I’ll admit straight off that I have a fondness for Britax seats.  The first convertible seat I bought was a Roundabout with a DOM of May 2000.  However, if you’ve read my other reviews here and in other places, I hope I’ve shown that I’m capable of being fair and impartial.  I like all carseats :).  And to be absolutely fair, I have to admit that I’ve been very skeptical of the Advocate since it was introduced on the market because of the cost and the Side Impact Cushions.  I’ve never played with one in person in depth until it landed on my doorstep, so actually having it was a learning experience for me.

Both the Advocate 70 and the Boulevard 70 are convertible (rear-facing and forward-facing) child restraints for kids 5-70 lbs. who are less than 49” tall.  Rear-facing both models are rated from 5-40 lbs.  Forward-facing, they can be used for children over 1 year old who weigh between 20-70 lbs.  Britax redesigned their entire convertible line last summer and all of them have some of the same features, namely the base, LATCH, and EPP foam.  Kecia did a great 3-part review of the Marathon 70 when it was first released.

*UPDATE: The newest version of the Advocate 70 CS is the Britax Advocate 70 G3. The newest version of the Boulevard 70 CS is now called the Pavilion 70 G3. For information on the Britax G3 updates, see our blog here.

This review will focus on the Advocate 70 model but most of the details and comments apply to the Boulevard 70 CS & Pavilion 70 as well.

All of the Advocate, Boulevard & Pavilion models come with an infant body support cushion, belly pad, and harness strap covers.


Features and Advantages of the Advocate 70 CS

Probably the biggest safety feature the Advocate touts that you see immediately are the white Side Impact Cushions on the sides of the seat.  These look like airbags and Britax claims they reduce side impact crash energy by 45% for the child in the seat and provide protection for any passenger sitting next to the seat.  The cushions aren’t soft like pillows nor do they deploy like airbags.

Other safety features are the energy-absorbing EPP foam that line the entire seat and head restraint area, the SafeCell™ Technology in the base, integrated steel bars, rip-stitch Versa-Tether®, new built-in lock-offs and the old standby, the rubbery HUGS pads on the harness.

Safety Features of Advocate & BLVD 70 CS Models:

SafeCell™ Technology: These cells compress in a crash, which lowers the center of gravity of the child and reduces head excursion.

Integrated steel bars: The steel bars are on each side of the seat (the LATCH straps are attached to them, just like on the old Marathon/Boulevard/Advocate models), but in this new seat, the bars are integrated into it from the front of the seat all the way to the top of it.  The bars strengthen the seat and keep it from flexing forward in a crash.

Built-in Lock-offs: Note that these are built-in, not built-onlock-offs: there’s a distinction between the two.  The new style lock-offs are built flush into the belt paths and using them is different than using the old style lock-offs, or any lock-off if you’ve ever used a lock-off before.  The seatbelt is threaded loosely through the lock-off, the lock-off is closed, and then the seatbelt is tightened.  The lock-off stays tight over the seatbelt as the belt is pulled through it.  It’s an interesting concept and I’ll have more comments about it when I talk about my installations.  If your seatbelt has a locking option, such as a locking retractor or a locking latchplate, you don’t have to use the lock-off if you don’t want to.

Other Features

High Rear-Facing Weight Limits: A typical child won’t be able to rear-face to age 4 in the Advocate 70 (so this isn’t the seat for you super extended rear-facers), but a short-torsoed, heavy child will be able to be accommodated in the seat because of the 40 lbs. weight limit.

10 Harness Positions: There are ten harness slot positions on the Advocate 70 CS.  The lowest harness slot height is 9” and the top slot is about 17” when measured with the cover on.  The seat is outgrown rear-facing when a child’s head is within 1” of the top of the shell (not the movable head restraint).  A child will outgrow this seat by height when he exceeds the 49” height limit OR when the top of his ears are above the top of the shell (not the movable head restraint) OR when the shoulders are above the top harness position.

The harness height can be easily adjusted while the Advocate 70 CS is installed.  Squeeze the gray handle at the top of the head restraint and pull up or push down.  When I was adjusting the harness height into the highest position for the first time, I had to really finagle it into position.  In fact, I had to manually adjust it on the back of the seat and push it into position.  After that initial struggle, each time I adjusted the seat into the highest position, it went easily that position and locked there.

Recline Adjustments: There are 3 recline positions for forward-facing and 1 for rear-facing.  Recline is achieved by pulling hard on the gray recline handle under the front of the restraint.

