The infant carseat competition is really starting to heat up and I’m loving it!  Gone are the days when your biggest decision regarding your baby’s first carseat was whether you wanted the blue plaid cover with the front harness adjuster or the ugly brown cover with rear adjuster that matched your vehicle upholstery.  Now, savvy expecting parents are asking themselves much more difficult questions like “how important is an anti-rebound feature to me?” and “do I want a lock-off device on the base for seatbelt installations?”  And of course everyone wants to know how much time/usage they can expect to get out of their chosen infant carseat.  While some of those questions can only be answered by the individual parent or caregiver – I’ll do my best to answer as many of the routine FAQ as possible in order to help you decide if this seat is “the one” for you and your baby.

For starters, I shall note that the original Shuttle (model #8087) and the current Shuttle 33 (model #8097) are two totally different infant carseats from Combi, USA.  The Shuttle 33 is the most recent version and is the model being reviewed here. Unfortunately, I do not own or have access to an original Shuttle 8087 model so I am unable to provide any comparative remarks.  However, I do want to point out that there are many differences between this 33 model and its predecessor.  This isn’t a case of a manufacturer just slapping new labels, with expanded weight limits, on an existing seat. The Combi Shuttle 33 retails for around $179.

One of the many unique features of the Shuttle 33 is that it has no listed weight or height minimums  - the labels and instruction manual state that this seat is for children who weigh 33 lbs or less, whose height is 33″ or less and the top of the head is at least 1″ below top of headrest.  An important quirk of this seat is that the base MUST be used if the child weighs more than 22 lbs or is taller than 29″.  For children under 22 lbs and less than 29″, you have the option of installing the carrier directly into the vehicle (or aircraft seat) without the base.

The Shuttle 33 can be paired with almost all  2009 & 2010 Combi 3-Second Fold Strollers (CosmoFlare, Flash EX, Saavy & Twin Sport which can accept ONE Shuttle 33) to create a complete travel system, if desired.  The exception is the Coccoro Flash stroller frame which can only accept the Combi Coccoro convertible seat.  The original Combi Shuttle bases are NOT compatible with the newer Shuttle 33.

The Shuttle 33 review sample provided to us by Combi, USA is the Sand pattern and it comes with a lined canopy, “seat cushion” insert, crotch strap pad (which is permanently attached to the cover) and optional harness strap covers.  The Sand pattern is ivory and black and the entire cover is made from the same mesh fabric.  While mesh material is generally toted as being more “breathable” than other types of fabrics (a plus if you live in a warm weather climate or have a sweatbox for a child), it may also be more prone to snags and trapping dirt/crumbs.  This particular cover is well-padded and also machine washable, a big bonus in my book.  Care label says machine wash separately - cold water – delicate cycle – drip dry.

Shuttle 33 Features:

  • Anti-rebound bar built into the carrier (nice, premium feature not found on most other infant carseat models)
  • Energy-absorbing EPS foam lining the entire adjustable headrest portion
  • 2 sets of harness slots and 7 height adjustment positions = 14 possible harness height configurations
  • Multi-position, spring-loaded adjustable base with smooth bottom that won’t wreck havoc on your vehicle upholstery
  • Base has built-in lockoffs for installations with lap/shoulder seatbelt
  • Small, enclosed storage compartment in base
  • Premium, SafeGuard “push-on” lower LATCH connectors
  • Dual liquid bubble level recline indicators on base (one range for babies 22 lbs or less, another more upright range for babies 20-33 lbs)

Measurements:

Lowest harness height (bottom harness slots in lowest position on track – with “seat cushion”  insert):  8″

Tallest harness height (upper harness slots in highest position on track – without “seat cushion” insert ):  14″

Seated height when headrest is NOT extended beyond shell:  19″

Seated height when headrest is fully extended:  21″

Crotch strap/buckle slot:  5″

Usage Comments:

Harness fit using Huggable Image Dolls

4 lb preemie doll:  harness fit was not ideal.  However, I was able to get the harness snug around the doll (albeit with some difficulty), and that is definitely the most important factor.  Also,  the chest clip was in the correct position (even though it was pushed down as far as it would go) and due to its narrow design it held the harness straps close enough together to keep them over the doll’s very narrow shoulders.  Unfortunately, the “seat cushion” insert isn’t very thick so it does little to raise the doll up any higher.  The shoulders were still a good 2″ below the bottom harness slots with the headrest in its lowest position.  Additionally, there is a large gap between the doll’s body and the crotch strap/buckle.  In real life, a diaper would take up some of this room but with a small newborn you may still need to tuck a rolled-up washcloth or cloth diaper in that area to prevent slumping.

