The top car seats for keeping little ones tucked in safe on every journey

The top car seats for keeping little ones tucked in safe on every journey
From newborn babies to older children, we’ve found the best car seats to keep your little ones safe on the road, from Mamas and Papas, Halfords, Boots and more

Becoming a parent is pretty bamboozling. There is so much information. Always. Everywhere. Car seats is a particular area where the information and choice can feel overwhelming.

Yep, there are a lot of car seats out there, and a lot of jargon to go with it. But fear not, help is at hand – we’ve put together an easy-to-understand guide and tried many, many car seats to find the best ones.

So what are the main things to think about when buying a car seat? Let’s start with the legal bit. It is the law that all children must use a car seat to travel in the car until they’re 12 years old or more than 135cm tall – whichever comes first. Yep, you’re in it with car seats for the long haul, so it’s best to get to grips with it all.

Rebecca Needham, Road Safety Officer for England at Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says, “The child seat you choose must conform to the United Nations standard [ECE Regulation 44.04 (or R 44.03) or to the new iSize regulation, R129 – more on that later], be suitable for your child’s weight and size, be compatible with the vehicle or vehicles it will be fitted in and lastly be correctly fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.”

Most car-seat manufacturers have somewhere on their website where you can check if a seat is compatible with your car. It’s really important to check this before you buy. Some retailers will also fit your car seat for you.

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It’s recommended that babies don’t sit in their car seat for longer than two hours at a time. So if you go on long car journeys, be sure to take regular breaks. And it isn’t recommended to buy a second-hand car seat because you wouldn’t know their history and they might’ve been in an accident, plus seats degrade with use and time.

We tested a huge range of car seats to find the very best. We tried them in different sized cars to see how much space they took up, and we tried multi-age seats on different aged children.

We installed them and uninstalled them – looking at how easy the process was, and we literally weighed them up to see how easy they were to lug about. All this has meant we can safely say these are the best of the best car seats you can buy.

The best car seats for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Silver Cross motion all size car seat: £375, Silvercrossbaby.com
  • Best swivel car seat – Joie Baby i-spin 360 car seat: £279.99, Boots.com
  • Best easy installation – Stokke iZi go modular™ X1 by BeSafe and iZi modular iSize base: £279, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk
  • Best for a touch of luxury – Nuna tres LX car seat: £325, Mamasandpapas.com
  • Best innovative car seat – Britax romer baby-safe iSense bundle: £458, Britax-romer.co.uk
  • Best new born car seat – Cybex cloud Z iSize car seat & Cybex base Z: £439.90, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk
  • Best rear-facing car seat – Cybex sirona Z iSize car seat & Cybex base Z: £294.95, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk
  • Best Isofix car seat – Chicco Seat4Fix air car seat: £299, Babythingz.com
  • Best for comfort – BeSafe iZi turn B iSize car seat: £509, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk
  • Best for parents on the go – Doona infant car seat: £299.99, Doona.shop
  • Best group 2 car seat – Ickle Bubba solar car seat: £129, Icklebubba.com
  • Best for travelling – Chicco fold & go iSize air: £179, Halfords.com
  • Best child car seat – BeSafe iZi flex fix: £208.99, Uberkids.com
  • Best impact shield car seat – Cybex pallas G iSize car seat: £264.95, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk

Silver Cross motion all size car seat

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

  • Age range: Birth to 12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

It’s tricky to find fault with this car seat – it’s a fantastic all-rounder. And it’s the first swivel iSize car seat that covers all stages. That means it’s suitable from birth until your child will no longer need a car seat – and we think this makes it brilliant value for money.

The seat itself was a breeze to fit. The product has a QR code on it, which you can scan and it will bring up a simple audio commentary on your phone that takes you through how to fit it. We thought this was genius, and prevented any arguments or incorrect fitting. The Isofix fittings were easy to slide out and attach to the anchor points, and the leg acts as a counterbalance. Both of these points have a display that shows green when the seat is safely in place.

The seat reclines really easily, and the headrest is also easy to adjust (trust us, this isn’t always the case). The swivel function is really smooth, and we loved that you can swivel it even for a newborn. Unlike some newborn-specific car seats, this doesn’t have a separate base, so you can’t take the seat out and about with you. The padding on the seat is some of the most luxurious we’ve seen – it’s made of bamboo fabrics that are breathable and hypoallergenic, so no sweaty backs for our passengers. One thing worth noting is that it does take up a lot of real estate in the car – in a compact car, the seat in front had to be quite far forward to accommodate it when it’s in the rear-facing position.

