Looking for the BEST infant car seats for the city in 2023? You've come to the right place! (updated February 2023)
Time to talk car seats! The right infant car seat is the key to safely getting around the city by car. It tends to be the most daunting baby gear item to purchase for new parents who are unfamiliar with the highly technical product and array of features that impact safety and convenience.
We know many city families don’t even have a car, but we remind, you're going need a car seat to leave the hospital at least. And even for those city folks who do have a car, you still will likely be using a combo of your car, buses, subways, Ubers and taxis to toggle around town. Because city parents will often have to install their infant car seat in many different cars, it's important to find something that's easy to move around and install. To make matters more complicated, there are compatibility concerns with infant car seats, as stroller models are compatible with only specified seats, different for each model.
How do you make sense of it all and find the best model that will check all the boxes? What features do you really need? Take a deep breath, as we have a guide that will help you demystify these seats and focus in on what’s going to matter most for you!
In this article we will explain:
They always tell you: to leave the hospital, you must have a car seat. We hear you city folk! You may not even have a car! But you know you will be going around town for doctors' appointments, playdates, and other excursions, so even if you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you surely will be riding in one once baby is on board!
Infant car seats are all about safety - they are geared to insulate babies from the forces in an accident. Their hard shells, carry handle and side impact protection help to reduce the child's risk of injury in a crash. Many car seat bases have load legs as well that reduce forces on baby's head and neck, keeping them safer.
Although a newborn can generally go into an infant car seat or a convertible car seat in the rear facing position (note "convertible" indicates it can be rear facing or forward facing), most city parents will choose an infant seat, as these are smaller, lighter and can work with the stroller as a travel system using a car seat adapter. The larger “convertible seats” are longer lasting, but they are heavier and cannot integrate with your stroller so aren’t as portable. For parents in the city, this is a big issue.
OK, now you know the basics, let's get to know the terminology. It's a new language, we know, but simple enough with some of the basic vocab!
Rear facing seats: This is what you want to get for your newborn. You always want your baby to be rear facing, as this is the safest way to travel according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The rear facing seat will cradle the baby in case of an accident, ensuring much less movement of the head and neck as there would be if baby was forward facing. Just like in real estate, location location, location is key for the car seat. According to HealthyChildren.org, the center of the back seat is the best place for baby to ride, as it's safer from side impact issues. Obviously in multiple child families, someone has to ride on the side, but when you do have a choice, pick the center.
Infant Car Seat (also called Bucket Seat): Infant car seats are rear facing only – generally used for about 1+/- year, depending on baby’s height & weight and the max height & weight required by the seat. Once they bust 1 dimension it’s time to move on. They are designed for safety and have many features to protect the baby and minimize any forces in an accident.
Convertible Car Seat: These are much bigger and can be positioned in a car as rear facing and forward facing. These have also been engineered to minimize forces of an accident on a baby and protect them. These can be used to about 65 lbs +/- which could be 3-4 or even 5 years old. The convertible seat is not compatible with your stroller with car seat adapters, making them less mobile than the infant seats. They are also much heavier than infant car seats. Most city families procure one of these after the child grows out of the infant car seat.
European belt path: This feature is a biggie for city parents. Although all infant car seats come with bases (the base is the large LATCH enabled gear that comes with your seat, which gets installed more permanently in your car and into which the car seat can click in and out), our city parents aren’t taking these with them when catching a taxi or Uber. Therefore, we look for a feature called a European belt path, a small tab on the back of the seat, which is key to safer seatbelt installation of the car seat.
- If you have a car, install the base in the car and then click the seat in and out as needed. The base stays put.
- If you don't have a car (or are not using your car), just take the seat itself (no base needed) and install using the vehicle's seat belt. The lap belt gets fed across the front of the rear-facing seat (roughly over baby's lap), while the shoulder harness wraps around the back of the seat through the European belt path. The seatbelt should be in lock position so that the installation is snug. Less movement means more safety.
LATCH: When reading about infant and convertible car seats, you'll always see the term LATCH. This refers to the way it is installed, standing for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. This is the way to secure a car seat, whether rear or forward facing (not using the vehicle seat belts). The LATCH, which can be rigid or flexible will fit into metal anchors in the back seat of the car, locking the car seat in place. Most car seats and vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002 are required to have LATCH systems. Note LATCH is known as ISOFIX in Europe.
Load Leg: This is a feature on the car seat base, giving more stability and safety when used. If you are going to use the base, you definitely want to pick a car seat with a load leg. This minimizes forces in an accident, reducing forces on the baby's head and neck, and is definitely worth looking for in a seat.
You'll see some of these features in certain infant car seats that add to the convenience or to the safety of the seat. Remember, any feature that makes it easier to install the seat is both a convenience and a safety feature! It's important to know what you're getting and decide what's important for you and your lifestyle.
