Best Car Seats for Small Cars

“Which car seat is best for small cars?”

Are you wondering which car seat is best for your compact car? As gas prices rise, small cars are becoming increasingly popular among parents. Sometimes this results in standard-sized car seats not fitting into small cars when properly installed in certain positions! And other times, parents want to be able to have a few inches of room for their other children to pass by the installed car seat — so it’s helpful to determine which car seats are the smallest (in terms of length and width, as you’ll see) before you make a mistake and buy a car seat that requires the front seat to be moved all the way forward for your 6’4″ tall spouse!

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There are several factors to take into consideration when you’re shopping for a car seat for your child that will also be a good match for your small vehicle.

  • Are the parents tall? If the driver and the passenger riding in the front seat are very tall and require their seat to be moved all the way to the back, then that will give you less room in the back seat.
  • How many passengers will ride in the back seat? If you plan to have only one baby in the back seat, then your only concern will be front-to-back room of the car seat. If you will have multiple passengers in the back seat of your compact car, then you also have to take into consideration the width of the car seat.
  • Can your baby hold her head up by herself? Most car seat manufacturers will allow you to recline the seat at a higher angle (meaning, more upright) than 45 degrees once your baby has firm control of her neck, which will give you significantly more front-to-back room than when the car seat was more reclined.
  • Are you looking for an infant car seat or a convertible car seat? I’ll share the best car seats for compact cars below for both categories, whether you’re looking at buying an infant car seat or a convertible. Most infant car seats need more front-to-back room than convertibles, especially when the baby is an infant and does not have good head control — that is when the seat must be at its maximum recline angle.

Best CONVERTIBLE Car Seats for Small Cars:

The convertible car seats that are the best for small cars are the Combi Coccoro and the Maxi-Cosi Priori. These 2 convertibles have the smallest width as well as front-to-back length.

The Graco My Ride 65, Graco Smart Seat, Evenflo Triumph 65, the Learning Curve – First Years True Fit, and Britax Marathon are all wider than the Coccoro and Priori, but they take up about the same amount of front-to-back room when installed.

Combi Coccoro
Maxi-Cosi Priori
Graco My Ride 65
Graco Smart Seat
Evenflo Triumph 65
Learning Curve/ First Years True Fit
Britax Marathon 70

Best INFANT Car Seats for Small Cars:

The convenience of having your baby in an infant car seat (as opposed to a convertible car seat) for the first months of life cannot be overstated! You won’t need to worry about waking her up and buckling and unbuckling the straps at each errand, as you can simply pop the whole infant seat of the car while your baby sleeps and then attach it to a snap-n-go, stroller, or shopping cart. So, if you’re looking for an infant car seat that would be best for your compact car, here are the top choices. These infant car seats take up the least amount of front-to-back space in a car: Safety 1st OnBoard 35, Graco Snugride 35, Cybex Aton, and Chicco Keyfit.

When the driver’s seat is set all the way back, as in the case of a very tall driver, then there generally won’t be any infant or rear-facing convertible car seat that will fit behind the driver in a very small car, nor in the center of the back seat. The solution is to install the car seat behind the passenger seat, assuming that the person sitting in the passenger seat does not require that seat to also be moved to its farthest back position.

You can leave the handle of the infant car seat up on these seats while they are installed, so that they take up much less front-to-back room: Chicco KeyFit, any Cosco (Safety 1st) or any of the Graco seats. You also have the option of buckling these seats directly into the car, without using the base, and that will save you even more room. (If you plan to use an infant seat without its base, you may be better of getting a convertible car seat, which will last longer.)

Baby Trends, Evenflo, and Peg Perego infant car seats require the handles to be down while installed, which obviously add a few inches of front-to-back space; so they are obviously not good options for compact cars.

Safety 1st Air Protect On Board 35
Graco Snugride 35
Cybex Aton
Chicco Keyfit
Combi Shuttle 33


4 Responses to “Best Car Seats for Small Cars”
  1. vicki jordan says:

    Will this car seat fit in a 2011 BMW335xi? I need it in a RF position for now, later as FF.

    • Ellen says:

      I am not familiar with your car to definitively say yes, but the sizing and ease of installation of this seat makes it a likely bet. You’d do well buying it from a store with free returns (like amazon usually does for car seats) so in case it doesn’t work out, you will not have lost out anything. It’s such a nice seat, it would be a shame not to try it :D

  2. Emily z says:

    When the police installed our infant car seat (a graco snugride), they instructed us to NEVER leave the handle in the upright position when the seat was in the car. The infant car seat is designed to flip up into the facing back seat in an impact to protect the baby from whiplash. The handles are designed to shatter on impact, like safety glass. If the handle is in the upright position, the plastic shards will rip apart the baby’s face. The policeman said he’d seen this many times. Please remove that instruction from your site. Thanks.

    • Ellen says:

      Unfortunately, police and firemen are not really trained as Car Seat Safety Technicians, and while they offer help in installing seats, they aren’t experts. Each manufacturer has different rules on how the handle should be based on tests. For example, the Combi Connection allows the seat handle to be up and advises to do so to help with rebound. If you have a Graco car seat, checking the manual should be easy enough to find out if your model permits it based on extensive crash testing. Not all handles on all car seats by all manufacturers are the same, and it’s my suspicion that the policeman was trying to be helpful, but without an extensive knowledgebase on how seats differ from one another.

      Thank you for your comment. We take safety as our highest priority here!

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