We know what it’s like to try to wrestle a car seat, or multiple car seats, into a vehicle with a tiny back seat. It can be really challenging to find a narrow seat that fits well, is easy to install, and is still comfy for your little one.
While many manufacturers are now designing seats to fit better in smaller vehicles, there are still a lot of bulky seats. And some narrow-design seats still sit too far back, pressing into the seat in front of them and making it uncomfortable for the driver or front-seat passenger.
So we’ve dug into the details of dozens of models to come up with this list of the best car seats for small cars. We recommend these seats because of their narrow design, comfort level, safety features, additional functions, and affordable price tags.
Read on to learn how to choose the right option for your vehicle, and check out our reviews of the best models currently on the market.
- Approved for air travel
- Substantial steel alloy frame
- Uses EPS energy-absorbing foam
- LATCH system is easy to use
- Offers multiple recline positions
- Built-in harness strap holders
- Only 14 pounds
- Side-impact protection
- Easy to care for
- 4-point recline
- Easy-to-adjust harness and headrest
- Rigorous safety testing
Review Methodology: At Mom Loves Best, we understand the importance of finding the perfect car seat for your small car. Our team of professionals conducts a thorough analysis and assessment of various car seats, comparing their performance, design choices, and user experiences. We evaluate products from a user’s perspective, considering key decision-making factors such as safety, ease of installation, comfort, and space-saving features. Our hands-on research and quantitative measurements ensure that our recommendations are backed by evidence and facts. By ranking and reviewing the top car seats on the market, we provide you with the most reliable information to make an informed decision, ensuring the safety and comfort of your little one.
The Best Car Seats for Small Cars of 2023
Here are our top four favorite car seats for small cars.
Diono Radian 3RXT Convertible Car Seat
Best for Newborns
Diono is the brand that launched the original “three across” campaign. And this model was specifically designed to take up little space in the car so that three seats can sit comfortably in the back. It’s suitable for a wide variety of cars and can be used rear-facing or forward-facing.
This car seat is suitable for use by children who weigh at least 5 pounds. It can be used rear-facing until your child is 45 pounds.
Forward-facing, it works as a car seat through 65 pounds. After that, it converts to a booster that’s safe for children weighing up to 120 pounds.
This unit is approved for air travel and is available in multiple colors. The harness and seat are both adjustable to suit your child. When you’re not using it, it folds flat for convenient storage.
What We Like
Extended Period of Use
You’ll get years of use out of this. You can put your baby in it for the first time when you’re leaving the hospital. It’ll still be appropriate for them to use seven years later when you’re driving them to school.
Approved for Air Travel
This car seat is great for daily use in your car. It’s also approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for airplane use. This means you won’t need an additional car seat when traveling.
This narrow seat fits well in a plane seat and through small aisles. However, it’s worth noting that this seat is heavier than most. If you choose to use it for travel, you’ll want to look into using a cart with it.
Substantial Steel Alloy Frame
To beef up the stability and security, Diono created this with a heavy-duty steel alloy frame. Not compromising on comfort to achieve optimal safety, Diono also made sure this model is heavily padded. An additional newborn insert is included to provide little ones with even more comfort and stability.
Uses EPS Energy-Absorbing Foam
EPS energy-absorbing foam is designed to take the bulk of any impact force. It helps absorb and disrupt the force, better protecting your little one in an accident. While comfortable, this also serves to offer excellent side-impact protection.
What We Don't Like
This Unit Is Heavy
The steel alloy frame helps create a sturdy and substantial car seat that works to keep your child safe. It does add significant weight to the car seat, though, so you’ll want to factor that into your choice. This is especially true if you are moving the seat frequently or plan to travel with it.
In addition to weighing more, this car seat is unevenly heavy. It won’t free-stand when not installed. To minimize dirt exposure, always prop it against something when it’s not in your vehicle.
