Chicco KeyFit 35 Review: Key Upgrades to a Popular Rear-Facing Only Carseat

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2020 Chicco KeyFit 35 Infant Seat Review

If this is your first introduction to the Chicco family, benvenuto in famiglia (oh, and it’s pronounced Key-Ko). If you loved the original Chicco KeyFit 22 or 30, you’re gonna love the KeyFit 35. The new KeyFit 35 takes all the great features from the KeyFit and puts them in the KeyFit 35 and adds some great new ones. Silly you if you think I’m going to give them all away right here 😉 (though you can guess one just by the name of the seat), but trust me when I say it’s not just fluff, though there’s plenty of that too.

KEYFIT 35 WEIGHT AND HEIGHT LIMITS
  • Rear-facing 4-35 lbs., AND 32” tall or less, AND child’s head is 1” below top of head rest
KEYFIT 35 OVERVIEW
  • Easy-Extend Headrest System: 5-position no-rethread harness adjusts with the headrest and provides an additional 1″ of seated headroom over the KeyFit 30
  • Anti-rebound bar provides added stability and extends the leg room by 1 ½”
  • Deluxe push-on style lower LATCH connectors
  • SuperCinch force-multiplying LATCH tightener
  • LockSure® steel-reinforced seat belt lockoff
  • ReclineSure® leveling foot and RideRight® bubble levels
  • Effortless attachment: Intuitive click-in design provides easy, secure attachment into base
  • Euro-style belt routing for baseless installation
  • Smooth bottom base
  • Extendable, double-knit canopy provides UPF 50+ sun protection
  • Removable head and body support accommodates newborns and infants 4-11 lbs.
  • Luxurious foam cushioning in the cover makes it the thickest used on any KeyFit seat
  • Travel system mobility: One-hand, click-in attachment for effortless mobility with compatible Chicco strollers
  • FAA-approved for use on aircraft
  • 6 yr lifespan before seat expires

KeyFit 35 Onyx KeyFit 35 Drift

KeyFit 35 Iris KeyFit 35 Element

KEYFIT 35 BASE

The KeyFit 35 base is compatible with current KeyFit (22 lbs.) and KeyFit 30 models if you already own one of those seats (you can get that extra legroom for your KeyFit/KeyFit 30 models this way if you have a leggy child). The KeyFit 35 base is NOT approved for use with the Fit2. If you want to purchase additional KeyFit 35 bases to use in other vehicles, they are available separately for $109.99. You CANNOT use a KeyFit 35 with a KeyFit 22 or 30 base.

If visuals are your thing, here’s a chart:

KEYFIT 35 MEASUREMENTS

No re-thread harness with 6 positions: ~6 ½”-13”
External widest point (at handle hubs): 16 5/8”
Width of base at widest point: 15 3/8”
Internal shell height: 20 ½”
Crotch strap depth: 4 ½”
Seat depth: 12”
Carrier weight: 10.6 lbs.

KEYFIT 30 vs. KEYFIT 35

The KeyFit 35 base looks W I D E, but it’s not! I did some side-by-side comparisons and they are the same base, but the KF 35 has an anti-rebound bar added on. It’s probably the best optical illusion going in the carseat world right now!

INSTALLATION

Never fear: it’s the same easy, Chicco installation as the old KeyFit base, but there’s an anti-rebound bar tacked on. That’s great from a safety perspective! The ARB manages crash energy that happens from when the vehicle seat cushion compresses in a crash and the webbing from either the seat belt or LATCH belt stretches. The carseat wants to return to its initial position but bounces over it and “rebounds,” which the ARB helps to reduce greatly.

I found that if the seat back doesn’t have a lot of padding, like a middle seat that has a console in it, it didn’t install well because there wasn’t cushion into which it could push. This base did not play well with the middle position of my 2011 Acura MDX. However, it installed beautifully and easily in the outboard positions.

