Best Forward-facing Car Seats: Top 8 Picks Suitable for Toddlers and Preschoolers

If your kiddo is outgrowing his rear-facing seat, it's maybe time to switch to a forward-facing seat.

But, as you know, there are various car seat models available on the market: convertible, 2-in-1, and even 3-in-1 seats!

So, which one should you pick, and how do you make sure you made the right decision?!

This is where I step in and help you pick from one of the finest and safest forward-facing car seats on the market.

Below is the list of eight unique versions of the best toddler car seat that will save your time on installation and, most of all, money on future purchases!

A Quick Note

If you are a new parent, you may wonder what a front-facing car seat is and how it is different from the rest of the car seats on the market?

Let's clarify.

best forward facing car seat for 5 year old

A forward-facing one can be used in the rear seat and is the second safest option to restrain your child in transportation.

The first one, rear-facing, is recommended to be used the longest or as far as the kid meets the requirements.

As soon as your kid outgrows his car seat, you know there has to be a transition from rear-facing to forward-facing.

Sometimes, you will not find a car seat with a specific "forward-facing car seat" in the title. Often, they are referred to as a 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 version, where they transform into a booster or even into a rear-facing car seat.

These kinds of convertible car seat picks are great if you are a new parent, as you will get to save a lot of money and won't need to purchase a separate seat for each stage!

As many of the forward-facing car seats include the "harness-to-booster" models, it's essential to clear the air on this issue!

1. What Makes Forward-Facing Car Seats Unique?

Besides the installation, front-facing car seats use ONLY a harness as a restraining device.

Unlike a highback booster that is often used with a regular car seat belt, forward-facing car seats are reserved for toddlers and preschoolers who have yet not met the standards for the highback or backless boosters.

They should keep using these toddler car seats until they have exceeded the weight and height recommendations by the chosen car seat manufacturer.

After that, it's best to use these seats with the 5-point harness. Then, the child is at least five years old.

But, what about infant car seats and convertible ones? Who is the best candidate for those car seats?

2. Infant Car Seats
best front facing car seat

An infant car seat is used from birth and is installed rear-faced.

These seats often have a newborn insert which you can easily take out as soon as your baby grows into a toddler. Typically, they accommodate babies up to 35 pounds.

An infant car seat is unique because it is more compact and suitable for travel than a convertible car seat. They are also great if you are traveling a lot as they are lighter for portability.

Are there any cons to using an infant car seat?

Well, only that the baby grows out of the ridiculously fast, and you will find yourself purchasing another seat sooner than you think!

3. Convertible Car Seats

Convertible car seats are a great purchase if you want to invest in a long-lasting model.

As the name suggests, they convert so you can use them in rear-facing and forward-facing modes.

What's awesome about them is that you can use them when your baby is an infant until they are ready for their first booster seat, which is around when they reach 65 pounds.

Are there any cons to using a convertible car seat?

They are bulky, and many of the models do not fit carpooling or three-in-a-row car seat installations.

4. Convertible Car Seats vs. Front-Facing Car Seats
best toddler car seat

Generally, people tend to mistake these two and think that they perform the same function. Well, although we can't disagree, we can't fully agree as well.

Here's the deal.

You would use convertible car seats to kill two flies with one stone. First, if you already have an infant, getting a convertible car seat makes more sense than purchasing a separate one when they are ready for forward-facing seating.

But, if your toddler is already ready for a forward-facing seat, then it's for the best if you pick a 2-in-1 combo where you get a seat and a booster you can use later on.

It's all about investing smartly!

Our Favorite Forward Facing Car Seats - Overview

$Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness Booster Seat ~ 17.45 pounds - Narrow and tall design suitable for preschoolers, includes cup holders and three modes of use. Tricky to install with a latch. Suitable for: children up to 65 pounds in forward-facing mode.

$Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 ~ 19.47 pounds - Slim design that is perfect for a growing family with kids far apart in age, crash-tested, and comfortable, breathable fabric. Suitable for: 22-65 lbs in a forward-facing seat.

$ — KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat ~ 15 pounds - Great design majority kids love, large weight limit, crash-tested, and comfortable. Difficult to install with a latch strap. Suitable for: kids between 22 and 65 pounds in forward-facing mode.

