When my daughter turned 4 in March, I let her start riding forward-facing in the car even though she technically still fit rear-facing in a few of the convertible seats we owned. Thanks to trusted friends with trusted seats to lend, plus some reviews CarseatBlog needed, we’ve been able to try out just about every forward-facing combination seat out there. I’ll admit that by the time we got to the Recaro Performance SPORT, I was a little burned out on trying new seats, and I wasn’t optimistic it would do anything to wow me. Boy was I wrong!
The Performance SPORT is similar to the discontinued Recaro ProSport model but has some nice updated features, which I’ll get to in a minute. You can also read our review of the original ProSport here.
First, the Performance SPORT stats:
Height/weight range harness: 27-50″ and 20-90 lbs (and at least 1 year old)
Height/weight range booster: 37-59″ and 30-120 lbs
Narrowest part of base: 11.25″ (at very back)
Widest part of base: 17″ (toward front)
Seat back: 27″
Seat depth: 14″
Crotch strap positions: 6″, 7″, 8″
Seated Shoulder Height Measurements:
Lowest harness height (of 4): 12″
Highest harness height (of 4): 18″
Highest booster height: 20″
The Performance SPORT features seatback and harness heights similar to many other combination seats on the market, with four harness height positions, the highest of which is about 18″ tall. There are some seats with higher top slots, but 18″ should be sufficient to get most kids to the point where they are big enough and mature enough to safely transition to booster mode on this seat.
How is the Performance SPORT improved from the previous ProSport model? It features a quick-flip recline mechanism, a HERO system to help keep the harness from twisting (more on this in a bit), memory foam for comfort, and temperature-balancing fabrics.
The Performance SPORT feature side-impact protection (tested to European standards), premium push-on LATCH connectors, a no-rethread harness, and EPS foam.
Fit to Child
Because the lowest harness slots are only 12″ high, the Perfomance SPORT could fit very small children astoundingly well. But that’s not really a good thing. Remember, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that all children ride in a rear-facing carseat (like the Recaro Performance RIDE convertible which can be used rear-facing or forward-facing) if they are younger than 2 years old. Honestly, any child small enough to fit in the Performance SPORT on the lowest harness height setting could easily still be rear-facing in a convertible seat, likely for a very long time. Still, if parents are going to forward-face a very small or young child anyway, at least they’ll have a good harness fit.
Here is my just-turned-2-year-old, who is 35″, 25 lbs, and wears size 24-month shirts. He was too tall for the lowest harness position, so I had to move it up to the second:
The Performance Sport should last most kids for a long time in harness mode. My 41″, 35-lb 4-year-old is on the slightly taller side and wearing size 5 shirts. She’s JUST even with the second harness position. The large harness pads (though optional) just didn’t work right in that position, as they sort of stuck straight out. Because of that, and since she was just about to need to move up anyway, I put the harness on the third setting. Here she is on the second and third settings:
She has even more growing room before she would outgrow the top (4th) harness height position. My guess is she’d have at least two years left in this seat using the 5-point harness, and possibly more.
Here’s Darren’s son, who’s 8 years old and 53″ tall. He’s close to maxing out the harness by height, but still has a bit of room:
The Performance Sport has three loops on the end of the harness so you can adjust the length for smaller kids. It comes set to the longest setting, which was just fine for us. I even used that setting for my 2-year-old. I can’t imagine needing the smaller loops except for a very, very small child on the bottom harness setting.
I wasn’t thrilled with the fit as a booster, but keep in mind my daughter is still younger and lighter than what’s considered ideal for booster seats. In the captain’s chair of our 2010 Honda Odyssey, the lap and shoulder fit were marginal. In the driver’s side rear seat of a 2007 Honda Civic, the lap belt looked a little better, but the shoulder portion looked a bit worse.
One thing I didn’t like is that the belt guides on the Performance SPORT in booster mode seem to be much farther forward than what I’m used to. This makes it hard to buckle, and it causes the shoulder belt to bunch a little, making it difficult to pull out all of the slack in the lap belt portion of the seatbelt.
Remember that every child and every seating position is different, so your results may vary.
Here’s Darren’s 8-year-old using it as a booster. The seatbelt fit is excellent, and he’s got room to grow.
My very tall 9-year-old wears a size 10/12 shirt and almost passes the 5-step test to wear just the adult seatbelt. Not surprisingly, he’s too tall for the booster, but not by much.
