Best car seats for babies 2021 tried and tested by parents
Looking to buy the best car seat for your baby or newborn? Get your baby from A to B in comfort and style with our pick of the best car seats for babies.
There’s nothing more important than your child’s safety, which is why working out which are the best car seats to buys can feel like such a big deal. To help you choose the best car seat for your baby, our consumer editor shortlisted some popular baby car seats and then gave them to a panel of parents to put to the test.
All of the car seats featured are suitable from birth. Our parents put them to the test over a period of several weeks. We deliberately chose parents with babies of different ages to get a sense of the best car seats for various stages of development. Our panel of mums tested these car seats over a period of several weeks with little ones aged between 11 weeks and nine months old.
What to look for when buying a baby car seat
The first thing to know is that children must sit in an appropriate car seat when travelling in the car. This is the case until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall – whichever comes first. Next, it’s important to know that car seats are sorted into ‘groups’ according to the weight and/or height limitations of each seat. So the best car seat for your baby depends on your little one’s height and weight at any given time – not on how old they are.
In this buying guide, we’ve chosen the best car seats from several different groups. This means they have different features and cannot be compared like-for-like. Some have rotating bases, some recline so that your baby can lie flat, some are only suitable for your baby’s first year or so, and some can be used right up until your child no longer needs a car seat. There’s a car seat here to suit different budgets.
Best car seats at a glance
Our choice of the best car seat is the Cybex Cloud Z iSize. It reclines flat outside of the car which means your baby can stay in the optimal, lie-flat position when you attach this car seat to a compatible pushchair frame. This is a brilliant feature for moving your baby from the pushchair to the car because you don’t need to worry about your baby being scrunched up in a car seat for too long.
That alone makes us love it; the lie-flat option is a real standout feature. But the base also rotates for easy access to your child, making trips out of the house virtually hassle-free. Overall, this seat impressed us because in terms of both form and function. It has practical design features that truly make a parent’s life easier, wrapped up in a stylish package.
Best car seat overall: Cybex Cloud Z iSize – John Lewis | £224.95
Best premium car seat: Be Safe iZi Twist B-E iSize – Uber Kids | £429
Best budget car seat: Cosatto All In All Rotate – Cosatto | £249.95
Recaro Salia Elite – John Lewis | £519
Nuna Arra iSize – John Lewis | £350
Maxi Cosi Coral iSize – John Lewis | £191.20
Ickle Bubba Mercury iSize Car Seat with ISOFIX Base – Ickle Bubba | £319
Chicco Seat4 Fix – Very | £259.99
Joie iLevel – Mamas & Papas | £200
Uppababy Mesa iSize Infant Car Seat – Mamas & Papas |£199.99
Graco Enhance Group 0+/1/2 Car Seat – Very | £79.99
Things to consider when buying the best car seat
All babies need a rear-facing seat, to begin with. These are Group 0+ seats and they’re typically suitable from birth until your baby is around 12-15 months. Some car seats (sometimes called combination or multi-group seats) are designed to keep for use beyond this point and keep your child sitting in the rear-facing position right up to around four years old. In general, these are the best car seats to buy because research shows that a rear-facing car seat is safest, providing better protection for your child than a forward-facing seat in the event of a collision.
We’ve also included i-Size seats in this buying guide. This means the seat meets or exceeds R129, which is the latest European car seat safety regulation. iSize seats offer extra protection to prevent head and neck injuries and are designed to keep babies in a rear-facing position.
If you buy an iSize seat, you must focus on your child’s height rather than weight. They are compatible with Isofix, which is the fitting system for child car seats. Most modern cars have Isofix anchor points which make installing a car seat easier, but check your vehicle before you buy a car seat.
An infant carrier car seat is a popular choice for a baby’s first car seat. These are suitable from birth and shaped to ensure your baby lies in the optimal position for healthy spine and lung development. They also have a carry handle so you can move the car seat between the car and the house easily, and this acts as a roll bar in the event of an impact.
1. Best car seat overall: Cybex Cloud Z iSize
A rotating seat that reclines flat (outside of the car only)
Star rating: | Weighs: 4.8kg | Suitable for: Birth-24m
| Swivel base
Base not included
VIEW AT JOHN LEWIS | £224.95
This is an excellent rear-facing car seat with exceptional safety features, a stylish design, and – our favourite bit – a rotating base, In other words, it means you don’t have to be a contortionist to get your baby in and out of the car.
