Note: There is no one universal “best,” especially when it comes to parenting. These are “The Best Convertible Car Seats” based on Also Mom's strict criteria, detailed here.
Choosing the perfect convertible car seat might give you PTSD flashbacks to the giant stress ball that was choosing the perfect infant car seat. (Unless you used our infant car seat guide, in which case, hopefully it was pretty painless.)
Convertible car seats are called such because they are designed to convert from rear-facing for younger babies and toddlers to forward-facing for older toddlers and children. Compared to infant car seats, convertible car seats take up a lot more space, are significantly heavier, are more difficult to move from car to car, and do not integrate with strollers as travel systems.
These are our favorite convertible car seats, in loose order of preference:
- Nuna Rava ($450) – The Nuna Rava is the nicest-looking convertible car seat on the market, and looks at home in even the fanciest of cars and SUVs. It is super safe, featuring extended rear-facing to 50 pounds, is newborn compatible, and is ridiculously easy to install and adjust. The only two bummers about this seat are that it is too wide to fit three car seats across in a single back row, which could be important for parents of three or more children, and it can also get a bit toasty in hot weather. [full review]
- Clek Foonf ($450 and up) – Clek says it best: “we makes tanks, not recliners.” The Clek Foonf is the safest convertible car seat on the market today, with all the important safety bells and whistles and more. Their seats look really nice too, and are reasonably comfortable (though not as cushy as the Nuna Rava or the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio for example). The Foonf has a narrow profile, allowing for a three-across fit (three car seats in one back seat row), but on the downside, this car seat is extremely heavy, somewhat complicated to install, and not super easy to adjust as baby grows. [full review]
- Clek Fllo ($380) – This seat is very similar to the Clek Foonf, but without the rigid latch technology and with a less advanced recline system. Also, due to the differences in tech, the Fllo sits lower in the vehicle and takes up a bit less space in all recline positions. [full review]
- Cosco Scenera Next (~$50) – The Cosco Scenera NEXT is ridiculously inexpensive– as in literally one tenth the price of some of our other favorite car seats. From a safety perspective, it is pretty bare bones (though it meets or exceeds all federal safety standards). We love this car seat best as a travel car seat or a second car seat, because it is lightweight, narrow, easy to install, and did-we-say-CHEAP? [full review]
- Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible ($350) – A great do-it-all convertible car seat, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible is super safe, ridiculously easy to install and adjust, and is newborn compatible. It has a high-end look that tends toward “traditional.” (We personally aren't in love with the contrast stitching detail.) Regardless, from a safety and easy of use perspective, this car seat is awesome. [full review]
- Diono Radian rXT ($300) – A safe, super tall car seat (and front seat legroom hog) that converts from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster seat. Overall, it is very similar to the Diono Rainier, but with a slightly lower rear-facing limit (45 vs. 50lbs), lower five-point harness forward-facing limit (80 vs. 90lbs), and without the reinforced, extra deep sidewalls. These differences make the seat a bit narrower, accommodating three across. [full review]
- Diono Rainier ($320) – The Rainier is a beast of a car seat. Because it is built to accommodate both extended rear-facing (to 50lbs) and extended five-point harness forward-facing (to 90lbs), it is significantly taller than many other car seats on the market. Because of that, this seat is a major front seat legroom hog in rear-facing mode. But… it is super safe, newborn compatible, easy to install, and folds up for easy(ish) portability. So pluses and minuses. [full review]
- Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max ($330) – Although the Pria 85 Max meets or exceeds all standard safety requirements, the only additional safety bell/whistle it has is side impact protection. That said, this car seat looks great, is super comfortable, is great for warmer climates (moisture wicking fabric!), has a no re-thread harness, great recline, and an easy install. Our biggest reservation about this car seat is that the straps are sticky/difficult to tighten and we always prefer to see more safety features rather than fewer. [full review]
- Maxi Cosi Pria 85 ($270) – Differing from the Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max in only a few ways, the Pria 85 is not newborn compatible (14 pounds and up only), does not have moisture wicking fabrics (making it less ideal in hot climates), and has a different, but also perfectly fine, chest clip. Everything else is similar. If you are planning to use this car seat after your child has outgrown his or her infant car seat anyway, and you don't live in a particularly hot climate, the Pria 85 is a great money-saving choice. [full review]
- Maxi Cosi Pria 70 ($250) – Another car seat very similar to the Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max, the biggest difference between the Pria 70 and the Pria 85 Max is the upper forward-facing weight limit, which is 70 pounds on the Pria 70 vs. 85 pounds on the Pria 85 Max. This doesn't make a huge difference, since the height limit is the same on both seats (52 inches) and most children will be 52 inches before they reach 85 pounds. The Pria 70 is newborn compatible with the Tiny Fit system, has moisture wicking fabrics, and has a no re-thread harness. As you'd expect from a car seat $100 cheaper, the Pria 70 is less refined in its construction, and has a few sticking points operationally. [full review]
Which is the Best Convertible Car Seat for Your Family?
