While state laws vary in terms of allowing children to move into boosters after a certain age and weight, the safest restraint system is a harnessed carseat. However, once toddlers see friends in boosters (which rely on the vehicle's seat belt restraint system), they may be reluctant to climb into a "baby seat." My 4 year old daughter loves all things pink so I figured the best way to keep her harnessed as long as possible was to purchase a pink car seat for her. Luckily, the seat I chose by Britax, the Frontier, comes in the Pink Sky color scheme.
We've been thrilled with the Britax Boulevard convertible seat in our cars and the Britax Regents in both grandmothers' cars for my oldest daughter. While she hadn't yet outgrown her Boulevard, I wanted to move my youngest daughter out of her Graco Safeseat so this meant I needed to get a new car seat for my eldest daughter, who was then 3.5 years old. Since the Regent has been discontinued, we opted for its replacement, the Britax Frontier, which conveniently becomes a booster seat after your child outgrows the harnessed seat mode.
I scored a great deal with price-matching and Bing cashback, so I ordered 2 Frontiers (one for each car, since my husband and I split the drop-off/pick-up duties), saving about $100 on each seat. We've used them for about 6 months now. A couple months after purchasing them, the second generation model of the Frontier debuted (known as the Frontier 85, as it has a higher weight limit). I wish I had waited for that model as the second generation Frontiers have some improvements that address the few minor issues with this model!
About the Carseat
First, let's make it clear that the Frontier is NOT a convertible carseat. While it also has a five-point harness, it's in a new category of carseats for older toddlers that only allows for front-facing installation (which means your child faces the front of the car like a regular passenger). Thus, it really shouldn't be used until your child is too old to be rear-facing. Google "extended rearfacing" to learn about the major safety advantages to rearfacing your child as long as possible.
Moreover, this particular model, unlike the Regent and other harnessed seats for older toddlers, can also be converted for use as a booster (which, again, relies on your car's seat belt restraint system but boosts your child to the right height so that the seat belt fits correctly and doesn't span soft vulnerable parts like stomach and throat instead of hips and shoulder/chest bone).
Britax says on its website that the seat is appropriate for children from 2 years old and 25 pounds up to 80 pounds while harnessed. Once you shift to using it as a booster, it can hold children from 40 pounds up to 100 pounds. However, don't forget HEIGHT restrictions. Many parents go by weight and then realize that their tall skinny children have outgrown their carseat.
The Frontier has shoulder harness slots so there are limits depending on how long your child's torso is. The harness should always be above your child's shoulders, so if she has a seated shoulder height of more than 18.25 inches, then she has outgrown this seat as a harnessed seat. She can still use it in the booster mode until her seated shoulder height is 21.5" (since that relies on the vehicle seat belt restraint system and once she's taller than that, she can just sit in the car like a normal adult without being boosted).
The Frontier 85 has higher shoulder height limits (same as the Regent, I believe?), so if I had waited to purchase the Frontier 85, the seats would have lasted us even longer and truly would be the last seat I ever purchased before my daughters could ride like adults with just the vehicle seat belt restraint system.
Note that the Frontier expires 9 years after the manufacture date, so one shouldn't rush into buying it before you actually need it (especially if you plan for more than 1 child to use it).
Britax is a widely recognized brand because of its reputation in going above and beyond minimum safety requirements. Moreover, they have pioneered certain enhancements, like the HUGS system which "reduces forward head movement and cushions the chest in the event of impact."
Like our Boulevard, the Frontier has the no re-thread harness adjuster (which means you don't have to take apart the harness system after your child has a growth spurt, which I consider a safety issue as parents might make an error in re-assembling the harness), side-impact head protection, and Versa-Tether (which provides additional safety and stability because the "staged-release tether webbing anchors the top of the child seat at 2 points to minimize forward movement in a crash").
However, I will say I miss the Boulevard's version of the no re-thread harness adjuster. On the Frontier, you have to un-install the seat to adjust the shoulder harness because it's a latch you lift up on the back of the seat, as opposed to the knobs on the sides of the headrest. It also doesn't have the customization of the Boulevard, as there are set heights that you click into, as opposed to making minute adjustments with a turn of the knob on the Boulevard.
Britax is also known as the most expensive and luxurious carseat brand because of some of its upscale features. Usually, these are the little touches other brands don't have. Yet on the Frontier, I feel Britax fell flat.
First, the harness straps feel less thick and of lower quality than what I have on my Boulveard. I think the flimsy nature of these straps contribute to twisting. I am always re-adjusting the straps before my daughter climbs in. She likes to buckle the chest buckle herself, but even she knows to check and tell me, "Mommy, the straps are twisted again." So I almost always have to unbuckle her and fix it for her. On-line reviews state that the Frontier 85 has stiffer straps that help minimize the twisting/falling straps syndrome.
Moreover, the straps don't have the velcro tab to stick to the fabric seat cover so you can put your child in without having to pull the straps from underneath her. I understand why they didn't, because unlike the Britax convertible seats (which have gently flared sides covered by fabric), the Frontier has rigid plastic armrests that flip up and down. Nonetheless, I wish they had found a way to still secure the floppy straps.
