Introduction

The Boulevard CS (now replaced by the Britax Boulevard 70 CS, please see our review of the similar Advocate 70 here) is the latest convertible seat from Britax and touts “True Side Impact Protection” along with the new “Click & Safe” feature. This new innovation gives a loud click and tactile feedback when the caregiver has adjusted the harness strap system correctly. This model can be used rear-facing for children 5 to 35 pounds, and front-facing for children above 1 year old and from 20 to 65 pounds. The maximum standing height limit is 49 inches. On their website, Britax lists seated shoulder height limits of 10.5″ to 16″ while rear-facing and 12″-16″ front-facing. While similar to the Britax Marathon, the Boulevard CS also adds the innovative harness height adjustment system found in the standard Boulevard and Diplomat models. This allows parents to change the harness height to fit their child using a knob, even without removing the seat from the vehicle.  I reviewed a pre-production model a while back, but was very excited to see a box of a production model in my foyer when I returned from a recent vacation!

Features and Advantages

Click & Safe- Simple, but effective. As you give a firm pull on the front harness strap, the CS system gives a loud audible “click” that you can feel and then a second click as you release the strap. Once you hear the clicks, the harness should be adjusted properly! I found that it works quite well in most cases. Of course, it can be fooled by thick clothing like winter coats, so these are not recommended in the Boulevard CS or any child seat. It does require an even, strong pull to result in the click. Some parents or older siblings might have trouble with it, but this shouldn’t be a problem for most.  The pre-production model I tested proved a little difficult for my wife, but the production model I have now may be slightly easier.  I found it very intuitive- here is a short video clip of Click and Safe in action.  It’s always a good idea to double check to make sure the harness straps are snug on the shoulders, but Click and Safe may be a help for someone who forgets to check or is in a hurry.  It is possible to get the harness straps tight enough for a good fit even though the Click & Safe hasn’t quite clicked yet. This happens sometimes if you let off too soon or if you need to use a few shorter tugs to get it tight [like my wife].  Overall, it’s a convenient feature for parents who really aren’t sure how tight the harness needs to be.  It can also be very helpful if your child is frequently transported by friends, relatives or caregivers who may not be as attentive to details.  For parents who are very familiar with how a harness should fit, Click & Safe may seem like overkill, though it’s still fun even for carseat geek like me!  For other techies, the simple metal tab that adds the “CS” can be seen in this video of the mechanism.

Side Impact Protection- After frontal impacts, side impacts are the most common and severe. Most child restraints provide good protection in frontal impacts when used properly. Unfortunately, side impact testing is not mandated and has not been a main design feature for Head Restraint Wingsmost carseats and boosters in the USA. With very little vehicle structure between a child and a side impact, these crashes are so dangerous that an IIHS study showed that they cause the most fatalities for properly restrained children. The Boulevard CS is similar to the popular Britax Marathon, but features the updated side impact wings in its headrest lined with EPS foam. This is the same type of foam used in bicycle helmets. The Boulevard CS has been designed and tested for improved performance in crashes from the side. As a secondary benefit, the wings can also be handy to support the head of a sleeping child. All new Boulevard and Boulevard CS models now have slightly wider wings than previous versions.

5-point harness to 65 pounds- This is the type of harness that child passenger safety advocates recommend for safety. Along with the enhanced side impact protection, the 65 pound limit on the harness is one of the great features of the Boulevard CS. Many other convertible seats are limited to 40 pounds. While most kids above 40 pounds can use a booster, some may not be mature enough to remain seated properly in a lap and shoulder belt. In other cases, parents may prefer to keep their child in a 5-point harness beyond 40 pounds because it may offer somewhat more protection in side impacts and rollovers than a 3-point lap and shoulder belt. Britax includes an easy-to-use two piece chest clip and separate tongues for each side of the buckle. Unlike various earlier Britax models, each tongue of the fairly standard buckle system gives a “click” when inserted into the buckle. The straps are the no-twist type found in other Britax models. Comfort pads are included to cushion the child’s neck from the straps and a belly pad keeps the buckle from touching the child.