$ — GRACO Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat ~ 22.75 pounds - Long-lasting car seat with up to 10 years expiration, comfortable and easy to maintain, and includes three seating modes. Heavy and not suitable for traveling. Suitable for: kids between 22-65 pounds in forward-facing.

$$ — Diono Radian 3R, 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat ~ 25.9 pounds - Great slim design for carpooling, convertible with an extended rear-facing mode, removable seat pad. Heavy. Suitable for: kids between 22-65 pounds in forward-facing mode.

$$$ — Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat ~ 23 pounds - Easy to switch between modes, include multiple safety features and an accessible car seat installation. Bulky design for carpooling. Suitable for: kids between 22-65 pounds.

$$ — Chicco MyFit Harness + Booster Car Seat ~ 25 pounds - Fit for a growing family, easy to clean, includes machine-washable cupholders, excellent protection, and a small footprint. Heavy. Suitable for: kids between 22-65 pounds.

$$$ — Cybex Gold Eternis S All in 1 Convertible ~ 26 pounds - Great find if you are looking for an all-in-one car seat, includes extenders rear-facing use, 120-pound weight limit. Heavy, and standard design. Suitable for: kids between 22-65 pounds in forward-facing mode.

Best Forward Facing Car Seats: My Top 8 Picks

Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness Booster Seat - Best Front-Facing Car Seat
  • Brand: Graco
  • Weight Range: In forward-facing (22-65 lbs)
  • Type: Forward-facing; highback booster; backless booster seat
  • Harness Type: No-rethread harness

We have to start the review with one of the most popular 3-in-1 car seats, the Graco Transitions.

This is a favorite among many parents due to the various benefits of comfort, safety, and installation.

The car seat features a 3-in-1 design, meaning it can accommodate your kiddo from toddlers up to 100 pounds.

You can use the car seat in forward-facing mode, a highback booster, and a no-back booster installed with a seat belt.

One of the unique features that the Graco Transitions car seat offers is its narrow design. That being said, you can install multiple car seats with no problem!

Plus, it's somewhat lightweight so installing it by yourself is not that challenging.

But, don't be fooled with the narrow design thinking it won't fit tall kids. In contrast, it has a pretty tall design that works well with taller toddlers and preschoolers.

Cleaning the car seat is also a breeze! Parents will know how much of a mess a toddler can make as soon as you give them their favorite snack!

That's why the Graco includes a slick fabric cover that is cleaned with a sponge or a damp cloth.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Integrated cup holders
  • Includes a booster mode
  • 8-position adjustable headrest
  • Suitable for tall children
Cons
  • Challenging to install with a latch

Graco SlimFit 3 in 1 - Runner Up
  • Brand: Graco
  • Weight Range: 22-65 lbs in forward-facing mode
  • Type: Rear-facing position, forward-facing, highback booster mode
  • Harness Type: Five-point harness

The Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 convertible car seat is another spectacular find for parents with two or more children! Why?

This is a unique slim model that allows for three in a row car seat installations. It works well in smaller cars, just as it does in bigger ones!

It's great to have kids far apart in age since Graco accommodates all three car seat uses.

Therefore, your youngest one can enjoy the rear-facing car seat, the toddler relaxes in the front-facing car seat, and the growing teenager can find safety in the highback booster seat!

The most outstanding quality of this convertible car seat is the design.

For starters, the convertible car seat by Graco is made from a steel frame that ensures stability and prolonged use. In addition, it protects plus engineered as it has passed the crash tests for frontal, rear, and roll-over crashes.

The Graco makes sure your child's safety comes first, thanks to the shock-absorbing foam in the seats. For a growing family, you must get a car seat that has an adjustable headrest position.

The Graco SlimFit includes up to 10 different headrest recline positions that you can change as your child grows.

Pros
  • Four recline positions
  • Ten different headrest positions
  • Allows for three in a row installations
  • Shock-absorption foam
  • Easy to use latch connectors
Cons
  • The seat fabric is not breathable

KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat - Best Design For Marvel Toddler Fans
  • Brand: KidsEmbrace
  • Weight Range: 22-65 pounds in a forward-facing car seat
  • Type: Forward-facing, belt-positioning booster seat with high back
  • Harness Type: 5-point harness and a 3 point harness

If your toddler is a young Marvel fan, he/she will love the KidsEmbrade car seat! It's packed with safety features but still incorporates the endearing design kids love.

