Today’s guest blog is a review of the Britax Boulevard CS (now replaced by the Britax Boulevard 70 CS, please see our review of the similar Advocate 70 here).  Darren had a full review in a previous blog.

It is one of the most dreaded questions for Child Passenger Safety Technicians and advocates – “What is the best carseat? What carseat should I buy for my child?” The “correct” answer, of course, is that the best carseat is the one that fits your child, your vehicle and your budget and will be used correctly every time. Unfortunately, this is not the answer that most parents want to hear because in many cases, they are either (1) hoping that you will validate that the seat with the prettiest cover is “the best” or (2) looking to you to make the decision for them. (Technicians and regulatory organizations (including carseatblog.com) recently have started recommending seats for particular features).

Carseats, though, like most other consumer products, often sell because of their marketing, and when it comes to carseats, most parents think that “more” is “better.” A seat with “side impact protection” must be better than one without it, right? A well padded seat must be better than a seat with a thinner cover, right? A convertible seat that has a tether for use rear-facing must be better than one that lacks this feature, right? A seat that can be used backwards, forwards and as a booster must be better than a single purpose seat, right? A seat with “fancy” lower anchor connectors must be better than one with standard connectors, right? A seat with “HUGS™” on the harness must be better than one without, right?

The reality, however, is that more does not always equal safer or better. First, the United States does not have any standardized tests for many of the advertized safety features. Further, parents often completely misunderstand the purpose of the features, thereby placing too much emphasis on a particular feature. For example, we do not have standardized tests for side impact protection on carseats. We also do not know how the car’s safety features will impact a child in a safety seat. Similarly, I have not seen convincing studies that show that a rear-facing tether (which, although it gives some additional stability to the seat) provides any benefit to the child, at least when used Swedish style. Those “fancy” lower anchor connectors? They are definitely easier to use in most cars. I have never seen any claim by a manufacturer that they are, in fact, safer than the standard connectors. Finally, a seat must be used properly to obtain all of its benefits.

Which brings me to the Britax Boulevard CS, a relatively new seat by Britax that includes a feature to let the caregiver know when the harness has been tightened sufficiently. (Click here for a full review of all of the features of the Boulevard CS). The Boulevard CS, which adds the “Click & Safe™” feature to the popular Boulevard child safety seat, is marketed with Britax’s trademarked “true side impact protection.” Like most of the other higher weight harness seats that Britax manufactures (or has manufactured), it can be used both rear-facing (from 5-35 pounds) and forward facing (from 20 to 65 pounds). It also features an infinite adjusting harness, so that theoretically, the harness always can be positioned “at” the child’s shoulders with a simple twist of a knob (no rethreading harness straps). New on the CS model, the harness adjuster makes a “click” noise when it encounters tension, indicating that the harness is tight. If “more” is “better,” this seat is close to perfect.

Sounds great, right? I was excited to try out the new seat. The Boulevard CS arrived at my house and my kids (aged 2.5 (35 pounds) and 4.5 (45 pounds)) were excited to try the new seat sitting in the hallway. I told them that it was a new seat for my younger son and installed the Boulevard CS in the car in place of his “old” seat. The boys loved it immediately. In fact, they fight over whose turn it is to sit in the “new” seat –the 4.5 year old who previously had been lobbying for a booster and the 2.5 year old who previously lobbied to sit in his big brother’s seat. They love the “wings” on the side, apparently they make for great naps, and both boys think that the seat is comfortable. They also both fit fine in the seat, although my 4.5 year old is close to outgrowing it by height. While the infinite adjusting harness is convenient and eliminates rethreading the harness, I have had some problems lowering the harness for my younger son when it is at the highest setting for my older child. I often end up leaving it up at the higher setting for both children.

What’s the problem then, you ask? Despite all of its user-friendly features, I find it much harder to use this seat correctly than any of my other seats (I use other Britax-made seats on a daily basis (generally a Roundabout and a Fisher Price Safe Voyage Deluxe, sometimes a Marathon), but I also own and use a Sunshine Kids Radian, Cosco Scenera and SafeGuard Go). Specifically, I find the harness more difficult to tighten (and often need to use two hands) than most of my other seats (my husband also has this complaint). This is still true even after 4 weeks of almost daily use. More troublesome to me, the “Click & Safe” feature seems to “click” when the harness is still too loose.[1] With my kids, the harness generally is not tight enough until 2-3 “clicks.” I also discovered that, while my 4.5 year old can buckle himself and get the harness tight enough in the Marathon or FPSVD, he cannot tighten the harness on the Boulevard CS, which adds extra time to our car loading time because I need to buckle and tighten both kids’ seats. I believe that this is because of the “click” mechanism and the angle that you must pull to tighten the harness.

Does this mean that the Boulevard CS is not safe? No. Will I keep using the seat? Of course – my kids fight over it and it is a great seat — I’d be silly not to. But I know that as a tech and an advocate, I will always make sure that the harness is tight enough and I will take the extra step to do that, not relying on the “click” feature. It all goes back to the “best” and “safest” seat being the one that you will use correctly every time, not necessarily one with the most features. A top of the line seat is only as good as the caregiver installing and using it.

[1] The manual does instruct parents to check for slack in the harness and retighten if necessary. The advertising for the seat, however, indicates that when it “clicks” it is tight.