When it comes to car safety, you can focus on driving safely and you can focus on choosing a safe car. However, if you have children, you also need to focus on choosing a safe car seat. This is one of a series of reviews I’ll write on what I consider to be the best car seats currently available in the United States. This review centers on the Diono Pacifica, one of only 4 seats in the US that allows children to rear-face from birth until they weigh 50 pounds.
2017 update: The Pacifica is still basically the same seat since its release; weight and height limits haven’t changed, although fabrics have been tweaked slightly. It’s still one of the best seats on the market for extended rear-facing.
2017 Diono Pacifica – Is it worth it?
The Diono Pacifica continues a tradition of narrow, high-weight car seats that makes this one of the most useful seats on the market. It’s a convertible car seat, which means it can be used in several configurations, including as a rear-facing infant seat, a forward-facing seat, and of course, as a booster. Released this May alongside its high weight sibling the Rainier, the Pacifica is a high quality car seat that you’ll certainly be hearing more of.
Diono Pacifica Limits for Weight and Height
Rear-facing: From 5-50 pounds, and up to 44″ in height. Your child’s head should not reach past 1.5″ below the top of the headrest. I measure the shell height at 25″ again, which is consistent with previous Dionos and which makes sense since the general height limit by Diono remains unchanged from that of previous models.
Forward-facing: From 20-90 pounds, and up to 57″ in height. Your child should be at least 1, and it’s recommended that s/he is at least 2. Of course, research into car safety indicates children should remain rear-facing for as long as possible (the average is 4 years in Sweden, which posts the lowest child fatality rate on Earth), and after rear-facing, the child should remain forward-facing as long as possible.
Booster mode: 50-120 pounds, and up to 57″ in height. As with the previous Radian line, the shoulders of the child must at least reach the 4th pair of harness slots. Remember that children should remain in booster seats until their seat belts fit them over the shoulder, across the chest, and flat on the upper thighs.
Dimensions of the Diono Pacifica
As with the Diono Rainier, the seat is 18.5″ wide at its widest point, which is at the shoulders. The seat weighs 25 pounds. Inside, it is around 14″ wide at the widest upper portion at the shoulders and slightly larger at the thighs.
Using the Diono Pacifica
Just as with the Rainier, the Pacifica arrives folded securely in a box that seems well designed for it, which makes sense when one considers that the seat takes up almost exactly the same amount of space as its ancestors, the Radian R120 and RXT. I was getting ready for a difficult installation, but it turns out that Diono has worked to simplify the process, which was a welcome surprise. You can download the Diono Pacifica manual here.
You will likely need to adjust the straps out of the box, but the learning curve is gentle. Depending on the size of your child, you might keep or remove the harness pads. Per Diono, they are supposed to be used in the 5-point harness only when the child weighs more than 65 pounds.
There are 5 shoulder harness positions that range from 9″ on the low end to 17.5″ on the high end. The recline base must be used when the seat is in a rear-facing position. Because there are 5 different slots for harness height, most children are going to find a position that fits them comfortably for as long as they use the seat. You adjust the harness height from behind the seat by removing straps from the splitting plate and rethreading them into the desired slot. If your child is rear-facing, the slots need to be at or below the shoulders, while they need to be above for forward-facing. Diono is unique in that they do allow you to have forward-facing children with shoulders above the top shoulder harness slots as long as these children stay within the forward-facing weight limit and have the tops of their ears below the top of the car seat.
Keep in mind that you cannot install it in the center of your vehicle with a LATCH set up unless you have dedicated LATCH hookups there; this is common to almost every car seat on the market today in the United States. This means you’ll need to use a seat belt installation along with a locking clip for a middle seat install, and this might be a bit troublesome.
There is an angle adjuster that you can buy to use with the Diono seats. It’s a really popular accessory as it helps cut down on the extremely large amount of space that the seat can take up when used in the rear-facing configuration. Depending on the size of your vehicle and the amount of space you need in the front seats, you may want to consider purchasing this. This is likely to be the case if you set the seat up directly behind the passenger or driver seats in the first row.
Why Buy the Diono Pacifica?
This is the meat and potatoes of this car seat. The Pacifica is one of a handful of seats in the United States that allows you to rear-face a child for up to 50 pounds. Every pound is precious, as the longer you rear-face, the safer your child is. In the US, parents tend to turn their children around into the line of fire at 1. In Sweden, this typically isn’t done until 4. Children in Sweden are far less likely to die in car crashes than children in the US. It makes that much of a difference. This alone is reason enough to buy the Pacifica.
Besides that fact, the Pacifica also includes a steel frame and an aluminum reinforced headrest for reinforced head support, in addition to EPS foam around the child’s head and body to increase levels of side impact protection. The sidewalls are not as deep as those in its Rainier sibling, which means potentially less side protection is available. However, it already meets current federal standards, so the benefits of the additional padding in the Rainier are yet to be seen.
Something that sets the Pacifica and Rainier apart from every other car seat is that they have the largest forward-facing capacity of any 5-point harness car seat currently sold in the United States at 20-90 pounds with up to 57″ of height. Each transition in child seats signifies a decrease in safety (e.g., rear-facing is safer than forward-facing, which is safer than a booster position, which is safer than simply using a seat belt); the longer you can keep a child forward-facing in a harness, the better. The Pacifica, along with the Rainier now lead the field here.
Something else that’s neat about the Pacifica is that it’s one of only a handful of seats in the United States that can currently be tethered while rear-facing as well as while forward-facing. It isn’t required to rear-face tether, but rear-facing tethering does have its advantages, which I’ll discuss in a forthcoming article.
Finally, the Pacifica is also simply an easier seat to install than most, due to its narrow base width of 17 inches. That means it’s actually possible to install 3 across in a number of midsized vehicles. I also like the fact that it has a 12-year usable life when used as a booster seat (remember, car seats do expire eventually), which is the longest in the industry right now, although I wish the harness lifespan were longer than 8 years.
The Pacifica is an excellent car seat and, in my opinion, one of the three best currently available in the United States for children between zero and five. You can buy the Diono Pacifica in several colors above here. Canadians can buy the Pacifica here.