A baby’s car seat should be bought with confidence. This essential piece of kit has an important job, after all. On every car journey – from the first daunting drive home from hospital, to sleep-persuading loops around the block – your baby’s in-car throne serves to keep them safe, secure and ever-so snug.
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.
Regulation ECE R44 seats are split into groups based on your baby’s weight: group 0 seats are suitable from birth up to 10kg (approximately nine months) and group 0+ for newborns to 13kg (approximately 12-15 months). All babies must be rear-facing until they are 15-months-old, as before this their necks are not strong enough to withstand the pressure of a head-on collision in the forward-facing position. In these weight-based car seats, your baby needs to stay rear facing until they weigh at least 9kg.
i-Size seats use a child's height for fitting, keeping babies rearward-facing until they are 15-months-old. They have also had side-impact testing. Always make sure your car seat fits your child and your car, their head should not go beyond the seat.
So, what’s Isofix? Isofix is an internationally recognised car seat fitting system, meaning seats aren’t installed with the car's 3-point seat belt, but instead provide a more secure fit by slotting into Isofix anchorage points built into all new cars – so you need to check a seat is compatible with your vehicle before you buy. A car seat can have an Isofix fitting whether it’s an i-Size or ECE R44-approved car seat.
We road-tested these first car seats on both long journeys and quick trips. Each seat in our shortlist has of course been extensively safety tested to meet regulation standards, so our deep-dive is based on ease of use, comfort factor and the bonus extras that make a parent’s life a little easier. It’s then for you to decide what features matter the most when transporting your bundle from A to B.
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Britax Römer baby-safe i-Size: £190, Britax
The Britax baby-safe2 is a sturdy, affordable seat that conforms to i-Size standards, so is fitted in the rearward facing position and can be used until your baby reaches 13kg or 83cm. Peace of mind safety elements such as “superior side-impact protection”, plus an easy installation, sees the baby-safe carrier as a popular pick among new parents – in fact, this was the seat the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to take their three little bundles home from the hospital.
Deep padding makes for a comfy ride and a removable newborn insert means babies are secure from birth. The headrest height can be adjusted with one hand, and we were impressed by the seat’s integral recline: as you alter the headrest, the lying position changes automatically. The seat can be secured by a car’s 3-point seat belt but to have the Isofix fitting, you’ll need to buy either of the two compatible bases. We rate the Britax flex base (£175) as with four adjustable angles it allows the seat into an even flatter recline, offering the most ergonomic travel position for a new baby. Buy the extra adaptors and the baby-safe2 will work with many of the big-brand pushchairs too.
Maxi-Cosi Jade car cot: £199, Maxi-Cosi
It’s recommended that newborns are in a car seat for no longer than 30 minutes, with two hours being the maximum time for older babies. So what to do on that epic road trip? The Maxi-Cosi Jade is an i-Size seat offering a safe solution for long distance journeys. The carrycot design means a baby can sleep fully flat from birth, and stay in the seat for longer periods of time. You’ll find a soft mattress, 3-point safety harness, sun canopy and a newborn inlay to use until your baby is 60cm.
We found fitting the additional 3wayfix Isofix base (£199) a fuss-free experience – there’s light and sound feedback to let you know that you’ve secured it correctly. The Jade then slides on and off the base so you can take it into the house, or attach it to a Maxi-Cosi pushchair, all while baby sleeps. The seat takes a maximum weight of 9kg, 70cm – making it suitable from birth to approximately six months – so it does have a shorter lifespan than the pick of group 0 + seats that’ll last you well over 12 months. Saying that, once you’ve purchased the 3wayfix base, it can be used with a next stage Maxi-Cosi seat, such as the pearl pro i-Size, for tots aged up to four-years-old.
Joie i-spin 360: £280, Mothercare
If you’ve ever struggled getting a small child in and out of a car, then you’ll know that the 360-degree rotation on the Joie i-spin is a highly covetable seat feature. With one hand you can swivel the seat to face you at the car door without the back-breaking work of bending right in. This newborn-suitable car seat also impresses on the longevity front. The rotation element, 6-height headrest and harness system that adjusts simultaneously means the Joie i-Spin can be used all the way up to 18kg – around four-years-old.
You can keep it rearward-facing for this entire time, or rotate to the forward-facing position when it’s safe for older tots. We liked the clever safety feature that keeps the seat rearward until a child is the right size to turn, taking away any guesswork.
Cosatto port car seat: £174.95, Mothercare
This British brand has long been a parent-pleaser, offering well-designed baby kit adorned in quirky, statement-making prints. The port is Cosatto’s group 0+ seat that’s suitable for babies up to 13kg, and is fitted in the rearward-facing position. Although it’s not i-Size compliant, the seat is compatible with Cosatto’s port base (£124.95) if you’re wanting the extra security and click-and-go ease of Isofix.
