If you could compare your parents to a car seat, what type will they be? Versatile and practical, there is no doubt that convertible units are the “parents” of the car seat types. However, some people have to dismiss them because convertible car seats are usually bulky and heavy. These characteristics can be problematic, especially for families with small cars.
You can classify small cars as microcars, city cars, subcompact cars, and compact cars. If your vehicle falls into any of these categories, chances are you have found the best car seat for your child, but sadly, you have to consider another unit because it wouldn’t fit well with your car.
The good news is there are a lot of models in the market that can give you the advantages of a convertible car seat without you needing to sacrifice space. Compared to buying individual car seats as your child outgrows his/her current one, with a convertible car seat, you will not only save money, but you will also be doing something good for the environment. You and your child will also feel more relaxed because of the familiarity you have with the car seat as the years go by.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to cramp your brain (and vehicle space) with various models. We have reviewed 10 best convertible car seats for small cars. You can find units capable of two modes, three modes, to even five modes. Are you having trouble making your criteria for judging? You can visit our buyer’s guide to know other useful information when it comes to choosing the best car seat.
Best Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars Comparison Table
|Chicco NextFit||Rear-facing, forward-facing||21 x 19 x 29.2||8 years|
|Britax Boulevard||Rear-facing, forward-facing||23 x 18.5 x 23.5||7 years|
|Clek Fllo||Rear-facing, forward-facing||22 x 16.9 x 26||9 years|
|Maxi-Cosi Magellan||Rear-facing for babies, rear-facing for toddlers, forward-facing for toddlers, forward-facing for children, highback booster||12 years|
|Diono Radian 3RXT||Rear-facing, forward-facing, highback booster||16.14 x 16.93 x 28.35||10 years|
|Maxi Cosi Pria 70||Rear-facing, forward-facing||22.8 x 21.2 x 29.5||6 years|
|Graco SlimFit||Rear-facing, forward-facing, highback booster||26.81 x 19.88 x 22.36||10 years|
|Graco Size4Me||Rear-facing, forward-facing||18.5 x 22 x 23.4||7 years|
|Graco Nautilus||Forward-facing, highback booster, backless booster||18 x 20 x 28||10 years|
|Cosco Scenera||Rear-facing, forward-facing||17 x 22 x 23.5||8 years|
Best Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars Reviews
Chicco NextFit Zip – Best Easy to Clean Car Seat
Easy Zip-Off Seat Pad
The first car seat in our review is the convertible car seat from Chicco called NextFit Zip. This model belongs to the NextFit family of Chicco, and it is called NextFit Zip because you can unzip the whole seat pad and wash it in the machine. But do take note that you can only air-dry the seat pad afterward.
Secured and Well-Built
Besides the zip-off seat pad, the seat itself is made of steel-reinforced frame and EPS energy-absorbing foam surrounded by a deep rigid shell. Along with these safety features, NextFit Zip uses DuoGuard Protection, so-called because the seat has two layers of side-impact protection. It is also worth noting that this model meets the federal crash safety requirements to keep you worry-free in case of an accident.
What about its convertibility? The NextFit Zip is capable of transitioning from a rear-facing harness seat to a forward-facing harness seat. Although it is not capable of turning into a booster, it is still a good model to consider, especially with its size and child weight limits with each mode.
NextFit Zip measures at 21 x 19 x 29.2 inches in dimensions. As you can see in our comparison table, this is not the smallest model out there. It also weighs 25.1 pounds so carrying it from car to car is going to be cumbersome. Still, we are impressed that this car seat can fit well inside a small car such as a 3-door hatchback given its weight accommodations.
SuperCinch Tightener and LockSure Belt-Tightening System
When you are buying a car seat, one of the things that might worry you is if it’s going to be frustrating during installment. For small cars, installing can get more annoying because of the limited space. For the NextFit Zip, you can install it in your vehicle via its latch system or by using your car seat belt. Let’s discuss first its latch system.
You can use the seat cinch to tighten and adjust the latch connectors. Chicco calls this their SuperCinch Tightener. This seat part is so-called because it gives you an added force to tighten the latch connectors quickly. There is also a dedicated compartment to keep the latch connectors away from the seat belt path when you choose to install the seat using the seat belt.