The Cybex Cloud Z is perfect for parents who want a smart-looking car seat packed with safety features. The seat itself is easy to remove and install in the car, but it’s also designed to make it easy to take your baby in and out of the seat as it rotates to face the car door.
Until you’ve used this type of seat, it’s difficult to convey just how handy this feature is – it really makes light work of taking your baby anywhere in the car. The swivel base also makes this seat a good choice for anyone with a back problem or other injuries that can make taking a baby in and out of the car seat tricky.
Installing a car seat can be a challenge but this one is a good choice for extra peace of mind. The support leg, which attaches the base to the car, has lights that indicate when everything is correctly installed. There’s also an alarm that sounds if the base is incorrectly secured.
The seat also has a removable newborn inlay for added comfort, and the height-adjustable headrest has 11 different settings so you can customise it as your baby grows. Outside the car, your baby can lie flat in this seat thanks to the recline feature. It’s also compatible with selected pushchairs to create a travel system.
We asked Hanna Cesek, mum to Noa, six months, to put it to the test: “It was very hard to find anything wrong with the Cybex Cloud Z car seat,” she says.
“It looks great, it’s easy to use and – the piece de resistance – it has a swivel base! I think that alone makes it well worth the price. Why wouldn’t you choose a baby car seat with a swivel base if you can afford it?! After all, you take your baby in and out of their car seat every day for at least a year. And this base can be used with Cybex’s next seat up, so it could last your child right up until they’re four years old. Apart from it being heavy to lift and carry, I pretty much love everything about this seat.”
2. Best premium car seat: Be Safe iZi Twist B-E iSize
A rotating seat that keeps your child rear-facing up to age four
Star rating: | Weighs: 15kg | Suitable for: Six months–four years
| Easy to install with safety indicators
Rotates for easy access to your child
Extra support for newborns
Heavy to lift
Takes up lots of space
This i-Size car seat is an extended rear-facing seat. That means your child can travel in the safest position – facing the back of the car rather than facing the direction of travel – all the way up until the age of four. It also rotates, making it extra easy to get your baby in and out of the car. We also love the electronic indicators which ensure you’ve installed the seat safely in your car.
This seat has passed the world’s toughest crash test and has three layers of safety features, including built-in side impact protection in the seat shell. It has four recline positions and the adjustable headrest has 11 different settings. To provide extra support for newborns, it comes with a baby shell and a head hugger.
“This was so easy to install – the light indicator completely eliminates any guesswork as to whether you’ve secured the seat properly, offering real peace of mind,” says our tester Jenny Meechan, mum to Orlaith, aged six months.
“The straps are straightforward to tighten and loosen – they glide really effortlessly between positions and don’t dig into the baby’s shoulders. It’s quite heavy to carry though – I managed to carry it alone but felt I’d bitten off more than I could chew! It also takes up quite a lot of space in the car – I have a medium-sized family car and had to push the front seat quite far forward to create enough space to install this seat.”
3. Best budget car seat: Cosatto All In All Rotate
A rotating combination seat from birth to 12 years
Star rating: | Weighs: 10.9kg | Suitable for: Birth – 36kg
| Impressively versatile
Excellent value for money
Rear-facing until age four
| It’s bulky
It can be used with a pushchair to create a travel system
Designed by Paloma Faith, this striking car seat covers all the car seat groups (0+123), meaning it’s suitable from birth right the way up until your child weighs 36kg, which is around 12 years old. Yep, we said 12 years old.
It’s another rotating seat, so it’s easy to get little ones – and not so little ones, as they get older – in and out. You can use it rearward-facing until your child weighs 18kg (around four years old) and then turn it around and use it as a forward-facing seat until your child is old enough or tall enough to use the vehicle seat belt instead.
You can secure it in your car using ISOFIX anchorage points but if your vehicle doesn’t have these, you can use the car’s seat belt instead. It has flip-out side impact protection wings and an anti-escape system, which means this is one of the best car seats for little ones who like to try unbuckling themselves! The seat has multiple recline settings, and it’s easy to adjust.
