Buying a car seat is one of the first things you will do as an expectant parent. Once you have the nursery ready, have gone through the research of figuring out the best feeding methods, and have decided names, the car seat research begins. The only way to take your baby home is in an approved infant car seat. Unlike many baby related preparations, this one must be done before your little one greets the world for the first time. There is a lot to consider when buying a car seat. It sounds easy, but the options can quickly become overwhelming.
In this article, we will help demystify the purchase and we will compare two of the top rated convertible car seats against each other. The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat and the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat are both great options for protecting your bundle of joy, but there are some differences to consider.
Things to Consider Before Your Purchase
The first thing to consider before you buy any car seat is the size of your backseat and how easy it is to access. For those with smaller cars, a car seat that fits in tight places and remains in the car is the best option. Getting an infant “bucket” seat in and out of a coupe is painful. Sitting next to the car seat in the backseat, while you load a baby, is much easier if you are able to get into the back of a coupe. For people with larger vehicles, and 4 door vehicles, there are more options available. Regardless of what you drive, check the measurements on any seat you buy. Make sure that it will fit in a way that you will be able to use it properly. You should be able to lean over the seat well enough that you can safely secure your child in the center of the seat, and you should have enough room to be able to tighten the harness correctly. If you have a tall front seat passenger, or you are tall yourself, some of the larger models may not work, even if your car is reasonably sized, so keep these variables in mind.
It is also important to consider what kinds of features you need and want. To be marketed in the US, car seats must pass a series of rigorous tests that ensure baby’s protection, so all carseats sold in the US are safe. When you purchase a higher end car seat, like the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat or the Britax Boulevard, you are mostly paying for extra features. One of the best things to look at, with safety in mind, is the ease of use score for a seat. A large portion of accident-related injuries to children is due to improper use and installation of a car seat. The easier the seat is to use, the more likely it is that you will use it correctly. Using the seat correctly is a major factor in protecting your child. No matter which seat you choose, make sure you will be able to properly install it and it will fit your child. If you have any doubts about the installation of your car seat, have it checked with a professional. Many towns will have an inspector at the police station or fire station, or you can look up an inspector near you at www.seatcheck.org.
Different Type of Car Seats
Infant Car Seats
Infant car seats are made as rear-facing only, reclined seats. Many of them have a base that is installed into the LATCH or seatbelt system of your vehicle and the seat clicks into the base. Many of these seats are also compatible with strollers. Some systems are bundled as a travel set, so there is a matching stroller and seat combo. Other strollers are sold separately and work with either a dedicated seat or are universal.
Convertible car seats, like the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat and the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat, are capable of being used for more of your child’s growth phases than infant seats. Infant seat weight limits tend to max out at around 25-30 pounds, but children often outgrow the height limit of these seats well before they reach that. It is recommended that children stay in a rear-facing position for at least two years- longer if possible. The convertible car seat allows you to use the same seat from infancy through toddlerhood. Weight limits on convertible car seats are around 50-65 pounds, with much greater height accommodation. This means you can keep your child rear facing for the full two years without ever changing the position of the seat in your car. You will only have to adjust the harnesses and potentially the recline angle. Once your child has outgrown the limits for rear facing, by either height, weight or age, you will be able to take your convertible car seat and turn it around for use as a front facing seat until your child is about 5 years old.
3-in-1 Car Seats
If the convertible car seat is just not flexible enough, there are 3-in-1 models that go one step further. These seats allow you to use the same seat for the first two years as a rear-facing model, then you can switch to a front-facing seat until your child has outgrown the recommendations for forward facing car seats, and then the 3-in-1 seat can be used as a booster seat from ages 5 to about 8. These seats tend to be larger and heavier than the other two types, but offer a longer lifespan.
Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat
Now that we have a picture of what styles are available and how they function, let’s look more in-depth at the convertible car seat category. The top things to look for in a high-end convertible car seat are ease of use, steel frame construction, sturdy and comfortable fabric, shock absorbing features, and extra bells and whistles like cup holders and snack drawers. When we compare the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat with the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat, the race is pretty tight.
