Graco Nautilus 80 Elite Quick Review
The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite is Graco’s top-of-the-line forward-facing combination carseat. It’s the only Nautilus model with the 5-point harness rated up to 80 lbs. (all the other Nautilus models are rated to 65 lbs.) and it has extra bells and whistles like a lockoff for easier installation with seatbelt. This is a forward-facing only seat that can also be used as a highback booster and eventually as a backless booster too. They call it a “3-in-1” which can be a little misleading because many parents think a 3-in-1 carseat always means Rear-Facing/Forward-Facing/Booster. However, in this case it means Forward-Facing/Highback Booster/Backless Booster. This is a Stage 3 carseat that is most appropriate for preschool and school-aged children.
This review will focus on the 2018 Nautilus 80 Elite model. However, there are several different variations of Graco Nautilus models and you can compare their features with our chart below.
Graco Nautilus 80 Elite Specs:
- 5-point Harness: Forward-facing only for kids 22-80 lbs, at least 1 year old, height 27-52″ tall (shoulders must be at or below top harness slots)
- Highback Booster: 30-100 lbs., height 38-57″ (top of ears must be below the top of the head support)
- Backless Booster: 40-120 lbs., height 40-57″ (must have adequate head support from the vehicle)
Nautilus 80 Elite Features:
- No-rethread harness
- 3 crotch strap/buckle positions
- Standard hook-style lower LATCH anchor connectors (LATCH limit is 45 lbs.)
- Lockoff for installations with seatbelt
- Can be installed with Ford inflatable seat belts
- Energy-absorbing EPS foam
- Fuss-free harness storage holds buckles out of the way during loading and unloading
- Steel reinforced frame
- Height-adjustable head support
- 3 recline positions on base
- Integrated cup holder and storage cubby
- FAA approved for use in aircraft (with 5-pt harness)
- 10 year lifespan before expiration
Nautilus 80 Elite 2018 Fashions:
- Lowest harness height setting: 12″
- Tallest harness height setting: 18″
- 3 crotch strap/buckle positions: 5.5″, 7″, 8.5″
- Booster height: 20″ to bottom of shoulder belt guide with headrest in max height position
- Weight: 21.8 lbs. (according to my digital bathroom scale)
Forward-Facing with Harness: This seat is appropriate for children who have outgrown their rear-facing convertible seats. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children ride rear-facing until at least age 2. For this reason, we do not recommend this seat for children less than 2 years old even though Graco states that the minimum age requirement to use this seat is 1 year old (and can sit upright unassisted and weighs at least 22 lbs.).
The headrest has a total of 5 height settings is adjusted up and down by squeezing the red button at the top of the headrest. The max height setting is just for use in booster mode. When using the seat with the 5-point harness, use any of the 4 lower headrest positions to position the harness at or slightly above the child’s shoulder level.
The high weight limit on the 5-point harness combined with tall top harness slots gives this seat good longevity. Most kids won’t outgrow the 5-point harness until age 6-7 and booster mode.
Highback Booster: The Graco Nautilus 80 will provide optimal belt fit for most older kids and has a “Best Bet” booster fit rating from the IIHS.
Backless Booster: The Nautilus 80 can also be used without the back, as a backless booster – for bigger kids who are too tall to use the back portion of the seat. Also a “Best Bet” booster fit rating from the IIHS.
Nautilus 80 Elite Advantages:
- No-rethread harness that adjusts from the front
- Generous height & weight limits
- Easy to install properly with LATCH or seatbelt
- Built-in lockoff for installations with seatbelt
- Can be installed with Ford inflatable seat belts (do NOT use lockoff)
- Easy to tighten and loosen harness straps
- Harness storage pockets hold buckles out of the way during loading and unloading
- Generous crotch strap/buckle positions
- Harness straps are thick and not likely to twist
- FAA approved for use in aircraft (with 5-pt harness)
- Good belt fit when used in booster mode
- Can use LATCH in booster mode (highback only)
- 10-year lifespan before expiration
(In fairness, these may not be a problem for everyone but I list some potential disadvantages that may be an issue for some parents.)
- Heavy and bulky
- Basic, hook-style lower LATCH attachments
- Minor assembly required
- Harness strap covers required (only an issue if your kid doesn’t like them)
- Removing and replacing cover is tedious
- Transition to booster mode requires multiple steps
- Made in China (but to be fair, so are many other good quality car seats)
The combination of seatbelt lockoff and increased weight limit on this model make the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite the top-of-the-line Graco combination seat. Installation is straightforward with either LATCH or seatbelt but use seatbelt plus tether to install if child weighs more than 45 lbs. The Nautilus 80 Elite has a “Best Bet” booster fit rating from the IIHS in both highback and backless modes and we love that you can continue to use LATCH to secure the booster in highback mode. The Nautilus 80 is FAA approved for airplane travel but it’s heavy, bulky and wide so not well-suited for airplane travel.
Ultimately, the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite is a solid product that is easy to install properly in most vehicles, easy to use properly and it works well in all 3 modes. Since it’s a forward-facing only seat (therefore, not ideal for kids under 24 months who should still be rear-facing), and it has a 10 year lifespan from the date it was made, this seat could grow with your child until they are old enough to pass the 5-Step Test and safely transition to using just the adult seatbelt, generally around 10-12 years old. All of these positives propel the Nautilus 80 Elite onto our Editors’ Pick List on our Recommended Carseats List.