Click & Safe Harness Adjuster: OK.  Skeptical Sally here (my apologies to all of you named Sally!).  This was one feature I had “heard” was a waste of money, a “do not buy” if you have a choice (you don’t on this seat—it’s included, like it or not), a “I’ve never seen it work correctly!” kind of feature.  So, once the Advocate 70 was installed, I put the doll into the seat, strapped him in, and pulled the harness adjuster snug.  Click-click!  I tested the harness snugness—Hey!  Not bad!  I loosened the harness and did it again, this time pulling the slack out of the thigh straps so the harness would start out snug on the thighs.  Click-click!  The harness was even snugger—*my* kind of snug, the kind of snug which actually leaves red marks on my kids <giggle>.  I did it with other dolls (I didn’t have a live doll to practice with, unfortunately) and the results were the same.  So, I guess we’ll have to see how it plays out with real kids, but with my fake ones, the results were nice.

The purpose for the C&S is really for parents who might not know how tight to make the harness.  It’s supposed to be tight enough that you can’t take a pinch in the strap above the chest clip (which is called a chest clip because it’s supposed to be at chest height, or armpit level).  The trick to using it correctly is to pull the slack out of the thigh straps first: buckle the child into the harness, pull the slack up from the thighs, then tighten the harness until you hear and feel the click-click in the harness adjuster strap.

LATCH: The LATCH connectors are the deluxe push-on style connectors and are non-handed, which means that you don’t have to reposition them when you switch the seat between rear-facing and forward-facing.  There are clearly designated storage areas on the back of the base to store the LATCH connectors and tether strap when not in use (or you can use the fabric pouch at the top of the seat to store the tether—plus there’s an elastic band to wrap up the excess length so you won’t accidentally drive over it if it’s caught outside your back door).  The tether strap is used rear- or forward-facing.  Remember that when tethering a Britax seat rear-facing, you don’t need to tether to a designated tether anchor—Britax includes a tether connector strap (D-ring) that you wrap around a non-moving metal part, like a front seat leg, to which you connect the tether.

Note: Britax prohibits using the LATCH system for a child weighing over 40 lbs., unless your vehicle allows a higher weight limit.  This is an issue with almost all child restraints that have a harness rated above 40 lbs.  At some point, it will be necessary to use the seatbelt for installation.  Seatbelt installations are just as safe as LATCH, providing that you can get a good, tight installation.  Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for more specific information.  You can use LATCH in the center seating position of the back seat if the distance between the LATCH bars is 11” and 20” AND your vehicle allows it.

Installation Card: There’s a pocket in the part of the cover that you pull forward when you install the Advocate 70 rear-facing and in that pocket is an installation card with diagrams showing you how to install it—a cheat sheet!

Crotch Strap Adjustment: There are two crotch strap positions located approximately 5″ and 7.5″ from the back of the seat without the infant pad in place.  It easily adjusts by turning the strap sideways and moving between positions; however, it won’t shift position on its own ;).

Padding, Comfort and Appearance:The covers on the restraint I tested is called Opus Gray and the fabric has a soft, luxurious plush feeling.  The infant body support is reversible and matches nicely.  There’s a thick gray comfort foam pad attached (but removable to make installation easier) to the cover in the child’s seating area.  It adds lots of extra padding.  A common complaint from previous models of Britax convertibles is that the belly pad was frequently lost (mine included!).  They’ve added a strip of elastic across the back of the pad which gives it a little more staying power on the crotch strap!

The cover for the carseat and the head restraint come off completely from the front of the seat without having to undo the harness or uninstall the carseat.  It literally just peels right off!  To clean the cover, hand wash with cool water and mild soap.  The strap covers and infant body support pillows are entirely optional.

Fake Out!: For those little fingers that like to explore and loosen harnesses, the cover has a false flap over the harness adjuster AND the harness adjuster has a solid plastic cover over it to keep kid fingers out.

7 Year Expiration: The Advocate 70 CS has a 7 year expiration.  Britax specifies in the manual it is not necessary to replace the seat after a minor crash if it meets the following criteria:

* The vehicle is driveable from the crash site.
* The vehicle door nearest the child seat was not damaged.
* No vehicle occupants were injured.
* There is no visible damage to the child seat.
* The airbags (if present) did not deploy.

If you are unsure about the severity of a crash, call Britax or replace the carseat.

Airplane Certification: The Advocate 70 CS is FAA-approved for use in aircraft.  It also is a heavy and wide restraint weighing in at 21.2 lbs., so if you do travel with it, you’ll want to use a Britax carseat travel cart or gogo Kidz Travelmate to avoid having to carry it.

Construction: The Advocate 70 is typical Britax quality and made in the USA!

Installation

I installed the Advocate 70 CS a lot because I waited for a long time to play with the “new” Britax seats with the new lock-off design.  So how did I install it first?  With LATCH, of course!  How long did it take in my ’05 Sienna?  About 5 seconds!  Easy peasy, typical Britax LATCH install.  Rock solid, perfect install—what else can I say about it?  If you want a seat that installs easily with LATCH, Britax is it.