7 lb newborn doll:  harness fit on this 19″ doll was much better.  The doll’s shoulders were still 1″ below the bottom harness slots but the harness fit snugly and personally I wouldn’t be concerned about this fit in real life.

16 month old doll:  Harness fit on this 31″ doll was fine – as expected.  Removing the seat cushion insert will provide a little more room in that area.  There were still several inches of shell height above the doll’s head which indicates a significant amount of growing room left.  The biggest issues that I can foresee with a larger child using the Shuttle 33 is loading and unloading since you can’t move the handle completely out of the way if using any of the top 3 headrest height positions.  Another potential issue with a bigger child with longer legs could be the Anti-Rebound Bar.  I’m not sure if it will pose any problems in the vehicle but it might get in the way more than anything else when using the carrier outside of the vehicle.  For the record, it isn’t removable as far as I can tell.

Ease of Use:

The thick harness webbing makes the straps practically twist-proof which is fantastic.  The strap length has two positions and it comes out of the box set for the smaller, newborn length – I always refer to this setup as having “newborn loops”.  My biggest issue with this seat right now is how difficult it is to tighten and loosen the harness straps when the headrest is in any of the lower height positions.  It gets considerably easier when the headrest is in one of the tallest height settings.  Undoubtedly this is due to the design of this CR – the harness is routed up into a single opening in the shell (think tallest harness slot position) and then routed down into the adjustable headrest portion.  When the headrest is positioned higher, the harness routing is more direct (less up and then down routing) so that doesn’t create as much friction and the harness is easier to tighten and loosen.  Another issue with this seat is the plastic compound buckle.  This type of buckle is the same one used on the BabyTrend infant seats and the low-end Dorel infant seats.  Truthfully, I’m disappointed to see this type of buckle used on a premium product.  I’m sure it’s safe but it’s definitely a cheaper component and more difficult to buckle and unbuckle than a standard buckle with metal tongues.

Adjusting the headrest position is simple. Turn the red knob on the back of the shell and it retracts the holding pin from one of 7 holes on the track.  Slide the headrest into the desired position and listen for the audible click that tells you it’s secured in a locked position.  Moving the straps from the bottom harness slot to the upper harness slot is simple as well but it involves a few steps.  First move the adjustable headrest into the highest position to line up the openings in both the shell and the headrest.  Now remove the straps from the splitter plate and pull them free.  Lower the headrest position until the upper harness slots in the headrest line up with the opening in the shell.  Rethread the harness straps and reattach them to the splitter plate.  Now raise or lower the headrest into the desired position.

Attaching and detaching the carrier from base can be a little tricky.  It didn’t give me much trouble when it was on the floor in the house but when it was installed in either of our vehicles it gave me a hard time (both attaching and detaching) on several occasions.  It was kind of hit or miss with the issue and I’m really not sure why.  Regardless, when attaching the carrier to the base make absolutely sure that both sides of the carrier click and lock into the base.

There are 3 handle positions (A, B, C) and the instruction manual states that the handle MUST be upright in the “A” carry position when the seat is in the vehicle.  B and C positions are only usable positions when the headrest does not extend beyond the shell.  If the headrest is in any of the top 3 height settings it will interfere with the handle’s ability to move past the top of the headrest.

Installation Comments:

2005 Ford Freestar Minivan – captain’s chair

Installation using the lower LATCH anchors was a breeze.  Remove the lower LATCH connectors from their storage compartment on the base, lengthen the strap and route it under the guide in the middle of the base, attach the push-on LATCH connectors to the vehicle’s lower LATCH anchors (make sure the “up” side of the connector is on top), apply some pressure to the base with your hand (compressing it into the vehicle seat cushion) while you simultaneously tighten the belt and that should result in a secure installation.  Really, the most difficult part of the process was determining which setting to use on the adjustable base in order to get the liquid bubble in the most appropriate range on the recline indicator.

Seatbelt install using lap/shoulder belt was equally simple and just as effective thanks to the built-in lockoff device on the base.  Just make sure you store the LATCH connectors in their designated storage compartment if you’re not using them.

Seatbelt install without base was uncomplicated as well.  There was a large gap the near the area of the seat bight, however the seat was installed tightly and I didn’t feel that pool noodles or rolled towels were necessary to stabilize the seat in that position.  Just remember that you have to lock your seatbelt in some way since you don’t have the lock-off device if you’re not using the base.  Read your vehicle owner’s manual for information on how to properly install a child restraint with the seatbelts in your vehicle.

