I wasn’t always this way. Before I had my son, I simply counted on Amazon reviews to select a good infant car seat. Well, that and the reviews listed in Baby Bargains (a wonderful guide, by the way, that I was gifted by a parent already in-the-know).
I ended up with a good infant car seat. The Graco SnugRide 30. And two bases, one for each vehicle. No complaints.
But now I look back and am shocked that I took such a casual attitude. Trusting that all infant car seats were “basically the same,” I paid surprisingly little attention to additional safety and convenience features. Don’t get me wrong, the Graco SnugRide 30 was a good seat and served its purpose, but going forward I committed to myself that I would put more heart into my decision.
So once my son grew out of his infant car seat (at nowhere near the 30 lb. weight limit but rather the height limit, as is usually the case), I went on a mission to find the absolute best next step in convertible car seats. Armed with knowledge from Consumer Reports, car seat safety groups, and parents, I narrowed it down to two.
- Diono Radian RXT: Three things about this seat really stand out to me. First, it safely seats children up to 45 pounds. Most, if not all, other car seats go up to a maximum of 40 pounds; and it is widely known and documented that rear-facing is by far the safest position to seat a child. Secondly, it’s built with a steel alloy frame. Given the choice between a plastic or aluminum frame and steel alloy, which would you choose for safety?? ‘Nuff said. And finally, it is crash-tested up to 35 mph. U.S manufacturers are only required to test up to 30 mph. Even though that 5 mph difference doesn’t sound like a lot, it is significant in terms of additional force and impact upon a crash at that speed. This convertible car seat seemed like an easy choice.
- Britax Advocate 70 GS: I had the opportunity to check this seat out at a local store, and was immediately impressed by a few things. First, it is large. Not good, perhaps, for a small hatchback, but it just LOOKS sturdy and substantial; much larger than its competitors. Secondly, the seating bucket is deep. The child sits within the seat and is surrounded by protection. And finally, the additional side impact protection in the form of external energy-absorbing cushions is said to decrease side impact crash energy by 45%. 45%! That’s huge. So another solid choice.
So what did I end up choosing? Well, BOTH. Allow me to explain why.
After a lot of back-and-forth, I initially ordered the Diono Radian XRT. I received it and it was SOLID (and heavy). I was very pleased with my decision. But then we went to install (in the center rear-facing position). And ran into some hiccups.
The Diono Radian XRT is not overly easy to install. In fact, it took my husband and I quite some time reading and re-reading parts of the manual to ensure that we were doing it right. Ultimately, we were able to get it in with the help of some instructional videos on You Tube. It was indeed narrow, as advertised, and for those with three children, you could definitely fit three in the back seat.
But we couldn’t drive! Both the driver and passenger seat had to be pushed so far forward that it would be difficult to drive any more than a few miles in that position (the car we installed into was a 2012 Hyundai Sonata). Fortunately, Diono recognizes this issue and has a solution in the form of a $10 Angle Adjuster (basically a wedge that sits under the seat to make it more upright). Unfortunately, that adjuster cannot be used until the child is at least 12 months old. For the record, we did take a few short trips with baby in tow to try out the comfort level… I made it 2.3 miles without complaining.
Then we strapped our son in. Again: the Diono Radian XRT is not too user-friendly in this regard. Once we got him in and had to tighten the straps, we were instructed to pull DOWN on the slack and in short motions (tug tug tug vs. the long smooth pull that is required for the Graco and other car seats). Perhaps this would be easier in the forward-facing position, but when the seat is rear-facing, it’s almost impossible to properly pull down in a tug-tug motion to tighten the straps. It can be done, of course – but with some effort.
Once he was in, he was happy enough. I think he appreciated being able to look out the windows. And since the Diono Radian XRT has a low profile, I imagine that it would be easy for him to climb in and out on his own once a bit older. But, to me, he appeared to be too exposed. In other words, almost his entire head and body protruded from the seat vs. being cupped within the seat, like he was sitting on TOP of it vs. WITHIN it (how an adult sits). Perhaps this is more my perception of safety than anything else, but I would prefer that he remain more cupped by the seat at this age.
Based on these reasons – and primarily the fact that we knew it would be unrealistic to drive long distances with the Diono Radian XRT sans Angle Adjuster in the back seat – we decided to also purchase the Britax Advocate 70 GS (we do have two cars, after all).
Upon receipt of the Britax Advocate 70 GS, I was able to compare the two seats side by side. The Britax was definitely cushion-ier than the Diono. It just looked more comfortable. It was lighter (although it has integrated steel bars, the entire frame is not steel like the Diono’s is). And the seat bucket was deeper. We decided to install it.
Installation of the Britax Advocate 70 GS in the center rear-facing position was a BREEZE after our experience with the Diono Radian XRT. It was intuitive, the instructions were easy to follow, and we had it firmly installed in no time. One tiny feature of the seat that I think is very thoughtful is a pocket in the back specifically to store the instruction manual (since I am a person who frequently loses instruction manuals, I very much appreciate that the Britax’s will always be exactly where I need it).
Even better, it fit perfectly behind the driver and passenger seats in the same 2012 Hyundai Sonata. No need to move either seat up! And with a bit of space to spare (and yes, this was in the fully reclined position, as instructed by the manual). We can drive in comfort!
That said, the side-to-side spacing was not so generous. Those external side-impact cushions really do take up a lot of space. You definitely could NOT fit three Britax Advocate 70 GS seats in the backseat of a car. You couldn’t even fit two side-by-side. It’s either one in the center, or one on each end.
Now we buckled our son in. It was more difficult to get him into the seat because it sits up higher (be mindful of bumping your child’s head on the car ceiling while attempting to get them in). I imagine this would also make it more difficult for him to climb into the seat once he is older.
But buckling him in was so much easier than it had been with the Diono Radian XRT. Instead of a near-impossible downward tug-tug-tug motion, we were able to simply pull the strap smoothly in any direction and listen for the clicks as it got tighter and tighter. It definitely resulted in fewer tears for him and less frustration for us.
And then once he was in, he was CUPPED by the seat – exactly what I wanted! The downside is he can’t as easily look out the windows (he would have to lean forward), but the upside is that he is completely enveloped/protected by this seat. I was a happy camper.
So which do I ultimately prefer?
Both. That’s right, both.
The plan is this: for now, while our son is a bit smaller, we are going to use the Britax Advocate 70 GS. Then, once he outgrows it in the rear-facing position, we are going to switch to the Diono Radian XRT to continue to 45 pounds rear facing. Then will continue to use the Diono Radian XRT in the forward-facing position until he outgrows the seat/booster completely.
I realize that this is not the most cost-effective option (these seats ain’t cheap!) but it’s the one I am most comfortable with. And that’s priceless, right?