When using the seat belt for installing the seat, NextFit Zip uses its LockSure Belt-Tightening System. This system helps you install the car seat quickly and keep it in place. The system is composed of a clear routing channel to prevent twists and an integrated lock-off device for the shoulder belt.
ReclineSure Leveling System
Another thing that you can do during the installment is reclining the seat. You can recline this seat into 9 different angles, but we think that for a smaller vehicle, you will not be able to recline further than the 3rd position. Nonetheless, the seat has a bubble level indicator called RideRight, so you know that you are reclining the seat in the correct position. NextFit Zip calls this leveling system the ReclineSure to keep your worries at bay.
Getting the right harness fit to your child is essential for his/her safety and comfort. NextFit Zip utilizes no-rethreading when adjusting the harness. You don’t need to take the harness off the seat when adjusting its level. The harness height will change along with the headrest height via the seat’s NextFit feature located at the top of the seat. Note that the seat gives you the choice of 6 headrest positions.
The harness also has padded parts to make it feel more comfortable for your child, and you only have to pull it to tighten it onto your child. However, with the rear-facing mode, we had a difficult time tightening the harness.
ComfortFlex Harness Management System
Other features about the harness that we should mention are its 2 chest clip options which are useful to accommodate your child as he/she grows. The seat also keeps the harness buckles in place when the harness is not in use. This feature is called the ComfortFlex Harness Management System that helps you lessen the need to dig through the seat to find the buckles.
Thermal-Insulated Cup Holder
For this price point, you will also get a thermal-insulated cup holder. Because it is thermal-insulated, you don’t have to worry about leaving your child’s drink inside the car. You can place this cup holder at either side of the seat.
Is the NextFit Zip for you?
Britax Boulevard – Best Easy to Install Car Seat
From our comparison table, the Britax Boulevard ClickTight might turn you off because of its dimensions at 23 x 18.5 x 23.5 inches. However, if you like the Britax Advocate ClickTight, you can opt to choose the Boulevard because it is shorter in width but has the same features with Advocate.
If you’re familiar with the ClickTight seats from Britax, you know that one of their best qualities is their ease of installment. The Britax ClickTight feature uses the ClickTight compartment that you can find after opening the bottom of the seat. You just pass the seatbelt across the belt path in this compartment and then close it once you are done. We also appreciate that Boulevard has a lock-off device to keep the seat in place.
You can also install this seat via the latch system (clips and tether) that have their dedicated compartments when they’re not in use. Overall, this ease of installation is advantageous, especially if you are in a small vehicle where you can get cramped as you install the seat.
Worry-Free Harness Adjustment
You have a choice of 14 positions for its harness with the highest at 19.4 inches. These positions are incredibly useful for accommodating your kid as he/she grows. Another great harness feature from Boulevard is its Click and Safe Snug Indicator. This indicator means that when you pull the harness tightly onto your child, you can stop once you hear a click. This click sound means that the harness is correctly tight. This feature relieves the guesswork on adjusting and you’ll feel more confident with the harness.
SafeCell Impact Protection
Let’s talk about the built. The seat feels sturdy with its steel frame and impact-absorbing base that has a honeycomb-like component. Similar to the Chicco NextFit Zip, this unit also uses two layers of side-impact protection. Britax Boulevard also uses a V-shaped tether with staged-release stitches that absorbs impact. Britax collectively calls these features its SafeCell Impact Protection.
This overall built of the seat helps prevent the child from moving forward off the seat during a crash. Another thing we like from this seat is the headwings that are deeply contoured for added side-impact protection. The seat harness is also lined with foam, so your child feels more comfortable in a snug fit.
The seat itself feels plush and breathable. And to give your child maximum comfort, you can recline this unit from a choice of 7 angles. Like with the harness adjustment, you can recline the seat worry-free because of its recline indicator. However, the handle for reclining the seat is quite difficult to reach, especially after installment in the rear-facing mode.
For convertibility, Britax Boulevard can transition from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. It has similar weight limits with the previous seat we reviewed from Chicco except that in forward-facing, instead of starting at 22 pounds, with the Boulevard, you can start with 20 pounds.
Clek Fllo – Best in Rear-Facing Mode
Compatible for 3 Across Installations
The next car seat on our review is the Clek Fllo. From a quick glance on our comparison table, this unit and the Diono Radian 3RXT have the shortest width. The Clek Fllo is only 16.9 inches wide, which makes 3 across installation possible and hassle-free. The seat is also FAA-approved for airline travel so not only does this model fits well into small cars, but you can bring it when you travel with your child as well.