The Performance SPORT is a little “different” in how it installs with a seatbelt. Like the original ProSport, the belt path isn’t enclosed behind the seat. Instead, the belt path is exposed and visible from the front of the seat. In a way, it’s very easy. In another way, it’s sort of disconcerting just because it seems like it shouldn’t be that way!
In practice, it doesn’t seem to be an issue, though. I worried that the belt might poke my daughter in the back, but she didn’t complain at all. And I’ve gotta say that not having to scratch up my hands in an interior belt path does make things a lot easier.
Here’s a video showing how to install with a lap/shoulder seatbelt:
It seems like having the seatbelt right there behind the child could be uncomfortable, but my daughter didn’t notice at all. Although the manual mentions only routing the belt under the top fabric flap, we talked to a Recaro rep who said it’s fine to route the belt behind that bottom fabric, too, if you’d like. They also have a foam insert available to put in front of the seatbelt if comfort is an issue, but like I said, I didn’t find it to be a problem at all.
There is one other potential issue to having the seatbelt route on the front of the seat, and that’s how the seatbelt can interfere with the harness slots. Here are some naked photos showing how the seatbelt lies in relation to the harness in all four positions. (This is the driver’s side captain’s chair in a 2010 Honda Odyssey.)
You can see that in each case, the belt overlaps the harness slot, sometimes more than others—and it looks rather shocking.
However, in all cases, I had no difficultly adjusting the harness as tight as it needed to be. Even though my shoulder belt was locked, the tightening harness just kind of shoved it out of the way, and that was that.
So although it seems like this could be a major problem, in practice it didn’t seem to be an issue at all. However, it’s possible that people with different vehicles (and therefore different seatbelt geometries) might have differing results.
With LATCH, the seat installed very easily. The connectors are stored in little pockets on either side of the belt path, nicely hidden but easily accessible. Just take them out, pop them on, and tighten.
LATCH use must be discontinued at 52 lbs. The top tether also can’t be used past 52 lbs, even when a seatbelt is being used. Considering that most safety experts believe top tether usage is extremely important even (or especially) for older, heavier kids, the tether restriction is a disappointment. However, because of the way the shoulder belt routes over the top of the seat, that could potentially provide some tether-like benefits.
You must use a tether when installing with a lap-only belt. If you have a lap-only belt but no top tether in that seating position, you need to move it to a position with a top tether or with a shoulder belt. Of course, since you must use the tether with a lap-only belt, but can’t use the top tether at all past 52 lbs, that means you can’t use a lap belt at all past 52 lbs, either.
The good news is that you can use LATCH to secure the seat in booster mode, regardless of the child’s weight.
I installed the seat in the captain’s chair and the third row passenger side of a 2010 Odyssey and in the driver’s side rear seat of a 2007 Honda Civic and had no trouble getting a tight, almost effortless installation. The only issue I had was getting the top tether tight enough in the Civic, but that’s an issue with many seats in that car due to the position of the tether anchor. Here it is in the third row of the Odyssey at its highest setting, and in the Civic in the third setting (second-highest).
The Performance Sport has a quick-flip recline feature which I would have missed entirely had I not seen a chart touting it. It’s a foot on the bottom of the seat that can flip forward to give the seat a bit more recline. A couple issues with the recline:
First, I read through the manual four times and saw no mention of the recline feature at all. It is possible that I missed it, but I specifically looked for it—many times—and saw nothing. I don’t know if there are situations where it’s not allowed, if it’s allowed in booster mode, etc. (Incidentally, Recaro says the vehicle seat should be upright when installing the Performance Sport, so that can interfere with the ability for a reclined child restraint to fit well.)
Second, when you flip the recline foot forward, it looks like it should snap into place just like it does when it’s not engaged. However, this was really really hard to do. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get it to lock in place. Finally I asked my husband, who had to work really hard at it (and he’s a big, strong guy), and finally succeeded by doing one side then the other.
Third, when it was time to un-recline it, the foot was nearly impossible to dislodge, probably because we worked so hard getting it to lock in the first place. Again, I needed my husband to do it. When he finally pulled it free, the entire foot flew off the seat. It snapped back in place easily enough, but the whole recline scenario has me scratching my head.
Like most forward-facing combination seats, the recline doesn’t do a whole lot to change the position of the seat, so my recommendation is not to bother.
