In the November 2009 issue, Consumer Reports listed the Cosco Scenera as one of their Top Products.  Does the Scenera qualify as a “top product?”  It was introduced as a replacement to the Cosco Touriva back in 2005.  It’s a convertible seat that’s basically tried and true: it has reliable belt paths that are easy to access, installs well in a wide variety of vehicles, and is a low-cost seat.  This is a convertible (rear-facing and forward-facing) child restraint for kids 5-40 lbs. who are less than 43″ tall.  Rear-facing the seat is rated from 5-35 lbs.  Forward-facing, it can be used for children over 1 year old who weigh between 22-40 lbs. Keep in mind that even though the Scenera can be used for children over age 1 and 22 lbs., the American Academy of Pediatrics now highly recommends rear-facing to at least age 2.

The is a basic seat and some models may have a removable cupholder, infant head roll, toddler pillow, and harness strap covers.

Dorel is an umbrella company under which many other companies exist.   Cosco, Safety 1st, Eddie Bauer, Maxi Cosi, Quinny, Alpha Elite, and Alpha Sport are all brands under the Dorel name.

Features and Advantages

5-point Harness: The harness is good quality and is nontwisting.  The buckle tongues fit the width of the harness and allow the harness to slide freely through them.  The harness is all one strap, though, so care must be taken that it doesn’t get twisted underneath the seat.

High Rear-Facing Weight Limit: Dorel has, for years, had the only convertible car seats with rear-facing weight limits to 35 lbs.  Other manufacturers have caught up now, but the Scenera has had the high rear-facing weight limit for years when other seats didn’t.  Rear-facing is the safest way for kids to travel; for many years, experts have recommended rear-facing for as long as possible and one study has shown that it’s five times safer for children under age 2 to ride that way.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing for children for as long as the convertible seat allows.

4 Harness Slots: There are four harness slot heights on the Scenera.  For rear-facing, the straps should be in the nearest slots at or below the level of the child’s shoulders.  All 4 slots can be used for a forward-facing child and the straps should be in the nearest slots at or above shoulder level.  The lowest harness slot height is approximately 8″ and the top slot is about 15 ¼ ” when measured with the cover on.  A child will outgrow this seat by height when the top of his ears are above the back of the restraint OR when the shoulders are above the top slots.

Adjusting the harness height is accomplished by removing the shoulder straps from the splitter plate in the back of the restraint and re-threading them through the desired slots.  If the seat is installed rear-facing it is possible to re-thread the harness without uninstalling.  However, if the seat if forward-facing you will have to uninstall it to move the harness straps to a different height.

Recline Adjustments: Recline for rear-facing is achieved by pushing up on the recline foot and flipping the it under the seat.  Flip the foot back out into locked position for forward-facing.  The seat may be installed in recline mode when forward-facing only if needed to improve installation on the vehicle seat.

Harness Adjuster and Use: To tighten the harness, pull on the harness adjuster strap on the front of the restraint. It is similar to the type found on many car seats and is somewhat stiff, requiring some muscle to tighten the harness. When rear-facing, it’s easier to pull slack from the harness from behind the seat first, then pull the harness adjuster strap from the front.  The buckle clicks audibly when each buckle tongue is inserted. The giant chest clip has a pictogram showing proper placement on the child’s chest.

LATCH: The Scenera has one LATCH strap attached outside the shell.  It must be threaded through either the rear- or forward-facing belt path, depending upon which direction the car seat will be installed.  There is an adjuster on one side of these strap.  The LATCH connectors are the clip-on style connectors.  There are designated storage areas on the sides of the shell to store the LATCH connectors and the tether strap clips to the recline foot when not in use.  The tether strap is to be used forward-facing only. While tethering a forward-facing child restraint with a harness is always recommended, a top tether is not required for this seat.

Note: Dorel does allow the use of LATCH in the center seating position of the back seat if the vehicle manufacturer allows borrowing of the inside lower LATCH anchors designated for the outboard seating positions.

Crotch Strap Adjustment: There are 3 crotch strap slots located approximately 4.5″, 5.5″, and 6.5″ from the back of the seat with the cover in place.  Crotch strap may be adjusted without uninstalling the seat if you have small hands.