Let's see how it performs for everyday use.

Firstly, you can use the car seat forward-facing mode and a high back booster with a belt.

Even though the car seat includes both a five-point and a three-point harness, we advise you stick to the five-point one for as long as your kid matches the weight limits and the dimensions.

This particular car seat by Kids Embrace exceeded FMVSS and has been side-tested with the five-point harness. In addition, the car seat ensures the comfort of your toddler as well.

It features a three-positioned headrest that is lined with energy-absorbing foam for maximum security.

Of course, you have to provide an appropriate place for your kid's snacks and beverages.

To make those long road trips a bit more manageable, the KidsEmbrace car seat offers cupholders that can hold not only drinks but a few snacks as well.

However, it might be a bit challenging to install the car seat. Many parents found that the latch connectors were difficult to reach, and they got twisted in the car's seat belt.

Pros
  • Includes cup holders
  • Interesting design
  • Comfortable padding
  • Crash tested
Cons
  • The latch strap is challenging

GRACO Nautilus 65 LX 3-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat - Long-Lasting Car Seat
  • Brand: Graco
  • Weight Range: 22-65 lbs
  • Type: Forward-facing, highback booster seat, backless booster seat
  • Harness Type: 5-point harness

Graco never disappoints when it comes to convertible car seats!

This one can be used in forward-facing mode up to a backless booster seat when your toddler grows into an independent teenager!

If you are looking for a toddler car seat that can follow their growth, then this is the one. It's priced average, so it's not a significant investment.

However, there is a slight downside.

Unlike Graco's other popular car seats, this one did not perform all too well in crash tests. Although it's rated below average in results, it's still not a bad option for everyday use.

Many parents enjoyed using this convertible forward-facing seat as a backup option as well!

But let's focus on the positive features of this Graco car seat!

For starters, it gives our kiddies the independence they need as soon as they get in the car. The buckles are easy to strap on and use, and even your toddler can do it!

It also includes cup holders and a few storage pockets for hiding those snacks and a few toys!

But, you should know that this is not the ideal car seat for traveling or carpooling due to the heavy weight.

What we do recommend instead is the KidsEmbrace 2-in-1 Harness Booster Car Seat that weighs only 15 pounds.

Pros
  • Easy to use harness straps
  • Machine-washable seat pad
  • It easily converts to different modes
Cons
  • Did not perform well in crash tests
  • Heavy

Diono Radian 3R, 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat - Best For Carpooling
  • Brand: Diono
  • Weight Range: 22-65 pounds in forward-facing
  • Type: Rear-facing mode, forward-facing, highback booster mode
  • Harness Type: 5-point harness

Moving on, the Diono Radian sure caught everyone by surprise!

It's a fantastic convertible car seat that you can use from infancy up to toddlers! How cool is that? Oh, and get this, it's also budget-friendly, so you will be saving a lot of money in the long run!

With up to four ways of traveling, the Diono convertible car seat can be in your service for up to 10 years! All you need to do in the future is buy a backless booster, but we already have a fantastic review on those as well!

As for this convertible seat, it's a slim-fit model, so it's awesome for carpooling. You could say that this is the one unique feature that makes Diono so special.

However, due to the heavier weight, it can be challenging to install it on your own.

The design, however, is spectacular if you are looking for a long-lasting convertible car seat. It features a steel-reinforced frame as well as energy-absorption foam that keeps your kiddo safe in case of a car accident.

In addition, the SuperLatch design will make the process of installation much easier!

Compared to the Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness Booster Seat that will give you nightmares with the latch system, the Diono is sure a refreshment in the car seat industry.

Pros
  • Slim-fit design
  • Great for carpooling
  • Easy to use the latch system
  • Removable cover
Cons
  • Heavy

Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat - Best For Tall Kids
  • Brand: Britax
  • Weight Range: 25-65 pounds in forward-facing mode
  • Type: forward-facing; belt-positioning booster
  • Harness Type: 5-point harness

Next up, we have the slightly more luxurious Britax car seat.

