Pros: Seat can be used 3 ways and accommodates children from 5 to 80 lbs.; Durable
Cons: VERY DIFFICULT installation, overhead shield may be a safety problem
I have been using the Safety 1st Enspira Car Seat for over three years and it seems comfortable for my kids and it doesn't seem to have any safety issues while in use, so I am not completely unsatisfied with this seat, but it is VERY DIFFICULT TO INSTALL! I just can't give this car seat a high rating based on this point. Please read on.
I purchased this car seat a little over three years ago for my oldest son when he was nearly a year old. We already had one convertible car seat, but we wanted a second one so that a car seat could remain in each of our vehicles. We chose this model with no research (unfortunately) while out shopping for other things when we noticed its features and the fact that it was on sale for 89.99. It normally sells for over $100 and comes in various colors. I believe we purchased ours at KMart.
Choosing this model
My husband and I chose this seat because we thought we would get many years of use out of it. We were looking for a new convertible car seat. A convertible car seat is one that can be positioned rear-facing, which is appropriate for a young baby up to 35 pounds; or forward-facing, which is appropriate for babies over 12 months and heavier than 20 pounds. The Safety 1st Enspira is a convertible model, but unlike most convertible car seats, it also can be used as a seat belt positioning booster seat for older kids weighing up to 80 pounds!
While I was happy with our other seat that was made by Graco (and in hindsight should have bought another), I thought that the extra booster seat/belt positioner feature on this seat would be nice in the future, plus I really liked the fabric color on this model (tan with a subtle plaid). The model on display at the store seemed sturdy and solid, and the covering seemed to have nice padding, so we purchased the seat. One factor we didn't consider was installation since our other car seat didn't give us much trouble. We really didn't think that there could be big differences in the degree of difficulty in installing car seats.
I have used this seat in vehicles using both traditional seat belt installation and the newer LATCH system. LATCH is an integrated system in vehicles manufactured after 2003 that allows car seats to be installed securely. With this particular car seat, installing with a seat belt is easier than installing with the LATCH system, but I find that I cannot get the seat as secure using this method. My previous vehicle was an older model and therefore not equipped with LATCH, so I had no choice but to install with a seat belt.
To install with a seat belt you must first thread the seat belt through the openings at the base of the seat (there are directions to guide you) while putting as much pressure as possible on the seat itself. You then fasten the belt and pull tight. This will ensure that the seat gets installed as tight as possible. You must then secure a locking clip to both the shoulder and lap belts together to keep them from slipping. This sounds much easier than it is. The seat should not wiggle, once installed, more that one inch. (You can also have your installation checked at your local police station)
The preferred method of installation is using the LATCH system. All newer infant car seats use this universal connection method. There are two main hooks that are attached to two "loops" that are usually concealed near the seat belt fasteners in the corner of the back seats. There is an additional hook that is attached to another location that varies with the vehicle (back of the seat, under the head rest, roof of the cargo area). In my Toyota RAV4 the third LATCH loops are located on the backs of the back seats.
In theory, the installation for Safety 1st Enspira should be easier using this method, but it is not! For either rear- or forward-facing positions, the directions state to position the seat so that the level lines (clearly printed on the sides of the seat) are level, and to attach the LATCH clips from the seat to the LATCH connectors in the vehicle. Then pull the strap until tight and secure. To assist with getting the seat level, there is a positioner, a plastic piece that pulls out from the bottom of the seat. This has been adequate for getting the seat to the proper position in my vehicle, but you can place a rolled-up towel under the car seat to get it to the proper angle as well.
