When I was shopping for my little one's first car seat, I chose an infant car seat with excellent safety ratings from a brand I trusted. The Graco SnugRide 30 was our very first car seat and we had a great experience with it. At around 11 months, our son was noticeably outgrowing his infant seat (was approaching 30 inches in length) and we knew we needed to obtain a convertible car seat. In hindsight, I wish I would have known about the multi-function, all-in-one Graco Smart Seat™!
I was sent a Graco Smart Seat featuring Safety Surround Side Impact Protection in the Stargazer Fashion to review:
The Graco Smart Seat is designed for children 4-100 pounds. This is truly the only car seat you'll ever need. The unique design of the Smart Seat means that this seat transitions from rear facing infant/todder seat to forward facing toddler seat to belt-positioning booster for youths. Besides it's ability to to adapt to your growing child, the Smart Seat is the only all-in-one seat on the market that features a stay-in-car Smart Base™.
Let's start by looking at the seat itself. The Smart Seat comes with an infant body support to ensure a perfectly safe fit for your baby. The infant support must be used if baby's shoulders are below the lowest harness setting, and must only be used in rear-facing mode. You should discontinue use of the body support once your child reaches 20 pounds.
The Smart Seat features a five point safety harness, with included harness covers. The harness system is very easy to use. Simply fasten the chest clips, then insert both tongues into the buckle. No puzzle buckle to deal with. The chest clip even includes a graphic that shows correct chest clip placement (at the level of the armpits).
The feature that attracted me most to the Smart Seat was the Smart Base. I felt like our infant seat was so secure due to the base. I loved hearing that click and knowing the seat was in place. The Smart Seat is the only all-in-one car seat on the market with a stay-in-car base. The Smart Base is specifically designed for the Smart Seat due to the pin guides that match up with stainless steel pins on the Smart Seat. Simply guide the pins into the tracks, then use the lock knobs (pictured below, they're red with the word PUSH on them) to lock the seat into the base. The Smart Base has a wonderful lock identification window so you'll know when your seat is securely locked in place. Yellow means not locked, and black means locked. Once you install the Smart Base, that's it! When your child is ready to turn from rear-facing to forward facing, you just turn the lock knobs, slide the Smart Seat off of the base and flip it around! This is a really fantastic feature. You can also purchase an additional base (or more) so your Smart Seat can go from vehicle to vehicle. No need to purchase more than one seat if you're a two car family.
There are five recline positions on the Smart Seat to ensure comfort and safety for your little one. When he or she is rear facing, you'll use the level indicator on the side of the seat to ensure proper positioning. Of course, you'll make sure the bubble is fully between the two lines, otherwise it's not level (as pictured below).
Speaking of rear-facing, the Smart Seat allows for extending rear facing! The current recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that children be rear-facing until the age of two or until they reach the maximum rear-facing height and weight rating for their car seat. The Graco Smart Seat is certified for use rear-facing with children up to 40 pounds (18.1 kg). However, you must make sure your child doesn't exceed the height requirements; the top of their head must be at least one inch below the top of the head support.
There's a handy sticker located on each side of the seat, one in English and one in Spanish (shown below) so you can choose the proper recline position for your child. To change the recline setting, just locate the recline handle on the front of the seat, pull it forward and the seat will slide forward or backward. As mentioned above, when your child is rear facing, you'll adjust the recline based on the level indicator on the side of the seat. Once they are forward facing you can select a position for them. Position 1 must always be used with children 40-65 pounds.
The Graco Smart Seat has excellent features to keep your little one safe, such as Safety Surround™ Side Impact Technology and EPS energy absorbing foam, to give your little one the most head protection at every stage. There is no official U.S. standard on side impact testing, but Graco Engineers have developed a protocol to simulate the crash forces during government automobile side impact testing. The Smart Seat meets both Graco's side impact testing and Europe's side impact standard. The Safety Surround also offers the best head protection at each stage (more on that later). The Smart Seat's frame and base are also steel-reinforced for maximum strength and durability. The weight of this seat and base is impressive at 33 pounds. Personally, I appreciate the weight of the seat and feel like it's keeping my little guy extra safe. The Smart Seat has also been tested in extreme interior temperatures to ensure that their structural integrity remains despite both high and low temperatures.
The Smart Seat also has a few features that moms and babies will love for the pure convenience factor. It has an integrated cupholder that's plenty big enough for bottles or sippy cups. The arm rests also flip-up so you can get your little one in and out of the seat with ease.
Let's talk about how this seat grows with your child. I've already told you that the Smart Base stays in your car and when you're ready to go from rear-facing to forward facing, you just flip the seat around. Well, there are SIX head support positions for you to choose from. There is a red adjustment handle on the top of the seat, just squeeze and pull the head support up with one hand until it snaps into one of the six height positions. To lower, you'll also squeeze the handle and just push down. When your child is rear-facing, always use on of the bottom 3 height positions. When they're forward facing, always use one of the top 4 height positions.
Adjusting the head support will also adjust the harness system. You will never have to rethread the harness. Yes, you read that correctly - NO RE-THREADING!
The Smart Seat was designed for infants 4-40 pounds rear-facing in a harness, toddlers 20-65 pounds forward-facing in a harness and youth 30-100 pounds in a belt-positioning booster. The Smart Seat features an integrated harness storage compartment which will hold the harness straps that are not in use while in the belt positioning mode.
Lastly, let me discuss installation. It was a BREEZE! Normally, installing car seats and putting together gear is my husband's territory, but I decided to give this a try myself. Since my SUV's lower LATCH anchors are too far apart, I can't use the LATCH sytem in the center of the backseat in my car. Since that's the safest place for him, I install car seats using the seat belt instead. There are built-in lock-offs on the Smart Base. All I had to do was open the lock-offs and route the belt through the belt path and over the lock-off. Then, I buckled the seat belt, pulled up on the shoulder belt while pushing down on the base (to get a nice tight installation), and closed the lock-off. That was it! I tested the base to make sure it didn't move more than one inch in any direction and it didn't. There are even instructions for installation right on the base should you need them. After I had the base installed, I locked the seat into place and used the integrated level indicator to make sure the seat was level.
Earlier, I mentioned that this seat weighs in at 33 pounds. It's also a bit wider than other car seats I've used. The dimensions of this seat are: 20.5" W x 21" D x 25" H. You wouldn't be able to fit three Smart Seats across any one row of seats, but that's a trade off I'm willing to take considering this seat will last until my child reaches 100 pounds. You can see in the photos below that in the rear-facing position, the Smart Seat does touch the back of the front seat in my small SUV. It hasn't been a problem for us thus far, but I don't think I'd be able to recline the front seat.
Here is my little guy enjoying his Smart Seat! He looks pretty comfy to me!
Overall, we LOVE the Graco Smart Seat! There are so many wonderful features on this car seat and I love that it transitions and grows with your child. I would recommend this car seat without hesitation to anyone looking for an all-in-one car seat for their child.
Buy it: You can purchase the Graco Smart Seat for $299.99 to $339.99 on their website, Target, or Diapers.com
Win it: One lucky person will win a Graco Smart Seat All-in-One Car Seat, valued at $339.99!
Open to the US only. Ends 9/15/13 at 11:59 PM EST.
Enter using the Giveaway Tools form below. Good Luck!
Disclosure: I received the Graco Smart Seat at no cost to facilitate this review. All thoughts expressed are my own and may differ from yours.