The car seat world has been abuzz over Britax’s trio of new combination seats. CarseatBlog has already reviewed the Frontier 90 and Pinnacle 90, and now it’s time to meet their cousin, the Britax Pioneer 70 Combination Carseat.
First things first:
- Age minimum, harness: 2 years
- Harness limits: 25-70 lbs, 30-58″
- Booster limits: 40-110 lbs, 45-62″
- Lowest harness height: 12″
- Highest harness height: 20.5″
- Highest booster setting: 23″
- Highest shell height: 29″
- Crotch strap positions: 6″ and 8″
If you were passing the Pioneer on the street, you could easily mistake it for a Frontier 90 or a Pinnacle, but there are some significant differences. Britax created the Pioneer to be a more affordable option, and that means the seat doesn’t come with all of the features of the more expensive two.
Here’s a chart comparing all three seats:
|Height range: harness|
|Height range: booster|
|Weight range: harness|
|Weight range: booster|
|Top harness height|
|Top booster height|
|Safe Cell base|
|Steel reinforced shell|
|Side Impact Cushions|
So how does the Pioneer differ? Well, when the Pinnacle first came out, the harness and booster heights were significantly lower on the Pioneer than the Frontier/Pinnacle. In January of 2015, Britax increased the top harness height from 18.5″ to 19.5″. Then in October 2015, they raised the limits again. The Pioneer now has the same top harness height (20.5″) and same seated booster height (23″) as its siblings.
When the Pioneer first came out, Darren and I spent a good 10 minutes poking, prodding, and staring at the Frontier 90 and Pioneer, trying to see what they altered to make the Pioneer’s harness lower. As you can see, the heights are all there in back, but the bar won’t adjust all the way to the top.
Finally Darren found this piece of plastic that was added to the Pioneer to limit its height (Frontier on the left; Pioneer on the right):
Please remember that newer Pioneers will have a higher harness than the one pictured here.
Here are a couple other comparison photos of the differences between the Frontier 90 and Pioneer:
The Pioneer’s weight limit is also lower, hence the 70 in its name: The Pioneer’s harness is only rated to 70 lbs, although that’s still more than enough for most kids.
The other major difference is that the Pioneer does not come with Britax’s new and very cool ClickTight system that makes seatbelt installations a breeze. Luckily the Pioneer installs pretty easily with a seatbelt anyway—it’s just not quite as fun. (Incidentally, I had hoped that the lack of ClickTight would mean that the Pioneer would be FAA certified for use on airplanes, but alas, it’s not. At least not right now. Hopefully Britax is working on that.)
***Update: Britax did work on that! All Pioneers are now approved for use on airplanes. The change was retroactive for seats that were not originally certified.
The Pioneer 70 also lacks HUGS, the rubbery harness pads found on most of Britax’s forward-facing seats. Some people don’t like HUGS, though, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For those who want HUGS, they can be ordered separately and added to the Pioneer.
But enough about what the Pioneer doesn’t have. Let’s talk about what it does have!
- True Side Impact Protection: Deep sides and EPS foam.
- SafeCell technology: The base is designed to compress and lower the center of gravity in a crash.
- A front-adjustable harness: No need to uninstall the seat to adjust the harness height—just use the lever on top. This is especially handy when you need to use the seat for multiple children.
- Front-adjust recline: More on this later, but the seat can be reclined or upright in harness mode. (Options are always nice.) It must be upright in booster mode.
- Cup holders! This isn’t a new thing, but kids want ’em and the Pioneer has ’em.
- Easy transition: You can switch the Pioneer from harness to booster mode without having to take the seat apart. Simply tuck the harness and buckle out of the way, and you’re good to go.
- Easy-off cover: Is it ever! I’ve taken off some easy covers in my day, and the Pioneer is the easiest yet—even easier than than the Frontier 90! (More on this later, too.)
- SecureGuard compatible: The SecureGuard clip (available separately) can help reduce the chance of a child submarining under the lap belt when being used in booster mode.
