Babble Best Picks:
There might not be a more important baby product that you'll buy than a car seat. You can skimp on hand-me-down clothes, used toys or even second-hand strollers, but experts agree that car seats should be brand new - especially if you don't know the history of the particular car seat.
There are two options for babies: First there's the standard infant car seat, which is fitted more securely for a baby and is also lighter and more maneuverable for parents. An infant car seat can easily transfer between multiple cars, as well as turn into a travel system by hooking onto a stroller or shopping cart. However, infant car seats only face backwards and have a relatively short weight and height capacity, meaning you'll need to buy a bigger car seat toward the end of your baby's first year.
The second option is to just go with a convertible car seat from the jump, saving you money on the infant car seat and multiple car seat bases. Every convertible car seat that we tested can be used rear facing starting with newborns, although they generally don't have the best fit and features for the littlest ones. Convertible car seats are naturally much bigger and heavier than an infant car seat, and aren't as simple to move in and out of cars. Plus, you'll need multiple car seats for multiple cars, rather than just buying an inexpensive base (as with infant car seats).
Yet once your baby hits around 30 lbs., a convertible car seat can last you until your child is 65-100 lbs., possibly making it the last car seat you'll buy. But with so many different features, manageability and price points, it can be hard to tell just which ones are the very best. So to give you a hand, we tested the most popular infant and convertible car seats to fit your lifestyle and budget.
READERS’ CHOICE CONVERTIBLE CAR SEATS | Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL Convertible Car Seat
If you have an extra small car or need to fit two, even three, car seats in the back seat, the Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL is the absolute narrowest convertible car seat we’ve seen.
You might recognize the overall design as being similar to the Safety 1st Complete Convertible Car Seat, as the Sunshine Kids Radian uses adjustable head wings for added safety. (However, the pads aren’t nearly as cushiony as the Safety 1st design.) But Sunshine Kids claims their real side-impact protection comes from the aluminum-reinforced sides, which makes it one of the sturdiest car seats we’ve tested, but also the heaviest.
Besides the sturdiness of the steel alloy frame and the narrow design, we really like that it can be used up to 45 lbs. in a rear-facing position and then a whopping 80 lbs. while facing forward. And while a lot of car seats can only be used in the LATCH system up to a certain weight limit, the Sunshine Kids car seat has a SuperLATCH system all the way to 80 lbs. So while other car seats would force you to graduate to a booster, your big kid can be secure in a LATCH system and 5-point harness for as long as possible in the Sunshine Kids Radian.
We also like the idea that the seat can be folded and carried with its carrying strap. However, the seat weighs a solid 24 lbs., which isn’t a breeze to sling over your shoulder. It was hard just to lift it as is. Also, we didn’t like how easy it is for a toddler to open the car seat buckle.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a narrow yet safe car seat, this is the slimmest design we’ve seen. However, it’s extremely heavy to take on trips or move from car to car.
Get it from Sunshine Kids, $299.99