Chicco Nextfit Convertible Car Seat
The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat features a steel interior frame and EPS foam around the seat and in the head wings. The seat features high sides with plenty of padding for side impacts, however, there is no standard of testing for side impact crashes. In order to accommodate infants, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat comes with an infant body support insert. Overall, the safety category of all car seats is pretty similar. If used correctly, any appropriately sized car seat will protect your baby.
There is a 5 point harness on the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat. Five-point harnesses are recommended for children up to age 5 and are the most secure method of restraint on the market.
Installing the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat is easy. Chicco car seats use the LATCH system and the buckles that attach to the car are quick and easy to click in. Once clicked in, the car seat more or less tightens itself. It requires very little effort on your part to get it tightened. There is a simple strap to pull and some internal force multiplying systems that offer a great fit. If you choose not to use the LATCH system, or your child has outgrown the weight limit for the LATCH system, threading a seatbelt through the seat is pretty straightforward. There is also an internal belt lock to offer you peace of mind that the belt will not be slipping.
In addition to the LATCH system, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat also has an overhead strap for forward facing use. This strap is a standard feature on front-facing seats and limits movement for the headrest during a collision.
The last installation feature is the leveling bar. It is easy to understand when your seat is properly reclined and seated with this highly visible gauge that tells you if your car seat is at the right angle to support your child, properly.
The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat measures 19 inches wide by 29.2 inches high by 21 inches deep. It is one of the tallest seats on the market, which makes it great for tall children. The drawback to that height, however, is that it will take up more space when used as a rear facing seat. Rear-facing positions require that the seat is reclined. The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat tries to get around that problem by offering 9 recline adjustments so that you can find the perfect angle that is safest for your child and the best fit for your car.
Children from 5-40 pounds can use the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat in its rear-facing position. As a front facing seat, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat will accommodate kids from 22 to 65 pounds. The manufacturer does not specify a height limit, but the harness height ranges from 5″ to 17.5″. Chicco recommends that your child not use this seat if the harness is lower than your child’s shoulder height. The seat is rated for up to 8 years of use and is safe to take on flights.
The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat comes with extremely comfortable, padded upholstery. The seat cover on the standard model is removable, but does take some effort. Chicco offers the NextfitZip which is the same seat with the added bonus that the cover zips right off. The covers on Chicco car seats are machine washable, which is a huge bonus.
Under the cover, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat offers a height adjustable headrest that automatically adjusts the height of the harness straps. There are 6 size adjustments, and the chest clip offers two positions to accommodate a growing chest size. The harness straps on the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat are also comfortable, padded and easy to keep out of the way while you are loading your little one. Tightening the straps is easy: just pull the tab on the front of the seat, between your little one’s feet. The tightening is not as smooth as it is with an infant seat, but that is par for the course with convertible seats.
The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat also comes with a cupholder. This might seem like a minor bell, but when your child is ready to have a drink in the car, it comes in handy.
Britax Boulevard Convertible Car Seat
Like the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat, the Britax Boulevard has an internal steel frame, plenty of EPS foam and a 5 point harness. There is no infant body insert for the Britax Boulevard, however, one can be purchased for very small babies.
In addition to those standard safety features, the Britax Boulevard offers a few extras. The SafeCell base consists of a honeycomb structure that is made to compress on impact, thus absorbing shock and lowering your child’s center of gravity during a collision. The tethers and straps on the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat are impact absorbing, which will prevent the seat from shifting forward during a traffic incident. For one final layer of safety, there is an ARB version of the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat. The ARB, or anti-rebound bar, is a padded steel bar that exists at the foot side of the seat. During impact, this bar reduces rebound by pressing itself against the vehicle’s seat.
