The very first convertible seat I purchased was a Britax (a classic Marathon, in crocodile); I loved it, used it for two children, and it has since expired. I’m now a little nostalgic and pleased to be reviewing the latest in the Britax convertible line-up with this evaluation of the 2014 Britax Advocate in Zebra, commonly referred to as the G4 (4th generation).
With the G4 lineup, Britax has added a few convenience features to their well-loved convertibles (Marathon, Boulevard, Pavilion, and Advocate). They have also streamlined the model names by dropping the ‘65/70’ from the end, and due to impending February 2014 NHTSA regulation changes in the US, have reduced the upper weight limit to 65 lbs. Those familiar with these seats won’t be startled by the changes made by Britax, which is well-known for their ease-of-use features and premium options. The basic shell and shape remain the same as the previous G3 models, and continue to fit well rear-facing in small spaces. Although not the longest lasting of convertible seats by height, the Britax Advocate and its sister convertibles continue to be very easy to install and use, frequently fit in tiny back seats where many others won’t, and fill a niche for those not needing to rear-face their tall or long-torsoed children to kindergarten age.
Although Britax has dropped the upper weight limit and generation numbers from the product names, retailers may refer to the newest versions as the 2014 or “G4″ models. All the convertibles share the same shell and basic safety features. Here is a list summarizing the main differences:
- Britax Roundabout: This is the most budget-friendly Britax convertible. It lacks the no-rethread harness found on some higher models, but that’s really not a big deal unless you’re frequently transporting kids of different sizes in one carseat. It has a 55 pound weight limit and a 15.75″ seated torso height limit.
- Britax Highway: Essentially similar to the Roundabout, it also lacks the no-rethread harness. It is sold only at select retailers like BuyBuyBaby and Bed Bath & Beyond. The weight limit is increased to 65 pounds and it has a higher 16.5″ seated torso height limit. It adds basic HUGS harness chest pads. The XE version is bundled with an extended warranty (7 years), a cup holder and a storage pouch.
- Britax Marathon: This model adds a no-rethread harness, up to 65 pounds and 16.75″ seated torso height. Compared to the Highway, it also adds the EZ-Buckle crotch strap and an easy-remove cover. It lacks the deeper headwings found on the Boulevard, Pavilion & Advocate models.
- Britax Boulevard: This model has all the features of the Marathon, but also has deeper internal headwings for enhanced protection in side-impact crashes. It also includes advanced HUGS pads with SafeCell technology.
- Britax Pavilion: All the features of the Boulevard plus the “Click & Safe” snug harness indicator.
- Britax Advocate: All the features of the Pavilion plus Britax’s exclusive Side Impact Cushion Technology (SICT).
All the “G4″ convertibles come with an included infant insert cushion (required for babies under 22 lbs,). The Britax Advocate I received also includes optional harness strap covers, the EZ buckle pad and rubbery HUGS chest pads which are mandatory when the seat is installed forward-facing.
An anti-rebound bar is now available for all Britax G4 convertibles. It is available as an accessory (for purchase separately) directly from Britax.
Britax Advocate G4 Specs:
Rear-facing: 5-40 lbs., outgrown by height when head is within 1” of the top of the main shell (not head rest)
U.S.: 20-65 lbs. or up to 49” tall, seated shoulder height of 16.75” or less, tips of the ears below the top of the shell
Canada: 22-65 lbs., or up to 49″ tall, seated shoulder height of 16.75” or less, tips of the ears below the top of the shell, and able to walk unassisted
Lowest harness position with infant positioning pillow (required for children under 22 lbs.): 6”
Lowest harness position without infant positioning pillow: 8.5”
Highest harness position: 16.75”
A special note for Canadians only: Britax now requires the use of the Versa-Tether at all times in Canada, including while rear-facing. Britax permits rear-facing tethering in the Swedish style using the included D-ring to create a tether point, but whether this is a suitable option for you will depend on your vehicle manufacturer. The other option is Aussie-style tethering, where the tether strap runs around the top edge of the shell and connects to the designated forward-facing tether anchor point for the seating position being used. Britax is developing a tether extender for use in vehicles where the designated tether anchor point is too far away for the Versa-Tether to reach. Canadian consumers should carefully consider if either of these tethering scenarios are suitable for your vehicle before purchasing. Please reference the Britax RF tethering change FAQs.