As you can see, the price is a tad bit higher than on the rest of the convertible and forward-facing car seats on our list, so let's decide whether it's worth the investment.

The Britax Grow With You car seat will save a lot of money for parents.

For starters, you don't need to get a new car seat as soon as your toddler outgrows the forward-facing weight limits, as this one doubles a belt-positioning booster as well.

The harness height is up to 20'', so it will accommodate growing toddlers, making it a proper fit for tall kids.

But, one of the features parents love the most is how easy it is to transition from one mode to another without taking off the harness! This is especially great if you have two kids who take turns in using the car seat.

It has two cup holds on the sides, so it's not the best if you want to use it for carpooling or three-across back seat installations.

However, if you need a convertible car seat that is a slim fit for these installations, we recommend the Diono Radian 3R, 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat.

Pros
  • Two layers of side impact protection
  • Includes two cup holders
  • Multiple safety features
  • Easy to switch between modes
  • Easy to install
Cons
  • Not suitable for carpooling due to the size

Chicco MyFit Harness + Booster Car Seat - Best Toddler Car Seat
  • Brand: Chicco
  • Weight Range: 22-65 pounds
  • Type: Forward-facing; vehicle's seat belt-positioning booster
  • Harness Type: 5-point harness

The Chicco MyFit car seat accommodates two modes of use and grows with your toddler!

It suits most families as it is relatively easy to install, has a large weight limit, and mid-price range.

The size of the Chicco MyFit is relatively slim. Don't get me wrong, it's no Graco SlimFit 3 in 1, but it will still fit in most vehicles and even allow for three-in-a-row installations.

Furthermore, the car seat includes the "bubble level," indicating which recline position will best work. This is not a standard feature you get to see in forward-facing seats, but the Chicco offers you a wide range of leveling angles.

Installing the Chicco car seat is pretty easy because you can choose from either Latch straps or seat belt installations. However, you cannot use the latch connectors from the outboard center seating position.

As for the design and safety, the Chicco MyFit car seat includes a steel frame and side-impact protection.

Compared with the Britax Grow with You ClickTight Harness-2-Booster Car Seat that is pretty similar, Chicco has the upper hand of being less cumbersome than the Britax one.

However, Britax does have bigger height and weight limits, so maybe that will be a better pick for a growing family.

Pros
  • Easy to install
  • No-rethread harness
  • Allows installations with the vehicle belt
  • Multiple seating positions
  • Steel frame
Cons
  • Heavy

Cybex Gold Eternis S All in 1 Convertible - Best All In One Seat
  • Brand: Cybex
  • Weight Range: 22-65 pounds in forward-facing mode
  • Type: Rear-facing; forward-facing; belt-positioning booster
  • Harness Type: no-rethread harness

You could say that we have saved the best for last!

The Cybex Gold Eternis is an all-in-one seat with multiple positions and an extended rear-facing mode!

One of the most special features this convertible car seat offers is the child rear-facing weight limit of 5-65 pounds.

This is a fantastic option if you don't want to buy separate car seats for each stage in childhood.

The only thing Cybex lacks in this model is a backless booster, but it does include a highback booster car seat that accommodates up to 120 pounds!

What's unique in this car seat is that it includes a Linear Side-Impact protection system which reduces up to 25% of impact during the crash. It's one of the safest systems we have seen, and it's an offer you cannot refuse!

Other than that, this is quite the standard convertible seat.

It does not feature any luxurious features as most car seats on our list do, but it does a proper job of keeping your toddler safe and comfortable.

It's somewhat easy to install, but some parents found it challenging because the LSI system makes installation difficult. Also, getting the latch to fully tighten is going to take a bit of effort.

Pros
  • Rear-facing to forward-facing in a matter of seconds
  • Includes LSI protection system
  • Integrated Sensor Safe technology
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Difficult to install

Safety Considerations When Purchasing Front-facing Car Seat

1. A Five-point Harness Is a Must!

best forward facing car seat for 3 year old

I don't think they are mature for a three-point harness just because your kid is toddler age. A 5-point one is much safer and should be used if the child can meet the weight and height limit.