If you are a touch vain (hey, respect for knowing yourself) and want the best looking convertible car seat… the Nuna Rava is the best looking of the bunch. Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio seats are also very nice.
If you have a big family (or are planning to have a big family) and need a car seat narrow enough to fit three seats across in the back row of your car… Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Cosco Scenera Next, and Diono Radian rXT car seats are all ~17 inches wide, allowing for three-across seating in most cars.
If you haven't yet committed to the SUV/minivan life and need the best convertible car seat for a compact car… Nuna Rava, Maxi Cosi Pria 85 Max, Maxi Cosi Pria 85, Maxi Cosi Pria 70, Cosco Scenera Next, and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio seats all have smaller than average depth measurements, meaning they take up less front seat leg room.
If you travel by air and need the best convertible car seats for traveling… the Cosco Scenera is cheap, durable, lightweight, and easy to install with a seat belt.
If you don't want to buy another car seat after this one and want a convertible car seat that converts to a booster for larger children… Diono Radian rXT and Diono Rainier both convert to booster seats.
If you want your child to rear-face as long as possible (we support this!) and want a convertible car seat with extended rear-facing weight limits (45+ pounds)… Nuna Rava, Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, Diono Rainier, Peg Perego Primo Viaggio, Diono Radian rXT seats are your friends.
If you want your child to be in a five-point harness as long as possible (we also support this) and want a convertible car seat with extended forward-facing five-point harness weight and height limits… Diono Radian rXT and Diono Rainier car seats are great options. (Note: Maxi Cosi Pria seats also have extended forward-facing weight limits, but children often outgrow the height limit before they do the weight limit with this seat.)
There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing a convertible car seat. Safety, obviously. Nice-to-have features, too. But also whether it’s easy to adjust and install. Whether it will fit in your car. Whether you will need a second car seat for your second car, and how much you’re willing to pay for that second seat. Whether it is something with which you can travel easily.
And of course, there’s the style factor. It’s difficult to find a new car seat that isn’t safe, but not every car seat out there accounts for style and taste.
In addition to the table stakes safety requirements, to us a fantastic convertible car seat…
- Has a high rear-facing weight limit and allows for extended rear-facing riding
- Is not a space hog
- Is easily adjustable for a safe, snug fit
- Accounts for taste by being beautiful and fitting right in with your style
- Is extra super duper safe, with bonus points for features like an anti-rebound bar
What Didn't Make the Cut
There are many safe, well-rated, dare-we-say beloved car seats we did not include on our list of favorites. This is primarily because we do not love the way they look or have found better options at similar price points. Call us vain, but that stuff’s important to us. These are those seats and a little about why people love them so much despite, in our opinion, their aesthetic flaws. (We won't judge you if you choose one of these instead. They're just not what we'd pick.)
- Britax Advocate ClickTight ($350): This is a fantastic car seat with great safety ratings, but we hate the contrast piping and the gray/white base. Given that it is similar in price to the Clek Fllo, we would prefer the Fllo 10 out of 10 times.
- Britax Boulevard ClickTight ($250): Another great Britax seat with the dreaded gray/white base. Again, wonderful safety features and an all-around good car seat, but not our favorite look for the price. We prefer the Clek Fllo at a similar price point (though it is often easier to find deals on the Britax seats online).
- Britax Marathon ClickTight ($230): Yet another great Britax seat with great safety ratings and the dreaded gray/white base. Again, we prefer the Clek Fllo, which retails at a similar price point (though it is often easier to find deals on the Britax seats online).
- Britax Allegiance ($200): This is a safe seat at a (barely) sub-$200 price point, and it actually looks pretty nice in “Static.” The weight and height limits are both lower than the Maxi Cosi Pria 70, which can often be found on sale for a similar price point.
- Britax Emblem ($240): This seat is similar to the Britax Allegiance, but it has one additional layer of side impact protection and comes in significantly uglier colors.
- Chicco NextFit ($240): The NextFit has many features that make life easier for parents, and the seat ends up looking like… something that makes life easier for parents. The base is a sort of industrial gray, the fabric choices are limited, and all seats have contrast piping which makes the seats look dated.
- Cybex Sirona ($330): This seat is imilar to the Maxi Cosi Pria car seats, but with a lower front facing weight limit and a bit more expensive. We would choose the Pria car seats over the Sirona, and for ~$350 would choose the Primo Viaggio Convertible car seat over both of those options.
- Evenflo SafeMax Platinum ($165): This seat converts to a booster, accommodating kids from 5-120 pounds. And the price is right for many. We just don't love its bulky look.
