Here at CarseatBlog, we like to think of ourselves not just as CPS Techs and Instructors, but also as Connoisseurs or Aficionados of fine child restraint products. Darren, Heather and I have all been active in the field of Child Passenger Safety since the late 1990’s and throughout the last two decades, we’ve witnessed an astonishing wave of safety-related engineering and innovation. Along the way, we’ve learned to appreciate ambitious innovation, exceptional design and outstanding engineering. We’ve seen gems and busts. We’ve seen trends that came and went and those that just took off and changed the game forever. So, what makes a car seat or booster worthy of a “Best of the Decade” nomination? Well, to be honest, it’s totally subjective but greatness often begins when someone dares to think outside of the box, push limits, and ignore the naysayers. To all those rebels out there – we salute you!
We realize that every car seat has downsides but the following products were chosen for recognition because they were either game-changers, trendsetters, incredibly innovative or just ahead of their time!
BEST NEW INFANT SEAT DESIGNS OF THE DECADE
4moms Self-Installing Car Seat – It was only available for a few years before being discontinued but you gotta give 4moms props for innovation. The self-installing car seat created a lot of buzz and gave us a peek into the future of child restraints. Even though they weren’t wildly successful with their first foray into the car seat realm, we hope to see more innovative child restraints from 4moms in the next decade.
Cybex Aton 2 – It wasn’t the first seat in the US to have a load leg but it was the one to popularize this important safety feature and pave the way for others to follow. Thank you, Cybex, for making the effort to bring the load leg to this side of the pond even though our stupid U.S. standards [still] don’t allow you to test with it. And thanks for trusting that American families would take the time to research and educate themselves on this important safety feature. I know it’s still a work in progress but we do appreciate the leap of faith. Lol.
Doona – It wasn’t the first car seat/stroller combo but it is lightyears ahead of the old sit ‘n stroll that we sneered at back in the day. To their credit, Doona created a unique product that quickly became popular with urban families who rely on taxis and rideshare services. Unfortunately, Doona’s popularity and high price-point has made it a target of counterfeiters. While it has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, that doesn’t apply to dangerous, illegal, knock-off baby gear. Please be suspicious of any “really good deals” and only buy Doona products from reputable retailers. Even Amazon has been selling a lot of fakes through 3rd party retailers lately so don’t assume it’s a real Doona just because it’s listed on Amazon.
Graco SnugRide SnugLock – Game-changer! When Graco introduced their SnugLock infant seat bases in late 2016, we immediately knew that this was going to set a new standard for infant seat base installations. The simple 3-step installation requires almost no effort and yet the result is a secure install with either LATCH or seatbelt. Considering how popular Graco infant seats are, the impact of incorporating SnugLock technology on these bases is undeniable. Way to go, Graco!
Nuna Pipa – Although it wasn’t the first infant seat in the U.S. to offer both rigid LATCH attachments and a load leg (the Britax BabySafe in 2003 had those features), this time around the market was ready to embrace this technology and the price tag that goes with it. Pipa’s 5-second rigid LATCH install set a new standard, making Nuna’s first car seat an instant hit. Recently, Nuna released a new model called Pipa Lite which weighs a few pounds less than a standard Pipa but you lose the ability to install it without the base. Will this start a new trend? Time will tell!
Summer Infant Prodigy – A truly innovative seat that was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, poor choices at Babies R Us led to lackluster sales which eventually led to its demise. RIP, Summer Infant Prodigy. Your built-in ratcheting device and smiley face indicators will never be forgotten!
UPPAbaby MESA “Henry” – Trendsetter! The Mesa is an innovative seat in itself but UPPAbaby gets credit for being the first car seat manufacturer to offer a Merino wool blend cover that is naturally flame retardant. UPPA led the way in developing a cover that meets all flammability standards without adding chemical flame retardants. Thanks to their innovation, several other car seat manufacturers have followed suit. Chemical-conscious parents, rejoice!
BEST NEW CONVERTIBLE/ALL-IN-ONE SEATS OF THE DECADE
Britax ClickTight Convertibles – A game-changer thanks to some outstanding engineering! ClickTight tensioning and lockoff technology debuted on the Britax Frontier/Pinnacle platform and it really was the greatest thing since sliced bread so Britax knew they had to create convertible seats that would integrate this technology and still offer all the other bells and whistles that parents had come to expect from a Britax convertible. Thankfully, the Britax Marathon CT, Boulevard CT and Advocate CT did not disappoint and new standards for seatbelt installations on a convertible seat were set. All hail King ClickTight!
