Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Introducing the new.... Graco Smart Seat

Graco Smart Seat
I had the privilege and pleasure to spend the past 2 days in Atlanta at the Graco headquarters for the Smart Seat Launch conference for car seat advocates.  I feel honored to be amongst the 13 car seat advocates invited - with "just" 13 years experience in the field I was the baby of the bunch and was humbled to be in the company of greatness - as the other 12 advocates have devoted many years of their lives helping to keep children across this country safe when riding in cars. 

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, Graco invited us to preview their new seat - but it was more than just a preview.  This was an opportunity for those of us with the highest level of expertise in the field to share our thoughts and feedback on this and other products with the engineers and product design teams so that we can work together to create the best seats possible - ones that not only offer the best crash protection, but also facilitate proper use and fit the widest range of children possible. 

So, without further adieu, let me introduce the Smart Seat (images provided by Graco)


The Basics:
- Rear-facing: 5-40 pounds
- Forward-facing with 5-point harness: up to 65 pounds (top shoulder strap slot 17.2 inches)
- High back booster seat: to 100 pounds
Smart Seat - Rear-facing recline
Smart Seat - Forward-facing
Graco Smart Seat - High Back Booster mode
Why is this seat a game changer?

Graco Smart Seat base
You know the old adage, "only infant seats have bases"... well, rules were meant to be broken and the Smart Seat has rewritten the rules.  This seat comes in 2 pieces - there is a "stay in car base" and the shell that the child rides in.  The base is not optional - i.e. unlike most infant seats that can be installed with or without the base, you MUST use the base on this seat.  The base is used when the seat is installed rear-facing & forward-facing - but is NOT used in the booster mode.

  • You know that fantastic built in lock-off that appears on the Snug Ride 35 base?  You guessed it - the Smart Seat has it too - which makes a tight installation as easy as pie.
  • Narrowest belt path of any seat - which works GREAT for the narrow center in many vehicles (some centers are as narrow as 8 or 9 inches "wide") - and while the base itself is much wider than 8 inches, it is possible to access the side seat belt buckles due to the fact that the base is cut out and raised on the sides.  This is not the case with any other forward-facing car seat - none others have this narrow of a "footprint".
  • No towels/noodles needed under the seat to make it reclined enough for a young infant - all recline adjustments are made on the shell once the base is installed.  
  • 40 pound rear-facing weight limit with dimensions that should really accommodate many kids to this point
  • This is the first, and currently only, Graco seat to allow the use of the lower anchors at any spacing so long as the vehicle manufacturer designates that seating position as a LATCH position.  For more info on center LATCH, visit this older post - please note that the table on this post will be updated to include this Graco seat once the seat becomes available on the market. 
  • No re-thread harness adjustment - with 6 harness heights (from 8.2 to 17.2 inches)
  • This seat would be great for parents who carpool - if you need to take 2 year olds in the morning and 5 year olds in the afternoon, you can change the seat from rear-facing to forward-facing very easily (just remember to use the tether for forward-facing!)
  • Wide comfortable seat
  • Lowest shoulder strap slot is 8 in (same as on the Graco Snug Ride 22, 32, and 35 infant seats) - but with the requirement to use the shoulder strap covers for rear-facing this will likely not fit infants until closer to 10 pounds as the shoulder strap covers are long and bulky
  • You can store the 5 point harness in a handy hideaway when the seat is in booster mode - so you don't have to worry about taking the harness out and/or losing it.
  • Color coding to try and reduce confusion/errors - Blue is for rear-facing, Orange is for forward-facing, and Green is for booster mode
  • Easy to read "bubble" level indicator on the car seat
  • Steel reinforced base and shell - with 4 metal to metal connections between the shell and the base
    6 position no-rethread harness/headrest
  • This is not a seat for travel.  Why - it weighs 35 pounds.  If that isn't enough, it is likely too wide to fit on most airplane seats - that is if you could haul it down the aisle anyway.
  • Currently, when it is installed rear-facing it sits quite reclined, which for older toddlers who are eager to look out the back window might be problematic as they get more of a view of the roof than the back window. HOWEVER - GRACO HEARD THIS FEEDBACK AND WILL LOOK INTO WHETHER THERE IS A WAY TO ALLOW OLDER KIDS TO RIDE MORE UPRIGHT WHILE REAR-FACING.  IRONICALLY, SITTING THIS CAR SEAT MORE UPRIGHT ACTUALLY INCREASES THE CHILD'S LEG ROOM, AND INCREASES THE LEG ROOM FOR THE FRONT SEAT OCCUPANTS.
  • This is a wide seat - great if you have a captain's chair in a minivan, but problematic if you are trying to fit 2 car seats in the back seat of a car or SUV while still allowing enough room for a person in the back.
  • With the current recline position allowed for rear-facing it takes up a fair amount of room into the front seat - and will likely not fit rear-facing in the center of many vehicles unless the driver and front passenger don't need a lot of leg room.
  • Shoulder strap covers are long and bulky (with a firm piece of foam in the layer that goes between the harness strap and the child's body) - this may be uncomfortable not to mention it will likely prevent a snug harness fit for smaller infants.  Many of us find that shoulder strap covers make the harness straps twist - this is the only seat that REQUIRES the strap covers to be used, so removing them is not an option (note however that after 40 pounds the harness strap covers must be removed)
  • The crotch buckle distance is only 6.25in (the same as the Graco Nautilus) which by 3-4 years of age is coming from under the child's bottom, rather than in front.
  • In the booster mode (as with the Graco Nautilus in the high back mode), the top head rest height is not nearly tall enough to accommodate a child who is approaching 4'9".