Does Not Have Armrests
This seat is narrow, which is great for small spaces. One of the compromises you’ll make is that there are no armrests.
This may be a problem for long rides where your little one may need a nap. It may also be an issue if you have multiple children in the back seat. A lack of separation between children may encourage bickering or pestering.
|Dimensions||16.14 inches by 16.93 inches by 28.35 inches|
|Child Minimum Weight||5 pounds|
|Child Maximum Weight||120 pounds|
|Additional Features||SuperLATCH system, expandable leg rests, multiple shoulder and buckle positions, non-slip rubber base|
Maxi-Cosi Pria All-in-1 Convertible Car Seat
This car seat works in a rear-facing or forward-facing position. It is suitable for babies who weigh at least 4 pounds.
Older children can use this car seat forward-facing until they weigh 65 pounds. Its G-Cell car seat technology helps provide excellent side-impact protection, while an easy-to-adjust harness helps give a good fit.
This car seat meets all safety standards. It’s available in multiple colors, and you can remove and wash the cover as needed. Afterward, you can place it in the dryer, making cleanup quick and easy.
What We Like
LATCH System Is Easy to Use
The LATCH system helps keep installation fast and simple. The tether clips offer an easy-to-use buckle that’s used in the same way as a seat belt buckle. Proper installation can take moments if your car is equipped with the LATCH points (most new vehicles are).
Offers Multiple Recline Positions
The proper recline position can make installation easier. It can also make it easier to get your little one in and out and provides a comfortable ride for your child.
This unit offers three preset recline positions to suit your child and space needs.
Comfortable for Long Trips or Naps
This car seat has an adjustable headrest and harness for the best fit. In addition, the padding gives a cozy and comfortable ride. A cushioned headrest encourages relaxation.
The material used on this car seat is also comfortable and not prone to collecting sweat or dampness. Designed to be machine washable, the fabric is easy to care for.
Uses Built-in Harness Strap Holders
Built-in harness strap holders help make fastening your child in just a little easier. There’s one on either side of the car seat. Simply open the harness and latch it onto the holder.
After you’ve placed your baby in the car seat, strap them in like usual. With the harness holders, you don’t need to search for the harness trapped under your child’s body. It makes buckling in faster — and more comfortable for your child.
What We Don't Like
Not as Comfortable for Taller Children
Though this unit is rated for a significant amount of weight, it’s not ideal for a taller child. This is more prominent when rear-facing, even when fully reclined. If your child is on the taller end of the spectrum, you may need to consider a different model.
|Dimensions||25.3 inches by 23.6 inches by 20.3 inches|
|Minimum Child Weight||4 pounds|
|Maximum Child Weight||100 pounds|
|Additional Features||Integrated cup holder, one-handed adjustment, machine washable|
Cosco Mighty Fit 65 DX Convertible Car Seat
Best Budget Buy
This car seat from Cosco has been designed to perform well while taking up little space. Some car seats that work in a smaller car can be pricey, but this one makes a great budget purchase.
This unit features a simple aesthetic and trim look. Cushioning through the seat and headrest helps keep your child comfortable during trips. The headrest is adjustable, and you can attach or detach the included cup holder as needed.
This model may be used rear-facing or forward-facing. It’s for use with children who weigh 5 pounds and up. It’s rated for rear-facing through 40 pounds and forward-facing through 65 pounds.
What We Like
Easy to Customize a Good Fit
The seat has a five-point harness that you can easily adjust from the front of the unit. In addition, it offers five harness heights and allows for three buckle locations. This can help ensure your car seat is comfortable for your little one, whatever their size or age.
It also features an adjustable headrest. This helps support your little one’s head and neck during trips. The movable headrest helps ensure your child is comfortable and safe as they grow.
This unit is lightweight, weighing only 14 pounds. If you’ve been searching for a seat option that’s easy to move between cars, this may be worth considering. It’s also approved for use on planes, so it can be a good option for traveling.