In the United States, tethering rear-facing is recommended but not required. So, there is no change for USA parents, who may use the tether rear-facing or stow it away. There will be more info on rear-facing tethering (including a video) later in this review.
G4 Updates and Highlights – click here for a video tour:
Fabric options remain excellent, with several new colors and patterns to choose from.
Infant positioning pillow comes with the seat and is situated on top of the cover. It is well-shaped, very firm, approximately 2.5” thick, not expected to shift or slide out of position easily, and is required for use up to 22 lbs. on both Canadian and American seats, in the rear-facing orientation only.
HUGS chest pads have undergone another change, for the better! They’re now more similar to the softer, rubbery style of two versions ago, and are no longer tethered to the seat with the mini-strap as on the “G3″ convertible models. This will resolve some complaints involving difficulty loosening the harness straps on the previous G3 version, for those who hadn’t read the instructions. They do still have SafeCell Technology to better manage energy, and also now have a ridged edge that better positions the chest clip. For those children prone to pushing the chest clip down and out of position this might hinder that habit somewhat.
There is now a label sewn to the cover indicating the maximum shoulder height for a forward-facing child. It corresponds to the top harness slot in the shell and makes it easier for parents and caregivers to know when the seat is outgrown by height forward-facing. It’s hidden under the head pad when the harness is in a lowered position and is exposed only on the two highest harness positions.
Labeling on the seat is simpler, clearer, and now colour-coded. Blue indicates rear-facing instructions, and green is for forward-facing. The internal lock-offs correspond to the label colours.
Labeling for the one year age minimum to forward-face has been removed from both American and Canadian seats in order to promote the American Academy of Pediatrics guidance to keep toddlers rear-facing until they are at least 2 years of age.
Rear-facing tethering now required in Canada, see special note above.
Safety & Convenience Features of the Advocate G4
HUGS Chest Pads (Harness Ultra-Guard System) feature safe-cell technology, which compress during a crash to manage energy, as well as reduce forward movement of the child by adding friction to the harness.
The Versa-Tether is a V-shaped tether system that attaches to the upper part of the shell at two locations thereby distributing crash forces over a larger area of the shell, minimizes movement of the restraint side-to-side due to its two attachment points, limits forward head excursion when forward-facing, and extends ride-down time during a crash event by releasing a series of loops in stages, increasing the time before the forces of a crash are felt by a child.
Side Impact Cushions (SICT) are not air bags that deploy, but rather an energy-management system situated on either side of the shell. They compress to absorb energy in a crash and strategically expel air. They may reduce crash forces by up to 45% in a side-impact, and have the additional benefit of providing extra protection for adjacent passengers or carseats.
Integrated Steel Bars. Designed to reduce the forward flexing of the restraint during a crash and thereby preventing injury resulting from forward movement in the vehicle, integrated steel bars are visible down the sides of the seat, and are where the LATCH connectors are attached for both rear- and forward-facing use.
Base with SafeCell Technology. An engineered honey-comb-like structure visible in the base of the Advocate, this technology functions to reduce the risk of head injury in a crash. The Safe Cells are designed to compress, which lowers the center of gravity and counteracts the forward rotation of the restraint.
Integrated lock-offs for rear-facing and forward-facing installations with seat belt. Located inside the belt paths (under the cover), the lock-offs make for an easy seat belt install. Lock-offs are now colour coded and correspond to labels for use on the shell of the seat. Rear-facing lock-offs are blue, forward-facing are green. See here for video instructions for using the lock-offs.
EZ-Buckle. A highly convenient and much-appreciated feature this system prevents the buckle from getting trapped under a child when putting them into the seat by springing it forward and out of the way when unoccupied. Works rear-facing and forward-facing.
Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator. When all slack has been removed from a child’s hips, and the harness is properly adjusted and situated on a child’s shoulders, this mechanical device senses tension on the harness and produces an audible click when the harness is in the range of adequate tightness.
Other Advocate G4 Features
- 10 harness height positions, adjusted easily while the seat remains installed
- High-density, energy-absorbing EPP foam covers the shell and head area
- Recline: two positions for forward-facing, one for rear-facing
- Premium push-on “non-handed” LATCH connectors remain attached to integrated steel bars, eliminating the need to change belt paths when moving from rear- to forward-facing and back again.
- Easily visible and accessible LATCH storage areas
- 2-position crotch buckle position is easily and quickly adjustable
- Access to the harness release lever – easy for adults, tricky for kids!