“This is an amazingly adaptable and flexible seat,” says our tester, Emma Goodall, who is mum to Charlie, aged nine months. “Knowing I only need this one seat all the way up until my child is 12 years old gave me peace of mind. Moving it between my car and my husband’s van was also straightforward, and I knew this seat would adapt to suit my life rather than me having to plan my choices around a car seat. The design is so fun and my son will love it even more as he grows.”
The seat fabric is made using 30 recycled bottles, and another standout feature is the anti-escape system; this is really useful for a wriggly little one.
Understandably, not everybody wants a combination seat that can be used across different age categories, but there’s no denying that they offer good value for money since you won’t need to keep buying the next stage seat as your child grows. The rotating design and the eco element of this seat also add extra appeal and real value, which is why we think it’s the best budget car seat.
4. Recaro Salia Elite
A highly versatile 2-in-1 seat with rotating base
Star rating: | Weighs: 18kg | Suitable for: Birth – 18kg
| Clever 2-in-1 design
Extra safety features
Easy to rotate with one hand
|Infant carrier is quickly outgrown|
This is a cleverly designed 2-in-1 car seat that can be used both rear-facing from birth-105cm and forward-facing from 15 months – 76cm until your baby weighs 18kg or 40lbs. It’s effectively an infant carrier and child seat combined.
The seat rotates 360 degrees so it’s extra easy to lift your baby in and out of the car. Light indicators on the base let you know what the seat is safely installed, offering extra peace of mind before you travel. It gives threefold protection in the event of a side collision and has integrated side wings that fold out.
“The Recaro Salia Elite is on the expensive side but you can understand why. It’s simple and smooth to use, offers a high standard of protection, and my son was very comfy in it,” says tester Emma Goodall, mum to Charlie, nine months.
“It’s also extremely easy to use. The rotating feature works with one hand, making it ideal when juggling a little one and multiple shopping bags. The infant carrier is very light and would be ideal for transporting a sleeping baby. Having the child seat as the base for the infant carrier means you don’t need to store an additional bulky seat while your baby is using the infant carrier – helpful when you already have a huge amount of baby items taking up space in the home! Having both the infant seat and child seat in the same unit meant I wouldn’t have to think about purchasing the next size car seat once my son was bigger too; it’s all ready for the exact time he needs it. The design is also sleek, modern, and really appealing.”
What we love about this seat is that you’re effectively getting two seats for the price of one. Our tester loved the infant carrier for making it possible to move her baby between the house and the car easily, minimising the stress that sometimes goes along with that transition.
5. Nuna Arra iSize
A lightweight iSize car seat that reclines flat
Star rating: | Weighs: 3.9kg | Suitable for: Birth-13kg
| Extremely light to carry
Easy to use / attaches to a pushchair
Luxurious newborn insert
This rear-facing iSize seat can be used until your baby weighs 13kg, which is around 18 months. Its standout feature is the fact that it reclines fully flat. It also comes with the base included. It has helpful installation indicators that show when it’s safely installed. It’s also light to carry – another selling point – and attaches to a number of strollers. We love the memory foam merino wool newborn insert.
“Having spent a lot of time sitting in the car waiting for Rory to wake up after a journey and knowing that moving him would result in a very grumpy baby, we found the lie-flat feature really appealing,” says Katie Archer, mum to Rory, seven months. “And as it’s so light, it’s easy to attach to the stroller frame with minimum fuss – we tested it with the Triv stroller, which it matches perfectly in design.”
“The harness doesn’t need to be rethreaded for changing position either – another plus when trying to make a quick journey without disturbing Rory. The lie-flat recline is a game-changer for parents of newborns as the safety advice is not to leave a small baby crunched up in a car seat for too long. At its greatest recline, the Arra offers an ergonomic position that is good for the baby’s spine and allows them to breathe more easily.”
Katie says Rory is usually a car seat hater, but the family had a great journey in the Arra, with a lot less crying than usual because of the lie-flat position and the very comfortable memory foam insert padded with merino wool.
“It’s an ISOFIX-only seat so can’t be fitted with a seatbelt harness, which is a shame because with it being so light we would love to take it on the train to visit grandparents, but without an Isofix base in their car, we couldn’t use it. It does come with an ISOFIX baseand is , however, and is very quick to install, made easier by the coloured installation indicators.”