Padding, Comfort and Appearance: The Scenera has many covers available, depending upon the retailer.  The cover on the restraint I tested is an institutional cover and is a light tan with a linen-like pattern to it; it feels like corduroy.  The instruction manual doesn’t specifically say to hand wash or machine wash the cover, so I infer from their instructions that handwashing is what should happen if the cover gets grungy.  The harness straps and chest clip are black.

Infant Head Support: An infant head roll support, toddler pillow, and harness covers are shown in the manual, so I imagine they are available on some seats, sold perhaps at Babies R Us instead of Wal-Mart.

6 Year Expiration: The Scenera has a 6 year expiration and the “Do Not Use Past” date is stamped on the back of the seat.  Cosco specifies in the manual not to use the seat if it has been in a crash.

Airplane Certification: The Scenera is FAA-approved for use in aircraft.  The restraint is quite narrow at 17.5″ at its widest point, so it fits easily on an airplane seat.  It also is a very lightweight restraint weighing just 8.7 lbs.-one of the lightest on the market.  Because of its narrowness, light weight, and nice price, it makes a nice travel seat.

Value: The Cosco Scenera is definitely a car seat where you’ll get your money’s worth.  It’s regular price is usually around $49 and it’s often on sale for $10 less.  It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other, more expensive seats, but it installs well and protects children-that’s what we ask for in a child restraint.

Construction: The Scenera is made in the USA, but the cover is made in Mexico.  The recline foot flexed forward as I was installing the restraint forward-facing.  It ultimately held up, but I’m no stereotypical 200 lbs. firefighter crushing a car seat into submission on a vehicle seat.

Disadvantages

Lack of Energy Absorbing Foam: There’s no EPS/EPP foam.  Dorel typically uses EPP foam (see www.CarSeatSite.com/FAQ.htm for more information on the difference between the two foam types) in their car seats and this price point is too low for them to include the energy absorbing foam.

Installation Issues: While the Scenera installed nicely in my ’05 Toyota Sienna, it can be troublesome to install in other vehicles, especially those with deep slopes to the back seat.  The underside of the Scenera is scooped out, which makes using even a pyramid of noodles awkward when rear-facing.  I’m puzzled why the engineers designed the seat this way, but, on the other hand, it does make it very easy to change the crotch strap position.

Sharpness of shell: Dorel seats in general are sharp.  When you install a Dorel seat, you’re almost assured of scratching some portion of the skin off your hand.  The bottom of the seat also has sharp edges under the front edge, though there won’t be much weight placed there.  A single layer of a thin (think cheap!) towel may protect your upholstery from damage.

Conclusion

Installing the Scenera rear-facing wasn’t difficult, using either LATCH or the vehicle seat belt.  When using LATCH, the LATCH buckle should be positioned behind the front lip of the seat so that the strap can be properly tightened.  I did find installation with the seat belt to be slightly easier, though.  I had to use noodles to get a proper 45° angle for a newborn, but I found that a pyramid shape didn’t work in my van since the top noodle didn’t even touch the restraint; I laid the noodles out straight–3 in a row.

Installing the restraint forward-facing was unremarkable.  I did like that I could grasp the seat belt or LATCH belt under the cover and pull either tight from the front of the car seat–some seats you have to feed your hand through the back of the seat and through the belt path, in effect hugging the car seat, which diminishes your leverage.

As I mentioned before, the Cosco Scenera is a tried and true convertible seat.  It’s a great low price car seat for folks who need a safe way to transport their child and offers a nice, high rear-facing weight limit.  It also makes a wonderful travel seat for parents traveling by airplane who don’t want to lug a heavier convertible car seat through an airport.  If Dorel could add some energy absorbing foam without changing the price much, a tried and true seat could really take off.

The webpage for the Scenera - http://www.coscojuvenile.com/usa/eng/Products/For-Travel/Car-Seats/Convertible-Car-Seats/

For more information on child passenger safety, please visit:

http://www.car-seat.org

http://www.CarSeatSite.com