Chicco NextFit Zip – Chicco gets credit for being the first manufacturer to use an integrated force-multiplying system on the LATCH strap to help achieve a rock-solid install with very little effort. This was a godsend for parents and caregivers who struggled with the usual techniques required to install a convertible seat properly. Suddenly, it was possible for anyone, even an elderly caregiver, to install a car seat like a pro! So, how do you make a great car seat even greater? Add a zip-off cover for easy removal and cleaning. It might not seem like a big deal but as someone who has removed and replaced the cover on almost every car seat made in the last 20 years, trust me – this is a beautiful thing.
Clek Foonf – Clek took a gamble that North American consumers would be willing to pay significantly more for a seat engineered with advanced safety features and that gamble paid off! Foonf was the first convertible seat to rear-face to 50 pounds. It also offers rigid LATCH attachments for forward-facing, an anti-rebound bar for rear-facing, a steel-reinforced frame and a patented energy-absorbing crumple system in the base. Clek pushed the envelope, proving that you could sell seats at higher price points and build a loyal following in the process.
Cosco Scenera NEXT – Let’s be real, it’s a lot harder to innovate when you are making a car seat that is going to sell for under $50, so great engineering and design teams have to focus on safety and function. The Scenera NEXT is a shining example of both. This little seat is a workhorse and we are grateful for its lightness and compact size which make it incredibly portable. Every family deserves to have safe and affordable car seat options that are easy to use correctly. Kudos to Dorel for understanding that and working hard to engineer safe products for all budgets.
Graco 4Ever All-in-One – Game changer & trendsetter! The 4Ever became an overnight sensation for many reasons. Never before had there been an All-in-One that was so competent in every mode and so easy to use. Even the name was perfect. In the 20+ years that I’ve been involved in the CPS field, I’ve never seen a car seat rise to stardom so quickly. Clearly, the concept of an All-in-One that had a 10-year lifespan resonated with parents from coast to coast. The Graco 4Ever was basically the equivalent of a walk-off home run in the 7th game of the World Series and it’s become the seat to beat ever since.
Graco Extend2Fit – A seat with mass-market appeal and a reasonable price tag, Extend2Fit also became wildly popular from the moment it launched. With a 50-pound rear-facing weight limit and an innovative legrest extension feature, Extend2Fit quickly became a top choice for parents eager to keep their kids rear-facing beyond the toddler stage. The legrest extension was a brilliant idea since we know parents worry that their rear-facing kids look uncomfortable with bent legs. Even though it’s an unfounded concern for the most part, Graco was smart to address the issue and capitalize on that concern.
Graco Smart Seat – You either loved it or hated it but the concept was brilliant and Graco gets credit, once again, for being innovative. The Smart Seat was a unique All-in-One that took the concept of a stay-in-car base to the next level. It was a novel idea but in this case, the concept was better in theory than in practice because the Smart Seat was a beast of a seat. Ultimately, it was discontinued but it still deserves recognition for engineering that was outside the box. Hopefully, other products with this unique feature will become available in the future.
BEST NEW COMBINATION SEATS OF THE DECADE
Britax Frontier ClickTight – ClickTight technology debuted on the Frontier/Pinnacle platform and it really was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Kudos to the engineering team at Britax for innovating at that level. This was definitely a game-changer and it set a new standard for seatbelt installations. The Frontier and Pinnacle have recently been discontinued and replaced by the Grow With You ClickTight and Grow With You ClickTight Plus which are similar but have lower (65 lbs.) weight limits when used with the harness. Even with the lower harnessed weight limits, these seats are still great but what’s up with the awful naming scheme? Maybe the next decade will bring the return of product names I can actually remember without looking them up every time.
Evenflo Maestro Sport – Every family deserves to have safe and affordable car seat options that are also easy to install and use correctly. The Evenflo Maestro Sport proves that a great combination seat doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s safe, lightweight, easy to use and easy to install. I especially love that you can install it with LATCH until reaching the harness weight limit of 50 pounds. The original Evenflo Maestro model was extremely popular and this updated “Sport” model improves on the original in every way without sacrificing a thing. The Maestro Sport generally sells for under $80 which is nothing short of amazing.
