Image: Intel Free Press
Whether you live in the country, in the suburbs, in the city or somewhere in between, chances are you’ll be traveling around by car (at least some of the time).
As your family grows, you’ll want your newest family member to tag along for rides. What is the safest way to put baby in the car?
The answer is, of course, to use a car seat. But what type of car seat will fit in my compact car? What follows are reviews of the best car seats for small cars.
Before you begin shopping, be aware that there are two different types of car seats: an infant seat and a convertible one.
An infant seat is installed facing the rear of the car and it generally holdS babies up to 40 lbs., while the convertible version can be used for an infant up through toddlerhood (up to 65 lbs. or more) and sometimes beyond.
Convertible seats can be installed rear- or front-facing and have removable padding and adjustable parts to adapt as your child grows. Some convertibles (called 3-in-1) can even change into a booster seat for youngsters up to 120 lbs.
Many folks opt to buy a convertible car seat because it will last beyond the infant years. Certainly, in this way, buying a convertible is a money-saver.
However, some parents feel that baby is safer and more comfortable in an infant car seat because it has been tailored to the size and shape of a very young child. NOTE: If you choose a convertible car seat, make sure there is enough padding to support baby and that the padding can be removed once baby has grown.
There are some basic features to keep in mind when you’re shopping for either an infant car seat or a convertible design. Here’s a list to get you started:
If you're also in the market for a carseat and stroller combo, don't miss this great article.
Before we take a closer look at our favorite models, check out this comparison table to quickly size up the competition.
Buy it now
Safety 1st Guide 65
20” L x
- 3 buckle locations
Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 Infant Car Seat
18.2” L x
- Rigorously crash-tested
Graco Milestone All-In-One Convertible Car Seat
26” H x
- Washable seat cover
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70
19.7” H x
- Self-wicking fabrics
Britax USA Boulevard ClickTight Convertible Car Seat
23.5” H x
- Easy, rock solid installation
Diono Radian RXT
10” H x
- 10-year product life
21” L x
- 9 recline positions
Now, if you want the nitty gritty about each of these models, keep reading!
If you’re looking for a long-lasting car seat, Safety 1st Guide 65 Convertible may be for you.
The convertible design switches from a rear-facing seat (for use until your child is 40 lbs.) to a front-facing seat (holds up to 65 lbs.).
The 5-point safety harness secures your child and the removable padding and adjustable headrest provide all the comfort they need. The seat fabric may be removed for cleaning, although it should be noted that some folks had trouble with the reassembly.
Considering you can use this seat until your toddler is 65 lbs. and 4’9” tall, it’s worth the price. It measures 20” L x 18” W x 24” H and weighs 14 lbs. Its compact size makes it a great fit for smaller vehicles.
The Safety 1st Guide 65 is compact enough that three can fit across the backseat of regularly sized vehicles! With our small car, we had plenty of room left over in the backseat!
This is an inexpensive model that delivers on all the basics: it’s sturdy, safe, comfortable, and easy to use. Considering this, we think it’s worth purchasing at least as a back-up car seat to have on hand for company.
The Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 is just an infant seat, meaning it’s installed facing the rear and should only be used up until baby is 35 lbs.
The Click Connect system is what sets this seat apart from the competition. In other words, a single “click” is all that’s needed to attach this car seat to its base or to a Graco Click stroller. In this way, you can effortlessly transition from a car ride to a stroller adventure.
This is the lightest car seat around at just 7.5 lbs. Together with the stay-in-car base it’s 14 lbs.; the seat base is LATCH-equipped for extra secure installation.
The comfortable padding provides support for your infant and can be removed as she grows bigger. The padded headrest is adjustable and the seat reclines to 6 different positions. For extra coziness, there’s a cover for baby’s legs and feet!
This design has been crash tested to meet US safety standards.
We really can’t get over how lightweight this is! We were surprised that we didn’t struggle when we carried the seat with baby, a handbag and a shopping bag all at the same time.
Also, we were more apt to bring baby to a restaurant knowing we can just scoop the seat and carry baby inside without straining ourselves.
Since we tried out several models, the fact that we could carry this car seat (with baby) without any hassle was a major selling point. Even at the higher price point, the lighter weight gave us the confidence that we often lacked as a new parent.
The Graco Milestone All-in-One is for the family that wants to buy one car seat and stick with it from the infant stage, to toddler stage and a bit beyond. It’s the only seat you’ll need, starting when your baby is 5 lbs. and on up until he’s reached 100 lbs.
This is possible because the Graco Milestone is a convertible model that switches from a rear-facing seat to a front-facing seat to a backless booster. What’s more, the trim steel reinforced frame fits in smaller cars.
Comfort is key with Graco Milestone. This convertible design reclines to 4 different positions, has an adjustable headrest, plush removable padding and a removable cup holder. The washable seat cover is a bonus.
