Gather ’round as I tell you a tale of bygone days, when dinosaurs roamed the land and there were no affordable, higher-weight-harness combination seats with tall top harness slots that worked well in all modes of usage. Ah, it was a bleak era indeed, until one day the clouds parted and the Graco Nautilus emerged! It was affordable and reliably harnessed those taller, larger, older kids. There was much rejoicing. Could things get any better? Oh, yes, they could. The Nautilus begat the Argos 70, and the Argos 70 begat the Argos 70 Elite, and…
Ahem. Sorry about that.
My point is that the Nautilus was really a groundbreaking seat when it debuted in 2007, and since then Graco has built upon its success. These combination seats install easily, fit kids well, and they’re versatile – converting from a harnessed seat into a high-back booster and then eventually into a backless booster. The Argos Elite has some really nice features that make it an excellent choice for anyone looking for a next-step seat after a convertible.
What sets the Argos apart from the Nautilus? The Argos harnesses to 70 lbs vs. the Nautilus’ 65 lbs. The Argos Elite features a lockoff for seatbelt installations (a feature also available on the Nautilus Elite) and a no-rethread harness that can be adjusted from the front while the seat is installed. The Elite version of the Argos also includes width-adjustable headwings and fabric-covered armrests with additional pockets. All versions of the Nautilus and Argos feature steel reinforcement, EPS foam, and have identical dimensions.
Graco Argos 70 Elite Specs & Measurements:
- Height/weight range harness: 27-52″ and 20-70 lbs (and at least 1 year old)
- Height/weight range high-back booster: 38-57″ and 30-100 lbs
- Height/weight range backless booster: 40-57″ and 40-120 lbs
- Widest exterior dimensions: 20″ (front of seat at armrests)
- Narrowest part of base: just over 12″ (at the back)
- Interior measurement of headwings at closest setting: 7″
- Interior measurement of wings at widest setting: 10″
- Height of seatback (before adjuster handle): 29.5″
- Seating area depth: 14″
- Crotch strap slots: 6″ and 7″
- Lowest harness slot: 14″
- Highest harness slot: 18.5″
- Highest booster guide: 20″
I love that Graco puts the weight limits right on the seat. No confusion there!
Fit to Child
The Argos features five harness height settings ranging from about 14″ to 18.5″. Although it’s not the absolute tallest combination seat out there, it’s sufficient to harness most kids to the point when they’re ready for a booster.
Although we don’t like to see kids under age 2 in forward-facing seats, the Argos does an amazing job fitting children even younger than that. That’s not necessarily a positive thing for safety advocates, but if people are going to forward-face a young child anyway, at least they’ll have a good fit.
This is my 25-lb, 35″, just-turned-2-year-old (wears 24-month shirts) on the bottom harness position. He still rides rear-facing, but the Argos would work nicely for him if he didn’t.
Here is Alicia’s son (3 years old, 40″, 34 lbs):
This is my 41″, 35-lb, slightly long-torsoed 4-year-old (size 5 shirts). She’s at that stage where the second harness position is slightly too low, and the third seems slightly too high. High is better than low for a forward-facing seat, though.
Here she is with the harness set at the top height (my finger is marking where the harness is, since it’s hard to see). It’s above her ear! You can see that she’d last FOREVER in this seat.
As a booster, the Argos can be hit-or-miss. So much depends on the child and the belt geometry in particular cars. As you can see, the shoulder belt fits my daughter fine in our 2010 Honda Odyssey. The lap belt is too high for my liking, though. But keep in mind that at her age and size, my daughter is still too young and too small for me to feel comfortable with her riding in any booster seat.
You can see the fit is about the same in a 2007 Honda Civic:
The Argos as a high-back booster won’t last as long as some others. My 9-year-old is too tall, but he wears a size 10/12 shirt and just about passes the 5-step test, so he’s a bit beyond the range of most high-back boosters anyway. You can see that the shoulder guide is just a bit under his shoulder.
The belt guides on the high-back Argos booster are really nice. Often times, belts are really easy to thread into a guide, but then they fall out just as easily. Other times, the belt might stay in a guide only because it’s so hard to thread it in or out. The Argos provides the best of both worlds: Easy to get the belt in and out when you want to, but just about impossible for it to slip out if you don’t.
Generally it’s hard to give a recommendation for a seat because I don’t know what a person drives or what their skill level is for installing car seats. The Argos Elite is one of those seats I feel good recommending to almost anyone simply because it tends to fit well in a wide range of vehicles and because it’s so easy to install. (Of course there will always be exceptions, but the Argos Elite is a good bet.)
