Yesterday I went to visit a friend and borrow her Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL for a few days to play with. I had an original Radian 65 a few years ago, but didn’t love it so I sold it. I really wanted to find the love because it has the highest rear facing weight limit in the US. So thank you Miss CS (by the way, had you noticed that your initials are the same as Car Seat?!)
Having my two boys’ normal everyday seats (rear facing Marathon and rear facing Complete Air) already installed in my 2003 Honda Pilot, I simply added the Radian XTSL in the third seating position, also rear facing. Today I got a wild hair to measure and compare them. In case you might be wondering which one would fit your needs the best. At some point, I’ll do this with my Britax Frontier and my Graco Nautilus also.
Without further ado, here are my results.
The seats, from driver’s side to passenger side are a Britax Marathon with a mid-2007 DOM and a 33 lb rear facing weight limit in the Speedway cover, a Safety 1st Complete Air with an early 2010 DOM and a 40 lb rear facing weight limit in Harvest orange, and a Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL with a 2009 DOM and a 45 lb rear facing weight limit in Flora.
Britax Marathon, Safety 1st Complete Air, Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL
Yes, those are harness pads on my Complete Air. No, it does not come with harness pads. I took them off an expired Marathon. I’m fired. Non-regulated product! AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH
I made sure the car was level. It was pretty close, though I’m sure my surveyor husband would not be happy until it was perfectly level in all directions. But he wasn’t home and this is close enough for me. Four tenths of a degree from being level is good.
The Digital Level Santa brought me is FABULOUS!
We’ll travel across the car starting on the driver’s side, with the Marathon. Can I first tell you how much I LOVE this cover?! I absolutely adore the Speedway and wish I could get it for every seat I own! Anyway, on with the show.
The Marathon and it’s cousins the Boulevard and Decathalon are quite probably some of the most common seats I see at check events. Everyone loves the Britax convertibles. They are pretty darn easy to install in most vehicles, they have addictively (I can make up words if I want!) cute cover options for boys and girls, they claim to fit from 5 lbs, and many people think they are the “safest” seats available. I personally think that this is partly due to advertising, and partly due to the “Expensive things must be better” mentality. At roughly $280 a seat, they are on the higher end of the convertible seat spectrum. But the thing is that these seats don’t necessarily FIT a child as long as the box states they will. Or it won’t be very comfy for the child at any rate. I’ll show you why.
For my rear facing installation here in my Pilot, I have not used any pool noodles or rolled towels. The seat is in reclined mode (required for rear facing installations), and I have approximately a 40 degree recline. For my recline angle pics, subtract the number on the level from 90). This is not reclined enough for a young baby without head control, but quite acceptable for an older child. Britax has an acceptable range of 30 to 45 degrees from upright.
This seat is installed at about a 40* recline.
I measured the shell height, which dictates the height limit of the occupant (except on the CA, but I’ll get to that). I came up with 24.5 inches. Following manufacturer’s specifications, this means that a child’s seated height cannot be greater than 23.5 inches when using this seat. Elitecarseats.com has the shell height listed as 22.5 inches….Not sure what to say about that.
Marathon shell height is 24.5″
I also measured the shoulder harness height in each of the four slots available on this seat. I came up with 10″, 12.5″, 15″ and 17″.
You can see the four harness slots measure at 10, 12.5, 15 and 17 inches.
The 10″ bottom slot is what makes the Marathon (and other Britax convertibles) not an option for newborns and small, young babies. Since the harness must come through the seatback AT or below the shoulders for a rear facing child, and very few if any newborns have a seated torso height of TEN inches, this seat is just not suitable for the 5 lb babies it claims to fit. It just isn’t. I will say that my younger son did fit in it by about three and a half months, which is considerably sooner than most babies will fit in it. I’ll get to my side by side comparison another day.
With 6″ between the back of the seat and the crotch buckle strap, little babies may have too much room, and older kids may not have enough. If you use cloth diapers, you may find you just don’t have much room there
The 17″ top slots prevent most kids from making it to the 65 lb forward facing weight limit. I really don’t understand why Britax released the Marathon 70’s with the higher weight limit and only increased the harness height by about a haf inch. But that’s not what this post is about.
I also measured leg room and seat dimensions, but it was hard to get pictures of those measurements. I measured leg room from the bight of the car seat (where the bum is) to the vehicle seat back. Your measurements may be different depending on how the seat backs are contoured in your vehicle. I measured the leg room at a whopping 12.5″. That’s right folks, once your kid’s legs area foot long, they will touch the vehicle seat. That’s not a big deal, as kids will make themselves comfy, and broken legs in a collision are better than broken necks. But if your goal is extended rear facing to the absolute limit, you kiddo might start to complain about the squished up-ness of Britax convertibles.