Then, to add insult to injury, the buckle tongues (there are two that fit into the buckle, one tongue on each shoulder strap) don't have that velcro tab to prevent them from falling all the way to the bottom of the strap. So in addition to digging the straps from underneath your child, you have to stick a hand back underneath her to find the tiny little buckle tongue and slide it back up to click into the buckle. Again, the Frontier 85 apparently has stitching now on the strap to prevent the tongues from falling all the way down to the bottom.
Another feature on the Frontier that disappointed me is the fabric cover. Our Boulevard and Regent covers (in Onyx color scheme) feel so plush and luxurious, a mix of soft velour and smooth polyester. The Frontier Pink Sky cover has a flimsy mesh material over much of the seat portion and it snags terribly. Both my seats look terrible with pilled up fuzz from where my daughter's thighs hit the seat. Note that the new Frontier 85 covers addressed this problem and the mesh doesn't go down all the way to the front edge where your child's thighs are.
One new feature on the Frontier that my Boulevard didn't have are the 2 cupholders, one on each side. They slide out when in use and slide back in when you're done. We don't let my daughter drink anything in the car to begin with, so it's not something I'd like. However, I'll note that the slight flare of our Honda's bench seat means the cupholder on the side closest to the door is difficult to slide out. On the Frontier 85, they are now simple cupholders in the base (much like in any car) and don't fold in/out.
The seat itself is 19.5" wide (an important measurement to keep in mind if you need to have more than 2 carseats in a row), but the depth and height vary depending on booster or harness mode and the adjustments you make for your child's height. It can be between 20" - 27" deep and 22"-34.5" high.
If you go onto Britax's website, you can access all sorts of additional random measurements (like the depth of the buckle strap that goes in between your child's legs).
First, let's start with installation. Before buying the carseat, I read on-line about how some parents were frustrated with installing the Frontier, especially in the captain's chair common in minivans. We have a Honda SUV and a Nissan sedan, so installation was on a regular bench seat and quite straightforward for us. Plus, I used the LATCH installation method and found it incredibly fast and easy. However, my daughter hasn't hit 40 pounds yet. Once your child is 40 pounds, you MUST use the car's seatbelt system and not use LATCH.
I recommend parents view the installation videos if you plan to use your vehicle seat belt system though, as I've never found the Britax manuals very good and showing you exactly how to thread the vehicle seat belt through the Britax seat. I will try to return and update this thread when we shift to seatbelt installation, and later on, to the booster mode.
September 4, 2011 update: We shifted the installation to seatbelt mode a few months ago because my daughter exceeded the 40 pound limits of LATCH. I used the long seat belt install because the belt stalks on our Pilot are too long and allowed much more than 1" of side-to-side movement (which is the test you use after installation by gently tugging on the car seat to see how solid your install is). I am not going to lie: it's difficult and I would NOT want to un-install and re-install this on a regular basis. I wish I had another pair of hands to help, as I ended up using my knees and elbows to keep the seat belt from retracting while I weaved it in and out of the seat. I also had to slightly recline the Honda Pilot's bench seat as the seat belt wasn't quite long enough. I also used the long belt installation in my parents' Toyota Avalon sedan, as the short belt install was far too loose. I emerged from that installation earlier this morning tired and actually a bit sweaty. It's a workout! I dread having to un-install and re-install again the next tine my daughter grows and we need to adjust the seat harness height. Luckily, I can use the short belt installation in my Nissan Altima and it's still a rock-solid install.
As mentioned earlier, my daughter likes to buckle her chest buckle herself, but the straps are almost always twisted. This means each time we get into the car, it takes me longer to strap her in as I have to untwist the straps.
The armrests can move up and down but are supposed to stay down while driving. They can be annoying as sometimes they flip up unexpectedly when climbing into the car or if it catches on my shirt as I'm leaning over her.
We haven't had to wash the fabric yet, and I'm going to try to avoid doing so for as long as possible as other on-line reviewers have mentioned pilling and the cover looking really bad after washing.
OCTOBER 2010 update: I have yet to wash the cover but it has pilled up terribly just from my daughter climbing in and out of the seat. I called Britax since the seat is less than 1 year old and they are sending me two replacement covers. These are actually the Frontier 85 covers so I shouldn't have the mesh problem again. What GREAT customer service!
With all that said, it's still a solid seat. I just feel disappointed that it fails to live up to the Britax reputation. Obviously, others agree as the Frontier 85 addresses some of the most annoying issues.
My daughter loves pink and continues to be happy sitting in her harnessed seat, despite seeing fellow preschoolers in booster seats. Yet knowing that a better model exists does make me wistful.
The Frontier is still being sold, but as time goes on, the Frontier 85 will be your only option. For now, since they retail for the same price, I'm sure more discounting will take place on the 1st generation model to clear out inventory. Unless you get a truly unbelievable deal, I'd opt for the Frontier 85.
For me, saving $100 off each seat provides some small measure of comfort but I hadn't known about the Frontier 85 at the time. I'm sure I will ultimately regret not waiting a few more months for the Frontier 85, as $100 amortized over 9 years is a little over $10/year. Is it worth a a few cents to me to avoid the hassle of untwisting straps almost every day? Without a doubt.
JUNE 13, 2012 UPDATE:
For children ready to move up to a booster, I highly recommend Britax's Parkway SGL. We absolutely love it!
Read all 2 Reviews
Write a Review
Amount Paid (US$): 170
Age Range of Child: 3 to 5 Years