Just like the previous models, the Clek Fllo is capable of transitioning from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat. However, what’s impressive about this compact seat is that your child can use its rear-facing mode until he/she is 50 pounds in weight; this is 10 pounds more compared to the usual rear-facing weight limit.
Stain, Moisture, and Bacteria-Resistant Seat Fabric
However, the irony with this stain and moisture-resistant fabric is it draws the liquid mess and spills off onto the holes in the seat and can accumulate in the padding and base. Always check for these accidents to avoid getting a stinky seat.
Steel Anti-Rebound Bar for Added Protection
You’re probably thinking, “What about its safety features?” Upon purchasing this unit, you will also get an anti-rebound bar made of steel. You can add this bar in the rear-facing mode to stabilize the seat and prevent it from rotating during a crash whether it’s from a front or a rear collision. And the great thing about this anti-rebound bar is that it doesn’t lessen your child’s legroom because it installs to the seat snugly.
Clek built this seat from a metal-reinforced frame with layers of energy-absorbing foam inside and outside of the seat. The seat also has deep side-wings similar to the previous unit we reviewed from Britax. If you’re wondering about different tests and standards, Clek Fllo meets all the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and it is also NCAP-tested as well.
Energy Absorbing Crumple Technology
For maximum protection, Clek Fllo uses their patented EACT. EACT stands for Energy-Absorbing Crumple Technology. What does EACT do? EACT uses honeycomb-like structures that are made of aluminum in the car seat base to reduce the forces transmitted to a child during an impact. Combine this technology with its overall built, and you’d get a formidable car seat when it comes to protection.
What about installation? You can install this seat using the latch system or using the vehicle seat belt. Compared to the previous model that we reviewed, Clek Fllo’s latch connectors are not clip-types, but instead, are button-like, which makes it easier to install.
For the rear-facing mode, you can efficiently tighten the seat onto your car thanks to the anti-rebound bar. For us, the forward-facing mode is more comfortable to install, especially with the seat belt. The seat also has lock-off devices for both the rear-facing and forward-facing mode to make seat belt installation more efficient.
For both the modes, the seat already gives you a fixed recline angle; 40 degrees for infants (weighing under 22 pounds) and 30 degrees for toddlers (weighing over 22 pounds.) But don’t worry, there is a recline foot at the model’s base, so you know if you’re in the proper recline angle.
Thankfully, headrest adjustment doesn’t require the same amount of effort. You can quickly adjust the headrest of this seat to meet your child’s height using the seat’s dedicated headrest adjuster button.
Maxi-Cosi Magellan – Best for Long-Term Use
So far, we only managed to tackle convertible harness seats. Our next unit in this review is also a convertible harness seat (rear-facing and forward-facing), but it can also convert into a highback booster seat.
Booster seats are incredibly useful when your child outgrows his/her forward-facing seat, and we think that the Maxi-Cosi Magellan might be an attractive option for parents who don’t want to purchase a separate booster seat in the future. If you think about it, the Maxi-Cosi Magellan allows your kid to use it from 5 to 120 pounds; that’s basically from birth until he/she is 10 years old!
5-in-1 Car Seat
This unit has 5 modes; 2 sizes each for the harness seats (rear-facing and forward-facing) and a highback booster seat for a child weighing 40 to 120 pounds. The first mode of the seat is the rear-facing seat suitable for babies weighing 5 to 22 pounds. Once your child outgrows this mode, you can switch the seat to its rear-facing seat designed for toddlers weighing 22-40 pounds.
Maxi-Cosi Magellan also has two forward-facing seat sizes:
- For a toddler (22-65 pounds)
- And for a child (40 to 65 pounds).
These ranges in weight for the harness seats are excellent because it allows your child to stay longer in these seat modes before moving to a booster seat. Remember that harness seats are safer compared to booster seats because it restricts the movements of a child more compared to a booster seat.
What if my child outgrows the 65-pound limit of the forward-facing seat? The good thing about the Maxi-Cosi Magellan is that you can also switch it to a highback booster. However, the seat does not have a backless booster mode.