“No problem,” you say, “I plan on turning forward at one and twenty, so rear facing leg room isn’t a big deal to me.” Let me say “Do your research.” Then let me tell you what Mr Orange said to me. Mr. Orange is my 3.5 year old, and one day he said to me, “Mommy, facing backwards is better because I can sleep easier, and my legs don’t hurt. And I can eat more easier too because my food doesn’t fall. But I want a cup holder on my backwards seats like I have on my forward seats.” Have you ever sat on a stool where your feet don’t touch and they just hang there? That’s how a forward facing kid feels without leg support.
The Marathon has a 10 inch seat depth. TEN inches! I know my kids’ legs are longer than ten inches. That isn’t much leg support at all. That leaves your forward facer just hanging out. The seat width is about 11.5″, which is a little narrower than some seats and wider than some.
The shoulder area of the Marathon measured about 11″ for me. If you have a particularly wide child, this may not be the seat for you.
The widest part of the shell is at the shoulder area, and I measured 18″ there. Across the shell at the child’s hips, I measured 19.5″. Those are typically the measurements that will determine how well you can fit seats side by side. It’s a little hard to see in my first picture because it’s a bit blurry, but the Marathon sits higher than the other two seats in the car so it puzzles well with them. I’m lucky in that my vehicle seat is fairly wide, and I can actually fit three Marathons facing the same direction across my second row seat.
The beauty of the Marathon and other “Big Britax Convertibles” is that they are typically easy to install and usually don’t take up much room from front to back for rear facing installations. I measured 28″ from seatback to seatback for my Marathon.
The Complete Air.
Ah, the “CA”. The seat I hate to love. Dorel, the parent company for Safety 1st, in their infinite genius has a stated rear facing limit of 40″. They are quite adamant about it too. They absolutely insist that no child over 40″ can use this seat rear facing. I personally think that’s silly. An average 40″ tall child will have about five inches of shell above their head, while the industry standard is one inch. Here you see Mr Orange in his orange seat (the Harvest CA). He measures at just over 41″. Pardon the poor cell phone picture, but you can see that he has more than an inch of shell above his head, and the head rest still has two higher positions.
Mr Orange in the Complete Air, Little Dude in the XTSL
On with the measurements. I measured the actual seat shell and the height with the headrest or wings all the way up. I got 24.5″ and 27″ respectively.
Here’s the CA’s shell height of 24.5″
Here is the CA with the wings all the way up at 27″
The lowest harness position measured at 9.5″. The highest was at 17″. The other three were at about 12″, 13.5″, and 15″. I measured a comfy 16.5″ of leg room. You can see Mr Orange is comfy enough here. It’s another cell pic, but you get the idea. You probably also see why I call him Mr Orange. Self dressed in the seat he picked out… The seat depth, or leg support measured 11.5″.
Mr Oranger makes himself comfy in the CA while Little Dude chills in the XTSL.
I measured the actual seat shell with at 17″ at the widest part near the shoulders and 18″ across the hips. The shoulder room in the seating area measured 12.5″, and the seat width was a roomy 12″. This seat has three crotch strap positions, but only two are useable rear facing. They measure at 4″ and 5″. The third is at 6.25″ for forward facing.
I measured it as needing 29″ front to back for a roughly 35* recline angle. This is another thing I don’t like about Dorel. They insist that this seat be installed with a line molded into the shell parallel to the ground. I have heard that in some vehicles this creates a whopping 55* recline! I have made the parental decision to go against manufacturer instructions and install at the 35* angle, though I cannot advise you to do the same. You must make your own decision.
Roughly 35* recline angle
And finally the Radian XTSL.
The Radian line was for a while, my enemy. I had an original Radian 65 with the 33 lb rear facing weight limit. I could not for the life of me install it in the Pilot or our Altima forward facing. I asked one of my class instructors to help me do it and she did it effortlessly. I am finally able to do it too! Whoopee! No really, I am actually excited about it! I have wanted to have the Radian love. It is a great seat for three across situations, even in small sedans and it fits newbies and older kids pretty well. It has a steel frame for structural integrity and it folds for storage or transport! It’s a heavy son of a monkey though, so while Sunshine Kids does make a carry strap for it, I doubt you’d really want to carry it though the airport!
For overall shell height, I came up with 25″. I don’t find that terribly impressive, frankly. That’s only half an inch taller than the other two seats in the car.