Graco Nautilus SnugLock LX – The original Graco Nautilus model has been around since 2007 and even though it’s still a great combination seat, it was clearly time for an update. In 2018 Graco launched the new generation, Nautilus SnugLock LX and DLX, both of which offer an easy tensioner and lockoff system (aka SnugLock Technology) plus removable armrests and premium push-on LATCH connectors. Since the harness on these seats is rated to 65 lbs. but the LATCH weight limit is only 45 lbs., the SnugLock “arm” helps parents and caregivers achieve a proper installation with seatbelt. Overall, the Nautilus SnugLock LX and DLX models are solid performers that embody all the elements of good design and engineering.
BEST NEW BOOSTER SEATS OF THE DECADE
BubbleBum – This ultra-light, ultra-narrow, highly portable inflatable booster challenged everyone to accept something that was untraditional. Initially, we all wondered, could an inflatable booster actually be safe? Would CPS Techs ever embrace such a product? Would parents buy it? We now know that the answers are yes, yes, and yes! BubbleBum is the little booster that had to work harder than everyone else to earn respect and acceptance.
Chicco GoFit Plus – Let’s be honest, it’s hard to innovate when you’re designing a backless booster. However, Chicco managed to do something that hadn’t been done before and it’s pretty impressive. Quick-release latch connectors are brilliant and useful for families on the go!
Evenflo Spectrum – Its unique design elements combined with enhanced side-impact protection and a budget-friendly price make Spectrum stand out in a crowded field of booster seats. Plus, it’s one of the tallest highback boosters on the market! Cool fashions and bright colors add to the appeal and offer a refreshing break from the usual black and gray (although they offer that too).
Graco TurboBooster GROW featuring RightGuide Seat Belt Trainer – Yes, it’s a mouthful. It’s also the sixth product that Graco has named “TurboBooster” (Can you name them all? It’s possible that I might be missing a few.) But *THIS* TurboBooster is special. Apparently not special enough to get a better name but I digress… This innovative new highback booster is tall, latchable and we love the seat-within-a-seat feature which can be separated to accommodate two kids at once! The compact RightGuide Seatbelt Trainer pops out of the main seat so you can use it to seat a second child (who weighs at least 50 lbs.) for carpooling, playdates, etc., or throw it in a backpack when traveling. The RightGuide Seatbelt Trainer is also perfect for many tweens who just need a small boost in the car to achieve proper fit from the adult seatbelt. Once again Graco gets major props for innovation. But can we please move on to some new names? I’m starting to wonder if they hired George Foreman to name their seats.
Maxi-Cosi RodiFix – Being European doesn’t automatically make you better but in this case, it does. From the lack of armrests (and cupholders) to the rigid LATCH (aka ISOFIX) attachments and recline feature, everything about RodiFix says, “I’m not from around here” in a really cute accent. RodiFix is a unique, high-end highback booster with innovative features that make it easy to install and easy for kids to buckle themselves. But will American consumers accept something that doesn’t have cupholders??? That’s the million-dollar question. Lol.
BEST NEW TECHNOLOGY OF THE DECADE
Evenflo SensorSafe & Cybex SensorSafe – Available on select Evenflo & Cybex car seats. SensorSafe technology is not just about preventing accidental vehicular heatstroke deaths, the smart chest clip will also communicate to alert the driver if the child has unbuckled their chest clip. This is super handy, especially if your child is rear-facing and you can’t see what they’ve done! The newest version of this technology, SensorSafe 2.0, takes it a step further with a free app that connects to your smartphone. With the app, you receive alerts on your phone if the driver accidentally leaves the child behind in the car, or if the child unbuckles themselves while the vehicle is moving. You also get alerts if the ambient temperature in the vehicle has become too warm or too cold. Additionally, the app offers guidance on installation, how-to videos, FAQs and more.
Looking Ahead to 2020
I think it’s safe to assume that the next decade is going to be full of some amazing new child restraints that will hopefully reduce misuse and continue to raise the bar on safety and innovation. We are already looking forward to the introduction of several new innovative products that we know are coming soon. If you’re curious about what the future looks like, here’s a sneak peek.
Cybex Sirona S Convertible – Available February 2020!