The KF 35 also loved my Tesla Model 3 and Model X. I was so surprised because those vehicles and carseats are like oil and water. In my Model 3, I wasn’t able to get it installed behind the driver seat when I had it set to my settings; I’m 5’6″ and the carrier was firmly against the driver’s seat. My 6’5″ husband would definitely not have been able to have the carseat behind the driver. On the passenger side, I adjusted the front seat so there was enough room to get my hand down to access the release handle and there was still lots of safe leg room for the passenger. In my Model X, there was plenty of space for the driver.

For LATCH installations, Chicco uses SuperCinch, which is a force-multiplying system that takes a lot of the work out of installation for you. You still have to attach the lower connectors properly, but press down on the middle of the base and pull the LATCH strap and you can feel it work for you. Cool!

For seat belt installations, there are nice, wide, orange slide lockoffs for the shoulder belt. Chicco has added steel reinforcement to the lockoff so you don’t have to worry about it stretching out, like some used to do.

Chicco does not allow noodles or tightly rolled towels for angle adjustment. If you need to make a deeper recline, you must use the built-in recline foot.

Because the base is a little longer than the regular KeyFit base, be careful that no more than 4” of it hangs off the edge of your vehicle seat.

The carrier can be installed using the European belt guide on the back of the carseat just below the release handle, making the KeyFit 35 “rideshare ready” (when the world is ready to get back to that).

  • The lap belt is threaded through the belt guides on top of the carrier and buckled, then the shoulder belt is wrapped around behind the seat and placed into the Euro belt guide.
  • If your seat belt isn’t long enough to wrap around behind the carseat, don’t worry; you can still install the carrier the standard way with only the lap belt through the guides on top of the seat. But don’t discount the Euro method: my Tesla seat belts are short and as you can see in the pics and video below, I was easily able to install this carrier.
  • Do NOT attempt to route the seat belt this way while the carrier is on the base.

Here’s a video I made when it was a bazillion degrees out and I decided it was wise to wear leggings. Once you’ve practiced this technique a few times, you’ll be able to do it in under a minute. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Center LATCH installations with Non-Standard Spacing (LATCH Borrowing):

Chicco only allows lower LATCH connector installation in the center seating position when the lower anchors have a standard 11” spacing. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for LATCH positions. 

Inflatable Seat Belts

Chicco has determined that the KeyFit 35 cannot be installed with inflatable seat belts found in some Ford, Lincoln, and Mercedes vehicles, and in some airplane seat belts.

FIT TO CHILD

There are 2 inserts: a newborn positioner (body pillow) and a head insert. Both are optional.

  • The newborn positioner has a weight range of 4-11 lbs. and MUST be removed at 11 lbs. if used.
  • The head insert may or may not be used, with or without the newborn positioner. The newborn positioner is robust and it’s hard for me to make a determination about whether or not the head insert will make a tiny head fall forward without having a live tiny head. The headwings are there merely to move the harness up and down, so there’s nothing physically to push a head forward. The head insert isn’t thick, but it tends to stick out a little if it’s not placed on all the way.

You can see the difference the newborn positioner makes in harness height. I took the positioner out but didn’t adjust the harness height at all. In the first picture of Romeo, the harness is at his jawline. The 2nd picture without the infant positioner shows the harness properly adjusted.

Harness covers can be left on or taken off—your preference. When I put itty bitties in rear-facing only infant seats, I prefer to take the covers off because they can oftentimes be too much and I feel that’s the case here. Of course, it’s parental discretion. The harness straps are close together on this seat and you have two choices: use harness covers or pull your child’s clothing up to protect his neck.

Fit for both my preemie and large newborn dolls was excellent. The harness adjuster was smooth as silk. Because of COVID-19, I didn’t feel it was proper to ask for real-life baby models, so dolls will have to do for now.