In case of a car crash, a 5-point harness can distribute force evenly throughout the body.

2. Size of The Seat

There are two main points why you should always check for seat size.

First of all, it is the comfort of the child.

You don't want to pick the one they will quickly grow out of and get all unforgettable while riding. Second, a tall design is always the best for a growing toddler.

The second reason is the size of your car.

This specifically refers to parents who carpool or have two or three kids.

Again, your best chance is getting a front-facing car seat that is slim and narrow and can allow for three in row installations.

3. Installation

best forward facing car seat for small cars

As you had the chance to see, there are two ways of installing car seats.

One of them is the LATCH system which is considered more accessible by many parents. They use built-in anchors which secure the car seat and keep it in place.

The other way is to connect the car seat via the car's seat belt.

Both systems have their advantages, but they also come with flaws as not many cars can use the LATCH system.

4. Know Your Car Seat History

One of the top tips I can give you is to never use second-hand car seats!

As tempting as it does sound to save a couple of hundred dollars on a car seat, we advise you to purchase a new one!

If you already didn't know, car seats do have an expiration date, and once they are worn out, they lose the efficiency in keeping your little passenger safe!

FAQs

Why is rear-facing safer?

best forward facing car seat for travel

Rear-facing seats are safer because of their reinforced support of the head, neck, and spine during the ride and in the occurrence of a crash.

In addition, if a crash does occur, the forward movement will allow the child to spring back into the seat and ensure equal shock absorption.

Along with a rear-facing car seat, children should be restrained with a 5-point harness that will protect their torso and prevent spinal injuries during the crash.


When to switch to a forward-facing car seat?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should remain in their rear-facing seats until they have exceeded the height and weight recommendations for the rear-facing position.

As soon as they do, it's time to switch to the forward-facing seats.

In addition, it's essential to use the 5-point harness as one of the safest restraining devices during car transportation.


Is a forward-facing car seat bad for a baby?

Yes, forward-facing seats are bad for the baby! Instead, babies and toddlers should ride rear-facing for as long as they fit the height and weight of the seat.

A baby is the safest in their infant car seats that are installed rear-facing.

The reason is that the rear-facing infant seat will absorb most of the crash forces during a collision and support the baby's head, neck, and spine.


What is the difference between a forward-facing car seat and a booster seat?

best affordable forward facing car seat

By following the guidelines of AAP, booster seats are to be used by toddlers who have outgrown their forward-facing seats.

The significant difference between these car seats is the harness.

With forward-facing seats, it's only possible to use a harness, whether it be a 3-point or a 5-point one.

However, boosters can be used either with a car's seat belt or a harness.

In addition, they can be either high back or backless, where the latter is reserved for older kids.

Final Winner

When it comes to forward-facing car seats, my ultimate pick would be the Graco Tranzitions 3 In 1 Harness Booster Seat.

It's relatively lightweight and easy to use while accommodating to preschoolers and toddlers!

In addition, it can be used as a high back booster and as a backless booster, so as soon as your kid transitions from rear-facing car seats, you can use this one! 

Plus, it's one of the best budget-friendly options on our list!

Sale
Graco Tranzitions 3 in 1 Harness Booster Seat, Proof*
  • 3-in-1 harness booster helps protect your child, from toddler to youth
  • Grows with your child from forward-facing harness (22-65 pounds) to highback booster (40-100 pounds) to backless booster (40-100 pounds) to continue to meet industry standards, we have increased the...
  • No-rethread simply safe adjust harness system allows the headrest and harness to adjust together in one motion.Do not use bleach
  • Lightweight, portable seat is ideal for busy, active parents
  • One-hand, 8-position adjustable headrest grows with your child

Last Words

Child transportation security is our top priority, but so is informing on the right car seat you should use in different stages of infancy, toddlers and preschool.

These were a few of the top recommendations you can get if you are looking for a high-quality best toddler car seat in 2021.

I hope you have decided on your favorite one! Until next time!

Kathy Warner

Kathy is a busy mother of two and a CPS technician for more than eight years. Her mission is to awaken parents to the importance of child passenger safety and show them the right practice. You can read more about her here