High Rear-Facing Limits- In addition to the 65-pound rated harness, this model is also exceptional for its increased rear-facing limits. Rear-facing is the safest way for kids to travel. In particular, young children face an increased risk of head and spinal cord injury when moved to front-facing seats. While children may be front facing once they are 1 year AND 20 pounds, that is the absolute minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids be rear-facing as long as their convertible carseat will allow.  As you can see, for older toddlers the legroom is Boulevard CS Rear Facing Height Limitadequate.  Also, Britax now recommends that the top of the child’s head should be 1” or more below the top of the child seat shell (not the adjustable head restraint section) when rear-facing. A diagram in the manual shows how to measure this correctly.  My son is almost 3 years and 3 months old and around the 90th percentile for his age at just over 40″ tall.  He still fits rear-facing by height, though the top of his head is close to being an inch below the top of the shell as described in the manual.  Unfortunately, he is also around the 75th percentile for weight at 35.4 pounds naked!  So, with the tall shell and 35 pound limit, the Boulevard should accomodate most kids rear-facing to 3 years old.

HUGS- The HUGS harness system is now fairly standard for Britax seats. This includes rubber pads on the harness straps to decrease the forces on the child’s neck in a crash. It also helps position the chest clip properly at armpit level. The chest clip is a two-piece type. The HUGS pads are optional when used rear facing, but are required front-facing. While the HUGS pads do require periodic adjustment, they should not be an annoyance.

Easy Harness Adjustment- Like many seats, the Boulevard CS has a front harness adjustment to tighten and loosen the harness. A lever is lifted to loosen the harness, and a strap is pulled to make it tighter. In addition, a knob is provided to adjust the height of the harness to the level of the child’s shoulders. No more guessing about which slots to use and no painful procedures to rethread the straps. You can even adjust the height with the child in the seat and the seat installed in the vehicle! It is recommended to keep the harness straps at or slightly below the shoulders while rear-facing. They should be at or slightly above the shoulders while front-facing. This is a great feature, though it is important to make sure to look through the fabric cover to the plastic behind in order to determine the level of the harness straps. That is because the fabric slots may ride a little lower than the actual slots in the plastic head restraint section. Once the head restraint and harness straps need to be adjusted to the maximum height, the child may continue to use the restraint forward-facing until the tops of the ears become level with the top of the restraint shell (not the head restraint section) or the child’s weight exceeds 65 pounds. I had a minor issue with the adjuster sometimes becoming difficult to lower after being raised to near the maximum height.

LATCH- The Boulevard CS includes two flexible straps to attach to the lower anchors found in most all current vehicles. Britax includes adjusters on each side to cinch the strap tightly. The attachments themselves are among the nicer ones on the market, and push-buttons make them easier to remove than some other models. Storage slots behind the fabric cover are included for when the LATCH connectors and tether are not in use. The LATCH connectors must be switched from side-to-side when changing from rear- to forward-facing use. It requires feeding them through the rear-facing seatbelt path slots in the front, lifting up the bottom of the cover and routing the LATCH straps from one side to the other. This procedure is explained in the manual, and is similar to most convertibles in difficulty. Britax indicates that the lower LATCH attachments may only be used for up to a 40 pound child, unless your vehicle owner’s manual states that the lower anchors are rated higher than 40 pounds. Otherwise, the seatbelt must be used for installation above 40 pounds. Note that this is a change in philosophy from previous models that gave a generous 48 pound guidance. The top tether can significantly reduce head excursion and the likelihood of injury in a crash, and should be used at all times. Britax also allows their versa-tether to be used rear-facing, unlike most other manufacturers. This can help the parent get the appropriate recline for infants, and to stabilize the installation a bit better. While rear-facing seats are inherently very safe even without a tether, this is a nice added feature.