Great Convertibility at the Cost of Being Bulky and Tricky Installment
Car seats are great for safety protection, but they only do their job at best when they have the proper and comfortable fit for a child. The Maxi-Cosi Magellan may not be the smallest seat (dimensions at 24.88 x 19.56 x 24.63 inches), but you can adjust its headrest to 14 positions and recline it at 7 positions.
We think that these features and the seat’s convertibility contributes to its overall bulk compared to smaller seats with fewer adjustment positions and modes. The seat can fit well in a hatchback, but unlike with Clek Fllo, 3 across installment will not be possible.
Speaking of installment, you can install this model in your car using the latch system or a seat belt. Routing in the belt path is trickier compared to other models we reviewed because the seat belt paths are small. The seat also requires you to lock the seat belt when you use the lock-off devices.
As we have mentioned earlier, you can recline this seat from a choice of 7 angles. And there is a recline indicator situated at the bottom of the seat shell to guide you when you recline the seat. But for us, this location of the recline indicator is not the best because it’s quite hidden.
Patented Air Protect Side-Impact Protection System
When it comes to safety, Maxi-Cosi Magellan uses Air Protect. What does this do? This technology uses an air-filled headrest that protects the vulnerable body parts (head and neck) of the child during a side-impact collision by absorbing the impact forces.
Another unique thing with the Magellan is that you can adjust its torso so that your child is always protected from side impact. You can raise or lower the seat shell as your child grows, but do take note that you have to follow the shell’s setting intended for each modes.
What about comfort and cleaning? The seat feels plush, and the fabric cover and padding are easily removable. You can machine-wash the cover and then place it in the dryer afterward. We should also mention that the seat has 2 removable cup holders that your child can use as extra storage during the ride.
In expense of the size and tricky installation, the Maxi-Cosi Magellan can still be a nice option for parents who prefer a car seat that can last their child for years. However, if the size turns you off, you can check other car seats in this review that is less bulky like the next unit we have.
Diono Radian 3RXT – Editor’s Choice
Maxi-Cosi Magellan is capable of transitioning to a highback booster, but it is quite large for small cars. In contrast, the next seat we have is another model capable of transitioning to a highback booster without needing too much space. Is it worth purchasing?
Convertibility Without the Massive Footprint
The Diono Radian 3RXT converts from a rear-facing car seat to a forward-facing car seat and to a highback booster. Although the 3RXT does not have a 50-pound weight limit in its rear-facing mode like the Clek Fllo, the seat allows the child to use the rear-facing mode until he/she is 45 pounds; still, 5 pounds higher compared to other seats.
The impressive thing is that it only measures at 16.14 x 16.93 x 28.35 inches, which makes 3 across installation possible. You can also bring it for airline travel since it is FAA-approved. And for added ease of portability when traveling, you can fold this seat flat for storage.
Is it well-built? The 3RXT uses an integrated steel alloy frame and memory foam for its overall structure. For side-impact protection, the seat has aluminum walls lined with EPS foam to absorb the forces.
When it comes to cleaning, the fabric is removable and machine-washable. You will also get an infant support cushion and a cup holder upon purchasing.
Worry-Free Installation But It Takes Practice
You can install this seat using the latch system or the vehicle seat belt. For installment using the latch system, you can find the SuperLatch lower anchor connectors in its storage compartment at the back of the seat. These connectors will make an audible click once it is correctlly attached to your vehicle anchors.
Installation with the seat belt is easy and straightforward. But do take note that in the rear-facing mode, the buckle stalk is at the same height with the belt path. What makes tightening even trickier in the rear-facing mode is the fact that the belt path is enclosed in plastic which can frustrate you if you have big hands.
The forward-facing mode is less challenging to install because the belt path for this mode is more accessible. However, you have to remember that the seat requires you to lower the forward-facing bottom if your child weighs between 20 and 25 pounds.
Some other significant adjustment tweaks that you can do with this model is adjust its headrest (choice of 12 positions), shoulder height (5 positions), crotch buckle (3 positions) and expand its leg rest.
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 – Best Comfortable Car Seat
The Pria 70 from Maxi-Cosi is a car seat capable of switching from a rear-facing harness seat to a forward-facing seat. Compared to the Magellan model we reviewed earlier that is also from Maxi-Cosi, the Pria 70 cannot convert into a booster seat.