- Evenflo SureRide DLX ($100): A safe seat in the $100 price range that allows forward facing up to 65 pounds (which is significantly better than the Cosco Scenera NEXT’s 40 pound weight limit). Overall it’s pretty unattractive, but since it weighs in at about 15 pounds, it does make a decent travel car seat.
- Evenflo Symphony DLX ($150): This car seat is rated from 5 to 110 pounds, converting to a booster, at a low price point. Unfortunately, it’s not very easy on the eyes.
- Evenflo Tribute ($55): Similar to the Cosco Scenera in price and features and borderline decent-looking in a few of the color options, this seat almost made our list, but got beat out by the Scenera since the Scenera has a higher rear-facing weight limit (40 vs. 30 pounds) and can attach to the Mountain Buggy Nano for easy transport.
- Graco 4Ever ($200): So many parents love this car seat that grows from 4 to 120 pounds, but we prefer the Diono Radian rXT or the Diono Rainier, which look better while accomplishing the same goal at a slightly higher price point (though deals can be found online that actually make the Diono less expensive than the Graco). We also don’t love the color contrast piping, the dual integrated cupholders, and the general look of this seat.
- Graco Extend2Fit ($180): The main feature of this car seat is that it extends to provide four extra inches of legroom, but so too does the Nuna Rava (albeit at a significantly higher price point), and the Maxi Cosi car seats offer similar benefits at the same price point.
- Graco Milestone ($170): This is another all-in-one car seat that grows with children from 5 to 100 pounds, but gets zero style points doing it.
- Safety 1st Grow-and-Go ($150): This one almost made the list, and may be the right seat for some families, especially as a second seat. It is actually pretty decent-looking, converts to a booster, and exceeds federal safety standards. It is very similar in price to the Maxi Cosi Pria 70, but it has the added bonus of converting to a booster seat.
A Few More Things
A Note on Infant vs. Convertible Car Seats: Many convertible car seats are suitable from birth with infant inserts. Most parents still opt for an infant car seat for the first year or so, primarily because infant car seats offer a deeper recline and are significantly more portable. If baby falls asleep in the car, you can easily pop the seat out and bring baby inside to let them finish their nap.* Infant car seats are also easier for travel, for taking taxis, for popping into strollers, and for creating safe places for immobile infants anywhere and everywhere. But if you’re on a serious budget, you can skip the infant car seat altogether and go straight to a convertible.
A Note on Weight: Many convertible car seats weigh between 20 to 30 pounds, which is not light. Remember, this is not a seat you’ll want to be moving frequently, and you will generally leave it installed in its position in your car. If you have two cars in which you frequently drive your child, you might want to strongly consider getting two car seats. It’ll make your life a lot easier.
A Note on Second Car Seats: If you have the budget for it and drive both cars frequently, get two of the safest car seats your budget will allow. If you drive one car with significantly less frequency, you can get a less expensive car seat for that car, or use the car seat you would otherwise use for travel (like the Cosco Scenera) in that car.
A Note on Traveling with a Convertible Car Seat: While you can lug your main car seat when you travel, many parents opt for a lighter weight convertible car seat, like the Cosco Scenera, for travel. This saves your main car seat from the bumps and bruises of air travel and means you don’t have to carry such a heavy car seat through the airport.
A Note on Height/Depth: Some car seats are very tall, and when they lean back in rear-facing mode, they take up a lot of space. This is bad news for your front seat legroom. Make sure to measure your car against the height/depth measurements of the car seats listed here before making a decision, especially if you have a smaller car.
A Note on Width: If you want to fit three car seats in your back seat, the magical width is 17 inches. Anything wider than that and you likely won’t be able to fit three across.
A Note on Latch vs. Belt Installation: Most car seats allow both LATCH and seat belt installation. Remember to read your car’s manual to determine the maximum weight limit of your car’s LATCH system. Most cars have LATCH weight limits of around 60 pounds including the weight of the car seat. (Meaning… if your car’s LATCH weight limit is 60 pounds and your car seat weighs 25 pounds, your child can weigh no more than 35 pounds when using the LATCH system.) In many cases, it’s safest to use the seat belt instead of the LATCH system, assuming you know how to get a snug fit on your car seat. Watch and follow The Car Seat Lady’s installation video for your specific car seat and you will for sure get a snug fit.
A Note on Rear-Facing vs. Forward-Facing: Officially it is recommended to rear-face until at least age two, but it is safest to rear-face as long as your car seat will allow, weight and height-wise. Even once a toddler/small child’s legs are scrunched up against the back seat, it is still significantly safer to ride rear-facing than forward-facing. (Cue to 1:30 in this kind of disturbing video to learn more.)
*Obviously keep an eye on your kiddo if he/she is sleeping in the car seat and always leave him/her buckled in tightly. Babies have suffocated in car seats before, but as long as your kid is safely buckled in and isn’t wearing anything that could restrict their airways, you don’t need to worry obsessively.