We had a hard time coming up with a con considering the price and longevity of the product.
The Simply Safe Adjust Harness System is a blessing. It automatically matches up the harness and headrest position so we don’t waste any time (or energy!) trying to align the parts. As a result, we were confident that the seat was in the optimal position at all times.
The versatility of this car seat is unbeatable. This clever model may be the only car seat your child ever uses, as an infant, a toddler and a youth (up to 100 lbs.).
Considering that so many things change during these formative years, we welcome a product that has such lasting power. That’s what we’re looking for when we say the best car seat for a small car!
The Pria 70 is all about safety. It boasts the highest safety ratings, fitted with “Air Protect” side impact protection and also a “FlexTech” system that guards against multi-directional impacts.
This car seat is convertible; it’s suitable until your child is 70 lbs. and 52”. When the seat is rear facing, the clever and compact design of the Pria 70 allows the front seat passengers to have ample legroom.
The 5-point harness keeps your child snug, as do the plush (removable) cushions. The headrest and harness can be adjusted with just one hand. We were pleased to see that many different color combinations were available.
We were impressed with how little space the Pria 70 took up when it was in rear-facing mode. Our front seat passenger didn’t have to sacrifice one inch of legroom!
The high marks for safety made this an especially appealing choice since safety is always our priority.
Britax seems to know what parents are looking for in a car seat: comfort, convenience, and safety. All of these are covered with their USA Boulevard ClickTight model.
Although it’s a bit heavier than others we’ve reviewed, it fits well in smaller cars with the following dimensions: 23.5” H x 18.5” W x 23” D.
The ClickTight system takes the hassle out of the installation process: just open the front section of the car seat and buckle the seat belt across and click it closed. The same goes for the Click & Safe Snug Harness Indicator that you know is closed properly when you hear a clicking sound. The safety harness expands to 14 different positions without you ever having to rethread it!
Parents will relax knowing that this model exceeds the mandated safety measures (with SafeCell Impact Protection). What’s more, your child will be as comfortable as can be with padded foam cushions, an adjustable headrest and quality fabric.
The ClickTight Installation System ensures that everyone can install the car seat securely and confidently by just buckling the seat belt.
This car seat has so many positives that we’re tempted to give it two thumbs up.
The Diono Radian is another versatile car seat that can be used from infancy to youth. The seat converts from rear facing (up to 45 lbs.) to front facing (up to 80 lbs.) to booster (up to 120 lbs.), making it the only car seat your child will ever need!
With its compact size, you could fit 3 of these across the back seat of a mid-sized car. This means that in our smaller car, our backseat passenger never felt crowded sitting next to the car seat.
The designs boasts a steel reinforced frame with energy absorbing foam and side impact protection. The superLATCH system makes for quick and easy installation. The headrest can be adjusted to 12 different levels and the secure Safestop® 5-point harness offers 3 different positions.
With memory foam padding and removable inserts, your child will be comfortable and supported at all stages, from baby to toddler to youth.
This is the only car seat we reviewed that folds up so we can carry it on our backs or stash it away until we need it again. We love that we can purchase carrying straps and take the seat with us when we travel! The folded dimensions: 10" L x 17" W x 28.5" H.
If safety weighs on your mind, this may be the best car seat for small cars since it’s a secure choice for your child from infancy on up. However, since it is a pricey model, we suggest giving it a test drive before you make your purchase.
Clearly, the folks at Chicco don’t want parents to waste time worrying about the proper installation and security of their car seats. The Nextfit has a foolproof SuperCinch installation system plus two indicators that show when the seat is at the correct angle, either in rear-facing or front-facing mode. Furthermore, the harness system is adjustable and never requires rethreading.
As your child grows, the headrest can be adjusted to 6 different positions and the harness strap automatically adjusts with it.
Body cushions can also be removed for maximum comfort as your child moves from the infant to toddler stage.
Hooray for “SuperCinch!” Just as the name suggests, installing this car seat is a cinch and anyone can do it. Chicco has created a force technology that takes the stress out of installation and allows for a simple, safe fit with very little effort. Every time.
This is a reliable, durable choice for folks who are looking for an everyday car seat. It’d be a great choice if you plan on using the seat in different small vehicles since the installation and adjustments are so easy.
Car safety takes on a whole new level of meaning when your children are involved. If an accident occurs and your car comes to an abrupt stop, anything inside the vehicle that isn’t strapped down will be propelled forward. This is why a secure car seat is so essential.
New parents may be challenged when it comes to finding the best car seat for small cars. Not only do you have to consider the car seat’s safety features, but also its dimensions to be sure it fits properly in the backseat.
It may seem like a drag to comparison shop, but since nothing is more important than your child’s safety, it’s well worth the effort. The truth is, with the proper use of a car seat you can help to keep your children safe. So take the time and research the car seat that’s right for you.
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