In harness mode with a lap-shoulder belt, you open the lockoff on the side OPPOSITE the buckle (so the side where the belt comes out). Simply route the belt through the beltpath, behind the seat cover, and buckle. Put some weight in the seat, pull the belt webbing up near the buckle and feed it back into the retractor. Close the lockoff over the SHOULDER portion of the belt, check for tightness, and you’re done! (Remember to attach the top tether, too.)
One oddity is that the manual states that with a lap/shoulder belt with sliding latchplates, you must switch the belt into locked mode or use a locking clip. This would make perfect sense for a seat without a built-in lockoff, but since the Argos Elite has one, that step isn’t necessary. I have a feeling that portion of the manual was copied and pasted from a non-Elite Nautilus or Argos manual. Graco has confirmed that if you use the lockoff, then you do not need to put your seatbelt into locked (ALR) mode or use a locking clip.
If using LATCH, it’s just as easy–if not easier. The LATCH belt comes already routed through the beltpath, and the hooks are stored on either side. Simply unhook them, attach them to the lower anchors in your vehicle, put weight in the seat, and tighten. Don’t forget the tether!
The connectors are the standard hook style, not the premium push-on connectors. I don’t really mind the hook style connectors but for an “Elite” seat, premium push-on LATCH connectors would be nice.
Graco states a LATCH limit of 48 pounds (child weight only) for the Argos, though some vehicles have lower limits, so keep that in mind.
Graco allows this seat to be installed in the center seating position using non-standard LATCH spacing as long as the vehicle manufacturer specifically allows this and as long as the spacing between the lower anchor bars is 11″ or greater.
The Argos manual is not clear as to whether Graco allows LATCH to be used with their combination seats in booster mode. Early Nautilus manuals allowed it, then they didn’t, then…it got confusing. The Argos manual specifically says not to use LATCH in booster mode, but it seems to be a precaution to keep people from using it instead of the seatbelt to secure the child. We asked Graco for clarification and here is their reply: Graco does allow the use of the LATCH system for the Argos Car Seat in Belt Positioning or Booster mode. The LATCH system will allow you to secure the booster seat to the vehicle, and you will secure your child in the booster seat with the vehicle lap/shoulder belt. Since the LATCH system only secures the booster seat to the vehicle in this application, it may be used regardless of the weight of the child (up to the maximum weight recommendation of the seat). For a secure installation using the LATCH system while in booster mode, please verify that the LATCH does not interfere with other vehicle belt connectors and the vehicle lap/shoulder belt and LATCH anchorages align side-to-side.
The Argos has three recline positions. The recline is very slight and doesn’t really do a whole lot to reposition the rider. Mostly it’s useful in helping the seat fit different vehicle contours. Here it is with the recline fully retracted and fully extended:
I installed the Argos with LATCH in the captain’s chair of our 2010 Honda Odyssey, and with the seatbelt in that position, the third row outboard of the Odyssey, and the driver’s side back seat of a 2007 Honda Civic. I had no problem getting a tight installation in any of those instances. The only issue I had was getting the top tether tight enough in the Civic, but that’s a common problem related to that vehicle due to the placement of the tether anchor. Here it is in the Civic (with the tether not yet attached).
Alicia said installation was a breeze in both of her vehicles. Here it is in the center of a 2001 Toyota 4Runner, puzzled next to a Chicco NextFit:
And here it is outboard in a 2005 Honda CR-V:
Ease of Use
The Argos comes mostly assembled, but there are a couple steps you need to take to attach the back. It’s fairly simple, and the manual includes clear instructions, but it’ll take a minute or two.
Two years ago Graco switched to a different buckle style on their combination seats and a lot of people had trouble with the buckles. They’re harder to buckle and unbuckle, and they would sometimes get stuck for no apparent reason. My Argos came with that type of buckle. But the good news is that Graco listened to the concerns and now has newer-style buckles that are easier to use. You can call Graco to get a replacement if you have the difficult kind.
Replacing the buckle takes a few steps but is really very easy, especially with the detailed, step-by-step photo instructions Graco sends with the new buckle.
Graco also sent a new chest clip that appears to be identical to the old one except for the color. The instructions say to re-thread the old one, but I assume you could use the new one, too, and I assume the new one was sent just so it would match the color of the new buckle. I kept the old one on, though, just to mix things up a little. I’m a rebel like that.
So what’s the verdict on the new buckle? Is it easier to use than the previous generation?