Boulevard Swedish RF Tether and Seatbelt Lock OffSeatbelt Lockoffs- Like all Britax convertibles, the Boulevard CS includes handy seatbelt lockoffs built into the seat. These can serve the function of a locking clip in many older vehicles that do not have seatbelts that can properly secure a child seat. The lockoffs can also be used in conjunction with newer seatbelts that do lock, and this can help with the installation of the carseat. The design of the rear-facing lockoffs has changed over the years. Recent models have them “flipped” from earlier ones that makes them a little easier to close and helps them stay locked better.  This photo shows both the rear-facing lockoff and the top tether in use while rear-facing.

Crash Indicator- Like the new Britax Frontier, the top tether has a special stitching indicator that will break free if subjected to forces in a moderate or severe crash. The manual shows how to inspect the seat to determine if the seat is no longer acceptable for use. How cool is that?! It is still possible that the Boulevard CS could be involved in a moderate or severe crash and not break the stitching, for example, if the top tether wasn’t attached or tightened correctly. That is only one example; there are other possible crashes that may not cause the stitching to rip, so caregivers should refer to the NHTSA guidelines on re-use of crashed child restraints and contact Britax for guidance on using the it after a crash.

Recline Adjustment- A reclined and upright position are available. These are adjusted with an easy pull handle at the base of the seat. The reclined position must be used while rear-facing and is needed to achieve the maximum 45 degree recline required for newborns.  Parents should consider the back of the head restraint section when adjusting for 45 degrees for small infants. Older babies with adequate neck strength and head support may have less recline when rear-facing. When front-facing, the upright position MUST be used for children above 33 pounds.

Padding and Comfort- The Boulevard CS is nicely padded and comfortable. My son isn’t old enough to give feedback, but it seemed cool and comfortable after short trips. The crotch strap fits fine now, but doesn’t have much room for growth. The side impact protection also provides a great headrest for a sleeping child. Mine has the “Riviera” fabric. The patterned section seems more breathable, while the solid trim section is softer.

Aircraft Certified- This seat has the FAA certification to be used on aircraft. Airplanes will not have lower anchors for the LATCH system, however, so it will be installed normally with the seatbelt just as if it was being installed in a car without LATCH. Instructions for airplane use are included.

Manuals- The manual is attached to the seat with a flexible cord that prevents it from being lost. The manual is clear with nice diagrams and color photos to help with installation. The Click and Safe feature is only mention briefly, though its use should be fairly obvious.

Construction- Like the Boulevard, the Boulevard CS is made in the USA and is a high quality product. The Click & Safe feature is new so I can’t speak as to how durable it might be, but otherwise it is solidly made and feels like it. I’ve toured the Britax facility twice now and it is very impressive from the assembly line to durability testing to the crash test sled.

Front ViewVisibility/Headroom- Visibility is improved from earlier models with side impact protection like the Britax Wizard, so I mention this only for completeness. The tradeoff for side impact protection is that a few kids may find the head wings to block visibility. As I mentioned, the new Boulevards (CS and Standard versions) ship with slightly wider head wings than earlier version, so this really shouldn’t be a problem for most kids. Kudos to Britax for making ongoing improvements! My 3-year old son is beyond 95th percentile for head circumference and fit fine in the Boulevard CS, as you can see in the photo.

I highly recommend the Boulevard CS, especially if your child is seated in an outside seating position that is closer to a possible side impact. It is easier than most convertibles for ease of installation, and I particularly liked the ease of installation forward and rear facing with LATCH. Installation is quite easy in our 2006 Honda Odyssey and 2000 Subaru Outback, front-facing and rear-facing with the seatbelts OR LATCH system. As with all carseats, the Boulevard CS will be incompatible with some vehicles. Like the Boulevard and Marathon, it should be a good fit in most models. LATCH is primarily a convenience feature, as it is easier to use in most vehicles. Even so, it is recommended to use whichever system results in the best fit. A top tether should always be used with LATCH or the seatbelt when front-facing. The Boulevard CS is larger than most convertibles. The base also raises the child higher off the vehicle seat than many other models. While this may add to comfort and to the child’s view, it’s still a good idea to make sure it will fit your child and vehicle correctly before you purchase it!

