A Middle of the Road Combination Booster
- What: Evenflo Evolve 3-in-1 Booster Seat
- When: 22-120 lbs, 28 to 57 inches tall
- Why: More affordable, wide size range, harness or seat belt use
- Where: Amazon
My seven and a half year old daughter recently outgrew her convertible car seat. You know, the one she’s been riding in since she was an infant. In all fairness, at 47 inches tall and roughly 44 pounds, she definitely falls into the petite category. She’s only been riding forward facing for around four years, so we definitely got our money’s worth out of her Britax Marathon.
Her shoulders hit above the highest slots of the shoulder straps on her Britax, so I started shopping around. Since she is our second child, I’ve done this research before. For our oldest child, we went with the Graco Nautilus for its high safety rankings, longevity, and three in one combination of seating options. But it isn’t a narrow seat, and it weighs a ton, and while it works great, I don’t love it.
I have some flexibility in seat placement in our Mazda5 minivan, which seats up to six people in three rows. But in our other car, a Subaru Outback, we have no choice but to do three car seats across the back seat, so size matters. While one Graco Nautilus booster seat nests into line with the two Britax convertible car seats, I wanted to see some other options.
I anticipate using whatever seat we chose for at least another four years. After a lot of online research and seeing what I could actually buy online, I went with the Evenflo Evolve . It had high safety markings, weighed about the same as the Graco Nautilus, but cost about $25 or so less on Amazon. It had the same three in one combination seat options: harnessed booster, highback booster using the seatbelt, and backless booster.
I don’t hate the Evolve, but if you have a choice between the Graco Nautilus and the Evenflo Evolve, get the Nautilus. The Evolve comes with four shoulder strap slots. My seven year old is at the topmost setting already, so we won’t get as much longevity out of the harness (safest) option. Plus, to switch the shoulder strap settings, you need to uninstall the seat. I don’t know if anyone else hates installing car seats as much as I do. But I avoid any extra installations if at all possible.
The LATCH connectors on the Evolve also leave something to be desired. While we aren’t using the LATCH connectors (the third row doesn’t offer LATCH anchors in our vehicle), the Evolve has a less robust clip, where you push on one side to get the vehicle anchor inside the clip. It matches the tether clip on most seats, but works less well when digging around in the interior of the vehicle’s seat looking for the anchor point.
The Evolve also has a trickier release lever for loosening the harness. You have to reach further into the seat and lift the back of the release button up to get the straps to budge. My daughter, even after a few weeks of practice, can’t perform that action when strapped safely into the seat. That feature might work well if you have an escape artist, but I have a seven year old in the third row where I find it difficult to reach her. She would also like to be able to unbuckle herself. The chest clip and crotch buckles make it more difficult for her to use than any of our other seats You have to push on the button on the center to get it to depress, rather than on the sides which then slide out. We both prefer the other type.
All that combined means we won’t get as much use from the harness option, which provides the most protection for as long as my child fits. Not only will she outgrow the shoulder straps sooner, but we both get frustrated with how much assistance she needs getting into and out of the seat. Since she can’t adjust the straps from inside the seat, she has to try to buckle up on the previous setting. If she wears different clothes, she not only can’t buckle herself in, she has to get entirely out of the seat to loosen the straps and try again.
The Evolve comes with two cup holders, one on either side. But it doesn’t have any additional storage space underneath the cup holders, and you can’t tuck the cup holders away when they aren’t needed, like in some other brands.
I haven’t tried converting this seat to the highback booster, though it claims to keep the harness attached so you don’t have to worry about keeping up with the pieces. The seat belt guides in that mode seem roomy, but again, we haven’t used it in that configuration yet. The harness range goes up to 65 pounds and 50 inches, though I’m not sure we will get to 50 inches in height before we have to switch to the seatbelt mode. Once you switch, both the highback and backless booster accommodate kids up to 57 inches and 120 pounds.
The belt path for installing the seat in the harness mode is wide, so you can easily thread the seat belt through the correct area. But the lower path has a fairly high opening on the seat. That detail made it much harder for me to get a proper tight installation in our third row, which does not have any recline options in the vehicle itself. The Evolve seat does offer a recline option, though I doubt we will use that feature.
While I’m not returning this seat, I won’t be buying it again for our second vehicle when the time comes. I will either continue looking for a three in one combination seat that isn’t as wide, bulky, and expensive, or simply buy another Graco Nautilus.