I should admit here that I never had trouble with the previous “difficult” buckle. Yes, you did have to buckle it in just the right way, but I never found it to be an issue. I also had no trouble releasing it, and it never got stuck for me. (I used that style of buckle for a while on this Argos and for a long time on a Size4Me.)
This new one is easier to buckle and I think most people will be pleased with it. My 4-year-old can actually do it, and she wasn’t able to buckle the one that came with the seat. She can’t unbuckle it, though. For me, unbuckling is mostly a toss-up between the replacement and the one that came with the seat. Alicia was more enthusiastic, though, saying the new buckle is much easier.
Tightening the harness is very easy. It’s not quite as smooth as I remember my old Nautilus being, but it’s certainly not the kind of thing you’ll have to fight with. I find it easier if I wait to buckle the chest clip until after it’s tightened.
I love being able to adjust the harness height from the front of the seat while it’s installed. I don’t have multiple kids riding in it so it’s not something I need to do often, but it’s so nice to be able to install the seat without worrying whether my kid will fit differently once it’s in (hey, it happens!). If it does, no problem. Just push in the red button on the top of the seat, and slide up or down until it clicks into place at the height you need.
The pad on the crotch strap is a little annoying because it kept sliding up over the buckle and I had to keep shoving it down. Not too big a deal, though, and it’s removable.
My daughter liked the seat a lot and didn’t complain about anything except not being able to buckle (until we replaced the buckle). Some people say their kids’ heads slump forward when they sleep in this seat; since my kids don’t really sleep in the car, I can’t comment on this.
Because the Argos has a fairly tall base, it took a little effort for my daughter to climb in each time, but nothing that caused her to complain. I think she kind of enjoyed it.
The harness covers were comfortable for her, and she’s very sensitive about stuff rubbing her neck. Like most kids, she loved the cubbies and cupholder. The Argos Elite comes with fabric-covered armrests that each include a small outer pocket in case the cubbies and cupholder don’t provide enough storage for your kid. (The covers are also easily removable if your child is the type to drip juice-box all over the place.)
The Argos Elite also comes with an optional body support to be used by kids under 35 lbs. Since my daughter is exactly 35 lbs we didn’t use it, but as I said, she was perfectly comfortable without it.
The Argos Elite (and Nautilus Elite) come with headwings that can be adjusted to two different widths. Although I had them in the outer position for my daughter most of the time, she thought the inner position was “cozy” and liked snuggling into them.
The wings contain EPS foam and the cover contains lots of comfort foam. Very squishy!
Converting to booster mode
If there’s one downside to the Argos, it’s that the conversion between harness and booster modes takes some work. For a while I debated whether I could complete this review without actually doing it, but ultimately decided I had no choice.
I started by taking off the cover. You don’t actually need to take off the whole thing, but I needed some “naked” photos anyway, so I went all out. The cover is not the easiest to get off. It’s mostly hooks and elastic loops with some Velcro and plastic tabs thrown in. (Actually, getting it off isn’t so bad–it’s putting it back on that gives me headaches. I always wind up with at least one stray loop.)
After you’ve at least pulled back the bottom cover, you remove the harness from the splitter plate, pull it through the front of the seat, and then you need to partially detach the back of the seat from the bottom using a set of red tabs. Once you’ve done that, you can remove the harness from where it attaches near the hips, then either replace the back or remove it entirely, depending on whether you want to use it as a backless or high-back booster.
Here’s a video to show you the process:
- Relatively affordable for the features you get
- Easy to install
- Includes a lockoff for simple seatbelt installations (required if child weighs more than 48 lbs)
- Can be installed in center position with LATCH if vehicle manufacturer speficically allows that
- Fits kids well in harness mode
- LATCHable in booster mode
- Cupholder and cubbies!
- Easy-to-tighten harness
- No re-thread harness that adjusts from the front
- Basic hook style LATCH connectors
- Not the easiest cover to remove/reattach
- Takes some effort to assemble and to convert to booster mode
- Made in China (but to be fair, so are many other good quality carseats)
The Argos Elite isn’t as flashy as some other high-weight-harness combination seats, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a solid, functional, relatively affordable seat that installs easily and is easy to use. If you don’t need the lockoff for seatbelt installations, you could probably get away with a Nautilus, but if you want the ease of adjusting the harness height from the front, without uninstalling the seat (especially important if the seat is used by more than one kid), the Argos 70 Elite is a great choice. It’s also on our Recommended Seats list!
Thanks to Graco for providing an Argos Elite for our review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are those of CarseatBlog.