It features additional side-impact protection through the headrest and upper body. This helps provide complete protection for your little one if you experience an accident. The headrest provides additional support and keeps your little one’s head centered and protected.
Easy to Care For
It’s soft and comfortable, and you can remove the cover from the car seat to wash it when needed. After washing, you can even place the cover in the dryer, which helps make cleanup a no-fuss process.
What We Don't Like
Doesn’t Offer Adjustable Recline
Though this unit does offer an adjustable harness and headrest, it doesn’t allow you to change the angle of recline. A set position can make fastening your child difficult when rear-facing. Being limited in recline adjustment also may not provide the most comfortable position for your child.
|Dimensions||17 inches by 22 inches by 23.5 inches|
|Child Weight Minimum||5 pounds|
|Child Weight Maximum||65 pounds|
|Additional Features||LATCH system, side-impact protection, adjustable headrest, machine washable|
Graco SlimFit 3-in-1 Car Seat
Best for All Stages
As the name implies, the Graco SlimFit was designed with compactness in mind. This seat is worth checking out if you have multiple children in car seats and limited back seat space.
While many slim car seats leave out the cup holders to save space, Graco developed a unique rotating cup holder design to save space while still allowing your child to keep their drinks close.
The SlimFit seat reclines in the rear-facing position, and you have four recline levels for maximum comfort. So you won’t have to worry about your little one’s head falling uncomfortably to the side every time they drift off to sleep.
The headrest is easy to adjust with one hand, and the attached harness adjusts with it, so you don’t need to remove the seat and rethread the belts every time your child hits a growth spurt. This is also great because this seat will grow with your child through all of their car seat years.
You can use it in the rear-facing position from 5 to 40 pounds, forward-facing with the harness from 22 to 65 pounds, and as a booster seat from 40 to 100 pounds.
With its steel-reinforced frame, your little one will be extra safe in this seat. Graco’s crash-testing protocol is thorough, testing seats in every position to help protect little ones in an accident.
And the cover on this seat is easy to remove to wash and dry, which is a bonus if you plan on using this seat for years.
The InRight LATCH adjustment allows you to click the seat into place easily, and the prominent push-button release allows for easy seat removal when you’re in a hurry.
What We Like
Unlike some other slim-fitting car seats, this one allows for four recline levels. The position indicator helps you adjust it to the right level for your little one’s maximum safety and comfort.
Easy-to-Adjust Harness and Headrest
As we all know, kids grow at an unbelievable rate. With the one-hand adjustable, 10-position headrest and harness, you can ensure your child is always positioned correctly within the harness. It takes only one or two seconds to grab the headrest adjustment button and slide the headrest and harness to the best position.
Rigorous Safety Testing
Graco’s ProtectPlus system ensures this car seat is engineered to the safest standards. Its steel-reinforced frame provides maximum support, and Graco tests the seat in rear, front, side, and roll-over crash positions.
InRight LATCH System
The LATCH connectors on this seat are easy to pop into place and even faster to remove. No more fighting with trying to unhook the attachments. Simply press the button and the LATCH connector pops right off, saving you time and hassle, especially if you have multiple seats in a row.
What We Don't Like
Challenging To Use With Shoulder Belt
This seat can be difficult to use in the rear-facing position with a shoulder belt. The belt must be threaded under the cup holder, making for an awkward angle and difficulty securing the car seat tightly to the vehicle seat. If you don’t have LATCH anchors, this may not be your best option.