- Attractive fashions with lots of cushy padding and comfort details
- Cover is removable for washing without uninstalling the seat
- Approved for use on aircraft
- Seven year expiration from date of manufacture
- Fun fact – it appears as though the shell is recyclable!
- Optional accessories (not included) include a cup holder, seat protector and travel bag.
Installation & Use
Installation with LATCH (UAS for those of you in Canada) remains quick and easy, done in seconds and without much effort. For rear-facing installations, ensure that the seat is fully reclined (pull handle at front edge of the seat), and then use the level line on the side of the seat as a guide. Britax allows a recline of between 30⁰ and 45⁰, with the level line at the mid-point of the two. Ensure a full 45⁰ recline for newborns to protect their airway, using a piece of pool noodle or tightly rolled towel at the seat bight if needed, with more upright angles permitted for older children who can tolerate it. Even fully reclined the seat fits nicely rear-facing in small spaces. Note that the use of the lower anchors comes with a weight limit: when the child reaches 40 lbs. switch to a seat belt install, unless your vehicle indicates a lower weight limit for the use of the lower anchors.
Center LATCH installations with non-standard spacing are allowed by Britax as long as the spacing between the lower anchors is 11-20 inches and as long as your vehicle manufacturer expressly allows a carseat to be installed in the center seating position using LATCH.
Seat belt installations offer several options depending on whether you’re using the integrated lock-offs, locking your seat belt at the retractor, or using a lap belt, and having a choice is appealing. Reference your vehicle manual to determine how your belt locks, and the Advocate manual for compatible belt types and appropriate routing. Britax’s instructions for use of the lock-off differ from other seats with a lock-off, and indicate a relatively loose install prior to closing the lock-off, and then tightening the belt through the closed lock-off. If you drive a vehicle with inflatable seat belts it’s important to carefully follow Britax’s instructions for use, available here.
I was able to achieve a good rear-facing installation in both my 03 Honda Civic and 03 Honda Odyssey in all seating positions. The front passenger seat can be all the way back in the Civic even when the seat is reclined fully for a newborn. Watch here for a video tutorial of a rear-facing installation using the lap/shoulder belt and the lock-offs.
Forward-facing installation is equally simple using either LATCH or seat belt, and again reference your manuals for information about your seat belt and how to route it. Note that no re-routing is required of the LATCH connectors that remain attached to the integrated steel bars on the side of the seat, but when installing with the belt a deliberate choice of belt path is required. Note colour coded lock-offs that correspond to colour coding in the manual, and on the labels on the side of the seat: blue is rear-facing, green is forward-facing.
If there is interference between the vehicle head restraint and the extended head pad of the Advocate when installed forward-facing it’s important not to force or deform the Advocate’s head pad. If your vehicle head restraint is not adjustable or removable (consult your vehicle manual!) consider a more upright positioning of the Advocate, or an alternate seating position.
In Canada it is mandatory to use the Versa-Tether at all times, both rear- and forward-facing, and in the US it is strongly recommended. Consult your vehicle manual for guidance regarding tether anchor points. The video below shows both tethering options permitted for rear-facing.
Harness Height Adjustment: Adjusting the harness height is quick and easy with the no-rethread harness, and one-handed mechanism. It was stiff to operate the first few times but after that easily adjusted taller or shorter. Note the new label sewn in to the cover (picture below) that corresponds with maximum seated shoulder height. This is a very nice visual reminder for parents and caregivers that this seat, like most forward-facing harnessed seats, is outgrown when the shoulders reach the highest harness position. If a child is not yet booster-ready when reaching this limit consider a taller harnessed seat for continued use before boostering.
Crotch Buckle Adjustment: The G4 Advocate has two crotch buckle positions, easily switchable from one to the other, and correct positioning depends on the mode and direction of install, and weight of the child. The crotch buckle simple slides through a channel, and must be fully engaged in one slot or another and not hanging out in between. Be sure to also switch which slot in the fabric cover the crotch buckle is routed through.
Cleaning: Cover removal is easy and quick! No need to uninstall the seat as it just slips off the shell. Hand wash using cold water and mild soap, and line dry to prevent the cover from shrinking. Various other components can be washed as instructed in the manual, and replaced if needed.