FlexTech Construction System and Air Protect System
However, when it comes to providing safety, the Pria 70 has a FlexTech Construction System to neutralize the forces of a crash. It also uses Maxi-Cosi’s patented Air Protect System similar to the Magellan model earlier. This open cell foam in the headrest provides better side-impact protection/reduction via immediate air release. The seat, like with the other models in this review, has exceeded the FMVSS 213 and is FAA-approved as well.
No Icky Feeling
The seat feels plush, soft, and breathable, which means your child will feel comfortable being in it. Pria 70 also boasts that it uses a self-wicking fabric. What does this component do? The seat fabric draws sweat and odor away from your child, so you don’t have to worry about him/her getting uncomfortable in the sweltering weather.
For cleaning, we are pleased that you can remove the seat pad and harness cover without needing to rethread the harness or uninstall the seat because of their snaps. You can then put them in the machine and the dryer to clean them.
When it comes to installation, you can use the latch system (latch connectors are button style like the Clek Fllo) or the vehicle seat belt (no lock-off devices.) Do take note that before tightening the seat in rear-facing mode, you have to thread the lower anchor strap (or the lap portion of the seat belt) in the belt positioning guide. It is also worth saying that the Pria 70 only has 3 recline positions and you have to follow the dedicated positions for the rear-facing mode (position 2 or 3) and the forward-facing mode (position 1 and 2) during reclining.
What about the crotch buckle position? You can adjust the buckle position at 5 inches, 6 inches, and 7 inches. For added comfort to the child, we are pleased that you can easily adjust its harness height without having to rethread it. All you have to do is simply squeeze the button at the top of the seat and push/pull it upward/backward to adjust it; you can move it in 9 positions.
Graco SlimFit – Best Car Seat for Travel
The name itself, SlimFit, can already grab your attention when finding a car seat for small cars. It is 19.88 inches in width, and you can install it 3 across in small vehicles like a compact crossover. To help minimize space, the seat also has cup holders on both sides that can rotate out of the way.
SlimFit is capable of switching from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat and a highback booster afterward. When you decide to transition your child in the booster mode, you can place the harness straps in its dedicated compartment to keep them out of the way.
The overall built of SlimFit includes a steel-reinforced frame and EPS-energy absorbing foam; a trend in high-quality convertible seats. Also, another useful characteristic of the seat is that you can machine-wash its cover for an effortless clean-up.
Like with the other models in this review, the Graco SlimFit is side-impact tested and passed the FMVSS 213. You might have been seeing these descriptions a lot in our product reviews and feel free to check out our buyer’s guide to know more about them.
We should also note that the Graco SlimFit Booster is rated Best Bet by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.) If you’re wondering what this rate is for, being rated “Best Bet” means that it provides the good belt fit on 4 to 8-year old kids in a car, minivan or SUV.
Slim and Lightweight
Besides being narrow for 3 across installation, the SlimFit is also great for traveling. Why? It is FAA-approved and at the same time is lightweight compared to other convertible models. Even if it has a steel-reinforced frame and can support children up to 100 pounds in booster mode, the seat managed only to weigh 19.6 pounds.
What about installation? You can attach this model in your car via the latch system or with your car seat belt. Installation with either of the two is straightforward. However, we prefer installment with the latch system which you’ll find out later why. With the seat belt, it’s quite hard to thread the belt through to the path because of its space and the seat also have no lock-off devices.
What can I adjust in the Graco SlimFit? First, you can accurately recline the seat in 4 positions with the help from the seat recline bubble indicator; 2 positions for rear-facing mode and 2 positions for the forward facing mode. You can also adjust the crotch buckle position at 5 inches, 6.25 inches, and 7.5. Because you can tweak these positions, you can give your child a safer and more comfortable customized fit.
Simply Safe Adjust Harness System
For a more effortless adjustment, this model uses the Simply Safe Adjust Harness System of Graco. This system allows you to adjust the harness height when you change the headrest with just one hand. The Simply Safe Adjust Harness System guarantees your child the proper seat fit without you getting exhausted and stressed from adjusting and rethreading.
