When I first heard about the new combination seat from Britax, I was intrigued. It has a new way of installing a carseat using the seat belt so easy that you can do it one-handed. Right. Somebody’s been smoking something and it’s not me! Then Kecia and I went to Lifesavers and tried it out ourselves. The word “revolutionary” came out of my mouth. “Out of a job” may also have slipped out, but I know that no matter how good the technology gets, someone will always have a belly clip, so there will always be a need for CPS Techs. The Pinnacle 90 and its sister, the Frontier 90, are Britax’s new combination seats that employ the new ClickTight installation system that is going to make parents jump for joy and actually want to install their carseat several times over just to say that they can!
Weight and Height Limits
- 25-90 lbs., 30-58” (and over 2 years of age) with harness, shoulders must be at or below top harness slot position, and tops of ears must be below top of head rest
- Belt-positioning booster from 40 to 120 lbs. and 45-62”, shoulders must be at or below red shoulder belt positioner, and tops of ears must be below top of head rest
Britax Pinnacle 90 Overview:
- ClickTight installation system for easy and secure installations using the seat belt
- Side Impact Cushion Technology (SICT)
- EZ buckle system holds belly pad out of the way when loading and unloading child
- Standing height 30″ – 58″ tall in harness mode, 45″ – 62″ tall in booster mode
- Industry-leading 20.5″ top harness height
- SafeCell technology in base
- Integrated steel bars reinforce the shell
- Quick adjust no-rethread harness
- Front adjust recline feature
- Easy remove cover
- 9-year lifespan
- MSRP $329.99, currently around $280 at Amazon.com.
- Fashions include Broadway, Cityscape, and Manhattan
Darren reviewed the Frontier 90 and this is a review for the Pinnacle 90. What’s the difference between the two? I’m glad you asked. The difference is that the Pinnacle has Britax’s patented Side Impact Cushion Technology. Those are the energy-absorbing cushions on the outside of the torso area that add extra protection for the child in the Pinnacle and also to any adjacent passenger sitting next to the restraint. The SICT cushions absorb some of the crash energy before they even reach the child by expelling air through strategically placed vents when the cushions are compressed under extreme crash forces. Britax claims that the SICT feature reduces side impact crash energy by 45%. More info on SICT can be found on the Britax website.
So, is it worth the extra $40 for the SICT? That’s for you to decide ultimately. While SICT can enhance protection in side-impact, lateral and rollover crashes, it also adds considerable extra width to the product. If you have the room for it and don’t need to fit another carseat or another person next to the Pinnacle 90, then it’s probably worth the additional investment. Side impact crashes continue to be the most deadly type of crash, even to properly restrained occupants. Any and all odds that you can stack in your child’s favor are worth it as long as you have the room in the vehicle to accommodate the extra width of this seat. Also, some parents with vehicles that don’t have side curtain airbags feel it’s worth the extra expense for increased peace of mind. Just remember that the most important things you can do with any forward-facing child restraint are install it tightly, use the top tether and make sure the harness straps aren’t twisted and are snug around your child. Even the most expensive CR with the greatest technology can’t protect your child in a crash if it isn’t installed correctly and used properly.
- 9 harness height positions measuring from 12.5” to 20.5” in 1 inch increments
- 2 crotch strap positions: about 7” and 9”
- Hip room between arm rests: 11.75”
- Head room at narrow part of head rest: 8”
- Widest point of head rest: 11”
- Seat pan depth: 13”
- Inside shoulder width with harness at highest position: 13”
- Width: 22” (at widest part of restraint)
- Width at cup holders: 18”
- Width at back of restraint: 15”
The girls above (a model I found at a carseat checkup event and Jennie’s daughter) are 4 years old and weigh 30-35 lbs. each. You can see how well the Pinnacle fits the girls now and how much growth room there is for the future. Jennie’s 8 year old son shows what a big kid looks like in the harness. For reference, he wears a size 10 shirt and is in the 95th percentile for height.
Installation with the Seat belt
Installation in my 2011 Acura MDX and 2013 Tesla Model S is just as easy as I expected it to be. Sometimes when we try things at conferences on the manufacturers demo vehicles seats, it’s easier than in real vehicles. In both vehicles, it was open the ClickTight panel, route the belt across where the green stickers were, buckle it in, close the ClickTight panel. Trust me, I ended up schlepping this seat around way more than I thought I would and every time, the same, tight installation. I even dragged my husband away from his beloved chair and iPad to see if he could install it:
There is a tendency (for some of us used to long belt path routing) to want to place the shoulder belt over the side bolster of the seat, like you would when installing the “old” Frontier 85 using the Long Belt Path. This would be an installation error on the Pinnacle/Frontier 90. There are green stickers marking the belt path, but perhaps if those were more pronounced it would be more obvious that the belt must go there. This is an area I feel needs more improvement. Notice in the picture below that the shoulder belt is properly tucked under and sits behind the black Side Impact Cushion. A quirk of the ClickTight panel is that it sticks sometimes when you try to open it when the restraint is installed. I’ve found that if I press down on it while squeezing the tabs, it will easily open and I can do this all with one hand.