6. Maxi Cosi Coral iSize baby car seat
An innovative iSize seat with lightweight removable baby carrier
Star rating: | Weighs: 5.3kg | Suitable for: Birth-12kg/26lbs
| Modern design
Light to carry
| No recline mode
The Maxi Cosi Coral is a modern-looking car seat, with a cosy newborn insert that’s easy to remove when your baby outgrows it, and a soft inner shell that can be lifted out with your baby in it for a cosy, lightweight carrying option.
This is one of the best car seats if you’re looking for a very lightweight way to get your baby in and out of the car. It’s also perfect if you live in a flat or have to park some distance away from your home, as you can leave the main seat in the car and still carry your baby into the house safely.
“The Coral has a futuristic look and comes in a variety of colours but its USP is that the interior of the seat can be removed from the hard shell, so your baby can be easily taken out of the car but kept cosy and cocooned – a lovely feature,” says Hanna Cesek, mum to Noa, six months.
“The cocoon itself is very light, if you’re just removing that bit from the car,” she adds. “It has an alarm system that lets you know if you’ve not fitted everything correctly and as well as indicators, the Maxi Cosi lights up, which is helpful in the dark and feels like a premium feature. I liked the large release buttons, they were very easy to use. I preferred the buckle on this seat to any of the others because you push the button down rather than in to release, which was easier to use and meant I could do it with one hand.”
Our tester thought the removable insert might only work with a tiny baby but she used it several times and found it an easy (and cute!) way of getting her baby out of the car to carry her inside. If you want to attach the car seat to a pram base, you’d have to take the whole thing out of the car, however.
7. Ickle Bubba Mercury iSize Car Seat with Isofix base
An iSize seat with cosy newborn insert and base included
Star rating: | Weighs: | Suitable for: Birth-22kg
| Base is included
This iSize infant car seat with Isofix base is suitable for rear-facing use from birth until your baby is 80cm tall, which is typically around 15 months old.
As it’s an iSize seat, it meets the very latest car seat safety regulations and has reinforced shell technology with advanced side impact protection. We love the memory foam newborn insert and headrest cushion, which are easy to remove when your baby no longer needs them.
The six-position headrest is easy to adjust, and integrated vents allow for air circulation. You can secure it in your vehicle using the Isofix base or the vehicle’s seatbelts, and the seat can be used on selected pushchair frames to create a handy travel system.
“We actually replaced our own Maxi Cosi car seat with this Ickle Bubba seat as it’s so good!” says Jo Hewitson, who tested it with her three-month-old daughter. “My little one looked so snug and secure with the newborn insert in place and she has never once fussed about being put into this car seat. Now she’s bigger we have removed the insert and she still looks safe and snug and it’s clear that she is comfortable in it. The car seat is easy to fit onto the Isofix base, and there is a button to make it clear where you need to push to lengthen the straps – something I have found tricky with other car seats as they tend to be hidden away and fiddly.”
8. Chicco Seat4 Fix Car seat
A rotating car seat suitable from birth to 10+
Star rating: | Weighs: 12.5kg | Suitable for: Birth-36kg
| Lasts all weight categories
If you like the idea of buying one car seat that fits multiple car seat groupings – meaning you don’t need to buy a new seat when your child outgrows each category of car seat – this is one of the best car seats for you.
It’s suitable from birth right up until your child weighs 36kg. You can use it rear-facing for longer than other car seats – up until your baby weighs 18kg – and then turn it around and use it as a forward-facing seat until your child weighs 36kg. It has a reducer with a removable wedge, which offers extra support and comfort for your baby, and the base rotates for easy access. It also has an adjustable headrest and side-impact protection.
“My daughter looked very happy to be in this seat and her travelling position looked good too – she seemed very comfy and her head didn’t loll forward but there was also plenty of cushioning around her,” says Jenny Meechan, mum to Orlaith, six months.
“The 360° rotation makes it easy to put your baby in the seat and get her out, which is great for anyone with a bad back or any other reason for difficulty reaching over. It’s great that this car seat is suitable from birth to 10+, which I think makes it brilliant value for money.”
“The various components can be adapted for all age groups which is a huge bonus when buying anything for a rapidly growing child. It’s a good price point for something that will last a long time and it looks nice too. I think it will really appeal to parents who like things to be aesthetically pleasing but who appreciate value for money. It’s quite heavy, though, so if you’re pregnant or have just given birth, bear in mind that you might need help carrying it to the car.”
