Please note: This review is my own. Nobody asked me to do it. Nobody (sadly) is paying me for it. I’m putting it out there in case you are debating between these two car seats.
This review is for the Britax Frontier 85 SICT vs the Recaro ProSPORT. These are both five-point harness combination car seat and booster seat. For both, when the child is big enough, you can remove the harnesses and use it as a regular booster.
First of all, don’t let the names fool you. According to its Web site, Recaro submitted its car seat to the ADAC (most recognized automotive testing organization in Europe for side-impact protection testing) and passed its side-impact testing standards. The Britax USA Web site states “No other car seat company offers this level of side impact protection technology.” But does not say whether a third party has assessed its product against set standards.
We are a two-car family. Both Hubbs and I work full-time and we share pick-up/drop-off duties at day care. With two kids, that means we’ve bought FOUR car seats. (My wallet started smoldering at the memory. And we used a hand-me-down infant seat from a friend, otherwise that would have been FIVE car seats purchased. Yeowza.)
I bought the Britax Frontier 85 SICT on a lark. I was perusing a local store when the SICT first came out, because I was looking for a second booster/harness seat for Sean. At that point, we had one car with the Recaro ProSPORT for Sean and an infant seat (click-in base) for Allie. In the second car, Sean was forward-facing in a Recaro ProRIDE convertible car seat, with another click-in base for Allie’s infant seat. Allie was close to outgrowing her infant seat. At that point, we were going to move the Recaro ProRIDE to rear-facing, and get both her and Sean new seats (1 new booster/harness, 1 new convertible car seat).
Still with me?
The shop had both booster/harness seats in stock for a side-by-side comparison. Height-wise, the Britax 85 SICT is a bit taller. Width wise, the outer base was about the same. Weight wise, in terms of me picking them up side-by-side — about the same. But the wings outside the lower side cushion on the Britax 85 SICT — the extra side-impact supports — were much wider than the wings on the ProSPORT.
Everyone I know seems to have Britax car seats and they rave about them all the time. I had always bought Recaro previously. They have an impeccable safety record, make solid, sturdy, and heavy seats that are plush and comfortable, and they manufacture race car seats. Anyone who can manufacture a seat that keeps a person alive — and even unharmed — after a 200+ mph crash must be doing something right in my book.
In the end, it was price and curiosity that swayed me. I needed to buy two car seats. Although the Britax would normally be about $30 more than the Recaro, it was on sale — making them the same price. My curiosity got the better of me and I bought the Britax.
I’m kind of a pro at installing car seats at this point, so this part may not be accurate for you — but both car seats installed easily and quickly using the LATCH system. I’d say it took me less than 10 minutes from start to finish, and that includes laying down a seat protector underneath and adjusting the seats to Sean’s height. (Also easy.)
Overall, the Britax 85 is a good seat. I like the top buckle fastener guides, because it keeps the buckle in place — meaning Hubbs has it at the right spot when he’s buckling Sean in and Sean cannot pull it down to his belly button when I’m not looking.
The cup holders are handy.
The arm rests? Pretty much useless. They made it easier for me to haul the seat into the car, but they mostly serve as a diving board for Sean’s toys. I mean, look at them in the picture at left. (OK, they’re hard to see. Do you see the red blocks on the side of the kid? Just above them. Those nubs are the arm rests.) Once your kid hits a certain height, its practically impossible to use them.
Sean hasn’t complained, but in terms of padding — the Britax has less padding for the butt than Recaro, and the side wings are harder than the Recaro.
But the biggest difference is the seat cover. The Britax seat cover comes off easily, and you don’t have to unbuckle it from the LATCH system to do it. I thought this was the greatest thing ever the first time Sean threw up in the car and all over the seat. I ripped the cover off in no time flat and had it in the washing machine on the sanitary cycle before you could gag from the fumes.
And then I tried to get the cover back on. I was not amused.
I broke two nails tucking the seat cover in the tiny crevice between the head supports and the side-impact wings. And then the nail in the coffin: Britax expects two elastic loops to secure the bottom of the seat cover to the plastic base.
Two small elastic loops. On the part where your child sits, the part that moves the most.
Two small elastic loops that never stay on the little nubs under the seat again.
Meaning that every time you put your kid in the seat, you have to make sure he doesn’t come in contact with the darn seat until he’s directly above it — otherwise the cover flips up, folds in half, and you have to hold a 35-pound toddler with one hand while you’re bent at the waist and fumbling with the seat cover with the other hand just so you can buckle him in.
The cup holders aren’t worth it.
As for the Recaro ProSPORT: When I bought it, both Hubbs and I looked at each other and said: “I want MY seat to feel like that.” In a word, the padding is plush. It is very soft (even after 5+ washing machine + dryer cycles), and food comes off it amazingly quick with a wet wipe.
I know the seat itself is slightly narrower on the Recaro vs the Britax, so if you’re child is on the heftier side, that may be a factor. But at 3 years old, we still have the extra cushion on the seat and we won’t be taking it off anytime soon.
Here’s something to think about: Which car seat do you think has better head protection? In my opinion, it is the Recaro. Despite having those wide plastic buffers on the side of it, the actual headrest and wings are not as wide or long on the Britax compared to the Recaro. The Britax wings are also harder, whereas the Recaro foam is thicker.
Consider this: Sean sleeps more in the Recaro. His head stays secure — never bouncing or rolling around — and he sleeps so deeply he snores. He will occasionally sleep in the Britax, but his head rolls around, waking him up, and I’ve never heard him hit snore-land. Some people say the Recaro wings “impede” their child’s side view and that is why they don’t like it as much as the Britax. Flimsy reasoning by my book, but then again — I’m bagging on Britax for elastic loops on a seat cover.
The cup holders are a non-issue. If they’re there, nice. If not, nobody notices.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve washed the cover on the Recaro 5+ times so far. It isn’t easy to get the cover off the frame. You have to unhook the car seat from your LATCH system first. Because the Recaro seat cover is held on by heavy-duty metal snaps. There are eight going down the back of the car seat alone. The cover is also tight on the seat, so it takes some wiggling to get it off. Not the most fun thing to do when its coated in vomit. (Also good to note: You can remove the straps and throw those in the washing machine.)
That being said — that seat cover goes back on the seat and fits like a glove. It is secure. Sean climbs into it by himself with no problems and no adjusting needed by me. In terms of durability, washability, and fitting back on the seat after you’ve washed it, the Recaro seat cover wins. Pair that with the extra comfort, plushness, and third-party verified safety of the wider and longer wings … it isn’t even close.
Still on the fence? As of today, the Britax 85 SICT retails for $254.99 on Amazon.com and comes in three color options. The Recaro ProSPORT retails for $233.99 on Amazon.com and comes in eight color options. (Note: The plusher/softer fabrics are: Aspen, Misty, Sable, and Riley options.)
Sorry Britax, if I had to go back and do it all again, I would have bought another Recaro ProSPORT.