Graco Size4Me – Best Seat for Car to Car Transfer
The next car seat we have is another one from Graco, the Size4Me 65 model. Like the SlimFit, this seat is also lightweight at 19.3 pounds. However, the 4 in its name can be misleading as it cannot convert to a booster seat and only offers two modes. In the rear-facing mode, it can accommodate a child/infant at 4 to 40 pounds, and in the forward-facing mode, its limit is from 22 to 65 pounds.
The Graco Size4Me exceeds the federal safety standards, side-impact tested and passed the test by the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) at twice the peak force. For the built, the seat has excellent deep side wings lined with EPS foam to absorb energy during a crash.
Planning to Use it for Multiple Cars? No Worries!
The seat measures at 18.5 x 22 x 23.4 inches and it can fit well (both in rear-facing and forward-facing mode) in a compact car or a small SUV. Because it is lightweight as well, transferring the seat from vehicle to vehicle isn’t cumbersome. But just because a seat isn’t bulky doesn’t mean it will be easy to install. If a seat is difficult to install, then using it for multiple vehicles will also be as stressful. How does Size4Me install?
You can install the Size4Me using the latch system or with the vehicle seat belt. Like the previous Graco model, this seat uses the InRight Latch System. This type of latch system is known for being easy to install or remove because they work as push-in connectors compared to hook-type latch connectors. We also like that you will get separate latch connectors for the rear-facing and forward-facing mode, this means you don’t need to reroute the connectors when you switch the mode.
Installation with the seat belt is also straightforward, and the seat has separate belt paths for the rear-facing and forward-facing mode. However, the Size4Me has no lock-off devices.
After installation, you have to make sure that the seat fit wells onto your child. Like the previous unit we reviewed from Graco, the Size4Me uses a unique adjustment system called the Simply Safe Adjust Harness System.
For reclining the seat, you can use the bubble level indicator as your guide. There are 3 recline angles (1 for rear-facing and 2 for forward-facing), and you can recline the seat using the lever at the front of the seat. There are also 2 crotch buckle positions (4.5 inches and 6.5 inches) offered by this model. Although it is 1 position less than our previous models, these are still useful measurements that can give a child a more comfortable fit.
Lastly, the seat uses a Rapid Remove cover. It is so-called because you don’t need to uninstall the unit to remove it. You can then place it in the machine to wash it.
Graco Nautilus – Best in Backless Booster Mode
We have another seat from Graco called the Nautilus 65. It is also a harness to booster seat like the SlimFit, but the difference is Nautilus can convert to a backless booster. Do you need a backless booster mode? A backless booster is used by a child right before he/she can use the vehicle seat belt on its own properly.
Compared to a highback booster, the backless booster offers no support on the child’s head, especially when he/she fell asleep. However, it is still a useful option to have because a backless booster helps taller kids sit all the way back more comfortably, especially with their leg room.
The Nautilus 65 has a weight limit of 22 to 65 pounds in the forward-facing mode, 30 to 100 pounds in the highback booster mode and 40 to 120 pounds in the backless booster mode.
The seat shell is integrated with steel bars and uses 3-inch EPS impact-absorbing foam in its headrest. When it comes to safety, besides its overall built, the Nautilus 65 is side-impact tested and has passed the crash test by the NCAP at twice the national standard. Also, like the previous SlimFit seat we reviewed from Graco, the highback booster mode of this seat is rated Best Bet by the IIHS.
For installation, you can use your vehicle seat belt and the latch for the highback booster mode. The Nautilus 65 already routed the latch connectors in the belt path which makes installment via the latch system easier. On the other hand, if you’re using the vehicle seat belt, you can keep the latch connectors in its dedicated compartment. The Nautilus 65 also has a lock-off device to make your installment with the seat belt more secured.
Ease of Adjustment Can Be Improved
A common trend for ease of adjustment with most seats in this review is the ability to adjust the harness height when you move the headrest. And the Nautilus 65 is no different, so you don’t need to rethread the harness. The seat offers 5 headrest positions, and the harness has pockets to keep the buckle tongues out of the way.
You can also recline the seat in 3 positions at any mode unlike the Pria 70. However, we find the angles showing unnoticeable change. We should also mention that the seat has 3 crotch buckle positions at 5.5 inches, 7 inches, and 8 inches. Sadly, we also found a drawback with adjusting the crotch buckle as it is hard to move outward without exerting force.