After a once-over of the manual, we secured the port with our car’s standard 3-point seat belt and found it straightforward to install and a stable ride for baby. There are 12 distinctive patterns to choose from including a bold spot and stripe, a Nordic woodland scene or a leopard print fabric designed by Paloma Faith. The seat can also be used as a travel system with Cosatto’s giggle and wow pram/pushchair.
Jane koos i-Size: From £149, Jane
If you’re looking for a light, reliable car seat to lug around, the koos from Jane fits the bill. When fitted with the base (£160), the koos is an i-Size compliant seat that has reassuring features, including side-impact protection, a 5-position adjustable headrest and inserts to use with a newborn from 40-60cm.
This car seat will last until your baby is around 15-months-old (or 83cm), and we found the fabrics soft and cosy – they come off easily for washing too. An adjustable carrying handle makes lifting the seat a doddle and it really comes into its own when used as part of a travel system with the Jane range of pushchairs – a one-click system takes the seat from car to pavement.
Doona infant car seat: £299.99, Doona
Is it a car seat? Is it a pushchair? Actually, it’s both. The USP of the Doona is its integrated set of wheels that can be released in seconds – turning the seat into a stroller when out of the car. The seat conforms to ECE R44, rather than i-Size regulations, but it meets the testing standards for pushchairs and reclined cradles too. We installed the Doona using the car’s 3-point car seat belt, although if you’d prefer an Isofix fitting, there is an additional base to buy (£129.99).
While the Doona isn’t designed to be used all day, we found it a great way to make short A to B trips, to have when travelling, or to keep at the grandparents’ house – negating the need for two sets of baby kit. The Doona is safe on an airplane and there’s eight on-trend fabric colours to choose from, which adds to the appeal.
Cybex aton M i-Size: £128.99
The aton M i-Size is a birth to 13kg seat from Cybex – a brand known for its premium baby hardware with super-sleek styling. The seat is ideal for newborns and babies up to 87cm, which is a slightly longer height capacity than some other infant seats in the group 0+ category.
You have to buy the compatible Cybex base M separately for i-Size safety (£136.95), or secure the seat with the car’s 3-point seatbelt. We were won over by the simple installation and standout newborn-friendly features – there’s a removable insert for good positioning and Cybex’s sensorsafe clip tracks temperature and length of journey on your smartphone.
A stylish design completes the package: the aton’s fabrics look high-end and come in a choice of eye catching colours or fashion prints. Team the seat with the Cybex pushchair and you have an ultra-attractive travel system that will protect your baby on-the-go.
Graco milestone all-in-one car seat: £193.80, Amazon
For parents seeking a super-versatile car seat, The Graco milestone is a one-stop shop. Impressively, this seat is suitable for newborns and 12-year-olds, and every age in between. With a similar price-tag to car seats that last only a year, it’s undoubtedly a money-saver. The seat sits in the rearward-position for a baby, with two recline modes, and switches to forward-facing for a toddler. Machine washable covers can be whipped off easily and there’s a cup holder for bigger kids too.
What you gain in value though, you do lose in portability as and it’s certainly not light at 8.9kg. All in all, this is a simple, durable seat that we found easy to install with the car’s 3-point seat belt.
Nuna pipa lite LX: £250, John Lewis & Partners
Weighing in at just 2.5kg, the Nuna pipa lite LX is a lightweight car seat that’s suitable for a little one from birth to 13kg. We loved how the Isofix base comes with the seat so you’re good-to-go with one purchase. If your car doesn’t have Isofix anchorage, it can also be secured with a 3-point seatbelt. This flexibility, along with the seat’s featherweight carry, makes it a good option when regularly switching between cars.
Our mini passenger slept snuggly thanks to the padded headrests and inserts that you can take out as they grow. A “dream drape” cover pulls down fully and secures with magnets – creating the perfect napping pod and protecting against the elements when carrying out of the car, or using it on a pushchair. The merino wool and technical fabrics are naturally fire resistant so the seat is free from fire retardant chemicals. A shock absorbing shell and side-impact protection give you all the necessary safety reassurances as you drive.
The verdict: Car seats
With its reassuringly rigorous safety standards, plus plenty of first-rate features, the sturdy Britax baby-safe 2 i-Size is our best buy. Cybex’s stylish aton M also picks up points for being a dependable i-Size seat that’s easy on the eye. When it comes to value for money, the Joie i-spin 360 deserves a mention for its clever design and long lifespan.
For more information on how to choose the best car seat, read our buying guide.