size-mattersOh, the pun possibilities running through my mind right now are almost endless but I’m not going to go there, I promise! This will be a good, clean, safe-for-work, safe-for-kids-over-your-shoulder, comparative review by the time Darren and Heather have finished their editing and it’s finally published! 

With that out of the way let’s get down to the business of your back seat. Specifically, your vehicle’s back seat. Is your vehicle’s front-to-back space limited? Are you and/or your partner tall or just leggy? Or maybe you just want the ability to stretch out a little bit more on a long ride. Regardless of why you need more leg room up front, the reality is that you’re not alone. The rear-facing carseat/space issue comes up over and over again here at CarseatBlog, on our blog’s Facebook page and on the Car-Seat.org forums. Everyone, it seems, is looking for a good quality, higher-weight-harness convertible that will keep their child happy and comfortably seated in the rear-facing position while still allowing the front seat driver and/or passenger to be safe and comfortable too. Because let’s face it, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your comfort or safety just to accommodate junior who is optimally seated rear-facing in a convertible behind you!

Additionally, as a mom and a Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor, I know that space factors play an important role for many parents in their decision on when to make that “demotion” in safety from rear-facing to forward-facing.  Ideally that switch from RF to FF shouldn’t occur until the child has maxed out their convertible seat by either height or weight, but that’s rarely the reality. The reality is that the vast majority of parents in this country are still turning their toddlers forward-facing before the recommended minimum age of 2 and, in most cases, way before the RF weight or height limits of their convertible seat are actually reached. I know space issues play a role in many of those decisions. Hopefully this blog can help reduce some of those occurrences by giving parents some useful info on which popular convertible models take up the least amount of room when installed in the RF position.

Since there are too many variables from vehicle to vehicle and even from one seating position to the next (within the same vehicle), I can’t and won’t tell you that seat X or seat Y is going to be the best choice for your child in your vehicle. But I can tell you that seat X takes up 3″ less room when rear-facing than seat Y when installed properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions in the same seating position. The rest of the factors (specs, features, price, etc.) are going to be up to you to take into account. Because even though size matters, it’s not the only thing that matters! 

With that in mind, I chose convertibles from my collection of demo/training seats that are either on our list of Recommended Seats or just popular higher-weight-harness convertibles. I did not include very compact seats like the Combi Coccoro, because I know that most of our readers are looking for convertibles that last longer and can be used for extended rear-facing. For example, the Coccoro is a great little seat that doesn’t take up much room when rear-facing and is fairly narrow, too. That’s a huge bonus in compact cars. The trade-off is that it’s hardly bigger than some of the infant seats currently on the market so it’s quickly outgrown by height and weight in the RF position. Average size models, like the Britax convertibles and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70, have modest rear-facing height limits but can still accommodate many kids rear-facing past 24 months old AND fit easily in your small car!

rfprius

While this list does include 16 current convertible models, it is NOT an all-inclusive list and I was limited to what I had available or had access to during the project period.

grade-b-plusSeats have been given letter grades for simplicity. This grade relates only to the amount of room that the seat takes up when rear-facing as compared with the other seats on this list. Keep in mind that even seats with an “A” rating aren’t guaranteed to fit rear-facing or install properly in the back seat of your vehicle but they’re a good place to start if you’re on a quest to find a good rear-facing convertible that doesn’t take up a lot of room. By the same token, just because a seat has a “C” or “D” rating doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed not to fit well rear-facing in a smaller vehicle. There are just so many variables in each specific situation that it’s impossible to know for sure. You really never know for sure until you try it.   

For the record, my installation method for each seat was pretty basic. I didn’t use any tricks to try to get the seats more upright or anything like that. I also didn’t attach the rear-facing tether in cases where that was specifically an option (Britax, Diono). I used the lower LATCH anchors for each install just to be consistent, and because it was easier in most cases. Each seat was installed properly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases I didn’t need to any pool noodles to increase the recline angle because it wasn’t necessary – but there were a few exceptions. Normally, I like to get behind the rear-facing convertible and use my hips or mid-section to compress the seat down and into the vehicle seat cushion, leaving both hands free to tighten the seatbelt or latch strap. However, I couldn’t do that with these installs because that would have required moving the front seat forward to get my body back there, and that wasn’t an option. The front passenger seat stayed in its precise position throughout the project period.

