Monday, March 1, 2010

Frontier 85 review

I was very excited to get my hands on the long rumoured and awaited, updated Britax Frontier. The new model is called the Frontier 85 and reflects the increased weight capacity from 80 to 85lbs.

When the original Frontier was released, I'll be honest, I was disappointed. Yes, I wanted the side impact protection that was in this seat and yes, the fact that it would convert to a belt positioning booster seat eventually when the harness was outgrown, was attractive. Then I read the information on the top harness slot height - 18.25 inches. That was a full 1.75 inches lower than the Regent (which presumably, the originaly Frontier was going to replace). I won't lie to you, I have two Regents in boxes in my basement set aside for my older son so that when he eventually outgrew his current seat, I would have a Regent for him to move to. Why? Well, naturally I wanted to harness him for as long as possible.

Information that the Regent was going to be discontinued hit the streets (hence the unopened boxes in my basement) and it was thought at that time that the original Frontier was going to be the only high weight harnessing option from Britax available.

Christine Miller immediately contacted Britax when this news broke and appealed for a comparable seat with at least the same top harness slot height to be available prior to the Regent going away. Britax promised her that they would take her plea seriously and examine what could be done. I'd like to personally applaud Britax for their response and introduce their offering to you - the Frontier 85.

Unboxing the new seat was exciting and I immediately set about reading the manual which was very clear and had some great information that I was thrilled to see in there - e.g. warning about dangers of bulky clothing.

The new seat can be used in harness mode between 25 and 85lbs, between heights of 30 and 57 inches and for children who are at least 2 years old. I applaud Britax in limiting this forward-facing only seat to children over 2 years - hopefully re-enforcing the message that children should remain rear-facing for as long as possible. In booster mode, the seat should be used only with children between 40 and 120 lbs (I believe the previous Frontier did not specify a max booster weight) and between heights 42 and 65 inches. I would have loved to have seen a minimum age restriction of 4 years of age here to emphasize 'best practice' of not boostering a children under age 4 years and 40lbs. The foundation of course recommends harnessing for as long as possible, and I have a minimum age recommendation of 6 years before considering a move to a booster so that a child has gained sufficient maturity to sit correctly in a booster seat.

My willing model had previously been secured in a Britax Marathon, forward-facing and is currently 36lbs and 4 1/2 years old. He was on the third harness slot of his Marathon. On the Frontier 85, he is second from bottom harness height and crotch buckle is moved out one position. There are a total of 10 harness height choices (up from 8 on the original Frontier) and three crotch buckle positions. The crotch buckle cannot be emerging under from under the body of child.

I had a small problem with the harness shield on the back of the seat - when I unclipped the tether anchor from that, the shield fell off completely - I had to do quite some persuasion to get the shield back on and to stay on. Seemed like there was some fit issues here with the plastic.

I performed a LATCH installation in my vehicle quickly and simply. There is one adjustment side for the lower anchor connectors. Sometimes on seats, that can lead to tough times getting the belt tight enough, however, following the instructions in the manual, pulling the end through the opening on the front of the seat, I was able to tighten things down snugly.

I attached and tightened the top tether anchor. This is recommended to be used for installation, but REQUIRED in harnessing mode for children 65lbs and above. If your vehicle does not have a top tether anchor (generally older than a 2001 model year), you can usually have an anchor retrofitted, and often for free. I loved the attached elastic on the tether strap which enabled tidy folding and storage of the excess strap.

Those of you who already have the Frontier will be familiar with the positioning block - this is located under the seat - it swings to the back for booster mode and should be swung to the front for harness mode. This gives the seat a recline for harness mode. The block now snaps and is held in place - previously, it would spring back to booster mode when you lifted the seat to install it in a vehicle, which was annoying.

In the above picture, you will see the space between the back of the Frontier 85 and my vehicle seat - this is due to the recline caused by the positioning block.

The harness adjusts smoothly and easily - I found it to be much smoother than the already smooth Marathon. The release lever is a push design, similar to those on a Graco Snugride with the strap a similar width to those infant seats. I am not sure if this was the same on the previous Frontier, but it was a surprise to me. The adjustment is low down and I think would be tough for a child to loosen on their own - great news for parents whose children would loosen their harness themselves on the go. My son was able to secure himself and tighten the harness appropriately himself this morning - I obviously checked it as well, but this was good for children who like to assert their independence in this manner.

The built in cup holders were a big hit with my husband! He actually does base a lot of his vehicle buying decisions on the available cup holders. Coming from the UK where I never thought of this as a buying criteria, I thought it was funny....but apparently, cup holders are important commodities. My son too was impressed that his new seat had these. I'll be honest, it will be great to have fewer "I've dropped my milk" cries from the back seat.
Comfort wise, the seat has been reported to be "very comfy!" and the reduced seating height from the Marathon in the vehicle has been noted, as this seat does not rest on the base like a convertible seat. The view outside has not been reported as adversely restricted though.

My product tester certainly gave this seat the thumbs up as you can see!

Here are a few highlights of the seat - let me know if anyone has any questions!
  • 9 year lifespan from date of manufacture
  • 4 adjustment heights for booster mode (down from 6 on previous model)
  • option "Secure Guard" clip for booster mode - this is similar to the one available on the Parkway SG - ~ $20. The purpose of this is to prevent submarining in booster mode and helps keep lap portion of seatbelt low on the child's hips and off the abdomen.
  • Britax recommends harnessing mode of this seat until the harness is outgrown before considering moving to booster mode - yay!!
  • Harness height is adjusted by a release lever in the back - no rethreading of harness is necessary. The seat does need to be uninstalled from the vehicle in order to adjust the harness height.
  • Top harness slot height - 20 inches
  • Long and short belt path installations available for lap/shoulder belts - this can help eliminate any vehicle incompatability. Unlike they Regent, there is no requirement for one method or the other at various child weights.
  • Dimensions at base - 19 inches deep and 19 inches across.

The Frontier 85 is currently available for pre-order from Hip Monkey, our sister site where all proceeds from sales go directly to the foundation, and in turn to purchasing seats for families in need. Release date of the Frontier 85 is March 9th.

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