Britax Roundabout 50 Convertible Car Seat Review
By Chris Haak
Aside from a few exceptions, nearly all of the reviews that I write are for entire vehicles – not add-ons like exhaust systems, aftermarket stereos, or even car seats. That being said, this is the second car seat that we’ve reviewed at Autosavant – the first one being the Britax Marathon back in 2008. I do bring a bit of battlefield experience to this review, however. My wife and I have two sons under age four and have purchased five or six different child seats over the past four years, giving me some perspective on what was good and what was not in this realm. I’ve also installed our car seats into scores of different vehicles over the past few years, as I try to spend as much seat time as possible in cars that I’m reviewing, which means moving car seats from our own vehicles into the ones loaned to me for evaluation. Over time, there are some features that I grew to love about our seats and features that I continually was frustrated by.
The Britax Roundabout 50 convertible car seat falls around the middle of various seat sizes offered by Britax. The company classifies it as a “Mid-Capacity Convertible,” and it is capable of safely transporting children rear facing from 5 to 30 pounds and forward facing from 1 year and 20 pounds up to 50 pounds. Other categories that the company offers are infant carriers (4 to 30 pounds, 32 inches or less), compact convertibles (5 to 40 pounds, 40 inches or less), high-capacity convertibles (5 to 65 pounds, 49 inches or less), forward-facing harnessed (22 to 80 pounds, 53 inches or less), and two categories of boosters for larger/older children.
The company also sells a regular Roundabout seat, under the “Compact Convertibles” category, but that seat has a maxium capacity of 40 pounds. The upshot of the “regular” Roundabout is that it requires a smaller footprint in the vehicle that it’s being installed in. Modern convertible car seats – particularly some of the larger Britax models – require a substantial amount of space in the back seat, so whether or not the seat will fit is a legitimate concern for parents installing the seat in a regular car or small SUV. Installation in a large car, larger SUV, or minivan generally allows plenty of room without any worries. Parents who are of average height (my wife is almost six feet tall, and I’m 6’4″) will also have less trouble fitting a large child seat behind them than we do in my family.
While my frame of reference is somewhat limited in the car-seat arena, the Roundabout 50 is the third convertible car seat that my little ones have spent extended seat time in. After my sons outgrew their infant carriers, we had Graco ComfortSport convertible car seats. My criticisms of the ComfortSport seats were that it was difficult to get a really tight fit in the car, the seat didn’t have much padding, and the LATCH anchors were difficult to use.
Based on word of mouth from fellow parents and the Autosavant review of the Britax Marathon seat, we purchased our first Britax seat for our then-two year old son. Immediately, I was struck by the quality of the seat’s construction and intelligence of its design. Perhaps even better than being the Cadillac of car seats, it is the Honda of them – high quality, intelligently designed, high safety ratings, substance over style, and a reasonable price
The LATCH connectors in the Marathon are attached to individual straps, which themselves are connected to curved metal bars securely attached to the seat’s plastic base. This design eliminates the need to thread the LATCH strap through the seat’s internals and removes the risk that the strap could be incorrectly threaded through the wrong part of the base – a mistake that could be deadly.
It’s also possible to very easily cinch the LATCH straps extremely tightly once the connectors are attached to the car’s anchors. Other niceties that the Marathon has that our old Graco didn’t have include built-in shoulder pads to protect the child’s neck from rubbing, rubber harness holders to keep the chest buckle in position, and Velcro spots on the straps that allowed the straps to park on the outside edges of the seat while putting a child into the seat, so the poor little one didn’t have a scalding hot buckle under his rear end. The downside of the Marathon, aside from its somewhat-considerable size, is that it retails for $279.99 USD. If you scour Google shopping, it’s possible to find one closer to $200; both our original and a second one for our younger son were delivered to our door for less than $220, and discounts seem to be more prevalent if you’re tolerant of more oddball color schemes (we’re not – shades of black and gray only for our seats, please).
Instead of simple metal hooks, the Britax LATCH connectors themselves are also a more intelligent design than expected. To connect them to the car’s LATCH anchor, you just have to push them against the anchor loop between the seat cushions until you hear a resounding click. Repeat this on the other side of the seat, then tighten the strap(s) (depending on the seat’s design and features, you will have to either tighten one side very carefully, or two sides) and affix the tether coupling at the top of the seat to the vehicle’s tether anchor. To uninstall using the Britax LATCH connectors, you only need to push the red release buttons on the connectors.
Having tested several dozen different new cars and trucks over the past few years and installing car seats in most of them, I am now at the point that I can uninstall the Britax Marathon seats from our Sienna minivan in about 30 seconds each. It generally takes a few minutes to install the seats into the manufacturer-provided press vehicles due to my unfamiliarity with the vehicle and how much room I will need to allow for the seat relative to the front seat’s position, but when I move the seats back to the Sienna, I can install them in just a couple of minutes thanks to having plenty of room and easy-to-access LATCH and tether anchors.