I set the front passenger’s seat in a specific fixed position with the seatback angle neither too reclined nor too upright for an adult to sit comfortably. Then, in each case I measured the distance between the convertible and the point on the back of the front passenger seat or head restraint that was likely to make first contact. That “contact point” varied depending on the height and contour of the CR. So, this means that these measurements and grades could vary somewhat in a different vehicle that has a different contour of vehicle seats, different geometry of head restraints or is simply installed somewhat differently.  In other words… 

Your mileage may vary!

In cases where the convertible had a height-adjustable headrest (HR), I took separate measurements with the HR flush with the shell and also with the HR extended to the max RF height limit. If the convertible allowed more than one recline position to be used for RF then I installed the seat using the different recline positions as long as it installed within the acceptable recline angle range. There was one exception I made and that was for the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 installed in the semi-reclined position. I was just so blown away by the amount of room that I gained with that seat in the #2 recline position that I couldn’t throw it out just because the level line wasn’t level with the ground. More specific details on that installation and those results can be found in the Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 notes below.

Okay, enough rambling… this is what you’re here for! Below is a table comparing the various convertibles and listing their grade, the amount of space gained in relation to the most space-consuming convertibles tested and the seat’s RF seated height limits. 

 

 

Note: CR Interior Height Measurement refers to the measurement of the Child Restraint (CR) from the bottom of the seated area to the top of the restraint in its maximum rear-facing height position (picture below).  This measurement may range from 23″ to 28″.  The overall “Child Height”, or standing height limit is also stated for seats that list one in their owner’s manual. The “1 Inch Rule” states that the child has outgrown the CR by height if there is only 1″ of shell or headwing structure (this varies from seat to seat so check the notes in the chart above) left above the child’s head. In other words, you always want more than 1″ of shell or structure above your child’s head. Once they get to the point where there is only 1″ left above their head – the seat is outgrown in the rear-facing position.

Interior Height Measurement

 

Here is a breakdown of each convertible tested with a few additional details and pics of the installation:

Britax Pavilion

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of main shell (not from adjustable headrest); RF seated height 24″ tall; FF 20-65 lbs or up to 49″ tall.

Grade:  A

Space Gained +5″

Notes:  Results also apply to Britax Marathon, Boulevard & Advocate (G3 & G4) models. Only 1 base position (#3) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Full Britax Pavilion 70-G3 Review Here.

Britax Pavilion

 

Britax Roundabout

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell; RF seated height 24″ tall; FF 20-55 lbs or up to 46″ tall.

Grade:  A

Space Gained +5″

Notes:  Results also apply to Roundabout G4 model. Only 1 base position (#3) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Full Britax Roundabout 55 Review Here.

Britax Roundabout 55

 

Britax “Classic” Marathon 65

Specs:  RF 5-35 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell; RF seated height 25.5″ tall; FF 20-65 lbs or up to 49″ tall.

Grade:  A-

Space Gained +4.5″

Notes:  Results also apply to Britax “Classic” Roundabout 50 and to previous generation higher-weight harness Britax convertibles. Single base position (reclined) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base.

Britax "Classic" Marathon 65

 

 

Chicco NextFit

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of adjustable headrest when fully extended; RF max seated height 26″ tall; FF 22-65 lbs or up to 50″ tall.

Grade:  A- (when installed at a more upright recline angle with head rest fully extended)

Space Gained +4.5″

Grade:  B (when installed at a more reclined angle appropriate for a newborn; head rest flush with main shell)

Space Gained +3.5″

Notes:  Any of the 9 recline positions on base may be used to achieve an appropriate RF recline angle as per the angle indicator. These options create more potential for finding a suitable recline angle and taking up less space.  Full Chicco NextFit Review Here.

Chicco NextFit - Reclined  Chicco NextFit - Upright & HR Extended

 

Clek Foonf

Specs:  RF 14-50 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of headrest when fully extended and child height 43″ or less; RF seated height 26.5″ tall; FF 20-65 lbs or up to 49″ tall.