|Dimensions||19 inches by 20 inches by 21 inches|
|Child Weight Minimum||5 pounds|
|Child Weight Maximum||100 pounds|
|Additional Features||4-position recline, LATCH system, rotating cup holders, easy-adjust harness and headrest|
|Product||Award||Weight||Dimensions||Min. Weight||Max. Weight||Features|
|Diono Radian 3RXT||Best for Newborns||28 lbs||16.14″ x 16.93″ x 28.35″||5 lbs||120 lbs||SuperLATCH, leg rests, buckle position|
|Maxi-Cosi Pria All-in-1||Most Comfortable||22.4 lbs||25.3″ x 23.6″ x 20.3″||4 lbs||100 lbs||Cup holder, one-hand adjustment|
|Cosco Mighty Fit 65||Best Budget Buy||14 lbs||17″ x 22″ x 23.5″||5 lbs||65 lbs||LATCH system, side-impact protection|
|Graco SlimFit||Best for All Stages||19.5 lbs||19″ x 20″ x 21″||5 lbs||100 lbs||4-position recline, LATCH, easy-adjust harness|
How to Choose a Car Seat for a Small Car
When picking out a car seat, you’ll want to keep the following in mind.
- How often will you use it? Are you looking for something you’ll occasionally use as a backup or an everyday car seat? Identifying your expectations will give you a better idea of what won’t work.
- What features do you need? Have a child who’s on the taller side? Can’t compromise on a cup holder? Identify what you must have so you can rule out which car seats to pass on.
- What is your budget? Car seats are available at many price points. Car seats designed for small cars can be considered specialty car seats and have a markup. If the price matters, make sure you decide that before you start shopping.
- Is it easy to maintain? A car seat is likely to be with you for a while. Ensure you can easily clean it if it gets dirty — because it will!
- How easy is it to install? Smaller cars frequently need to fulfill multiple roles. You may be putting the car seat in and taking it out frequently. To make this as painless as possible, choose something easy to install.
- Has it been safety tested and approved? Above everything else, you want to ensure your child is safe while on the road. Always choose a reputable brand that’s been thoroughly tested and approved.
Need help installing your car seat? Your local fire department or police station can ensure your seat is ready to go. Check with your local providers for assistance, or search National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for an inspection spot near you (1).
Small Cars and Car Seats
Car seats and small cars aren’t the best combination, and here’s why.
Some car seats are equipped with oversized bases. This can help give great stability and may allow for more customization and recline options. Many car seats also come with plenty of cushioning, which can help your little one ride in comfort.
However, these bases, the extra cushioning, and a greater choice of positioning can all lead to a bigger car seat. Padding takes up space, so to carve out room for your little one, the width of heavily-cushioned car seats is greater. The ability to recline further can result in a car seat that’s too deep for a small car or bench seat.
Don’t forget to consider the shape of the backseat, either. Some car seats may fit properly, but it may be difficult for you to get your little one in and out of it. This can be especially common with rear-facing car seats.
Cars likely to experience difficulty accommodating car seats include those with shallow back seats and little legroom. Compact cars, sporty cars, and cars with little headroom may also be difficult to fit. And cars with two doors instead of four are instantly out — unless you’re a contortionist who can somehow manage to get that car seat back there.
If you have a car you think will be difficult to fit a car seat in, make sure you try some out ahead of time. Install the car seat exactly as it would be used. Don’t forget to have any drivers adjust the seat as they’d need it to be to ensure a good fit.
Car Seat Types for Small Cars
Fortunately, some car seats have been designed with small spaces in mind. Depending on your child’s age, you may be in the market for an infant-only car seat or a booster seat. Convertible car seats consistently offer the most versatility and the smallest footprint.
Because of this, we’ve focused on them. Convertible seats are usually one piece. This can make them a good choice for smaller vehicles, and you can use them rear facing and forward facing.
This means you may be able to make a one-time car seat purchase. These seats offer plenty of options to help you customize the car seat to your child’s needs.
Each car seat will have a weight recommendation for forward- and rear-facing use. Sometimes, these weight ranges will overlap. Each state creates its own laws regarding rear-facing age and weight. Ensure you follow those laws correctly (2).
Convertible car seats are designed to be used for an extended period. We chose the narrowest car seats best suited for children from infancy through elementary school. While they are great for small cars, these are comfortable and versatile enough to be used in larger vehicles as well.