Because my seat has a date of manufacture (DOM) of 10/2010, I only used one lock-off when I installed the carseat (all new Britax convertible seats manufactured 7/29/10 and earlier use both lock-offs, all new convertibles made after 7/30/10 use the one closest to the buckle—see Darren’s blog post for more information).  As I mentioned above in the section about the built-in lock-offs, I threaded the seatbelt loosely through the lock-off, closed it, then pulled the seatbelt tight.  As I pulled the belt tight and pushed down on the carseat close to the buckle, I noticed the carseat stayed in that position.  So, while the lock-off did its job of holding the belt tight, you’ll have to reposition the seat so that it’s not leaning in toward the buckle.  Don’t worry, you won’t loosen the installation at all—remember the lock-off is still holding the belt tight, it’s just sliding the seat along the seatbelt.

A note about the lock-offs: there are 2 arms to the lock-offs that must be opened.  We’ve covered this in prior blog posts and have even covered the sweet spot on where to push to close it.  A trick I found to getting the lock-off to close more easily is to push down on the bottom arm of the lock-off (the “clamp”, if you’re following along in your manual) first, then close the top arm (“locking tab”) on top of it.  This kind of crimps the belt a bit into the lock-off channel so it’s easier to close the lock-off over it.

Rear-facing installations in both my Sienna and my ’04 Lexus RX 330 were Britax-easy with LATCH.  With the seatbelt using the lock-off in each vehicle, I got rock-the-vehicle solid installs. The problem with using just 1 lock-off is that the person installing the seat is going to have to reposition it so that it sits straight and doesn’t lean toward the buckle, even forward-facing.  I got nice installs without using the lock-offs as well.  There was about 1 ½” of space between the Advocate 70 at its full recline and the front seat pushed all the way back in the RX 330.  I was never able to do that with my old style Marathon!

Forward-facing installations in both vehicles were nice as well.  The shell is short (hmm, plus or minus?) so it easily fit underneath my vehicle headrests, which I usually have to turn around backwards or remove completely when I install HWH convertible carseats.  Because of the Side Impact Cushions, the only way you’ll get 3-across with the Advocate 70 is if you drive a Lincoln Towncar or have the other 2 carseats rear-facing.  I tried it out in the center position of my RX 330, which has a tight backseat for being a smallish mid-size SUV, and I could get 2 backless boosters on either side.  I guarantee the kids wouldn’t want to buckle up like that on a daily basis, though.

Disadvantages

Bulk: At 21.2 lbs., the Advocate 70 CS is a hefty seat and that’s something to consider if you move it from one vehicle to another often, though it’s easy to install.

Height of the seat: It’s short and Britax says the seat is outgrown rear-facing when the child’s head is within an inch of the top of the shell.  Forward-facing, it’s outgrown when the child’s ears reach the top of the shell.  We know they make a seat, the Frontier 85, that has a head restraint that has support to handle kids taller than the seat shell, so why not put that technology on the convertibles?

Cover: While the cover is exceeding easy to remove for washing, it also popped off *all the time* from the seat’s elbows (that crook on each side of the seat where the horizontal armrest edge meets the vertical torso edge).  Just another ½” of fabric would have kept the cover on the seat in that area.

Instruction Manual: I read instruction manuals—it’s my job both for contract work and as a part of being a technician.  I’ve read lots of Britax manuals over the years and unfortunately, they’ve taken a step backward with this batch.  They’ve gone back to illustrations for the installation sections, which I think will be terribly confusing for parents who will be trying to decipher what’s going on in the belt path while looking through the dotted lines of the vehicle seat with arrows pointing everywhere (yep, it’s that clear).  Other illustrations are very clear—it’s something of a mishmash.  I do like the tips listed throughout and it’s especially clear about how much base can be off the seat (no more than 20% or 3”).  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Britax prohibits the use of inflatable belts with their carseats and it is in the seatbelt section of the manual.

Conclusion

The Advocate 70 CS has lots of plusses and minuses—I’m going to have to call it a wash in my book, I think.  I still love the Britax quality and user-friendly features: I think the Click & Safe feature worked nicely when I tried it, the harness height adjuster is a big step forward over the old turn-the-knob-twist-my-hand-into-a-claw system they had with the old Boulevard 65 and Advocate 65 CS, the cover is soft and plush and padded, and the harness is non-twist.  The lock-offs have received some negative press, but mostly from technicians who are set in their ways.  My biggest beef is the shortness of the shell—I’m not convinced it’ll carry tall kids long enough to get them to booster readiness.  But it does have lots of great safety features and you can always purchase a forward-facing only combination seat like the Britax Frontier 85 SICT if your child outgrows this seat before being ready for a booster.  Since we don’t have side impact testing mandated in the U.S. to give us standards which we can apply to all carseats, only you can decide if the features unique to the Advocate 70 CS are worth the premium.

The webpage for the Advocate 70 CS www.britaxusa.com/car-seats/advocate-70-cs

Thank you to Britax USA and The Reynolds Communication Group for supplying CarseatBlog.com with the Advocate 70 CS used in the review.