Pros: Higher weight limit combination seat, reasonably priced, can use LATCH in booster mode
Cons: Heavy, may not last to 65lbs harnessed, lacks padding
My latest carseat purchase is the Graco Nautilus (Matrix pattern), bought to replace the beloved Britax Marathon that my son finally outgrew by height. My other options were the Britax Regent, waiting for the Britax Frontier or putting him in a booster. Since he does not sit still enough for a booster, the Frontier wasn't out yet, & I did not want to spend the $$$ for a Regent, the Nautilus was a great purchase!
Car Seat Summary
The Graco Nautilus is a combination child safety seat that is LATCH-equipped. This seat can be used FORWARD-FACING only, with the harness for children at least 1 year old, weighing 20 to 65 lbs, and between 27" and 52" tall. It can then be used as high-back booster for children up to 100lbs, between 37" and 57" tall. The child's ears must be BELOW the top of the booster seat. It can also be used as a low-back booster for children up to 100lbs, between 40" and 57" tall. The child's ears should be below the top of the vehicle seat cushion or head rest. Graco recommends using the harness as long as the child is not over 65lbs, and the child's shoulders are at or below the highest harness slot.
Per Graco's guidelines, this seat MUST be replaced after an accident. The seat is approved for aircraft use (in harness mode ONLY) and comes with a 1-year warranty. This is a pretty low seat (thought not as low as the Radian), due to not having a base to sit on. It comes with a built-in recline foot.
This carseat required assembly!! It comes in a box, with the seat bottom, seat back, and armrests, "connected" together. The headrest piece is packaged separately. All fabric is attached, except for the sides of the seat bottom. Assembly is quick and easy.
My Nautilus has been installed in a 2004 Volkswagen Passat sedan, in the center and outboard positions, both with seatbelt only. I have not done a LATCH installation, and most probably will not any time soon. It installed well in both positions, but was much easier to install in the center than outboard, due to the Passat's outboard seatbelt stalk being so low in the seat.
Call me spoiled by Britax & Sunshine Kids, but I hate the LATCH connectors on the Nautilus - they're the "hook" kind, like the tether hooks. My car's LATCH anchors are IN the seat, and undoing the hooks are a complete and total pain, which is probably why I won't get around to installing this seat with LATCH any time soon! The LATCH harness strap is one connected piece that is already threaded through the belt path. The adjuster is on one side, so you have to make sure to get the other side nice & tight, pull the strap all the way through the other end, and tighten there. This is harder to use than my Marathon's LATCH adjuster, which has separate LATCH harnesses & adjusters, one for each side. I DO like that the Nautilus has a bar on each side of the seat to hook the LATCH onto for storage.
It is easy to adjust the harness so there's no slack. To loosen, just pull up the lever (hidden just inside the plastic "cup" at bottom of seat) and pull on the harness. To tighten, pull on the harness adjustment strap. The buckle tongues go straight down into the buckle, and the buckle release is a push "down" (toward the seat bottom) mechanism. This seat's buckle is the easiest for my son to buckle and unbuckle by himself.
There are two crotch strap positions, and it is simple to move the crotch strap from one to the other.
Harness Height Adjustment
The Nautilus has 4 harness position heights. My son is at the 2nd-highest position. The harnesses themselves are solid, more like the Radian's straps, and not at all like the flimsy twisty straps I expected (this is Graco, after all).
To change from one harness slot to another, you have to uninstall the car seat and rethread the harness. This isn't very complicated, and the harness rethreads quickly. The only thing to remember here, is that the harness has to be threaded through the slot to the back, then routed UP and over the red roller, then hooked into the T-connector.
When adjusting the harness, remember to adjust the Nautilus' headrest as well. The headrest's shoulder belt guides (red plastic) must be at or above the harness slot in use. When moving the harness up to the next highest slot for use, this makes the headrest look "off" in proportion to the rest of the seat, and the child in the seat.
I have not used my Nautilus in booster mode, as my son still fits in the harness. However, I thought I should point out that Graco allows the use of LATCH in booster mode. This means that you can use the LATCH hooks to connect the Nautilus to the vehicle's lower anchors, and use the vehicle's seatbelt to hold the child in the booster.
My son loves his cupholder! I find it to be in the way when he gets out of the seat - he usually has a bottle of water in the cupholder. The armrests of the Nautilus also provide little "cubbies" for putting their things. The armrests are at a nice height for my son.
The cover on my Nautilus is a light grey & black. It is not hard to remove for cleaning, but you will need the manual to reassemble. When reassembling the body cover, it helps to tuck the top tab (it's white plastic) in first, before hooking the rest of the elastic tabs in place.
There is also a belly/crotch pad that is velcro'd around the crotch buckle strap, that I've removed because it was so large.
The Nautilus comes with one manual, which can be stored in a slot at the bottom of the seat. The manual is pretty well organized, and shows each type of installation clearly. It also illustrates the directions for switching from a harness seat to the high-back and low-back booster seats. Sections are relatively well organized.
Some things that could have been better
I already know that I don't like having the LATCH harness adjuster only on one side of the seat. And I already know that I don't like the LATCH hooks. A built-in lockoff would be nice to have, although the Nautilus does come with a locking clip, stored in the back of the seat. Then again, I have confessed to being spoilt by my Marathon!
I do wish the seat was a little more padded. However, the Radian doesn't have much more padding than this seat.
In conclusion, I am liking this seat a lot. It was very reasonably priced for being a 65-lb seat, with 18" top harness slots, ensuring that my son will truly be ready for a booster by the time he outgrows this seat in harness mode. It is also MUCH easier to install than my Radian, in the center position of my Passat, and will last much longer than my Radian, which does not convert to a booster.
Other car seats owned:
Britax Marathon (outgrown)
Sunshine Kids Radian
Cosco Eddie Bauer 3-in-1 (expired, did not like)
Evenflo Triumph (outgrown)
infant seat (don't remember manufacturer, but it was Eddie Bauer branded & part of a travel system)