Joie Baby i-spin 360 car seat

Best: Swivel car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

This iSize car seat is suitable from birth up to when your child reaches 105cm in height (around age four). It was easy to fit, even in a compact car, using the Isofix fittings and the leg out front. A reassuring green panel shows once everything is locked safely in place.

This seat is great if you want your child to travel rearward for longer, as it allows them to sit backwards until they’re four years old. If you’d rather they face the front, then you can spin the seat around once they reach 80cm (about 15 months). And the swivel function is a smooth one on this seat – although it took us a little while to find the button, once you do (a problem you’ll only encounter once, at worst) then it’s plain sailing.

We really liked that when we popped our passengers in the seat, a panel popped up out of the side of the seat to provide extra side-impact safety. This felt like a nice feature and it was reassuring to see it pop out. Once in the seat, the five-point harness is easy to adjust and fasten, and our child looked snug and secure. We appreciated the recline function, which helped our naptime car rides go off without a hitch. The fabrics on the seat are quite shiny, slippery ones, which our child found a bit sweatier than others we tried. However, overall we thought this was a very solid seat with excellent extra safety features.

BeSafe stokke iZi go modular X1

Best: For easy installation

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 15 months (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: No

One thing you can say about the Stokke brand – everything looks so modern and well designed. This infant carrier is no different – it has a very distinctive sun shade, which you can use independently of the handle. Plus the handle is ergonomically designed to make it easier to carry without constantly bashing your hip or shins.

We tried using it with and without the base, and although the base is definitely easier the seat belt trick was easy enough to use too. The base, which is insanely easy to install, has a sensitive alarm that lets you know when the car seat is locked in place, and goes off if the car seat or base aren’t properly attached.

Our tiniest of testers looked very snug in the seat, and they felt nicely wedged in. We liked the magnets built into the seat to keep the clips out of the way when loading and unloading. Another bonus is that all the fabric is wipeable, which is handy when you have a pukey baby. We would say this car seat does take up quite a lot of space in the car – so certainly, it’s better suited to larger cars.

Nuna tres LX car seat

Best: For a touch of luxury

Rating: 7/10

  • Age range: Birth to 12 years
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

Brilliant for if you don’t want to faff around getting new car seats every few years, this seat will see you through from birth to 12 years old. As a seat for newborns, it is secured by just a belt, which we found a bit stressful to install and isn’t as secure as using Isofix. However, once your child is forward facing it does utilise Isofix. The tres LX has extended rearward facing until 105cm (around 4 years old), which is a bonus.

It reclines really easily, and feels really nicely padded – our mini tester looked really comfortable. And so they should; the infant insert is made from merino wool to help keep cool in summer and snug in winter – and it feels the most premium of all the seats we tried. The headrest is easy to adjust and the straps are simple enough to alter too – plus the buckles are held back with magnets when you’re loading and unloading, which is a feature we loved.

Britax romer baby-safe iSense bundle

Best: Innovative car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 15 months (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

This bundle is a modular system – meaning you can use the base in the bundle for both newborn and toddler stages, but you’ll have to buy another seat that fits the base for the next stage up. This might not sound great, but as some bases are seriously pricey – as much as the seat itself – it is quite a good plan. The seat comes with smart lights, which automatically turn on to help guide you when locking the seat into the base or pram. There are also interior lights, which illuminate your baby – great if you do a lot of nighttime driving and want to see what your baby is up to.

The seat adapts well, with a lie-flat recline that adjusts in line with the headrest so your baby is always in the most comfortable position. The straps on this seat are nicely padded, and the seat is very deep – this might add to protection, but it was a bit tricky getting a wriggly baby from the depths of it. We did find this seat fitted better in a bigger car, as you need 10cm between the seat and the seat in front. This meant the passenger’s knees were on the dashboard in a compact car.

Cybex cloud Z iSize car seat

Best: Newborn car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: birth to 13kg/87cm (approx. 24 months)
  • iSize or R44: iSize (when used with base)
  • Reclines: Yes

This German-designed infant car seat is the gold standard for infant car seats. The spacious seat is surprisingly lightweight, and the fabrics feel really durable without that utilitarian feel some other seats have. The sunshade works independently of the handle, which is easy to flick between up, down and backwards positions. The cloud also has an almost lie-back position when out of the car, which means you can take your slumbering little bundle out of the car in it and leave them to snooze a little longer – or do the tricky car-seat-to-cot transfer a bit more easily. You do have to have it upright in the car though.