- No-rethread harness – this is more convenience than safety, but unweaving straps and then reweaving them is a bit of a pain, so some seats feature a no rethread harness where you can pull up on the car seat headrest and move the straps up. Note, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, on rear facing car seats, the shoulder straps should come through the car seat slots at or just below your child's shoulders. You want to be sure that you have the harness adjusted correctly and that your child is not wearing any winter gear or bulk, which is a big no-no for car seat safety, More on proper strap positioning can be found on The Car Seat Lady's blog.
- Full recline: There is one car seat that allows for a full flat recline which is a great feature when you’re strolling around with the seat attached to your stroller (it’s not relevant when you are in the car, the recline is only when the seat is not in use as a "car seat"). The flat recline for strolling around is nice as babies shouldn’t be in the sit up car seat position for extended periods of time, so if you’re on a long trip or long weekend, it’s great to have an alternative flat position for the baby!
- Adjustments to installation angle after installing: It’s key, when you install a car seat that it’s pitched at the right angle. You don’t want the child in an awkward or “c” position such that baby’s airway could be obstructed. If you find yourself at the wrong angle (many seats have an indicator), you generally have to remove the seat and try again. Different cars have different back seat styles, so you install slightly differently depending on the vehicle. There is a car seat that allows you to install at whatever angle and then adjust once it’s installed, which is particularly nice, as you know you get it right and it’s super easy!
- Premium fabrics: This is another nice feature that some seats have – either green guard certified performance, anti-bacterial, anti-microbial fabrics, or in some instances FR Free fabrics (free of any flame retardant chemicals). Be sure you check on this and the washing instructions on your car seat, as this is a key convenience feature.
- FAA Approved: All of the car seats we carry are FAA approved, so feel free to fly with them! If you've had to buy the extra seat, then you might as well bring the car seat on board. It can make flying easier for you and those around you, as the child may feel a greater sense of calm strapped in the 5 point harness.
These are just some special features of various car seats that make them stand out on the market. One car seat doesn’t have all of them and as with everything in life it’s a tradeoff.
OK, those were a lot of nice features, but now, how to pick? As a general rule of thumb, as you add features you add both weight and price, so you want to think about how you’ll be using the seat, what are the things that you really need, and don’t pay for extra features that don’t make sense with your level of usage. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have a car? This is key in the city. Generally, a car seat will come with a base that gets installed in your vehicle and stays there, while the car seat itself can be brought in and out of the car. When it's not in the car it can affix using car seat adapters to your stroller for a perfect travel system. But for those without cars, Clek offers a baseless car seat with a European belt router, where you install only using the car's seat belt system. It's a more cost-effective solution, as why put the money toward a car seat with a base you'll never use? That being said, if you do have a car, best to choose a model where the base has key safety features like a load leg!
- What is my preferred primary stroller and travel stroller? If you're going to travel with baby that first year, you'll want an infant car seat that is compatible with both your primary stroller and your travel stroller.
- What's more important, the lightest weight car seat or one that has lots of features? As a general rule of thumb, the more features, the more money, the more weight. So, you want to choose a model that has the features that are crucial to you and your lifestyle. For instance, if you anticipate traveling and don't want to bring a bassinet every time, then consider a reclining car seat like the Cloud Q by Cybex.
Without further ado, some of our favorite car seat models to review. Come in and check them out in store!
Cybex Cloud G Lux
NEW for 2023 The Cloud G Lux offers even more features, the most unique of which is that the seat can recline to near flat position when on the go and clicked onto the stroller. This is nice as babies aren’t supposed to spend extended periods in the sit up car seat position, so this seat offers a choice. This seat is also offered with Sensorsafe technology, no rethread harness, belt tensioning plate and the key features of the Aton G. Try it with your Priam stroller!
- Near lie-flat recline for when not in car (45% more recline than other car seats
- Base has load leg
- Easy install with one-click rigid LATCH
- Anti-rebound base
- Upgraded fabrics and longer canopy
- Compact European belt path
- Telescopic Linear Side Impact Protection
- No rethread harness and 11 position height adjustable headrest
- Belt tensioning plate for base install with LATCH or seatbelts
- Energy absorbent shell with air-ventilation to keep your child comfy
- Safelock Base
- FAA Approved
- Works with Bugaboo, UppaBaby, Cybex strollers. Not recommended with BabyZen.
Clek, the creators of the “mother of all car seats”—convertible car seat, the Foonf—entered the infant car seat market with the Clek Liing. The Liing is a beautifully designed seat with a metal load leg, secure rigid latch installation and 7 different recline positions to fit the slope of your vehicle’s backseat. It’s also super narrow so that you can install 3 across in the backseat.