9. Joie iLevel
A rear-facing seat that reclines flat in the car and on a pushchair
Star rating: | Weighs: 5kg | Suitable for: Birth-13kg
| Reclines flat
Removable newborn insert
Easy to install
| Canopy is fiddly to use
It has a multi-height headrest and harness system that you can adjust simultaneously without rethreading the harness. The Isofix base is included in the price, which makes this a good value option. It also has a removable full-body insert for younger babies and a retractable, removable sun canopy. In addition, light indicators on the base let you know when the seat is correctly installed.
10. Uppababy Mesa iSize infant car seat
A light, stylish iSize seat that’s easy to install
Star rating: | Weighs: 4.5kg | Suitable for: birth – 22kg
| Installation indicator
Can be used on a pushchair
|Only suitable up 14 months|
Our tester found fixing the seat and removing it from the base “easy and smooth”, not requiring any wiggling or tugging – unlike some other seats. The sunshade also pulls down almost to baby’s toes, allowing for cosy snoozing or full-body protection from the sun. The handle is comfy to hold, and lifting the seat on and off the pushchair chassis is exceptionally easy, thanks to the one-hand release function.
11. Graco Enhance Group 0+/1/2 Car Seat
A great value seat for budget-conscious parents
Star rating: | Weighs: 8.95kg | Suitable for: Birth-25kg
Easy to use
| Fixed base
Can’t be used with a pushchair
Suitable from birth right the way up to seven years, this seat is designed for both rear-facing (birth – 18kg) and forward-facing (9 – 25kg) use. This means your child can continue to face rearwards for longer than many other car seats allow, which offers extra protection in the event of a collision. The seat has four recline positions and a colour-coded installation guide, so you can be sure it’s correctly installed before you set off. It also has a steel-reinforced frame and a side impact protection system.
What is the best car seat for a baby?
The best car seat for your baby depends on your baby’s height and/or weight. Your lifestyle also determines which car seat will be the best choice for your baby. Your car is also a factor to take into account – most car seats are installed using a compatible base that plugs into anchor points in your car, with a support leg that prevents the base from tipping over. The seat then clips onto the base. However, some older vehicles don’t have this Isofix anchor system.
i-Size seats meet or exceed the latest European child seat safety regulations. The purpose of these regulations is to make car seats safer than the previous legislation required. iSize seats keep your baby rear-facing – which is the safest way to travel – up to 15 months. To offer optimal support to your baby’s developing spine, neck, and back and to prevent decreased oxygen saturation in the car seat, choose a car seat with a lie-flat recline option.
What is the safest car seat?
If you’re buying a seat for a newborn baby or one which will be used from birth, our advice is to choose an iSize seat specifically designed to be used for the first 12-15 months of your baby’s life. This will be a rear-facing seat.
A combination seat, which fits several of the various height/weight categories of car seat and thus can be used for several years can seem like better value for money value – but babies, toddlers, and children have very different bodies and need different levels of protection. Whichever car seat you choose, make sure it’s in the right ‘group’ for your baby’s height and/or weight, and do not move your child into the next stage seat too soon.
Installation is a really important factor in car seat safety. Make sure you know how to install the seat properly and never set off on a journey if you’re in doubt about whether the seat is safely installed in your car.
Note that not all car seats are approved for use in all vehicles – check with the car seat retailer or manufacturer before you buy to make sure the car seat you choose is compatible with your car. Factor in any other cars you might want to use the seat in, too. Might a partner, grandparent or childminder wish to use the seat in their car?
Some infant carrier car seats can be installed using your vehicle’s seat belt but generally speaking it’s safest to use a compatible car seat base, which attaches to your vehicle’s Isofix anchor points. You might need to purchase the base separately, which bumps up the cost, so factor this into your budget before you start shopping.
Remember that your baby should not be in a car seat for more than two hours at a time, and car seats should not be used for sleeping. The best place for your baby to sleep during the first six months of their life is in a cot or Moses basket of their own but in the same room as you. Try not to worry if your baby falls asleep in the car – just make sure you stop for regular breaks and take your baby out of the seat if you’re travelling for two hours or more. If you’re using the car seat as a travel system, consider using a carrycot or a lie-flat car seat.
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