We found the cloud easy to fit in the car, and amazingly for such a roomy seat, it didn’t take up too much space on the back seat. The base, which is sold separately, (£199.95, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk), allows you to swivel the seat for boarding, which saved our backs. It needs to be used with the base to be classed as iSize. And as an added bonus the base is also compatible with the Cybex sirona Z iSize, when your baby outgrows their first seat. The safety spec on this seat is seriously impressive with extra side-impact protection, which you can easily pop out from the side on the door side.

Cybex sirona Z iSize car seat

Best: Rear-facing car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 4 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

An ideal seat for parents who would prefer their child to be rearward facing for longer, the Sirona Z allows your child to be rearward until they’re around four years old. Alternatively you can turn the seat when they reach 76cm and are older than 15 months (the seat is suitable from birth). The sirona uses the same base as Cybex’s cloud Z (£195.99, Naturalbabyshower.co.uk), and it can swivel for easy loading.

The base and seat were really easy to install, and have an indicator so you know when it’s locked in place. However this is a big seat, which will mean in smaller cars the seats have to be pushed really far forward to accommodate it. The seat enveloped our little tester in the seat really securely, but this did mean they couldn’t see out of the window so easily – not ideal if your little darling is prone to motion sickness. Overall we thought this seat was really fantastic, and especially makes sense if you have already invested in Cybex’s cloud Z seat.

Chicco Seat4Fix air car seat

Best: Isofix car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: R44
  • Reclines: Yes

Another seat that covers all groups, this is an R44 seat (ie. not iSize). This essentially means it’s suitable from birth right up until your child is 36kg, when they won’t be required to use a car seat anymore. On installation we had initial problems extracting the Isofix arms from the integrated base, but once we’d mastered that it was very straightforward.

The seat has red and green lights so you know when it’s properly installed, which we liked. We did find the anchor point in the boot a bit of a faff to get installed, but this also has a green light so you know when it’s safely hooked in. What we did like were the side-impact protectors for extra reassurance, while our child was very keen on the sunshade that they could adjust themselves. Anything that keeps them busy on a car journey is a win for us.

Adapting the car seat from group zero to group two was easy thanks to the swivel feature, and then it’s just a case of a few poppers to remove the seat pads. Moving it on again to group two was more fiddly because it involved removing the five-point harness straps, which were reluctant to be taken out. However, it is nice that the seat comes with pockets and compartments to stow away the straps so they don’t get lost. Our child was very comfortable in the seat – it’s very padded and the fabrics felt really good quality and, importantly, they’re breathable so our child didn’t get sweaty.

BeSafe iZi turn B iSize car seat

Best: For comfort

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: Birth to 4 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

Another seat that is suitable from birth to four-years/105cm, this seat offers peace of mind when travelling for the first few years of your child’s life.

The seat is really easy to install. There’s a handy bubble to let you know when the seat is in the correct position with the anchor, while green lights make it obvious when the seat is fitted properly. When installing the seat it required us to move the seat in front all the way forward and folded down to allow us the room to fit it. But once it’s installed it doesn’t take up too much room in the car. There is additional side-impact protection, which you can adjust depending on how you have the seat installed (this is a bit tricky to fit at first).

The newborn mode is super cosy for little babies, and the recline function allows them to lie flat, more or less. When it’s in this mode you can’t rotate the seat, but this is a safety feature to prevent newborns travelling facing forward. Adjusting the seat for the toddler stage was easy, and once in this mode the swivel function is easy to use and helps with straightforward loading of our child.

We tried the grey version of this seat, and we liked that it wasn’t black like other seats, as we think it kept our child cooler. Our child seemed extremely comfortable in this seat, and we felt really happy travelling even long distances with them in it – they seemed more than happy to snooze the journey away. This seat is in the upper price range of the seats we tested, but we felt for the safety features and comfort factor it was still worthy of inclusion.

