I’ve been waiting for the Graco Contender to arrive in Canada for a while, since American friends started raving about this long lasting, affordable, and easy to use seat. Graco Baby Canada provided me with a seat to review, and one to give away (more on that later!), and I’ve been raving ever since.
The Contender is a very versatile seat with limits that could carry an average sized child from birth until they require a booster therefore this seat could be a fantastic option for people who only really want to purchase one seat that will carry them from birth until when their child can safely transition to a booster. The 7 year expiry means it could be used until outgrown by one child and then passed down to a younger sibling. The tall shell and 18″ top harness position makes it an excellent option both rear and forward facing for taller kids, especially those that are long in the torso. The seat’s 35 pound weight limit rear facing means it isn’t the seat for everyone however.
It is very easy to switch between rear and forward facing modes by repositioning the recline foot and rerouting the Universal Anchor System straps, when in use. The no rethread harness means you can easily switch between children of different sizes making it a fantastic choice for grandparents or daycare situations. The slight base under the seat means kids are sitting up higher meaning they have more of a view out the window. Riding in this seat versus his previous lower profile seat my 15 month old tester was a happier passenger, perhaps in part due to his better view.
Adjusting harness height, harness tightness, crotch buckle position, and Universal Anchor System belt routing were all very quick and easy. UAS is connected to the seat with a bar which only allows the strap to be threaded in one direction meaning less twists and fight to thread correctly, you’ll also never lose it.
The removable cupholder can be positioned on either side or kept off to make the seat more narrow to fit three across in a vehicle.
The Contender does not have harness strap covers and they are not an item that can be added because they are not tested with the seat. The no rethread harness with 8 positions means that the straps are never extremely far above the shoulder which seems to be when strap rubbing takes place.I had no tester complaints about the lack of harness strap covers.
Graco has revised their manual design on this seat and it’s very easy to follow and well colour coded to ensure streamlined use for parents. I was pleased to see multiple mentions of extended rear facing in the manual on various pages in both the rear and forward facing sections.
When rear facing there is a large allowable recline range and when installed at the most upright the seat is quite compact. During testing and use I was able to fit the Contender in two different compact 2 door vehicles. Newborns and children without good head control should have the seat installed as reclined as possible within the allowable range to ensure they can safely breathe.
I was able to safely and comfortably fit in front of the seat at newborn recline in my 2011 Volvo XC90 but gained 3″ of space by bringing the seat as upright as allowed. Whenever possible it’s always a good idea to try in the vehicle for fit before you buy.
The insert provided must be used until the child’s shoulders reach the bottom slots and then it becomes optional. If the seat is not being used from birth it is unlikely that a child will require the insert though some may like it for the additional padding. It is not to be used when forward facing.
Older rear facing children were comfortable with ample leg room due to the deep seat pan. As with any seat a more reclined installation will provide more leg room and more comfort for sleeping. There are no safety concerns with a child’s feet touching the seat back and it is not an indication of when they should be transitioned to forward facing. The usable shell height is 26/26.6″ leaving lots of room for long torsos. Most if not all children will hit the 35lb/16kg or 43″/110cm limits well before the allowable shell height.
The natural forward facing recline made for a comfortable ride and may make this a great option for kids with tone issues or other medical needs that are too large to rear face. The headwings provide a comfy sleeping spot for long rides and the deep seat pan gives good leg support. I heard no complaints of tingling feet when used forward facing. Forward facing the seat can be used until the child’s shoulders have reached the 18″ top slots, they reach 65lb/30kg, or 49″/125cm. This seat should be able to get the majority of children to an age where they can safely ride in a booster, 5-6 years old. My 5 year old tester has at least an inch of growing room before the seat would be outgrown.
The Universal Anchorage System can be used until your child weighs 45 pounds, unless a lower weight is specified by your vehicle, at which point you can switch to installing with the vehicle seat belt until the limits of the seat are reached, always using the top tether when forward facing. I found the installation with UAS or the seat belt to both be quite straightforward. The available space to pass the belts through was large enough that even larger latch plates, including those found on an airplane, should not present a problem. The seat is quite light and I found installation both rear and forward facing in a variety of vehicles to be fairly simple, generally issues were more vehicle than seat based. In my work as a technician I have also taught a number of families to install the seat and all found it to be very user friendly.
The narrowness of the seat makes it a great option for fitting three across in midsized vehicles. I was able to achieve the same three across with the seat rear or forward facing which indicates that there are no major width differences along the shell of the seat.
One issue that may present itself but is currently being looked into is vehicle head restraints pushing the seat forward when forward facing and how much seat back contact is required between the Contender and the vehicle seat. I’m keeping in contact with the distributor about this and will update this post as soon as the information is available. My vehicle has received gap approval so I am able to use an outer seating position if I chose, as seen above.
After more pictures were submitted to Graco more vehicles have been approved with a gap between the Graco Contender and the vehicle seat back. This is awesome news! This is not an across the board approval at this time, however Graco Baby Canada has set up a direct contact email for questions about vehicle fit. Questions and pictures should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for further confirmation of allowance from Graco directly.
This will not always be an issue, just in vehicles that have head restraints that cannot be removed or are not allowed to be removed and are forward leaning. Always consult your manual to be sure the vehicle head restraint is allowed to be removed before doing so for an installation.
This seat can be found exclusively at Canadian Tire across the country for $249.99.
Graco Baby Canada provided me with a seat for review but all opinions are my own.
Contest is open to Canadian residents, item will be shipped to your home.
*Contest closed. Congratulations to the winner Melissa!*