- Belt tensioning system
- Rigid LATCH
- Recline post-install to find right angle for baby
- FR Free fabric options available
- Load leg on base
- Compatible with many strollers using Maxi Cosi adapter
- European belt path
- 3 position sun canopy
- Compatible with Cybex, UppaBaby, BabyZen, Bugaboo strollers (for Uppababy, use the Clek car seat adapters specifically made for this combination)
Clek Liingo This is for our city friends! The Clek Liingo is like the Liing, but is baseless! For city folks who don't have cars, you're always using the car seat in taxis & Ubers. The Liingo features flexible LATCH built right into the seat. Because city folks don't use the car seat base (it just gathers dust in a forgotten closet or storage space), why pay for it? With the Liingo you have a super safe solution specifically made for the city!
- Aircraft approved
- 1+2 year warranty
- 9 year expiration
- Machine washable cover
- Flexible LATCH built into the seat itself
- European belt path
- Made in Canada
- Compatible with Cybex, Uppababy, Babyzen, Bugaboo strollers (for Uppababy, use the Clek car seat adapters specifically made for this combination)
Read our Liing vs. Liingo Face Off: Which is right for you?
UPPABaby Mesa Max UPPABaby is upping its car seat game in 2023, launching the Mesa Max. For those with a car, and likely to use a base, we're partial to the Max, as the base features a load leg and anti-rebound bar: these features cut down on the movement in a crash, and that is the name of the game. It features the European belt routing system, too, which means that installation in a taxi or Uber is even safer (the previous Mesa did not have this feature). The Mesa Max has no flame retardant chemicals in it and the Gregory and Greyson made with merino wool.
UPPABaby Mesa Max
- Load leg & anti rebound bar
- No flame retardants in fabric or foam
- European belt router for excellent taxi installation
- Light: 9.9 lbs
- Smart Secure system installation
- Adjustable headrest with side impact protection
- Even bigger canopy!
- Side impact protection
- No rethread harness
- Available in 5 colors
- Greyson Charcoal Mélange (with merino wool)
- Gregory Blue Mélange (with merino wool)
- Anthony White Grey Marl
- Jake Charcoal Black
- Noa Navy Mélange
Bugaboo Turtle Air by Nuna:
Bugaboo and Nuna unite to make this sleek, more upscale version of the popular Nuna infant car seat. We particularly like the Bugaboo Turtle Air's ample privacy shade for the paparazzi-weary babe. This seat is the lightest of the bunch and is a good pick for someone who anticipates carrying the seat a bit. It's a nice complement to the Fox 5 stroller.
Doona This is half infant car seat-half stroller and the easiest way to transition from taxi to sidewalk. The levers on the back of the car seat releases wheels and voila, you can stroll away. This dual-purpose car seat makes life easy for active parents. One thing to note, though, we don’t believe it replaces the primary stroller, as the Doona is only in “car seat position” meaning baby sits up, and (at least for city folk), we stroll too much for this to be your one about-town solution. But for quick trips, it’s pretty awesome.
- Stroller-car seat hybrid
- European belt router
- Carry handle serves as anti-rebound bar and provides side impact protection
- Infant insert included
- Many accessories available
- FAA Approved
The Cybex Cloud G; Clek Liing and Liingo; Mesa Max; Bugaboo Turtle Air; and Doona are our top picks for the best and safest car seats for 2023.
Now, which is right for you? You want to think about your gear and compatibility first. Generally city people choose their stroller first and then their car seat. When you're looking for matches, you want to think about what stroller you will be using when traveling.
And don't think you need to match a car seat with the same brand strollers because strollers can be compatible with a range of car seats. Each stroller has car seat adapters that work with a list of compatible car seats. You want to look for matches that are officially sanctioned by the stroller brand, to ensure the safety of the solution. You tell us what stroller you like, and we'll help you pick the best car seat or vice versa!
The Babesta Difference When Shopping Infant Car Seats
We love having this conversation with city parents, as we are city parents and we remember how stressful it is to make all of these choices. We want to make it easy as possible, and give you all the pluses and minuses of any choice, so that you can make an informed decision. But there are lots more reasons to shop car seats wtih us:
- We take the time with you, focusing on your unique needs
- We've narrowed the choices to the best for city families
- We know what goes with what so compatibility between stroller and car seat is easy peasy
- We hold it til you need it, so once you choose, you can purchase and we'll deliver it when you are ready
- We have a network of resources to help you, whatever you need
- We're local and human--no bots! When you chat with us, you get us.
In the end, you always want to assess your needs and pick the right one for you! Babesta can definitely walk you through the important stroller and car seat choices that will match your lifestyle and your needs. We have some of the best models on the market, with an array of safety and convenience features. We can advise you on compatibility so that you have the perfect combo. We also offer hold it till you need it services, stroller assembly services and a host of others to make everything easy and stress-free!
Want to see these car seats in person? Come in to one of our stores and one of our stylists will walk you through. And for installation needs, we recommend highly “Thee Car Seat Lady”, a New York City pro who will help you get it right!