Because Darren has already done a much more formal review, my review will be, well, less formal, lol.
I managed to scrounge my way into borrowing a Britax Frontier (now replaced by the Britax Frontier 85, please see our new review here) from my local Safe Kids coalition. Aw, it was actually easier than that: they like me for some reason J and let me borrow seats from time to time, but the seats are usually old or taken from a checkup event. The Frontier was, mmmmm, fresh out of its bag and had that new car seat smell. I’ll tell you straight off—I’m a hard one to impress when it comes to car seats. I’m a skeptic. I’ve had enough to know what I like in a seat, what I don’t like in a seat, and what will work in my ’05 Sienna. Do I like the Frontier or not? Read on and find out.
Setup: The Frontier comes with the recline block (foot) set up in booster mode rather than harness mode. That’s counterintuitive to me since the vast majority of users of this seat are purchasing it to use in harness mode. Having the block in booster mode allows the seat to sit upright rather than tipping backward when it’s sitting on the ground, so I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that Britax has shipped the Frontier that way.
Harness Mode: Changing the harness height is a snap. Loosen the harness first, then on the back of the seat, lift the lever and adjust the harness to the correct height above your child’s shoulders. It’s really as easy as that. There are 8 different positions. Let’s talk about the harness adjuster on the front of the seat. I have fallen in love! I have heard parents say that the harness adjuster on the Britax Roundabout is the easiest they have ever used. No no. They have never used the harness adjuster on the old style forward-facing only Maxi Cosi Priori (as my friends know, it’s my all-time favorite seat): the MCP, as it was known, had the smoothest, easiest harness adjuster. Until now. I don’t know what Britax did to finesse this harness adjuster, but they did it right! This is also the first time I’ve had a chance to work with the new buckle that clicks on both sides. Hooray! I really like it! The old buckle style that clicked only after the 2nd buckle tong was inserted didn’t bother me . Until now.
Harness Mode Use: My 6 yr old, 44 lbs., 46” dd and I really liked using the seat in harness mode. The first couple of times I pulled the harness too tight (see above for that super smooth harness adjuster) and she simply couldn’t reach the harness adjuster lever to loosen herself to get out of the seat. Oops! Once I loosened up the harness a bit, she was fine (she doesn’t have the strength to pull the harness tight enough so that it passes the pinch test). She also had lots of growing room in harness mode, thanks to a shortish torso and tallish harness slots J.
Booster Mode: Switching to booster use was pretty easy. Removing a harness is always easy, lol. Britax has a spot on the back of the seat where the metal splitter plate (that roundish T-shaped thing to which the end of the harness straps attach) snaps when the seat is in booster mode. You must remove a screw so that the head restraint moves independently from the backrest where the harness slots are; you must procure a Phillips screwdriver. Other than that, it’s easy to set up. Oh, and for those of you who are anxious about your booster seat just sitting there on the vehicle seat, it installs with LATCH when in booster mode!
Booster Mode Use: Using the seat in booster mode wasn’t as easy. It was a combination of the way the seat belt came out of the passenger side seat bezel and the size of the Frontier itself (see close-up photo). Dd had trouble pulling the seat belt around the Frontier to the buckle because the car seat sat higher and forward of the buckle. Combine that with the floppy buckle and she needed help when she usually doesn’t with other booster seats. Granted, she was using the Frontier in booster mode long before I would switch her to booster mode and the longer arms that come with age would help. The fit of the seat belt on her was excellent though.
Miscellaneous Fun Stuff: Of course, dd loved the pink cover. She’s into all things pink now, much to my chagrin <grimace>. Purple I can handle, but pink? Gotta keep the kids happy, eh? At least the black on the sides balances it out. There are cup holders on both sides. I tend to think of myself as a fairly handy person. I can install tether anchors, use a drill, have even used a jackhammer, but those cup holders left me scratching my head. I kept trying to pull them down to get them to open and they were just as stubborn as I am. And then <music plays> it hit me. To get them to open, you pull the thumb tab on them up and out and they will sweetly-as-you-please open. Gah!
Annoyances: Really, I think most of my slight unhappiness with the Frontier came when the seat was used in booster mode; it really shines as a harnessed seat. First, when converting it to a booster seat, you must remove a screw from the head restraint and keep it safe. *I* would put the screw in a Ziploc bag with the harness and keep it all in a safe place, because you’ll need that screw if you want to use the seat again with the harness, but is everyone going to be that careful not to lose it? Surely Britax could come up with a cotter pin or something else that could stay with the seat instead of a screw because I imagine there are going to be a lot of lost screws. The seat has some sharp edges that kept grabbing my hands as I was trying to install the seat (see photo). Ouch! Perhaps the cover could wrap around those edges. The belt path is also quite high, which causes problems with some installations. I found it troublesome especially with LATCH since the LATCH adjuster wanted to jam into the back of the car seat when I was pulling the LATCH strap tight. It took some fiddling to get the adjuster situated so that it was inside the belt path and could be pulled tighter. A final niggly annoyance was the cup holders: they just didn’t stay closed. Rather, they preferred a barely open position where I thought they might get broken if knocked into just right.
Overall Impressions: It’s been a long time since I’ve felt excited about a harnessed seat. My kids are just too old now for me to pay much attention to them anymore, so my fancies have turned to boosters. The Frontier, however, has made me question just how long we should keep the old faithful Husky around. It’s so plain, sitting there in that soft blue. Dd felt like a big kid sitting the pink seat with the cool pivoting arm rests. I wonder if I can sneak one past dh, who already thinks we have too many seats in and around the house . . .