You can use the LATCH system with the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat, but why would you? Britax has gone to great lengths to make an easy to use, super secure system that uses your vehicle’s seatbelt. If you have used the LATCH system in the past, the Click Tight system might be initially confusing. If you have never installed a car seat, it is highly-intuitive. Basically, the seat part of the Britax Boulevard lifts up, exposing the pathway for your seat belt. Simply click the seatbelt, as you normally would, across this pathway and drop the seat back down onto the frame. The Click Tight lock secures the lap belt tightly inside the seat, preventing belt slippage. There is no need to worry about changing the method of install once your child is too big for the LATCH.
In addition to the Click Tight installation, the Britax Boulevard offers the Click and Safe indicator on its harness. Once the harness is properly tensioned for your child, there will be an audible clicking noise. Parents won’t have to guess whether their child is strapped in tightly enough with this feature. It is still a good idea to use your best judgment about the tightness of your child’s harness, but at least you will know when you are in the ballpark.
The Britax Boulevard also has a leveling indicator bar that is easy to use.
The Britax Boulevard convertible car seat is 18.5 inches wide by 23.5 inches tall, by 23 inches deep. Overall, it is comparable in size to the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat. It is quite a bit shorter than the Chicco model though, so it may fit smaller cars better. Add the fact that there are 7 recline positions, and you should be able to find a balance between fit and angle. The Britax Boulevard is also a half inch narrower than the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat. This doesn’t seem like much, but if you are trying to slide three car seats in one row, that adds up to an inch and a half over the Chicco. It could make all the difference.
Children can use the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat in the rear-facing position from 5 to 40 pounds, which is the same at the Chicco Nextfit. Kids can move up to the forward facing position from 20 to 65 pounds, which is a little sooner than the Chicco, should their height demand it. The harness height range on the Britax Boulevard ranges from 8.35″ to 19.4′ making both the smallest size and the largest size on the Britax Boulevard larger than the smallest and largest sizes on the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat. Britax specifies that the height limit for the Britax Boulevard convertible car seat is 49 inches. The seat is rated for 10 years of use, two more than Chicco, and is safe to take on flights.
Britax put a lot of effort into making extra safety features. These features are above and beyond what the federal safety tests require, and are independently tested by Britax. This includes the claim that Britax has superior side impact technology, the SafeCell base and frame, and the impact absorbing tethers. The added EPS foam and extra padding make for a softer seat chair that is designed to lower your child’s center of gravity.
One nice feature is the adjustable headrest and harness. While the Chicco also offers this feature, it is not as fine-tuned. The Britax offers 14 harness height options and the straps automatically widen their position as you move the height up. This means you should be able to get exactly the right height for your little one, and the straps will not dig into their neck as they grow.
One drawback is that there is no cup holder for the Britax Boulevard, but you can buy a cup holder that will work with the seat. Another problem is that the cover is not machine washable. It comes off easily, but must be hand washed.
Overall, both seats are good and safe, and each offers a lot of adjustability. The Britax, however, wins out on harness adjustment.
The Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat offers extra padding on the straps and a nice bucket feel. The Britax Boulevard offers extra padding, overall, especially in the headrest.
The specs on size accommodation are pretty much the same, and the Britax is good for an extra two years. Realistically though, most children will have outgrown either seat by age 8.
The Britax Boulevard has some cool added safety features, but it’s hard to tell if they are worth the extra 30 bucks, since the Chicco is as highly rated by federal guidelines. Overall, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat is a great buy. It will be easy to install, easy to clean, easy to adjust and it will protect your little one.
The Britax Boulevard will do all those things too, with the added benefit of the Click Tight installation system. The Click Tight system is a big bonus because using the LATCH connectors can be a hassle.
If you have a smaller car, or you move the car seat often, the Britax Boulevard is likely the better choice. If you are sure your kids are going to make a huge mess and you need to bring snacks and drinks with them, the Chicco Nextfit convertible car seat is for you. Whichever seat you choose, just make sure you know how to use it and that it fits in your car properly, so that your little ones are protected.