound handle: We don’t have a lot of seats with this feature in the US, so it’s nice to find ones that do.
  • Cover: Easy-on, easy-off covers are great, especially for handling spit-up, diaper blow-outs, and any other baby-fluid-related incident.

DISADVANTAGES

  • Baseless install: Disappointing, complicated install with lock-offs that are a pain (literally) to open. Might require use of a locking clip.
  • Seatbelt install with base: Not a huge disadvantage, but you might need to do some finagling to get the lockoffs to close, and possibly to get the latchplate in a good position.
  • Fit for preemies: The bottom position is probably too tall for preemies and very small newborns.
  • Stroller compatibilities: Not many options.
  • Weight: It’s heavy!

 

CONCLUSION

The Via 35 gives you a lot of seat in a relatively compact package. The baseless install isn’t the easiest you’ll find…and might be the most complex. If you don’t plan on using the seat baseless very often (or ever), I would consider the baseless install a non-issue. If you plan on using it baseless a lot, especially if that involves getting in and out of taxis quickly, the Via might not be your best choice.

The fit on preemies and tiny newborns is questionable, but average-to-large newborns should be fine.

Given its features, the Via should be a formidable contender along with the SnugRide 35 and OnBoard 35 for longer-lasting infant seats.

The Via I470 retails for around $130-$170, depending on the style and the store. Extra bases are about $65.

Thank you to The First Years for providing the Via 35 used in this review.