Grade:  C+ (same grade with headrest flush or with headrest fully extended)

Space Gained +2.5″

Notes:  Single recline position (position #3) for rear-facing installation. Must use rear-facing base and anti-rebound bar for rear-facing installations. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base

Clek Foonf  Clek Foonf - headrest fully extended

 

Diono Ranier & Diono Radian RXT

Rainier/Pacifica SpecsRF 5-50 lbs; RF height limit 1.5″ rule from top of shell and child height 44″ or less; RF max seated height 25″ tall; FF 20-90 lbs or up to 57″ tall.

Radian RXT/R120Specs:  RF 5-45 lbs; RF height limit 1.5″ rule from top of shell and child height 44″ or less; RF max seated height 25″ tall; FF 20-80 lbs or up to 57″ tall.

Grade:  A (when installed using the optional Diono Angle Adjuster accessory)

Space Gained +5″

Grade:  D (when installed without Angle Adjuster)

Space Gained +0″

Notes:  Seat installed very upright with the optional Angle Adjuster accessory. Angle adjuster only allowed if child has complete head control and can sit up unassisted. Results also apply to Diono Pacifica, Olympia, Radian R120 & R100. Full Diono Radian RXT Review Here. Diono Rainier preview here.

Diono Rainier without angle adjuster in Freestar  

Diono Rainier with Angle Adjuster installed in Freestar  

 

Evenflo Triumph 65

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell; RF seated height 23″ tall; FF 22-65 lbs or up to 50″ tall.

Grade:  A-

Space Gained +4.5″

Notes:  Only 1 base position (#1) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. More info on the Evenflo Triumph can be found here.

 Evenflo Triumph

 

Evenflo Symphony DLX/e3

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of headrest in second height setting; RF seated height 23″ tall; FF 22-65 lbs or up to 50″ tall.

Grade:  A-

Space Gained +4.5″

Notes:  2 lowest headrest height positions may be used for RF. Only 1 base position (#1) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Results also apply to Symphony LX & Snugli All-In-One. Full Symphony 65 Review Here.

Evenflo Symphony 65

 

Evenflo SureRide

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell and child height 40″ or less; RF seated height 25″ tall; FF 22-65 lbs or up to 54″ tall.

Grade:  C+

Space Gained +2.5″

Notes:  Single position for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a tightly rolled towel under recline leg (pool noodle won’t work in this case). Results also apply to Evenflo Titan65 (institutional model).

Evenflo SureRide

 

Graco Size4Me / Head Wise

Specs:  RF 4-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from bottom of red plastic actuator when headrest fully extended; RF max seated height 27.5″ tall; FF 20-65 lbs or up to 52″ tall.

Grade:  A (when installed with headrest flush with main shell)

Space Gained +5″

Grade:  C- (when installed with headrest fully extended)

Space Gained +1.5″

Notes:  Only 1 base position (#1) allowed for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Full Size4Me Review Here.

Graco Head Wise/ Size4Me  Graco Head Wise/Size4Me - HR fully extended

 

Graco My Ride 65

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell; RF seated height 24″ tall; FF 20-65 lbs or up to 49″ tall.

Grade:  B-

Space Gained +3″

Notes:  Single position for rear-facing installation. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Results also apply to My Ride 70. Full My Ride 65 Review Here.

Graco My Ride 65

 

Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 (without TinyFit)

Specs:  RF 9-40 lbs; RF height limit is child height 40″ and top of head below top of headrest; RF max seated height 25″ tall; FF 22-70 lbs or up to 52″ tall.

Grade:  A+ (when installed in semi-recline position #2 with headrest fully extended)*

Space Gained +7.5″

Grade:  B (when installed in full recline position #3; headrest fully extended)

Space Gained +3.5″

Notes:  Recline position #3 (full recline) or #2 (semi-reclined) may be used to achieve an appropriate RF recline angle as per the level-to-ground-line angle indicator. These options create more potential for finding a suitable recline angle and taking up less space. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. *When CR was installed in semi-recline #2 position in my vehicle, the level line was NOT level to ground (see pics below) and the seat was very upright. Since the level line on this CR is just a line on the side of the shell and there isn’t an allowable angle range for RF, the angle achieved will vary based on the slope of your vehicle’s seat cushion. The recline angle achieved using the #2 position was similar to how the Radian installed with the angle adjuster in this seating position. Technically, it isn’t a correct installation because the level line isn’t level to the ground. However, with a whopping +7.5″ of RF space gained, perhaps this could fall under the “parental decision” category if you had an older RF child who preferred to sit very upright? Full Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 Review Here.

 Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 - reclined  Recline position #3 (level line is level)  Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 Reclined - HR extended

Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 - upright  Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 - upright  Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 - level line not level

 

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5-70

Specs:  RF 5-45 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of adjustable headrest when extended to 7th height setting; RF max seated height 24″ tall; FF 22-70 lbs or up to 49″ tall.

Grade:  A (when installed with headrest flush with shell)

Space Gained +5″

Grade:  A- (when installed with headrest extended to max RF height setting)

Space Gained +4.5″

Notes:  Only 1 base position allowed for rear-facing installation. Headrest height positions 1-7 may be used for RF. Positions 8, 9 & 10 are FF only. Recline may be increased, if necessary, by using a pool noodle or tightly rolled towel under base. Full Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible Review Here.

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible  Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible - HR extended

 

Safety 1st Complete Air 65

Specs:  RF 5-40 lbs; RF height limit is child height 40″; RF seated height 27.5″ tall; FF 22-65 lbs or up to 52″ tall.

Grade:  D

Space Gained +.5″

Notes:  CR has a dual level-line indicator. Seat was installed with more upright line level to ground. This angle is allowed for child over 22 lbs. who can sit upright unassisted. If I needed to install the seat at a more reclined angle for a child weighing less than 22 lbs then it would have taken up a ridiculous amount of room, even in my minivan. Even at the max upright angle this seat is a space hog and would have required the use of noodles or a tightly rolled towel to achieve the appropriate recline (this was the basic Complete Air model and lacked the adjustable base found on the LX model). Since I was installing just for the sake of measuring, I took the lazy way out and just wedged the edge of the CR into the vehicle seat cushion and it stayed tight. Full Review of the Safety 1st Complete Air Here.

Safety 1st Complete Air

 

The First Years True Fit Premier C670

Specs:  RF 5-35 lbs; RF height limit 1″ rule from top of shell with upper headrest portion attached; RF max seated height 27″ tall; FF 23-65 lbs or up to 50″ tall.

Grade:  C- (when installed using the “Toddler” recline position; upper headrest portion attached)

Space Gained +1.5″

Grade:  D (when installed using the “Infant” recline position; upper headrest portion attached)

Space Gained +0″

Notes: CR has removable upper headrest portion that can be removed if child weighs less than 22  lbs and if the 1″ rule hasn’t been exceeded. This helps this seat to fit better in smaller vehicles when you need the full recline angle for a young baby. I did not measure or grade the seat without the upper headrest because it’s fairly pointless if it doesn’t fit in your vehicle RF with the upper headrest attached. CR has anti-rebound bar. Results should also apply to new True Fit SI C680 & True Fit I-Alert C685 models. Full Review of The First Years True Fit Premier c670 Here.

True Fit Premier in toddler recline position  True Fit Premier in infant recline position

 

Conclusion:

There are so many variables that go into every carseat/vehicle compatibility scenario that it’s impossible to accurately predict which seat is going to be the “best” convertible for rear-facing *your* child in *your* vehicle. The complexity of the situation is amplified by the plethora of options and features available on various convertibles. Still, it was our intention here at CarseatBlog to put together a comprehensive comparison that would serve as a resource for parents and caregivers searching for an extended-use convertible that would keep their rear-facing toddler or older child safe and comfortable without sacrificing the safety and comfort of the driver and/or front seat passenger.

As always, the best advice for any carseat purchase is to “try before you buy”. However, in cases where that isn’t possible then the next best thing is to order from someplace with easy, free returns in case it doesn’t work out.  For example, Amazon offers a wide selection of carseats at competitive prices and they offer free shipping AND free returns on all seats that they sell directly.

We hope this info was helpful to you! It was an exhausting but enlightening process for me too!  You should also check out our all-inclusive list of Rear-Facing Convertible Measurements, Height Limits & Weight Limits.

And see our Extensive List of CarseatBlog Carseat Reviews for additional information!