The Roundabout 50 that I tested retails for $199.99 USD, so obviously there was some de-contenting between it and the Marathon to knock 80 bucks off the price. The Roundabout 50 does without the Marathon’s rubber harness holders, shoulder pads (though the shoulder pads can be easily added via the aftermarket), some padding, and most significantly, the slick LATCH strap setup. Instead, the Roundabout 50 has a LATCH strap that is routed through the seat’s base. It still has the excellent “Premium LATCH connectors” that other Britax seats feature, but only has a single point on the strap that can be tightened. The result of this compromise is that it’s much more difficult to get a really, really tight fit from the Roundabout 50. I believe that the guideline for determining whether a car seat is installed tightly enough is (among other things) that the seat should not have more than an inch of lateral travel, and the Roundabout is close to an inch in its installation in my Cadillac CTS, while the Marathon moves zero inches.
I tried the Roundabout 50 for one week with each of my sons, both of whom ride with their convertible seats forward facing. My youngest is 20 months old and weighs 30 pounds, and he was my first seat tester. Once the seat was installed in our van, it was no easier or more difficult to get him into the Roundabout 50 than the frequent struggle to get him into his Marathon (a struggle usually overcome with a bit of bribery in the form of M&Ms Minis) because the straps can be temporarily attached to the edges of the seat with Velcro. We added some aftermarket pads to the upper part of the shoulder straps to protect his neck from chafing against the straps. He was able to sleep in the seat (it seems that too many of our sons’ naps are, sadly, in their car seats, so sleeping comfort is important), but seemed to wake up more often in the Roundabout 50 than he does in his Marathon. Because little kid sleep is so unpredictable, it’s hard to say whether the seat caused that or not, but it’s just a data point to consider.
The second week I had the seat, we adjusted the shoulder straps to a larger setting to accommodate our 3 1/2 year old, 40 pound oldest son. The strap adjustment is a bit of a hassle, albeit one shared with the Marathon (and many other brands of seats) as well. You have to loosen the straps as much as possible, disconnect the strap in two places from a metal bracket, re-feed them through the new slots in the seatback, and reattach them to the metal bracket. Some of the more costly Britax seats have a strap height adjustment feature that does not require disassembly of the seat. Our older son fit well in the seat; he’s tall and thin, so although the Roundabout 50 seemed to be a bit narrower than the Marathon, both were plenty wide for his tiny hips. Our older son seemed to sleep well in the seat during the few car naps that he had while testing the Roundabout.
For my third test, I moved the Roundabout 50 to my Cadillac CTS. I love the car, but the back seat is way too small for a family that has tall parents in the front seat. If we don’t want our seats to have footprints on their backs and don’t want to hear complaints from the peanut gallery about a lack of space, we have to move our seats forward more than we’d like. It’s kind of a choice between an amount of physical discomfort (less knee room than we’d like) and mental discomfort (listening to whining). Anyway, against that backdrop, the Roundabout 50 installed well in the Cadillac. I left it set up for our older son and the fact that it’s slightly smaller than the Marathon probably protects the back of my front passenger seat, which is directly in the line of fire from his feet. We don’t travel as a family very often in my CTS because the van is so much more spacious and comfortable for the family (not to mention that it has a DVD player, which the CTS lacks unless parked), but we did manage to survive a few trips using the CTS with the Roundabout 50.
So the seat that I tested was very good, if not quite as good as the Marathon. Personally, I could live without most of the extra features found on the Marathon other than its superior LATCH strap setup. If money is a concern, though, you can’t really go wrong with the Roundabout 50 for an entry-level Britax seat. If you can afford the extra money and can find one on sale – and if you change cars fairly often – you may want to step up to a Marathon. The Britax folks would probably love to sell you an even more expensive, more cushy, easier to adjust model, but I’ve never tried one of those. Yet if you have the means to afford one, by all means, check them out.
The thing that I liked most about owning a Britax seat, though, is the fact that the company stands behind their product AND that their seats are made in the USA, in Charlotte, NC. I had a firsthand experience with Britax’s customer service when we were in an accident in June 2008. Our van was undriveable, so I got a ride back to our house and picked up my car, then headed to the scene of the accident to get my wife and sons. I had to take the seats out of the van, which was being loaded onto a flatbed to go to the body shop, and when I loosened one of the LATCH straps on the Britax Marathon, I somehow managed to twist the strap. I searched Google for “how to untwist Britax Marathon straps,” and all I could find was promotional mentions of how the straps are twist-resistant, so I called the company. I spoke with a friendly customer service representative based in the US, and they said that the seat would have to be replaced. A few days later, I received a brand new seat on my front porch, completely free of charge. All I had to do was cut every strap off of the original seat so that the company could ensure that it was never used again, then mail those straps to the company. Sadly, we threw away the perfect – yet now strapless – base. Immediately after that incident, I vowed to buy no other car seats than ones from Britax. Prior to the accident, I didn’t even know that the seats were made in the US, which endears them to me even more. There’s something very comforting knowing that the seats that protect my children are made in a factory that I could drive to if I wanted to, and that there will be no lead paint/toxic toothpaste/toxic dog food/toxic drywall-type recall of the product that is protecting my childrens’ lives.
For additional product information on the Britax Roundabout 50, click here to go to the manufacturer’s page about this seat. And always keep child seats, but especially rear facing ones, out of the front seat of any car.
Britax provided the seat for this review and permitted the author to keep it rather than shipping it back to them.