Ease of use
I have to say I was really impressed with how easy the Performance SPORT is to use. Besides installing nice and fast, it adjusts beautifully. The harness tightens smoothly—no fidgeting or needing to make little adjustments as you go: Just buckle and pull. Of the many many many combo seats I’ve used over the past few months, the Performance SPORT is definitely the easiest to tighten.
The buckle is easy to fasten and unfasten—so much so that my 4-year-old could unbuckle it when she wasn’t able to on the other seats we used. For some people, that might be a problem, but for conscientious kids who won’t unbuckle at inappropriate times, I think it’s a huge plus. The Performance SPORT also sit very low, allowing my daughter to climb in and out of it with ease.
Adjusting the height of the harness is straightforward, though not as effortless as I had hoped. It adjusts on the back of the seat, so you can’t change the height while it’s installed. You pull on a handle then lift the bar into the necessary spot. The concept is simple enough, but it takes some effort to move the bar, especially when moving up. I needed to brace the seat against my legs, use one hand to pull the lever and the other to pull the handle on the top of the seat to get it to move. It was still easier than having to rethread the harness, but not as easy as some other no-rethread harnesses out there.
The Performance SPORT has a feature called the HERO System for keeping the harness from twisting. These are lightly padded shoulder covers that are attached to each other and slip in behind the headrest. (They’re removable and optional, according to the manual). My daughter found them a bit bulky at first, but by the second trip she said she really liked them. She HATES having a harness on her neck, so she wound up really appreciating the pads. They also hold the harness out just a bit when not in use, which makes it really easy for kids to slip their arms into. Yay!
The only downside I found to the HERO covers is that once you remove the harness from them, it takes some work to get the harness back in, sort of like trying to cram a toddler’s hand into a mitten. I felt some grippy material inside, so that plus the bulk of the covers is what keeps the harness nice and straight. We didn’t have any issues at all with twisting, and I can’t imagine it would be possible for the harness to twist inside those things, even with prolonged use.
Speaking of the harness twisting, the Performance SPORT’s harness has white stitching along the outside edge to help parents see if everything is in place. If the harness is twisted, you’d be able to tell because the stitching would be out of place. Such a simple but smart idea!
The cover is held in place by large metal snaps and some Velcro. It wasn’t the easiest cover to remove and replace, but nowhere near the hardest either. I did have one complaint about the crotch-buckle cover. It seems like the bottom of it should Velcro to itself or attach in some other way. It doesn’t, though, so I guess you’re supposed to just tuck it in. The problem with that is that it slips off very easily. That should be an easy fix, and hopefully Recaro will take note of it.
Converting to booster mode does require removing the harness. That’s easy enough to do, but you’ll need to budget some time to take it out (and put it back in if you plan on using at a harnessed seat again).
This isn’t really an “ease-of-use” issue as much as a convenience one, but one complaint I have is about the lack of cupholders. The specs say the seat has cupholders, but what it really has are some elastic pockets. You can wedge a cup in there, but they seem better suited for holding toys than drinks.
As for comfort, the Performance SPORT is nicely padded and feels like a cushy (but not too squishy) lounge chair. My daughter rarely falls asleep in the car, but she happened to just as I was finishing up this review. Major bonus – No head-slump!
- Easy to install
- Premium IMMI harness & LATCH system
- Easy to tighten harness
- No-rethread height adjustment
- LATCHable in booster mode
- Kid-friendly to use
- Made in the USA!
- Harness height adjustment a bit clunky and can’t be adjusted while seat is installed
- Possible seatbelt interference with harness
- No tethering past 52 lbs.
- No lockoff for seatbelt installations
- Confusing recline
- Insufficient cupholders
I was surprised by how much I loved the Recaro Performance SPORT. While getting my daughter into the car the other day, I realized that the seat reminds me a lot of the old and much-loved Britax Regent, but not as huge and way easier to install. The low base, easy buckle, and smooth adjuster make it a dream for getting kids in and out. The open belt path makes installation a breeze, too. As with any seat, you should make sure it fits your child and installs in your car properly. Overall, I felt the Performance SPORT was a real winner and it’s included on our Recommended Carseats list as well.
The Recaro Performance SPORT is available at Amazon and other retailers for about $250.
Thanks to Recaro Child Safety for providing a a Performance SPORT for review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are those of CarseatBlog.
More info on the Recaro Performance SPORT Harness Booster can be found on the Recaro website: http://www.recaropromotion.com/performanceSport.html