Will it fit in a small car? The seat has a dimension of 18 x 20 x 28 inches and weighs 20.5 pounds. Compared to the other 3-across installment-friendly units we’ve reviewed, the Nautilus 65 is quite bulkier.
But nonetheless, having the ability to switch into a backless booster is a useful option with a fast-growing child. Just always remember that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highly recommends waiting until your child outgrows his/her current seat before transitioning him/her to the next stage.
Cosco Scenera Next – Best Affordable Car Seat
If you’re looking for a lightweight and compact seat that is convertible and affordable, an excellent choice for you is the Cosco Scenera Next. It only weighs around 10 pounds and has a dimension of 17 x 22 x 23.5 inches that fits well on subcompact SUVs. Because it is lightweight and compact, you can easily bring it for travel and even on the airplane because it is FAA-approved.
For this price point, you will get a rear-facing seat with a 5 to 40-pound limit that converts to a forward-facing seat with a 22 to 40-pound limit. For the built, unfortunately, Cosco Scenera does not have much padding, EPS foam, and headrest. Overall, it’s a minimalistic seat with a detachable cup holder. But something that you can appreciate about it is that you can wash its cover in the machine and then place in the dryer after.
What about installation? Installation is easy either via the latch system (hook-type connectors) or by your vehicle seat belt. However, with the seat belt, you have to exert some effort as you pull the belt while pushing on the seat simultaneously. But don’t be discouraged, compared to other models, the Scenera Next is easy to install in the rear-facing mode.
Alternate Harness Route for Newborns
The model also has an alternative route on its underside for the harness strap. You can use this route with the straps on the lowest slots for smaller children, particularly newborns. This route is essential to get a snug fit on your child, especially when the harness straps are on the lowest slots.
What can I adjust with the Cosco Scenera? When reclining the seat, you can use the line at the side of the seat as a guide. The seat also offers 3 crotch buckle positions at 2.5 inches, 4 inches, and 5.5 inches. For the harness slots, there are 5 positions at 5.5 inches, 7.5 inches, 9.5 inches, and 11.5 inches. The highest you can get is 13.5 inches, which we think is subpar and your child can outgrow quickly to especially in forward-facing mode. Another drawback with the harness, although easy, is you have to rethread them when you adjust the harness height.
Types of Convertible Car Seats
From our previous car seat reviews, we have introduced you to the different kinds/stages of car seats. They include the rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat, highback booster, and backless booster. But for this review which is about convertible car seats, we are going to familiarize you with the different combinations of these seats that are in the market.
2-in-1 Convertible Car Seats
- Rear-Facing to Forward Facing
Some examples of this car seat are the models Chicco NextFit Zip and Clek Fllo.
- Highback Booster to Backless Booster
For this review, we do not have this type of car seat that can fit on a small car. But for context, an example of a highback to backless convertible is the Diono Monterey XT that we reviewed as the best car seat for big 6-year olds.
3-in-1 Convertible Car Seats
- Rear-Facing to Forward-Facing to Highback Booster
An example is our top choice, the Diono Radian 3RXT.
- Forward-facing to Highback Booster to Backless Booster
An example is the seat we reviewed from Graco, the Nautilus 65.
4-in-1 Convertible Car Seats
- Rear-Facing to Forward-Facing to Highback Booster to Backless Booster
We do not have this car seat type in this review for small cars, but an example of this is the Graco 4Ever that we have reviewed as a car seat for 3-year old.
These types of convertible car seats are self-explanatory, but for a recap:
- What is a rear-facing seat? A cradle-like seat that uses a harness. The safest of all types because the shape “covers” the child’s body during an impact.
- What is a forward-facing seat? A seat that uses either a 3-point or 5-point harness to restrain the child’s movements. Children are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to stay in this seat and in the rear-facing seat as long as possible until they outgrow them before moving to a booster seat.
- What is a highback booster seat? Booster seats “boost” the child’s height so that the car seat belt fits them properly. Highback booster seats offer head and neck support, especially during when a child is asleep compared to backless boosters.
- What is a backless booster seat? A backless booster is the last car seat stage and is suitable only if the child can sit appropriately throughout the ride. They are generally more affordable compared to highback boosters and are great for travel because they aren’t bulky and heavy.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Convertible Car Seat for Small Cars
Size and Weight
The first factor in your mind is probably the seat size; you’re choosing for a small car after all. A good example is our top pick, the Diono Radian 3RXT. It has a dimension of 16.14 x 16.93 x 28.35 inches, which makes 3 across installation possible. Convertible car seats with a small footprint will also make your installation inside a small vehicle easier since you don’t have to bend in awkward positions in a limited space.