Doona infant car seat

Best: For parents on the go

Rating: 7/10

  • Age range: Birth to 15 months (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: R44
  • Reclines: No

Is it a car seat, is it a pram? Well, we suppose it’s both. This is a bit of a gamechanger of a product for us. It’s an infant car seat that once you pop it out of the car, converts into a pushchair without the need for any extras. It blew our minds. It is really well designed to make it convenient and easy to use.

When in car-seat mode we found it really easy to take in and out of the car using the Isofix base (£139.99, Doona.shop) which is sold separately, and the straps were really easy to adjust. You can also install it using a seat belt if you don’t have the base. We did find though that the green lights to see if it’s installed safely are a bit hard to see compared to others we tried.

When we used it in pram mode it was really easy to manoeuvre and push, and suited every height (although the seat is quite low to the ground). This seat is brilliant for those who have limited boot space in their car, use public transport a lot or are off on their travels. It’s also great for people who have had C sections and aren’t able to lift heavy car seats.

Ickle Bubba solar car seat

Best: Group 2 car seat

Rating: 7/10

  • Age range: 9-12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: R44
  • Reclines: Yes

The solar is a group one-three seat, which means it’s suitable from 9kg to 36kg, that’s about nine months to 12 years of age. So it should last you a long time, and looking at the price tag that’s pretty brilliant value for money.

We found the seat really easy to install, mainly thanks to the YouTube video that showed us what to do. However, we found it breathtakingly frustrating to move it from group one to group two – the insert was really tricky and fiddly to remove, even for a highly practical person we had on hand to help. But once removed, our group two passenger seemed really comfy in the seat.

It’s nicely padded with several recline positions, and loading our child in was made easier thanks to magnets in the sides of the seat that hold the straps out of the way. The seat itself does take up a considerable amount of room, even in a larger car – but on the flipside, it doesn’t have a leg out front, so it saves on space there.

Chicco fold & go iSize air

Best: For travelling

Rating: 7/10

  • Age range: 4-12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

This lightweight high-back booster seat (suitable for children more than 100cm in height) is brilliant for those who need to store seats away when not in use, or if you travel often, because it folds down and includes a carry handle. We found it really easy to install; the Isofix arms pop out easily and then slot into a place, with red and green indicators to let you know when it’s properly installed.

It comes with an additional side-safety system, which easily clicks onto the door side of the seat, plus a nice padded safe pad to attach to the seat belt to provide extra chin and chest protection. Our child tester was very happy in this seat, and although it’s perhaps not quite as plush as some other seats on the market, for that it’s easier to carry.

BeSafe iZi flex fix

Best: Child car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: 4-12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

Another high-back booster seat for children measuring 100-150cm, this seat will see your child through to the end of their car seat career (hurrah!). This is an iSize seat, so it carries all the extra safety features that give peace of mind and also includes additional side-impact protection. It doesn’t have the big guides for feeding the seat belt through like on other boosters, but it has a soft loop that sits between your child’s legs to feed the belt through to provide a more comfortable position for them.

We really liked the adjustable headrest, which cracks up using a dial on the side – much easier than tugging at the top of a head rest. The head rest comes quite far around our child’s head, which is great for when they’re in the midst of a danger nap as it minimises them slumping forward in their sleep. The seat also comes with a pad that fits onto the seat belt and provides extra support for the neck and chin in a collision. The seat feels comfortable for our child, and there’s certainly enough room so they won’t feel too hemmed in as they grow.

Cybex pallas G iSize car seat

Best: Impact-shield car seat

Rating: 8/10

  • Age range: 18 months to 12 years (approx.)
  • iSize or R44: iSize
  • Reclines: Yes

Suitable for children aged from 18-months to 12-years, this seat offers great cost per use. Instead of a five-point harness, this seat uses an impact shield up until they reach 105cm and 21kg. The impact shield buckles across their lap, which protects their abdomen. It is quite restrictive, so it might not be for all children, but if children don’t love being clipped in, or you find it a faff doing up the clips, this could be the answer. It’s very easy to clip in each time – both sides have a seat-belt style point and the button to release is big and red (you literally can’t miss it).

The seat is installed using Isofix points and a top tether, and we found it really easy to fit. Once your child graduates into high-back boosters, you can remove the impact shield and use the seat like any other booster. We liked that there was so much space for our child to grow in this seat, and the high side-impact protection wings felt reassuringly large. However, for this it is quite large compared to other high-backed boosters, once you reach that stage. If you have three car seats across the back row, then you might struggle to squeeze them all in.