In general, the Pioneer is easy enough to install. It has one of the most open belt paths you’ll ever find—no more scraped-up hands! The problem is that it can be a little confusing because there are a lot of potential mistakes people can make. Here’s a video showing how and how not to install it with a lap-shoulder belt:
There are a couple things I don’t love about the seatbelt installation. In my vehicle, at least, the belt bunches up. That’s not a safety concern, but it does trigger my OCD. It also sometimes causes the belt to “stick out” a bit behind the child’s back. The cover is padded enough that my daughter never noticed or complained, but it left me wishing a bit for a more normal belt path. Here it is in the captain’s chair of my 2010 Odyssey:
Because of the way that plastic flap moves forward, I imagine a lot of parents will try to route the seatbelt behind it. The illustrations in the manual aren’t very clear, and although there’s a sticker on the flap directing people to route the belt there, I can see how someone might interpret that to mean “route the belt inside this door.”
LATCH installation is also straightforward, but also gives me some twitches. The good news is that the LATCH connectors store beautifully–I love me some convenient LATCH storage!
Again, though, you run into the issue of people wanting to route the LATCH behind the flap, especially since you need to move the flap out of the way to access the anchors. I mean, the flap is up, the anchors are right there, why wouldn’t you just route it this way? (Don’t really do it like that, though—the LATCH belt needs to go in front of the closed flap.)
Getting the LATCH belt in front of the flap is no big deal, except that the loop on connector strap isn’t very wide, so it winds up causing the LATCH belt to scrunch–a lot. Again, this probably isn’t a safety issue as long as you can properly tighten it, but I wasn’t thrilled with it.
***Update: Britax has now changed the instructions to state that the LATCH belt should be routed behind the panel. The seatbelt still goes in front.
One other complaint about the LATCH belt is that the strap itself isn’t very long. After connecting it, this is all the slack I had left with the belt fully extended.
Thankfully my LATCH anchors are easy to access so it wasn’t a problem. In some cars, though, where the anchors are harder to reach, it’s nice to be able to connect one side then move the seat far out of the way while digging for the other anchor. I’m not sure that would be possible with this strap.
With new LATCH regulations coming next year, maybe this is Britax’s way of discouraging people from using LATCH. (By the way, the Pioneer requires you to discontinue LATCH and switch to seatbelt plus top tether when the child reaches 40 pounds.)
Speaking of tethering, while it is always recommended to tether the Pioneer when a tether anchor is available for that seating position, tethering is required if your child weighs more than 65 lbs. So, basically, from 65-70 lbs, you MUST use a top tether with your seatbelt to install the Pioneer.
My daughter is 4 years old, weighs 35 lbs, is 40″, and wears a size 4/5 shirt. She still has plenty of growing room. Here she is with the seat adjusted for her height, and again showing how much room she has before she reaches the top. (Note that now that the top harness height is taller, she would have even more room.)
And here’s a side view of the seat installed, with a child in it:
She rode in the seat for a few weeks and loved it. She had no complaints.
Here’s Darren’s son, 53″, 63 lbs., who was almost at the top harness limit. (This is in a Toyota Highlander.)
Some people have reported trouble tightening the harness and adjusting the harness height of the Frontier 90 while the seat is installed. I didn’t have that problem with the Frontier 90, and I haven’t experienced that with the Pioneer either. I’ve found the harness tightening to be nice and smooth, though I do need to have a little leverage (obtained by bracing my elbow against the seat as I pull) for the last little bit. As long as the harness is loose enough, changing the harness height has been easy while installed, too. I suspect that differences in vehicle seat contours probably play a role in determining how easy that is.
The crotch strap position can be changed while the seat is installed, which is awesome! It’s not something I need to do very often, but it’s something I always forget about until the seat is already in. It’s also very handy if you want to use the Pioneer for children of varying sizes.
I used the Frontier 90 for a few weeks, and I’ve used the Pioneer for a few weeks, and I have to admit that the recline feature was the one thing on both seats that really had me baffled. I would pull the lever and shove the seat around until something happened. I think I finally figured out the right way to do it though.
The seat needs to be upright for booster mode, but can be in either position for harness mode.
The Pioneer has a couple covers that are likely to be very popular. I love anything lime green, so the Kiwi is awesome. Redwood is a modern pattern and Garden Gate is a gorgeous girly fashion. There are a couple black/gray/neutral choices as well.
