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Five infant car seats that balance price and performance

Five infant car seats that balance price and performance

You can safely bring a newborn home from the hospital in any one of the 29 infant car seats from Consumer Reports’ tests. Some of the seats we tested cost $200 or more but others are half that price. Spending less can still buy you a seat that performs well in a crash as we discovered in our tough tests but you may need to work harder to get a secure installation or to make adjustments as your baby grows as some lower-cost seats don’t include as many ease-of-use features.

We found seats at a good price in the two typical weight categories—for babies weighing up to 22 pounds and for those 22 pounds and over. The five seats below come equipped with hook style LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) connectors. These secure a seat just as well as a push-on type connector but can be more difficult to attach and detach if LATCH anchors are recessed. Higher priced models often come with push-on connectors.

Infant seats for babies up to 22 pounds
In our tests, we simulate a 30-mile-per-hour frontal crash into a wall or other fixed object. The Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus, $80, had excellent crash protection and we found it easy to install with LATCH in the five major vehicle types: compact cars, midsized sedans, small SUVs, large SUVs and minivans. However, it wasn’t as easy to install using a vehicle’s seat belts. The seat has an adjustable crotch strap, which provides a snug fit for baby, even as he grows. And care must be taken to be sure either the LATCH or belts stay within their guides.

Not as good for ease-of-use, the bargain-priced Cosco Comfy Carry, $60, nevertheless had excellent crash protection performance. Other safety pluses include an adjustable crotch strap, and recline-level indicators on both sides. But the base lacks an adjustment feature making it difficult to obtain an appropriate recline angle in some vehicles.

Infant seats for babies 22 pounds or more
The Safety 1st OnBoard35, $100, was another excellent performer in crash test protection and was easier to use than others in the $100-and-under category thanks to clear labels and instructions. It was a cinch to install in LATCH mode. Its higher 35-pound rear-facing weight capacity and adjustable crotch strap can accommodate a growing child. And dual weight-range level indicators help users install the seat properly for infants, who need a more reclined angle, and older children, who sit more upright.

The Evenflo Embrace 35, $90, has clear labels and instructions and performed well in our crash tests. The adjustable crotch strap and 35-pound capacity helps buy you some extra time before graduating your baby to a larger rear-facing seat. But the seat’s buckles can be stiff and this seat also requires some clearance from the seat back in front, which can make it harder to fit in some smaller cars.

At $100, the Graco Snugride 30 accommodates babies up to 30 pounds, and was a solid performer in crash protection tests. It was better suited to LATCH installation than seat belts since it lacks a lock-off to prevent tilt for some belt installations. It has recline-level indicators on both sides and an adjustable crotch strap for growing babies. But our testers found the labels and instructions poor in quality, and its harness height adjustments confusing.

Though these infant car seats represent some of our top-performing values, higher priced models may include features that make installation or adjustments easier. Models, such as the top-rated Chicco KeyFit 30, $180, are pricier but provide a better potential for secure installation. For more information, see our complete child car seats buying guide and our top car seat picks for convertible, toddler booster, or booster car seats.

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