I wasn't looking to pick up a new Pink Sky Britax Frontier 85 combination booster (forward-facing harnessed carseat that converts to a high back booster) but couldn't resist an amazing sale this past January with 30% off retail price plus an additional 20% off with a coupon code (making it only $179). I jumped in and purchased one for my car, moved my existing first-generation Britax Frontier to my mother-in-law's car, and sold her car's Britax Regent on Craigslist for $100. So for $79 out of pocket, I got a brand new seat with 9 years until its expiration!
About the Carseat
I'm pasting some information here from my earlier review of the first-generation Britax Frontier, since there is much overlap because this is just an improved version of the same seat. Text in italics originally appeared in my earlier review though I have made edits (not in italics) as needed to reflect the Frontier 85's improvements. I ordered the Pink Sky version again, which is black and pink with some subtle gray accents.
First, let's make it clear that the Frontier 85 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 neck instead of hips and shoulder/sternum).
Per Britax's official website, the Frontier 85 can accommodate children ages 2 years and 25 pounds up to 85 pounds in its forward-facing harness mode. Once you switch to the booster mode, it can accommodate children from 40 to 120 pounds.
Most children seem to outgrow carseats by height, so it's important to note that the Frontier 85 has one of the highest harness heights, allowing children with 12 - 20" seated shoulder height to use it (between 30-57" tall total, but some kids carry their height in their torso). For booster mode, the seated shoulder height is 13.5-24.5" with a total height between 42-65" (but again, you may have a 60" tall child whose seated shoulder height is above 24.5" which means she has outgrown the seat!).
The Frontier 85 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 20 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 24.5" (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).
Note that the Frontier 85 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 85 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 85, 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.
This carseat's suggested retail price is $299 but I often see it on sale around $225. That is a significant cost for many families, so let me say up front that cheaper seats are just as safe when properly installed. The key reasons for investing this much money on a carseat are for the convenience factors (e.g., ease of installation, ease of use) and the comfort as these are plush seats that my girls enjoy sitting in. My 2 year old isn't allowed to use this in the car, but she likes to climb in when I'm cleaning out the car. I also had one in our entryway for a week while waiting to install it in my parents' car and both girls would just go and sit in it and giggle.
I already have two of the first-generation Britax Frontier combination boosters which were purchased for my then 3.5 year old (who is now 5). I should say up front that 3.5 year olds can remain in convertible seats (harnessed carseats that can face the rear of the car or forward-facing toward the front of the car) until they outgrow it by height or weight. Some pre-schoolers even continue to remain rear-facing if they haven't exceeded the carseat's height and weight limits, since that's the safest position. However, it made sense for us to purchase combination boosters because my younger daughter was ready to move out of her infant seat and we no longer needed a convertible since my older daughter is now sitting forward-facing. Thus, we handed down my older daughter's Britax Boulevard convertible seats and purchased Britax Frontier seats.
Over the past year and a half, we have been satisfied with the Frontier seats, but there definitely have been some minor quibbles. Given the higher cost of Britax seats over its peers, I have high expectations and the Frontier failed to meet them. Thankfully, when I pounced on this deal for a Britax Frontier 85, I have been very pleased with the new improvements.
So let's discuss the main benefits of the Frontier 85 after nearly 8 months' of near daily use. This version has addressed almost all the cons I found with the first-generation Britax Frontier. Britax really listened to all the parental feedback. I love that the buckle tongues on each harness strap now have a fabric "speed bump" so the tongue can't slip all the way to the bottom of the strap (which usually means you're digging around your child's bottom to find them!). I also appreciate that the armrests are not as long and they no longer flop up and down, as well as the fact that the cup holders are now integrated (and don't pull out and unfold). I believe it's an improvement anytime we can eliminate pieces that move on a carseat, as that means your kids aren't fiddling with it, dresses/shirt sleeves don't catch on them as they're trying to get out of the car, etc.
Also, there is an improved carseat cover, as the mesh section no longer runs as low as it did on the first-generation Frontier, which caused snagging and pilling. It's also easier to put back on, as my first-generation Frontier cover has extra flaps near the bottom edge that I don't know how to re-install, so it's a bit floppy.
Yet I need to still deduct a star in its rating because you must un-install the seat to adjust the harness height. I hate doing that, as it's not fun to install carseats and ensure you have a solid installation that doesn't wiggle more than 1" side-to-side. I really wish there were some way to mimic the Boulevard's easy harness adjustment system!
In terms of installation, LATCH makes installing this as a harnessed seat for children under 40 pounds SO EASY. I love it and can get a rock solid installation with practically no discernible side-to-side movement. When my 5 year old surpassed 40 pounds, I switched to seatbelt installation and it was still straightforward and MUCH easier than the first-generation Britax Frontier. I break out into a sweat installing the first-gen Frontier in my husband's Honda Pilot, my mother-in-law's Lexus RX300, and my parents' Toyota Avalon. I am able to use the short-belt pathway installation method for the Frontier 85 in my Nissan Altima, but have to use the long-belt pathway installation method for the first-gen Frontier in the other 3 cars and that is a difficult endeavor that is best attempted with 2 adults. I managed to use my elbow, foot, and knee to keep the seat belt retracted long enough to then thread through the Frontier. In the Honda Pilot, it took a few tries to get it right as the seat belt was barely long enough to work.
The Frontier 85 is definitely a significant improvement on the first-generation Frontier. I would highly recommend it to parents seeking a comfortable harnessed car seat that is one of the few (or only?) that accommodates the tallest children possible before converting to booster mode.
UPDATED JUNE 13, 2012:
When you are ready to move up to a booster seat, I highly recommend Britax's Parkway SGL. We are absolutely thrilled with it!
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Amount Paid (US$): 179
Age Range of Child: 3 to 5 Years