Something interesting happened when I installed it in the center of my MDX. The seat belt here comes down from the ceiling and snaps into a separate buckle on one side to create the lap/shoulder belt. It’s a common type of belt that you’ll find in SUVs and vans now. Because the center position is a bit narrower than the side positions and because the buckle stalks are a bit longer, when I pulled the slack out of the belt and closed the ClickTight panel, the Pinnacle moved inches side to side. <jaw drop> I was not expecting that obviously. The simple solution was to put a little effort into pulling the seat belt tight before closing the ClickTight panel.
A convenience installation feature for inexperienced parents (and hey, for those of us who know what we’re doing), is that the ClickTight panel serves as a lockoff. What this means is that when you push the ClickTight panel closed over your seat belt, it locks the belt for you; there’s no need to worry about locking your retractor. Hooray! Even though on pg. 37 in the manual it talks about switching the retractor to ALR mode for a switchable retractor or using a locking clip (yikes!), there’s no need. I have verified this information with our Britax contact and there’s no need to either lock the retractor or use a dreaded locking clip.
Installation with LATCH
LATCH is restricted to a child weight of 38 lbs. with the harness. The LATCH strap and connectors are stored under the child’s bum in the seat area. Lifting the ClickTight panel will expose the connectors. Installing with LATCH is the same as installing with a seat belt; you always use the ClickTight Installation System. There was a little more guesswork involved in getting the right amount of tension on the LATCH strap. The first time I installed the restraint with LATCH, I didn’t remove quite enough slack from the strap and there was some wiggle along the belt path—perhaps an 1/8”—it was minor. When I slightly tightened the strap, I was able to get the rock solid install I got with the seat belt.
LATCH may also be used to keep the restraint secure when it’s used in booster mode as long as it doesn’t interfere with the seat belt buckle and your vehicle allows it.
Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing:
Britax allows center LATCH installation if the lower anchor spacing is between 11” and 20” and if the vehicle manufacturer allows it.
The tether is required to be used once the child reaches 65 lbs.; however, it should be used at all times because it can greatly reduce head excursion. In the United States, we have a pathetic 22% rate of proper tether use, so if you have a tether anchor available, use it! Britax recommends its use at all times, including during booster mode. The tether has “rip stitching” on the ends for energy management. The ends are located underneath the foam on the torso wings. If you’re ever in a crash or hard stop, give those a look-see. If they’re torn, it’s time for a replacement seat.
Inflatable Seat Belts
Because of the ClickTight installation system, Britax has determined that the Pinnacle and Frontier 90 cannot be installed with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford Explorer and Flex vehicles.
The Pinnacle cannot be in recline mode when used as a booster. To recline simply pull the handle under the front of the seat before installing it. Once it’s installed tightly, the Pinnacle won’t budge for recline purposes. It is not meant to be a recline-on-the-fly system. The recline system seemed a bit fussy. I found it tough to get it locked into the recline position. When it was in recline position, it didn’t provide the best fit to my vehicle seat and removed a lot of legroom for the child, which could cause injury in a crash. I would only use this feature if you need it to conform to your vehicle’s seat back for better installation.
*Please note that in the above first picture, I have the shoulder belt tucked under the crack in my vehicle seat to move it out of the way so you can see the gap behind the restraint. The seat belt, in every day use, should be allowed to rest normally against the vehicle seat back.
Ease of Use
An ease of use feature that Britax is generally known for but parents tend to forget about is the buckle stop. On their convertible seats, they sew a piece of Velcro to the harness so the harness can be pulled out of the way for the child to be put easily into the carseat. It also serves a dual purpose of keeping the buckle tong within reach of the parent who doesn’t have to dig under the child for the darn thing. On the Pinnacle, it’s a small piece of folded webbing sewn directly to the harness, similar to what’s done on some vehicle seat belts. Very nice!
As Darren mentioned in his review of the Frontier 90, the harness release button is set back farther than on previous models of the Frontier. This is to accommodate storage of the buckle when the restraint is converted to booster mode. Those of us with short fingers will find this daunting, but then again, our kids who love to unbuckle themselves mid-ride will find it frustrating, little buggers.
At age 11, my daughter barely fits height-wise in the Pinnacle when used in its booster mode though she’s still well within the weight limits since she’s only 67 lbs. Jennie’s 8 year old son is back modeling the booster mode on the Frontier 90. The head rest is adjusted to its highest setting on both seats. Seat belt fit on both kids is perfect.
Conversion to Booster Mode
The Pinnacle makes a comfortable booster with very good belt fit and it’s easy to covert it to booster mode; you can do it while the seat is installed! Well, you do have to lift the ClickTight panel, which will uninstall the restraint, but my point is that you don’t even have to remove the Pinnacle from your car in order to covert it from harness mode to booster mode.
