Got a small car? These compact car seats are sure to fit

Got a small car? These compact car seats are sure to fit

If you drive a compact or subcompact car, you may worry that having an infant or convertible car seat strapped into your back seat will make life difficult. How will you fit other passengers back there? Will you have to pull the front seats up too far for safety or comfort? Never fear: We investigated car seats known to be on the small and slim side, and looked at recommendations from child safety experts to produce this list of good bets for parents who drive small cars.

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  • Car-seat basics for small cars

    What you need to know

    If you drive something with oceans of legroom and a big, wide back seat, you never need to worry about whether a car seat will fit. You can buy something according to your taste and waltz right out of the store, secure that your big beluga of a vehicle will hold it.

    But if you have a small car, it's not that easy. A minivan like the Dodge Grand Caravan has about 63 inches of room across its back seat; a compact car like the Honda Fit has just under 50 inches. Meanwhile, most infant and convertible car seats are 18 to 23 inches wide. Math says: Not easy! Particularly when you're installing a car seat rear-facing, when the safe, approved angle often requires so much space that drivers or passengers can't fit in front of it.

    Choosing a car seat built as compactly as your car is key. But again, that's easier said than done. Have you noticed yet that digging up the dimensions of car seats can be strangely difficult? Car-seat companies helpfully provide their height and weight limits online or right on the box, but finding out how wide and tall these seats are is another thing altogether. Add to that all the installation hitches you can run into with any given car, any given seat, and rear-facing installation angles, and what you have is a puzzle guaranteed to make you want to pull your hair out.

    We can't tell you conclusively what to buy. But the following infant and convertible car seats are ones that child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) when faced with tight spaces.

  • Chicco KeyFit 30

    Perhaps the perfect infant seat

    • Type of seat: infant, rear-facing only
    • Dimensions: 22 by 17 by 24 inches
    • Assembled weight (without base): 9 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: 4 to 30 pounds and 30 inches max

    One of the perennially best-selling infant car seats on the market, the KeyFit 30 has it all: great looks, soft and cushy padding, and features that make this seat super-easy to install. The Super Cinch LATCH tightening system eliminates tedious tugging, and bubble-level indicators (like the kind you find on a leveling tool) on each side of the seat's base show when you're installing at the correct angle. The buckles work smoothly, the premium lower anchor connectors snap easily on to your car's LATCH anchors (and are just as easy to remove), and the KeyFit's adjustable recline foot helps you get the right installation angle without having to resort to props like a towel or pool noodle.

    But for compact car drivers, the KeyFit's most delicious feature is the short front-to-back length: compare its 22 inches with the KeyFit's closest competitor, the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35, which is 27.7 inches front to back. You won't have to pull up your driver or front passenger seats uncomfortably. And at 17 inches wide, the KeyFit is slim enough to fit in almost any back seat. It's also worth noting that you can ride with the seat's handle in any locked position, which can give you even more space-saving wiggle room when using this seat in a compact or subcompact car.

    Available at Amazon starting at $199.99

  • Cybex Aton 2 SensorSafe

    High-end seat has great safety extras

    • Type of seat: infant, rear-facing only
    • Dimensions: 25 by 17.25 by 12.25 inches
    • Assembled weight (without base): 9.5 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: 4 to 35 pounds and 30 inches max

    It's not quite as compact front to back as the KeyFit 30, but the Cybex Aton 2 has a couple of unique features that parents will appreciate. The first is the "load leg," that little leg protruding from the base in the photo above. This leg rests on the floor of your vehicle, and is intended to better distribute the force of a collision. Although the U.S. doesn't currently test this safety feature, the load leg is becoming more common on car seats.

    The Aton 2 also has little flaps near the seat's handle designed to transfer initial impact forces into the seat's shell and away from your baby. Again, the U.S. doesn't have testing standards for these types of Linear Side-Impact Protection (LSP) systems, so we don't know how effective this feature is in the Aton 2. Another cool feature is the SensorSafe technology on the chest clip, which can alert you via smartphone app if unsafe situations arise.

    Available at Amazon starting at $279.99

  • Graco Extend2Fit

    Well-designed convertible is ubiquitous for a reason

    • Type of seat: convertible, rear- and front-facing
    • Dimensions: 25.2 by 19.2 by 22.1 inches
    • Assembled weight: 24 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: rear-facing, 4 to 50 pounds and head 1 inch below red handle; forward-facing, 22 to 65 pounds and 49 inches max

    If you ask just about any group of parents which convertible seat to buy, prepare for a chorus of support for the Extend2Fit. Why? This seat from Graco solves many common car-seat problems. First of all, the rear-facing weight and height limits are expansive, easily holding most kids until they're 4 or 5. And the footrest that slides out from the body of the seat gives kids a place to prop their legs, so they don't scrunch up against the back seat. (It should be noted that this isn't actually dangerous, it just makes parents wince.)