Fit to Child
Rear-facing fit has changed from previous versions of the Advocate with the addition of the infant positioning pillow, a firm, well-fitted insert that comes with the seat and is REQUIRED for use with a child less than 22 lbs., and only while rear-facing. This makes for a very nice fit on small babies, and fit my 6.5″ torsoed doll quite nicely, with a bit of room to spare. Together with its compact shell the Advocate is a good choice if using a convertible from birth rather than an infant seat. Geometry and placement of the harness will vary depending on the child’s size and shape.
Although the Advocate has a shorter overall shell than some other convertible seats available, it will still fit many children rear-facing through age three or more, and forward-facing quite often until booster readiness. It is very difficult to estimate fit purely with a measuring tape, and it is always advisable to try your child in a seat, and the seat in the car, before purchasing. Children are proportioned and shaped differently and this can very much affect the longevity of a seat for your child. Many of these photos were taken indoors as it was a frosty -27F (-32C) and a whirling snowstorm the day I had these models available, and while every effort was made to angle the seat as if it was installed, it is important to note that fit CAN change once the seat is in a vehicle.
Both of these girls at left and in centre are 3.5, about 35lbs, and 39-40″ tall, yet look how differently they fit in the seat! Child on the left is WAY too tall to rear-face in this seat (there must be at least 1″ of hard shell above the head) and the child in the middle can still squeak by rear-facing. Child on the right is 27 months and about 25 lbs. Proportions and body shape matter!
Forward-facing kids will fit differently too. Girl on the left is 4.5 years old and about 41″ tall. She is on the second-highest headrest position. Boy on the right is 5, about 46″ tall, and 46 lbs. Notice how much torso room is left by how far up the head pad is raised.
Advocate G4 Pros:
- SICT side impact cushions for improved energy management in a side impact crash
- Generally very easy to install with LATCH or with seat belt
- Easy front adjustment for harness height with 10 positions
- EZ Buckle System is wonderful
- Two crotch strap positions
- Better than average fit rear-facing in smaller cars
- Ability to tether rear-facing
- Click & Safe harness adjuster helps parents and caregivers know when the harness is in the realm of tightness
- Seated maximum shoulder height label for visual reminder of when seat is outgrown
- Infant positioning pillow provides excellent fit on newborns
- Made in USA
- Rear-facing height limit isn’t as tall as some other models
- Width. The SICT cushions make it rather wide. For a narrower seat, opt for the Pavilion G4 that is essentially the same as the Advocate G4, but without the SICT feature
- I did find it difficult to adjust the harness height when installed forward-facing with the seat belt; not an issue at all when installed with LATCH. Perhaps it was just the geometry of my particular vehicle, and a reminder that it is worthwhile to try a seat in all seating positions with LATCH and then the belt to determine if it will work for your family long term.
- For Canadians only: the requirement to rear-face tether presents a logistical challenge for many.
For those in the USA, these drawbacks are mostly subjective and relatively minor. Canadian parents will need to carefully consider if either Swedish- or Aussie-style tethering while rear-facing is appropriate and logistically manageable for their family before committing. Please reference the Britax RF tethering change FAQs.
Compared to previous iterations, the 2014 Britax Advocate G4 hasn’t changed significantly for American parents and the minor changes that have been made are largely positive. The seat is still a great option for tight front-to-back spaces, very easy to install, and lovely to use with nice convenience features. It’s also stylish and attractive which isn’t as important as safety and ease-of-use features but it’s a nice bonus. The infant positioning pillow may become more difficult to buckle around when a child is nearing the 22 lbs. cut-off, but again will depend entirely on the shape of the child and fit in the seat. New fabric options are eye-catching and the labeling is easy to follow. The maximum shoulder height label and improved HUGS pads are simple, yet noteworthy additions. The removal of the one year age limit to forward-face may seem misplaced on the surface, but Britax does this to encourage rear-facing until at least age two, according to AAP guidelines. This is noted several times in the owner’s manual. The seat remains easy to install, particularly with the LATCH system. Unlike the other Britax convertibles, the Advocate, with its side impact cushions, is very wide. If side-to-side space is a concern this is probably not a good choice for you as it absolutely encroaches on adjacent seating positions – but consider the Britax Pavilion G4 instead which is essentially an Advocate G4 without the SICT cushions.
Britax webpage for the Advocate G4: http://www.britaxusa.com/car-seats/advocate
Thank you to Britax USA for supplying the Advocate G4 used in this review.