Another thing you should consider is the weight of the seat. This is especially important if you’re going to transfer the model from vehicle to vehicle. Weight also plays a significant role if you’re planning to bring the seat with you during travel. Cosco Scenera Next weighs only about 10 pounds, which makes it great for travel or as an extra seat.
Ideally, the best convertible car seat that you can get is a model capable of switching from the 1st seat stage (rear-facing) up to the last stage (backless booster.) However, if you have a small car, you have to compensate for the modes in order to lessen the overall bulk of the seat.
As you can see in our comparison table, the highest number of modes that a seat can have is three, either it’s from rear-facing to highback booster or a forward-facing to backless booster model like the Graco Nautilus 65.
The choice is yours whether you would rather have a convertible harness seat, a convertible booster seat, or a 3-in-1.
Ease of Transition
Once your child has outgrown his/her current seat, he/she has to use the next seat stage. And the beauty of convertible seats is that you don’t have to buy a separate model, all you have to do is switch the current seat stage to what you need.
For switching harness seats to booster seats, units that have a separate storage dedicated to keeping the harness is ideal so that you’ll get a neater set-up and your child doesn’t have to feel the harness throughout the ride.
Ease of Installation
Besides size and weight, ease of car-to-car transfer is also dictated by how easy it is to install a seat. It would be frustrating to route the belt to a narrow path each time you transfer the seat. And even if you’re not transferring the seat, it would worry you less if you know that you have attached the seat correctly in your car.
During our review, you have noticed that all of the seats offer the latch system. But what is latch? LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It makes use of anchor straps from the seat that attaches to the anchors of your vehicle seat.
Our top pick, the Diono Radian 3RXT, makes a clicking sound once the latch straps are correctly connected to the anchors. We think that this is a great feature to let you know that you have attached it correctly.
Safety is a factor that is mandatory when it comes to car seat. As you have noticed in our reviews, all of the seats have passed and even exceeded the federal safety standards or the FMVSS 213.
The FMVSS 213 is in control of the performance and design criteria for child restraint systems. Car seats are also better if they are tested for crash and side-impact protection to make sure that they can do their job well.
What are some safety features that I can check in the built of the seat? Having an anti-rebound bar and deep headrests will give your child additional support and protection from collisions or crash; while materials like EPS energy-absorbing foam and steel-integrated frame add to the overall safety of the seat. If the seat is sturdy, it can prevent your child from slouching forward, which is a dangerous movement for their body.
One of the main reasons that parents get a convertible seat is because of the practicality; it will last them ideally until their child is ready for a seat belt.
But for a seat to last that long, it is essential that it is made of a durable material such as a steel-integrated frame that we have mentioned earlier. An easy-to-clean fabric is also better since it keeps the seat hygienic, thus elongating its lifespan.
Height and Weight Limits
Compared to seats that aren’t convertible, units that that can transition to another seat type usually has higher height and weight limits.
An excellent example here is the Clek Fllo unit that we have reviewed. It has a 50-pound weight limit in the rear-facing mode. This high weight limit means that you can keep your child longer in rear-facing compared to a unit with 40-pound limit.
Remember that the CDC and the AAP recommend waiting for your child to outgrow his/her seat first before transitioning them. We prefer seats that can keep children in the rear-facing and forward-facing mode longer since these seat types are the safest because they can distribute the forces of an impact better and restrain the child’s body during a collision.
Convertible car seats do not have to be overly bulky and heavy. If you have a small car, you only need to expand your research and assess which car seat fits (literally and figuratively) on your needs.
Our top pick of the best convertible car seat for small cars is the Diono Radian 3RXT because you can install it 3 across and even fold it flat for storage. Besides its size, the seat also features SuperLatch connectors, durable overall built and convertibility from a rear-facing seat to a highback booster seat.
All in all, we hope that this review has helped you decide or has given you an idea on what to look for in a convertible seat for a small car. We urge you to compare the seats, make a list of their pros and cons, and do extra research about the model you have in mind.
Do you have a small car? What car seat unit is your favorite?