Basically, I drive cars for a living. Every week, in and out, a new car shows up at my office for me and the staff of DriveApart to test out. Which was fine and great when I was first married, but now, as a dad to a lovely daughter named Ruby, I have installed more seats than a tech at your local baby store. My range of infant car seat testing has been pretty extensive--I've put a one in everything from the back of a Rolls-Royce (surprisingly easy) to a Ferrari California T (not going to happen) and all manner of cars in between. What I've realized: the LATCH system is the greatest thing invented...and I can install an UPPABaby Mesa in about 35 seconds flat. Inevitably Ruby became a toddler, and now at 15 months, it's time to move her into a convertible seat. So the test drives began again. Lucky for you, we've tried a variety of models along our car seat journey from infant to toddler, including Clek, Britax, Maxi-Cosi and UPPAbaby. Here's our reviews of each. SEAT NAME: Clek Foonf STYLE: Convertible Car Seat with available infant adaptor. TESTED WITH: Maserati Quattroporte GTS BEST FOR: Design-driven parents who are totally into safety, since the Foonf is one HEAVY (and safe) seat. This seat looks great and has a slim profile. It's great for those with a smaller car, which is what you'd expect from Clek, since it started off as a division of automotive supply manufacturer Magna International. WHY WE LOVE IT: For those into safety, design and, may I add, cars, the Foonf is a best bet. First off, it looks amazing. It's built like a tank, with a 33-lb. weight to match. The Foonf is made with a rigid metal sub-structure with energy-absorbing EPP foam layers on the outside of the seat. That and its adjustable headrest work together to provide optimal side impact protection. While the seat cushion is somewhat thin, fitting the European styling, Ruby was comfortable for extended trips. The Foonf also comes with an infant insert so you can start using it when your baby is just 5 lbs. DOWNSIDES: It's heavy, at 33-lbs. That means when your child hits more than 35 lbs. in forward-facing mode, or 25 lbs. rear facing, you can no longer use LATCH system but instead need to use the seatbelt (when front-facing, seat belt is in addition to LATCH) to lock down the seat. This isn't that bad if you're not schlepping the Foonf from car to car on the regular, but can be tough for a city parent car-sharing or traveling in a cab. Also, the Foonf is quite expensive. RETAIL PRICE: 2015 Clek Foonf, $449.99, Infant Thingy, $69.99 SEAT NAME: UPPABaby Mesa STYLE: Infant Car Seat TESTED WITH: Everything from a Porsche Panamera and Mercedes-Benz S-Class to a Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-7 BEST FOR: Design driven parents who want a whole “system" (stroller plus car seat). Also, if you're in and out of an Uber, the install system is easy as punch and, at under 19 lbs., this stroller is lightweight too. WHY WE LOVE IT: Ruby spent more than a year in the seat, so it holds a place near and dear to us. Also, as part of the UPPABaby family, you can use the Mesa seat with their excellent Vista stroller, which lets you fit multiples, praise be the lord, onto the same stroller. Also, both the seat and stroller were updated for 2015 with new features like weight reduction and new fabrics for the Mesa, and new seating configurations for the Vista. DOWNSIDES: This is where baby seats get complicated. With an infant seat and base model, like the UPPABaby, you can take junior in and out of the car without waking up the poor dear, as the whole Mesa is removable from the base. From there, you can clip to the Mesa onto a Vista stroller and you're off. Which is great, but gets expensive since, depending on the size and growth pattern of your child, the clock is ticking and you'll need to buy a convertible seat within a year. Is convenience is worth the price? PRICE: UPPAbaby Mesa 2015 Safety Car Seat, $299.99; UPPAbaby 2015 Mesa Base Safety Car Seat, $119.99 SEAT NAME: Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 STYLE: Convertible Car Seat (but if you opt for the Pria 70, there is an infant insert available.) TESTED WITH: Lexus NT200 SUV and Volkswagen Passat BEST FOR: Parents who are into comfort and high-end goods--this is a premium seat. Also, it's perfect for parents who own a car and take a lot of trips with baby in tow. WHY WE LOVE IT: I love the cup holder; I love the oversized nature of seat and the extra padding, and I love that Ruby, out of all the seats, loves this one the most. My wife Nikki loves the seat so much that when it came, she claimed it as hers to test. Nikki thinks this seat has the most room for your little one, especially in the headrest area, and the synthetic CosiCushion premium fabric is great, easy to clean and does not get hot in the sun. I totally agree with her. DOWNSIDES: No infant insert, as you need to 'downgrade' to the Pria 70 for that option. Also, good luck finding one on sale. PRICE: Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 Convertible Car Seat, $299.99, Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 Convertible Car Seat and infant insert, $249.99 SEAT NAME: Britax Advocate G4.1 STYLE: Convertible Car Seat TESTED WITH: Toyota Corolla WHAT PARENT IT FITS BEST: Suburban Moms with big back seats. WHY WE LOVE IT: Safety, safety, safety. This seat is massive and overbuilt – in all the right ways and comes with Britax's SafeCell Impact Protection - which is an integrated system of safety components that work together to protect the child beyond federal safety standards as well as a SafeCell Complete Side Impact Protection MAX, which is a deep protective shell that absorbs crash forces and shields your child from debris. We also really like the Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator, which gives a nice audible "click" when the harness gets to the proper positioning. This seat is built to take a licking and perfect for moms with a lot of kids banging in and out of the car. This is Britax's top of the line car seat and it shows. DOWNSIDES: Ruby took awhile to adjust to this seat as the head bolsters, which are some of the safest on the market, blocked her view out the window. The seat has so many safety features it seems there isn't much room left for baby. PRICE: Britax Advocate G4.1 Convertible Car Seat, $379.99 The Results: While there was a clear winner for me--the Clek Foonf--Mrs. DriveApart (my wife, Nikki) really loved graduating from our traditional infant seat (the UPPABaby Mesa) to the Maxi-Cosi Pria 85, which, I may add, is like a Lazy-Boy for the infant market. And The Bottom Line on Car Seat Shopping: Go to the store and try out every seat with the baby in tow, as you'll never know what works best for your baby until you try it out. These seats last a long time and cost some serious coin, so the worst thing you can do is buy the wrong seat, wasting time and money and causing some avoidable many baby meltdowns.
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