Disadvantages

Crotch Strap and Harness- The harness tightness adjuster is similar to the type found on many carseats, and works well. While it probably doesn’t belong in the disadvantage section, it is not the simple and extremely easy to use push-button system that some parents who own Roundabouts may expect. With the higher weight limits, Britax uses a heavier-duty mechanism. I note that I did not find any problems with the operation of the adjuster on my Boulevard CS; it works smoothly to tighten and loosen the straps. It can be tough to locate the release lever under the fabric cover panel initially, though. My only real complaint about the Boulevard CS is that the crotch strap is only average for depth and provides less room than some other high weight harness models.  So, it can be a tight fit for larger kids near the upper weight limit.  It is fine on my 3-year old (almost 36 pounds) son right now, but will be snug by next year.  My wife thought the harness took a little too much strength to tighten just before it clicked when front-facing, so there is certainly some personal preference involved.  My 9-year old son was able to get my 3-year old properly restrained all by himself, though he said he used two hands.  I note that it seems a little easier when rear-facing because you can use the back of the vehicle seat for leverage.

Lower Limits- The rear-facing height limit (top of the head must be 1” below the top of the shell) and the LATCH weight limit (40 pounds) are somewhat lower than previous guidance in Britax convertible manuals. This is presumably done for consistency with other products and auto manufacturers, though the older, higher limits were a great selling point.

Fabric Care- The cover is fastened with elastic, similar to most convertibles. Removal and reattachment is typical, but does take a little time. Instructions are included for this procedure. Britax recommends to hand wash cold, with mild soap and line dry. Do not machine dry the cover!

Price- Though I think it is a good value for all the safety and convenience features, it is among the pricier child seats available.

It is important for parents to try ANY carseat before they buy it. In the case of the Boulevard CS, you should make sure you are comfortable with the CS system and with the crotch strap depth on your child[ren]. You should also make sure it installs properly in your vehicle, and visit a certified child passenger safety technician if you have trouble. Initially, the CS version of the Boulevard is exclusive to Babies R Us, though it will appear at other retailers later this year.  I will also try to determine if there is a possible issue with lowering the harness height after it has been almost fully raised.  For many parents, these disadvantages should not be an issue at all.

Conclusion

The Boulevard CS is the latest convertible from Britax with some great safety features, including the innovative Click & Safe system. The ease of installation and adjustments is exceptional, at least for us, in our vehicles, with our kids. The increased weight and height limits are also key features found in only a few other models available today. The side impact protection alone makes it a good choice to consider if you are using it in an outboard seating position. Most convertible carseats with a 5-point harness should provide reasonable side impact protection, though the Boulevard CS should be at least a modest improvement. On the other hand, models like the Boulevard CS should have a significant advantage in side impacts for kids over 40 pounds who would otherwise be using a backless booster or other booster that offers minimal side impact protection. For parents who know how to get a snug harness fit already, the standard Boulevard is a great alternative for a little less money. For bigger kids where the crotch strap might be a concern, the Britax Decathlon is worth consideration.

For those who like the Click and Safe feature, the Boulevard CS is a great choice for average and larger babies.  As with any seat, parents of premies or small infants closer to 5 pounds should definitely check the fit before buying.  On the other end, the majority of kids will make it to 50 pounds or beyond in the Boulevard.  So, used from birth, this seat should last many kids for a full 6 years. Like many manufacturers, Britax recommends a six year limit on the use of their restraints. I’ve only had a few days experience with the BVCS, so keep in mind these comments may change as I get more experience with the seat. I will update this review as it is necessary.

Boulevard CS Front View

Here’s a link to information at the Britax USA website about the Britax Boulevard CS along with one for the user manual.

For more information on carseat safety please visit:

http://www.car-seat.org

http://www.car-safety.org