When the harness was snug on the shoulders and hips, there was quite a bit of looseness over the belly. This actually isn’t a problem and many caregivers will keep pulling the harness adjuster to try to remove that slack until their child’s shoulders are so pressed down the child squirms. Sometimes kids will put their arms under the harness there. No big deal. Do that Pinch Test at the shoulders.

COVER/MAINTENANCE/EASE-OF-USE

Taking the well-padded cover off to wash isn’t the most fun job in the world. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult, I’d rate it about a 6 because it’s a workout to get the cover off around the plastic harness adjuster housing and the headrest. You don’t have to entirely remove the canopy, which is nice, but you do have to disconnect the elastics around the handle hubs and undo the toggles that attach it to the cover on the back. Tip: When it’s time to reconnect the elastics around the handle hubs, raise the canopy first, then connect the elastics. Trust me on this one!

Chicco made the fabric wipeable where you need it most: in the seat and foot area. But, you can also machine-wash the cover in the gentle cycle because who wants to hand wash a blow out on an infant seat cover (but you can if you want to!), then hang to dry. I suggest rolling the cover in a towel to remove some water to help it dry faster.

Always hand-clean the harness, no matter how nasty it gets. I show you how to do it here.

Harness curl: watch for harness twist starting at the hip. Even though Chicco uses a nice, thick harness strap, the buckle tong opening is smaller than the width of the strap, so it curls as it goes through. This will cause it to twist if you grab the buckle tong quickly and pull on it.

Canopy: The front edge of the canopy pulls easily over the edge of the carrier, but the rest of the fabric takes both hands to pull over the carrier. Kudos to Chicco for making the fabric soft and quiet and UPF 50+! Oh, and the handle swings easily over the canopy when it’s extended.

FAA-APPROVAL/LIFESPAN/CRASH GUIDELINES

The KeyFit 35 is FAA-approved without the base. Rear-facing only carriers are very easy to install with just a bit of practice.

I love how Chicco wrote in the manual AND on the carrier itself that the seat has a 6-year lifespan. When searching for these items, it’s very frustrating to look in the manual to be told it’s on the carseat somewhere—but then it’s not easy to find!

Chicco wants the carseat and base replaced after any crash, no matter the severity.

KEYFIT 35 STROLLER COMPATIBILITY

BravoThe KeyFit 35 will snap into any of Chicco’s strollers that accept a stroller to become a travel system. They have quite a few, from full size, to jogging strollers, to frame strollers. Check out this page; it hasn’t been updated yet to include the KF 35, but any stroller listing the KeyFit should take the KF 35.

Compatibility with other stroller brands will depend on whether that manufacturer offers a Chicco adapter, though there are many from which to choose so don’t feel discouraged.

KEYFIT 35 ADVANTAGES
  • No re-thread harness with 5 height positions
  • Anti-rebound bar
  • Deluxe push-on style lower LATCH connectors
  • Can be installed without base using standard or Euro-style belt path routing
  • Steel-reinforced lockoffs for simplified installation with seatbelt
  • Fits preemies and small newborns well
  • Smooth as silk harness adjuster
  • Large canopy
  • Comfy padding
  • Instruction manual and labels are clear and easy to understand
KEYFIT 35 DISADVANTAGES

(In fairness, these may not be a problem for everyone but I list some potential disadvantages that may be an issue for some parents.)

  • Canopy takes 2 hands to pull over carrier
  • Heavy carrier – weighs in at 10.6 lbs.
  • Base may not install well in a vehicle with hard seat backs
  • Made in China
CONCLUSION

Chicco has taken a tried-and-true, well-loved rear-facing only infant seat and upped the safety ante by adding an anti-rebound bar to the base and offering the option to install the carrier Euro-style when traveling without the base. The KeyFit 35 fits babies well, especially itty bitty ones, and is easy to use for new and experienced parents alike.

For more information on the KeyFit 35, visit the Chicco website.

Thank you, Chicco, for supplying the KeyFit 35 Infant Carseat used for this review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions expressed are those of CarseatBlog.

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