The only issue I had installing the Shuttle 33 in this vehicle was that there was a space between the anti-rebound bar and the back of my vehicle seat.  Fortunately, since this was a captain’s chair, I had the option of moving the vehicle seat into a bolt-upright position and that eliminated the gap issue.  The Shuttle 33 instruction manual does state on pg 34 “If vehicle seat back is adjustable, adjust vehicle seat back into most upright position”.

2000 Honda Accord – outboard driver’s side

This car has top tether anchors but does not have lower LATCH anchors so all carseats must be installed using seatbelts in this vehicle.  Again, installation both with and without the base was simple and easy.  I did need to use the fully reclined position on the base (# 4) to get the bubble level in the correct range for a younger baby.  Space is more of an issue in this vehicle than it is in the minivan and I could not move the driver’s seat all the way back on the seat track with the Shuttle 33 installed behind it in the more reclined position.  However, the driver’s seat was still in a comfortable position for my DH so it wasn’t a major space problem, IMO.  Having the seat installed more upright (20-33 lb range) should generate more room for the driver or front seat passenger.  However, keep in mind that once you start extending the adjustable headrest beyond the shell – that may eat into the additional space that you gained by making the seat more upright.  In this case it didn’t make any difference at all because of the height and contour of the drivers seat.  Just don’t count on similar outcomes in other vehicles.

The other issue with the Shuttle 33 in our Accord was that the Anti-Rebound Bar didn’t even come close to touching the (non-adjustable) vehicle seatback when used with the base.  As you can see in the picture below, I was able to fit my entire hand in that gap.  This is likely to diminish the effectiveness of the ARB but hopefully it will still help to reduce rebound movement in a frontal crash.  Using the seat without the base positioned the ARB much closer to the vehicle seatback.

Advantages:

  • Instruction manual is clear and well-written
  • Expanded weight range and additional height room will allow almost all children to use this seat past their 1st birthday
  • Anti-rebound bar is built into the carrier instead of the base so you don’t lose this feature if you install the seat baseless
  • Proper installation with base is very easy, regardless of whether you’re using lower LATCH anchors or seatbelt
  • Thick harness webbing makes strap-twisting nearly impossible
  • Chest clip helps to position straps well over the shoulders of even the smallest infants
  • Snug harness fit even on the 4 lb preemie doll
  • Cover is relatively easy to remove (and in this case the Sand cover was machine washable)
  • 7 year lifespan/expiration

Disadvantages:

Most of these issues are not major disadvantages but I list them here in order to alert consumers to specific issues with the Shuttle 33.

  • Installation in the center seating position with non-standard LATCH spacing (more or less than the standard 280 mm) is prohibited
  • Must be used with base if child weighs over 22 lbs or is taller than 29″
  • Single position for crotch strap/buckle
  • Plastic compound buckle is more difficult to buckle and unbuckle than a standard metal buckle
  • Tightening and loosening harness straps may require considerable force (tip: pull slack from harness straps to the back of the shell before pulling on the adjustment strap in front)
  • May be difficult to attach and detach the carrier from the base when it’s installed (make sure you hear the “click” on both sides that tells you it’s properly locked into the base)
  • Handle cannot be moved down if headrest is in any of the top 3 height positions (this may make it more difficult to load and unload a bigger child)
  • Anti-Rebound Bar is not adjustable and may not make contact with vehicle seatback, possibly reducing its effectiveness
  • canopy pivot mechanism is noisy and may startle a sleeping baby
  • Made in China (to be fair, so are almost all other infant carseats)

Final Thoughts on the Shuttle 33:

The Combi Shuttle 33 is definitely a well-made seat with many premium and unique features.  The weight and height limits should translate into extended use for most children which makes the  Shuttle 33 a good value for the price.  The obvious attention to detail and additional safety features are impressive.  However, the seat does have quirks and a few ease-of-use issues.  For an experienced parent who isn’t reluctant to employ some tricks or take an extra few seconds to make sure everything is correct, none of the Shuttle 33 issues should be deal-breakers.  Although truthfully, for first-time inexperienced parents, it’s probably not going to be the easiest seat to use properly every single time.  I also wouldn’t recommend this seat to someone who was expecting to have, or has already had, a very small or premature baby.  However, if the Shuttle 33 fits your needs, fits your child, fits well in your vehicle and you’re aware of its quirks then it may very well be the perfect infant seat for you and your most precious cargo!

Thank you to Combi, USA for supplying this Shuttle 33 review sample.