Tightening this seat and getting it secure is ridiculous! The tensioner looks as if it would be easy to use. It looks like it should work similar to a seat belt in a car. To tighten, you simply pull on a strap that is connected to the LATCH fasteners. To loosen, you push the large white button on the tensioner, which should release the tension on the strap, and you pull the tightened straps loose. Sounds simple. Its not! The button on the tensioner does not release enough tension and it is VERY difficult to tighten or loosen. Fortunately the rear seats in my vehicle recline, and I try get the car seat secured as tight as I can following the installation directions with the back seat reclined (which is far too loose for the car seat to be safe). I then put the seat back into its normal upright position which then makes the seat very tight and secure. I rarely remove the seat from my car, but if I could not install it in this manner, I would throw it in the trash and get a new one. This method at least saves me the cost of purchasing a new seat.
We have used this seat in both the rear-facing and forward-facing positions with both of our kids, so it has stood up to a lot of use. Other than its miserable installation, it has been fine and easy to use. This seat has a padded overhead shield that my youngest son seem to like. This is an attached piece that comes down over the child kind of like the chest brace on a roller coaster. It seems very secure. There is a 5-point harness that clips across the child's chest and then snaps into the base of the car seat. There is a button on the car seat base to release the overhead shield and harness. It is nice that the release button cannot be accessed by a curious child because the overhead shield blocks his/her access.
About the Overhead Shield (Updated)
After further research (thanks Marytara!), I have learned that overhead shields on car seats may not be the best choice. I have checked and there has not been a recall on Safety 1st Enspira as of this writing. The overhead shield does meet all federal safety regulations. Many experts agree, however, that the overhead shield on many car seat models does not protect a child as well as a 5-point harness system, and that they do not fit children of various sizes properly. On some car seats, the overhead shield is not adjustable, making for a less than perfect fit for small babies. Fortunately, the overhead shield is adjustable on the Safety 1st Enspira to 4 different positions. In addition, it has a 5-point harness system in addition to the overhead shield that secures the child. You can find more information about overhead shield car seats at babyproducts.about.com/od/carseats/a/overheadshields.htm and www.car-seat.org
Safety 1st Enspira car seat has some nice features. Originally I liked the fact that it was not only rear- and forward-facing like most convertible car seats, but it also converts into a belt-positioning booster seat when kids no longer require an infant seat. I'm not sure I will keep it once my youngest son reaches that stage, since traditional booster seats are much more convenient and lightweight anyway (and easy to move from car-to-car if necessary). The head rest cushion and 5-point harness are adjustable to accommodate different sized babies and children. There are padded cushions that are attached to the harness that slide over the child's shoulders to make the straps more comfortable. Of course, the removable cup holder is nice for holding snacks or sippy cups.
Here is a list of the features:
* LATCH equipped
* 5-35 pounds rear facing.
* 20-40 pounds forward facing with harness.
* 30-80 pounds in belt positioning mode.
* 4-position adjustable headrest
* 4-position padded overhead shield
* 2-position recline capabilities-allows for easier seat leveling
* 5-point harness with front adjuster is easy to loosen and tighten
* Removable cup holder
* Back support pad
* Padded harness covers provide extra comfort on shoulders
* Machine washable covers. Must be hung to dry.
While there are some good things to be said about this car seat, I really should have done my homework before buying it. Unless you are a very strong person and have about 200 pounds of body weight to put with that strength, you will probably have difficulty installing this car seat. I would have tried returning the seat, but I originally thought the difficulty with installation was due to our other vehicle being awkward, but realized later that it was indeed the car seat itself. Unfortunately I don't think my problem with this car seat was an isolated one either, I have since talked to a co-worker who had similar difficulties with the same model. I cannot recommend the Safety 1st Enspira for this reason. There are better models on the market, plus buying a separate booster seat when the child is older is not that expensive!
My youngest son is getting close to being reading for a booster seat only. I already own two Graco Turbo Boosters that I love, so I will either transfer those from car to car (for my two kids in booster seats), or get two more!
Please check out my other car seat and travel system reviews. I recommend these products!
Graco Turbo Booster Belt Positioning Booster Seat
Graco Quattro Tour Travel System
Evenflo Big Kid Deluxe Booster