Car seats FAQs:

Fran Vaughan, managing director of Ickle Bubba, answered our questions:

Safety standards explained

Car seats used in the UK must adhere to two standards: ECE R129, which is the latest regulation, or ECE R44. You can choose which type you want to go with.

Car seats that adhere to ECE R129 are called iSize seats. These seats are fitted against your child’s height and ensure children are rear facing until they’re 15 months old. Rear-facing travel is optimal for babies and children because it offers more protection for their necks if a collision does occur. All iSize seats have Isofix as standard and have side-impact collision testing as part of the approval process.

ECE R44 seats are fitted based on your child’s weight. Many allow your child to face forward from 10 months, and some allow you to fit the seat using just a seat belt. This is handy if your car doesn’t have Isofix fixings. These seats aren’t required to have side-impact collision testing as standard.

What is Isofix?

Isofix is a way for a car seat to be secured into your car. It’s designed to make fitting the seat easy, as research shows many older car seats are fitted incorrectly, which makes the seat unsafe. Car seats with Isofix have connectors that come out of the back of the seat and slide into your car’s Isofix fitting points. Many seats then have a green indicator or lights (usually in the base) to let you know the seat is securely fitted in place. Isofix anchors the car seat to the chassis of the car, locking it in place more securely than if you were to use just a seat belt. Often an additional top tether or support leg is then used to stop the seat tipping forward.

How do I know when my child is too big for their car seat?

Figuring out when your child is ready for the next size of car seat is relatively straightforward. With iSize seats, it’s based on height:

  • iSize baby – suitable from birth to 85cm (this tends to be around 15-18 months)
  • iSize baby and toddler – suitable from birth to 105cm (this is around four years of age)
  • iSize toddler – suitable from 65cm to 105cm (around 15 months to four years)
  • iSize child – suitable from 100cm to 135cm (around four years to 12 years of age, when they aren’t required to travel in a seat any more)

For the R44 seats, seat sizes are based on weight and go up in groups:

  • Group 0/0+ – suitable from birth to 13kg (up to about 15 months)
  • Group 0+/1 – suitable from birth to 18kg (up to about 4 years)
  • Group 0+/1/2 – suitable from birth to 25kg (up to around 7 years
  • Group 1 – suitable from 9kg up to 18kg (from about 9 months to 4 years)
  • Group 1/2/3 – suitable from 9kg up to 36kg (from about 9 months to 12 years of age)
  • Group 2/3 – suitable from 15kg to 36kg (from about 9 months to 12 years of age)
  • Group 3 – suitable from 22kg to 36kg (from about five years to 12 years of age)

Your child may not fit the seat based on their age. It really depends on their weight or height, so it’s important to measure or weigh your child to check.

Multi-group seats are great for those who have different age children using the seat, such as childminders or grandparents.

Why are car seats for babies’ rear facing?

It’s generally much safer. When babies are sitting in a rear facing car seat, the shell acts as a protective shield and absorbs any force, should there be an accident. As a result, the impact would spread over the whole area of the child’s back, neck and head, putting significantly less strain solely on the babies’ neck.

What age should kids start to sit forward facing?

Legally, kids should only turn forward facing once they weigh 9kg and at this stage they will sometimes require a new car seat depending on the model. However, many studies have recommended that children should stay rear facing for longer than the legal requirement and in some cases up to four-years-old.

Will I need a base to fit the seat into my car?

When it comes to safety testing, car seats in the UK have to conform to one of two standards: ECE R129 is the newest European-wide regulation, known as i-Size. This runs alongside the existing ECE R44 regulation, and parents can choose either seat type to use.

i-Size uses your child’s height for fitting, and in order for a car seat to be i-Size compatible, it must be used with an Isofix base. Other car seats that far under the ECE R44 regulation are split into groups based on weight, and don’t need a base.

What tips do you have for buying car seats at the various different stages?

Monitor the weight and height of your child regularly to ensure you are using the correct car seat. Don’t rely on visual indicators only.

What’s the most important thing to look for in a child’s car seat and why?

Check that it meets ECE safety standards. A sticker is normally located on the car seat to indicate this. Also, make sure the car seat is compatible with your vehicle. Most are universal fitting, but it’s best to check before you purchase.

The verdict: Car seats

The Silver Cross motion is hard to beat – it covers all ages and offers great protection, plus feels really premium.

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