    Although it's a heavy beast and on the wide side (so don't expect to use three in a row), the Extend2Fit is relatively short front to back. That means it doesn't impact the front seat when angled properly for rear-facing. You can install the Extend2Fit at six different angles, giving you more options than many other seats. Finally, installation is a dream with the Extend2Fit. Offering so much at this price, it's a truly impressive car seat.

    Available at Amazon starting at $179

  • Britax Marathon ClickTight

    The easiest install you could hope for

    • Type of seat: convertible, rear- and front-facing
    • Dimensions: 23 by 18.5 by 23.5 inches
    • Assembled weight: 27 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: rear-facing, 5 to 40 pounds and 49 inches max; forward-facing, 20 to 65 pounds and 49 inches max

    The Marathon is super-heavy, so you won't want to move this seat around a lot, but the good news is that if you do install and reinstall your seat often for any reason (cleaning, car pool, trips with family members), you'll find it incredibly easy to do with any of the ClickTight models. You simply open the seat's front panel, thread your car's seatbelt across, gently pull out slack, buckle and lock the seatbelt, and then close the panel: boom. That thing is in so securely, you'll have not a second of nervousness.

    The Marathon also has a grand total of seven recline positions, four of them rear-facing, which provides more options when you're trying to ace a tight space. Those recline positions make the seat more comfortable to ride in both rear- and front-facing, especially if you have a child who shows a preference either for lying back and snoozing or sitting up and taking in the view.

    Available at Amazon starting at $299.99

  • Nuna Rava

    Upscale choice has unique features

    • Type of seat: convertible, rear- and front-facing
    • Dimensions: 16 by 19 by 25 inches
    • Assembled weight: 27.2 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: rear-facing, 5 to 50 pounds and 49 inches max; forward-facing, 22 to 65 pounds and 49 inches max

    It's more than twice the price of other great car seats, so why would we recommend it? Simply put, the Rava is a luxury not every parent can afford, but those who can won't be sorry they shelled out for it. The Rava's fabrics, unlike almost every other car seat on the market, are free from flame retardant chemicals, and they feel just great: run your hands over the seat, and you'll probably want to keep stroking it. The ultra-comfortable seat pad lifts up, and underneath you'll find one of the Rava's other marquee features: the True Tension panel, which functions much like the Britax ClickTight system. Lift it up, thread the seatbelt through, tighten slightly, buckle and lock the seatbelt, close the True Tension compartment, and then marvel that you got the seat in so securely with the greatest of ease.

    Like the Extend2Fit, the Rava also has a slide-out panel that gives kids a place to put their legs and feet forward- or rear-facing. Parents hate to watch their kids scrunching up against the back seat when rear-facing, or dangling their legs when forward-facing, so this is a favorite feature. There are a total of 10 safe recline angles, ideal for adjusting to fit into most spaces and providing a choice to riders: recline and relax, or sit upright and see all. The Rava installs compactly rear- or front-facing, and the weight and height limits are expansive. This is a gold-star seat that’s worth it.

    Available at Nordstrom starting at $449.95

  • Graco TrioGrow SnugLock LX 3-in-1

    May be the only car seat you ever buy

    • Type of seat: 3-in-1, transforms from rear- or front-facing convertible seat with harness to belt-positioning booster
    • Dimensions: 19.2 by 22.5 by 25.5 inches
    • Assembled weight: 21.5 pounds
    • Weight and height specifications: rear-facing, 5 to 40 pounds and head 1 inch below fully-extended adjuster handle; forward-facing and harnessed, 22 to 65 pounds and 49 inches max; booster, 40 to 100 pounds and 57 inches max

    Take a close look at the TrioGrow if you're interested in a seat that your child can use from birth until it's time to stop using a booster. The TrioGrow's marquee feature is the SnugLock, similar to Britax's ClickTight and Nuna's True Tension, which makes it outrageously easy to install this seat securely using your car's seatbelt.

    The TrioGrow has six recline positions (three for rear-facing, three for front-facing), but the seat is most impressively compact when installed rear-facing. The headrest is smartly angled so that when you raise it, it doesn't protrude into the driver's or front-seat passenger's space. Even tall drivers in tiny cars can comfortably put their seat back, no matter what angle they use. The TrioGrow comes in a couple of different versions. We recommend paying a bit more for LX ("luxury"), which comes with some smart updates – including the Rapid Remove cover, which comes off and goes back on and easily for cleaning. Considering how long your child might be in this seat, the ability to get it squeaky clean without hassle will only grow more important over time.

    Available at Amazon starting at $239.99

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