Pinnacle can be installed with LATCH when used as a booster
To switch from harness to booster, you don’t even have to remove the harness—it stays right on the carseat so you don’t have to worry about any lost parts! Open the ClickTight panel and pull the seat pad all the way forward to tuck the buckle down onto the harness release button, then replace the seat pad. Close the ClickTight panel, raise the head rest all the way, and tuck the harness into the side wing covers and any remaining into the back cover. Easy peasy! Just do the reverse to use it as a harnessed seat again. Want to see more detail? I thought you would, so here’s the video:
*Please note that there’s a piece of gray comfort foam missing from the seat pad in the video. I removed it earlier while playing around with the restraint and forgot to put it back in for the video.
*Not certified for use in airplanes because the airplane seat belt can interfere with the ClickTight installation system.
The manual is well-written and illustrated, but I was disappointed that I had to read through 21 italicized bulleted WARNING! points (followed by 10 bolded Important Notes) to find the lifespan of the restraint (9 years). It’s difficult reading italics, especially when there are so many, plus the “nine” was written as a word instead of as a number. I realize that’s the proper way to write out a number, but in this case, a digit would make more sense. But, as I said, the illustrations are superb and aside from my searching for the expiration date, the instructions are clear.
Cover Padding and Maintenance
The cover is well-padded and comfortable. All the fashions are top-notch fabrics with padding sewn inside and an additional gray comfort foam pad is included in the seat area. The cover slips completely off from the front in just a couple of minutes. It’s hand wash and line dry only or your cover may fall apart. Putting the cover back on is just as easy since you only have to reverse the order in which you took the parts off.
Jennie adds her 2 cents after using the Frontier 90 daily for a few weeks:
Hi! Jennie here. Imma let Heather finish her review, but Britax has made one of the best seats of all time.
No, seriously, there’s very little we don’t love about the Frontier 90. I turned my daughter forward-facing shortly after her 4th birthday about two months ago. I didn’t really like any of our convertibles for FF, so I went to the Frontier 85. We liked it, but installation was kind of a pain, and I dreaded having to take it out and put it back in, as we sometimes need to do. Lo, the Frontier 90 arrived just a couple weeks later, and I really couldn’t be happier now.
Installation is a breeze. Not since the much-loved-but-long-retired Safeguard Child Seat has a high-weight-harness been so easy to install. I adore being able to adjust the harness height without having to uninstall. My daughter loves the comfort, the cup holders, (the zebra print), and the fact that it’s a real “big girl seat.” She has so much room left that if I wanted it to, the Frontier 90 could probably last her until high school.
A few people have had trouble tightening the harness when the seat is installed. I haven’t had that problem at all. The adjustment for me is nice and smooth. I did take a look and shoved my hand behind the seat, and I suspect that vehicle seat contours might play a role in the differing experiences. The way the Frontier 90 sits in the captain’s chair of my 2010 Odyssey, there’s a nice little gap where the harness comes out the back. In a vehicle seat with different contours, it seems like the harness might get stuck, potentially causing problems. That’s speculation on my part, though. Bottom line: Try before you buy (if possible), just in case.
There are only two things I don’t like:
1. No Cowmooflage! We like the zebra print ok, but it’s no cow. Where’s the beef, Britax???
2. The harness release lever is situated very far back in the seat, meaning that you need to really shove your fingers in to get to it. If you tend not to tighten/untighten each time, this won’t be a problem, but I’m a chronic adjuster. Now that I know where it is and how to access it, I’ve gotten used to it and it’s not too bad, but I would prefer if it were closer to the front.
Okay, now back to your regularly scheduled review…
Pinnacle 90 Advantages
- ClickTight installation system so easy to use that even a dad can install the seat correctly! Just kidding! (Have we beat a dead horse here about it being easy to install?)
- Side Impact Cushion Technology that provides extra crash energy management
- SafeCell technology in base
- Integrated steel bars reinforce the shell
- A buckle pad that holds the buckle forward, not under your child
- Tallest top harness slot height on the market!
- No-rethread harness for easy height adjustment when your child grows or if the restraint is used for multiple children
- Easy harness storage for belt-positioning booster mode
- Well-written and nicely illustrated manual
- Comfortable, well-padded seat that fits both harnessed and booster users well
- Sophisticated covers appeal to modern taste
- Easy remove cover
- 9-year lifespan
- Made in the USA!
Pinnacle 90 Disadvantages
- Harness adjuster tab is set back too far for short fingers
- Instruction manual contains too many warnings
- LATCH limit is 38 lbs., which may be a disadvantage to you if you have a wonky seat belt setup in your vehicle
- Recline system is fussy
- It’s heavy at 26.5 lbs.
- Not FAA-approved
The Britax Pinnacle 90 is a brand new child restraint with so much potential. Britax comes through with such safety features as EPP foam, SafeCell technology, a steel-reinforced frame, and Side Impact Cushion Technology. With such high top harness slots and high shoulder belt slots for belt-positioning booster use, it’s a seat that may top out your vehicle before it has topped out its full potential for your child!
We’ve seen similar technology before on other child restraints, but ClickTight is so much beefier and simplified on the Pinnacle and Frontier 90. We really are seeing the wave of the future at a time when I thought we were becoming stagnant in our field. The ClickTight Installation System makes it easy for everyone—parents, grandparents, babysitters and even the kids themselves in some cases —to get a proper installation in less than a minute without needing a degree in carseat engineering. And that is truly revolutionary!