Radian shell height of 25″
I measured harness slots at 8″ (without the infant insert that comes with the seat), 9.5″, 11.5″, 13.5″ and 16.25″. That looks shorter than the Marathon’s 17″ top slot except that Sunshine Kids allows the child’s shoulders to be one inch above the tallest harness slot provided the ears are still within the shell. Still, that is only a quarter of an inch taller than the Marathon or Complete Air.
The Radians have five harness positions, ranging from 8″ to 16.25″
The seat depth measures at a comfy 12″, with crotch buckle slots at a tiny 3″ for newbies, 5″ and 7″. I measured about 16″ of leg room, which is comparable to that of the CA.
You can see the leg room, seat depth and crotch buckle positions
My poor blurry three across shot doesn’t really do justice to the slim profile of the Radians. The exterior shell measures a slim 17″ at the shoulders and a scant 14.5″ across the hips. They accomplish this by using a steel frame instead of a hulking plastic shell. The interior seat measured at 13″ at the shoulders and 11″ for the bum. Only slightly narrower in the bum than the Marathon, and considerably wider at the shoulders!
The Radian does need about 30″ of front to back space though for a recline of about 37 *.
Radian recline angle is about 37* in my Pilot.
This is by no means the extent of convertible seats; these are just the seats I have on hand at the moment.
None is better than another. The best seat is the one that fits your child and your vehicle the best and you can use correctly every single time.
I personally really like the Marathons for ease of installation. I own two and I use them as the seats that get moved from one car to another depending on who will be caring for my kids. With the built-in lock off, I don’t have to worry about someone using a locking clip incorrectly. I don’t need noodles for a decent recline for my child in a Marathon. The Britax convertibles have quite a bit of padding and seem quite comfy. I don’t think I’ve touched a seat with more padding without an infant insert. I definitely think there is room for improvement, and I think Britax made an attempt at some of the issues with the new Marathon 70. It isn’t a perfect seat though.
I really like the Complete Air because it’s an affordable option for caregivers who want to rear face their child to the max for the boost in safety. With similar shell height to the Radians at a much lower price point, it makes rear facing a heavier child more “do-able” for more parents. And it comes in orange, which the Radian does not. Again, there is room for improvement. An easier installation that didn’t require a pyramid of noodles would be a good start; doing away with the ridiculous 40″ and crazy recline rules would be an awesome start! Some padding for the bum and some energy absorbing foam would be appreciated. I like to try to protect ALL of my kids, not just their heads, you know? I do appreciate that the new CA has a 65 lb forward facing limit.
What do I like best about the Radians? I’m not really sure. I only have two kids and on the occasion I add someone else’s as a third, my vehicle fits three wide seats so I don’t really care about the three across slimness. I have another seat with similar shell and harness heights, so those don’t do much for me. I don’t know that I’m going to need the 45 lb rear facing limit either since it’s taken Mr Orange over two years to gain a pound and a half to get to 36.5. I suppose that I could need it with Little Dude who has gained three pounds in less than two months. By the time he’s close to 45 lbs, there could be newer more awesome seats with higher limits though, so that’s kind of a moot point.
I can tell you that I think Sunshine Kids would do well to make it easier for older kids to be more upright, as a lot of vehicles make this particular seat very reclined. I know there are more than a few incompatibilities with vehicles also, whether it’s rear or forward facing. Sunshine Kids tried to address this issue by implementing the SL part of the seat name. SL stands for SuperLATCH, which enables LATCH to be used to 80 lbs (coincidentally the forward facing weight limit for the Radian 80SL and XTSL). But it only applies to vehicles with a manufacture date on or after September 1st, 2005. For those of us with older vehicles, that doesn’t help.
So that’s the three convertibles in my car right now in a very large nutshell. I’m hoping to borrow a small baby and some more seats to do a comparison with different sized kids in a variety of seats soon to demonstrate the fit for different builds and sizes of babies/toddlers/kids.
I’m going to beg and plead my sisters in law to let me torture…I mean borrow my nieces and nephews. If I can get them all to cooperate, that’s a DOZEN kids between the ages of 7 years and 6 months rotated through the seats I can come up with, plus the additional seats they own. I know between them I can wrangle some infant seats including the Chicco KeyFit 30, the SnugRide 35, a SnugRide 22, a Britax Diplomat (fancy version of the Roundabout), a Recaro Vivo (booster), and a Sunshine Kids Monterey (booster).
Oh, the wheels are turning now….Beware!