So the question on many people’s minds is: Are the covers interchangeable with the Frontier 90? On first glance, I thought they might be. It looked like the Pioneer’s “top half” might be a little shorter, and the Pioneer’s cover lacks the finger-slits to unlock the Frontier’s ClickTight, obviously, but those seemed like minor issues that could probably be worked around.
When I took the covers off, though, I realized that they cannot be swapped between the two seats. The main body of Frontier’s cover is in three pieces rather than the Pioneer’s two.
That third piece covers the ClickTight flap. Because the Frontier’s ClickTight opens upward, and the Pioneer’s flap opens down, there’s no way for the Pioneer’s cover to fit over the ClickTight panel. Because of the design, it also means that there’s not really a way to secure the bottom pad to the Frontier at all.
But! The good news is that the slit for accessing the harness release lever is positioned about an inch further back on the Pioneer than on the Frontier 90. That means that the Pioneer’s lever is much, much, much easier to reach. The difficulty of doing so has been one of the biggest complaints people have about the Frontier 90, so it’s nice to see that difference.
The cover is also amazingly easy to take off and put back on. You could almost do it with your eyes closed.
Originally as a booster, the Pioneer wasn’t as tall as its Britax-combo cousins, topping out at about 21″. With recent changes, though, the seated height has increased to 23″.
My very-tall 9-year-old (56″, size 10 shirts) was right at the booster max (of the original version), and was pretty cramped in the seat, but he had almost outgrown the need for boosters all together. I was impressed with the amount of support it offered for his long legs, though.
One thing I didn’t like was that the seatbelt didn’t retract—at all—when he unbuckled in our Odyssey. Here’s what the seatbelt looked like when he got out:
This might be because of the geometry in my car, but I suspect it also has something to do with the fact that the belt guide (even in its highest position) is beneath the top of the main seat shell, causing the belt to route in a strange way.
Just for kicks, I tried the seat as a booster in my mom’s Honda Civic, and the same happened, though not as dramatically.
Like Britax’s other seats, the Pioneer is hefty and feels impressive. I did run into a few issues that surprised me with a new Britax seat, though. The most significant issue was that while I was putting the cover back on the Pioneer, the plastic flap (the one that takes the place of the ClickTight) fell off. I was barely even touching it when I suddenly found it in my hands.
It was easy enough to pop back in, but then it happened again a few days later when I was filming the video about how to install the seat. The problem has been reported to Britax, but I worry that another parent might just shrug and throw the flap aside if it comes off.
Less importantly, one of my stickers is already warped. Oh, and the entire EPS covering on one of the wings fell off while I was putting the plastic flap back on. I set it back in place and put the cover over it, and all was well, with that at least.
Here are the major pros and cons to the Pioneer 70:
Price: Currently selling for under $175 on Amazon.com ($229 MSRP) the Britax Pioneer 70 is competitive to sale prices on the Graco Argos, making it an attractive option for people who can’t/don’t want to shell out for the pricier Frontier 90 or Pinnacle 90.
Size maximums: 20.5″ slots are now among the highest on the market. The 70-lb weight limit is probably more than sufficient for what the vast majority of people will actually need/use.
Installation: Despite some quirks, the seat installs easily with a seatbelt or with LATCH.
Covers: Easy-on, easy-off, cute, plus with better placement of the harness-release slot.
Comfort: Well-padded and the design doesn’t promote head slump.
Made in the USA!
Quirky belt path: The open belt path makes installation easy, but people could easily route the belt incorrectly. The way the seatbelt bunches isn’t a safety issue, but is annoying.
Quality: Even at a more-budget price, I wouldn’t expect parts of a new seat to fall off. Britax is known for quality, but the quality feels mixed on the Pioneer.
Not FAA certified for use on an airplane. (***Update: It is now!)
The Pioneer 70 may not be as flashy as the Frontier 90, but it shares enough of the same features to make it a worthwhile consideration if you’re in the market for a high-weight, high-harness combination seat. Despite a few downfalls, the seat feels safe, sturdy, and comfortable when installed. The price makes it an attractive option for people considering mid-range combination seats.
For additional information on the Pioneer 70 please visit the Britax website: http://www.britaxusa.com/car-seats/pioneer-70
Thanks to Britax for providing a Pioneer 70 for our review. No other compensation was provided and all opinions expressed in this review are my own.