The Best Rear-facing Convertible Car Seats for Leg Room

The Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 is one of the two best convertible car seats I've found for preserving front row leg room.
The Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 is excellent for preserving front row room.

I frequently get emails from parents either thanking me for the 3 across car seat guides I made for their vehicles or asking for suggestions for vehicles I haven’t yet tested with my fleet of car seats. For those parents, I came up with the list of narrow convertible car seats that will fit 3 across in just about any vehicle (including in a number of coupes and convertibles). However, another question I frequently get from parents involves which car seats will help them preserve front-to-back space in their cars. Believe it or not, this isn’t just an issue for parents driving subcompact or compact cars; many messages come from parents driving mid-sized or large SUVs or even minivans.

Why make a comparison of convertible car seats with the best front-to-back space?

Sometimes it’s because the vehicle inherently doesn’t have much front-to-back space to speak of, but many times, it’s because one parent or the other might be tall or have long legs. Other times one or both parents might simply want to be able to stretch their legs out and get comfortable during road trips. Sometimes it’s because of drivers or passenger who want to sit as far away from the steering wheel or dashboard as possible for fear of airbag deployments, car collisions, or due to pregnancies. Other times it’s due to having friends of different shapes and sizes.

Whatever the reason, since creating the 3 across guides, this has become one of the most frequent questions I receive or that draws people to the site in online searches. The goal is to find a high-quality, high weight- and height-limit convertible car seat that’ll keep your child safe, happy, and comfy rear-facing as long as possible, while at the same time allowing front-row occupants a safe and comfortable amount of room. Let’s get to it.

How did you measure the convertibles that took up the least amount of passenger space?

measuring the graco size4me 65 - smallMy methodology was simple: I chose a vehicle I’ve used for my 3 across guides and installed every rear-facing convertible seat I had access to in the passenger outboard position. I measured the available space between the front of the vehicle seat in which the car seat was installed (at the head rest) and the most forward-reaching part of the car seat. If the car seat had accommodations I could provide to reduce the amount of space it took up, such as the multiple recline positions in a Britax Advocate ClickTight or the angle adjuster option for a Diono Radian RXT or the removable anti-rebound bar for a Clek Fllo, I used it, as long as it didn’t create an unsafe recline angle.

I then ranked all of the car seats in the list below by the minimum measured distance I was able to achieve between the front of the vehicle seat and the most forward part of the car seat. The seats with the smallest measured distances are at the top of the list; these are the seats that are likely to use the least amount of space in your vehicle when you install them rear-facing the way I did. The seats with the largest measured distances are at the bottom of the list; these seats are likely to take up more front-to-back space in a given vehicle, leaving you with less space in the front row.

Will this list tell me if a car seat will give me lots of space in my car, minivan, SUV, or pickup truck?

Unfortunately, I can’t say if you’ll get as much space as I did in your vehicle; there are a lot of different factors that go into that, including the size of your vehicle, the angles of both your vehicle and car seats, whether your seats can move forward and back or not, and of course the amount of space your driver and front-seated passenger need. However, what this list will tell you is how much space individual seats can take up when installed rear-facing. This, in turn, tells you whether one seat is likely to give you more or less room than another, and which seats, on average, are likely to give you the most or least space.

I’ve also included links to my reviews of the seats and their weight and seated height limits while rear-facing. The seated height limits are a measurement of the amount of available height in a seat from the bottom of the seat to the top, keeping in mind 1″ rules when applicable. In other words, they tell you how tall a seated child could be before outgrowing the seat; if two seats have the same weight limit, the seat with the higher seated height will last the child longer before needing to be forward-faced. All seats are tested in their most upright positions with head rests in fully extended positions unless otherwise noted.

It’s not a complete list, but I’ll continue to add to it as I get more seats. Each of these seats is one I’ve reviewed and lauded on my recommended convertible car seat list. The equivalent Canadian recommended convertible list is here. The list below compares the most popular convertible car seats available in the US, sorted by the amount of front-to-back space they take up once installed in rear-facing configurations

Convertible Car Seat (Click on the car seat name for review) Front-to-back space used (in) Rear-facing weight limit (lbs) Rear-facing measured seated height of child (in)
 Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 31 inches  40 pounds  25 inches
 Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 31  inches  40 pounds  25  inches
 Britax Advocate ClickTight 32 inches  40 pounds  28  inches
 Britax Boulevard ClickTight 32 inches  40 pounds  28  inches
 Britax Marathon ClickTight 32 inches  40 pounds  26  inches
 Britax Advocate G4.1 33 inches  40 pounds  24  inches
 Britax Boulevard G4.1 33 inches  40 pounds  24  inches
 Britax Marathon G4.1 33 inches  40 pounds  24  inches
 Britax Pavilion G4 33 inches  40 pounds  24  inches
 Britax Advocate G4 33 inches  40 pounds  24  inches
 Chicco NextFit 33 inches  40 pounds  26  inches
 Diono Radian RXT
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  45 pounds  25  inches
 Diono Radian R120
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  45 pounds  25  inches
 Diono Radian R100
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  40 pounds  25  inches
 Diono Rainier
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  50 pounds  25  inches
 Diono Pacifica
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  50 pounds  25  inches
 Diono Olympia
(with 
angle adjuster)
33 inches  45 pounds  25  inches
 Graco Size4Me 65
(with flush head rest)
33  inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Graco My Size 65
(with flush head rest)
33 inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Graco Head Wise 70
(with flush head rest)
33 inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible (w/ flush head rest) 33 inches  45 pounds  24  inches
 Evenflo Triumph 34 inches  40 pounds  23  inches
 Evenflo Symphony 34 inches  40 pounds  23   inches
 Graco 4Ever All-In-One 34 inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Graco Milestone All-In-One 34 inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Graco Contender
(with flush head rest)
34 inches  40 pounds  27  inches
 Clek Fllo
(without anti-rebound bar)
35  inches  50 pounds  26  inches
 Clek Foonf 36  inches  50 pounds  26  inches
 Safety 1st Advance EX 65 Air+ 36  inches  50 pounds  28  inches
 Safety 1st Advance SE / LX 65 Air+ 36  inches  40 pounds  28  inches
 All Diono convertibles
(without 
angle adjuster)
38  inches  40 pounds  25  inches
More Seats to Come!

It’s important to repeat that you’re not necessarily going to get exactly the same results in your particular vehicle with a particular seat. However, this is a great starting point, and for many parents, it can make the difference between between a great amount of leg room and a very unpleasant driving or passenger experience, between forward-facing at 1 and forward-facing at 4, and ultimately, in the amount of safety we can provide our children while we travel. I’ve included below some additional notes and tips about several of the seats in the above list.

pria2Maxi-Cosi Pria 85 – Review here, buy here.
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 – Review here, buy here.

The Pria 85 and 70 are the two convertibles that took up the least amount of space while rear-facing in this comparison. This makes these two seats the friendliest convertibles with 40-pound rear-facing limits for vehicles with limited front-to-back space.

When reclining, you can choose between the full recline of position #3 or the partial recline of position #2. The angle indicator is a line that’s supposed to be level to the ground. If you need to increase your recline angle, you can do so with either a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle beneath the base.

advocate3Britax Advocate ClickTight – Review here, buy here.
Britax Boulevard ClickTight – Review here, buy here.
Britax Marathon ClickTight – Review here, buy here.

The 3 ClickTight triplets were the next-best convertibles for front-to-back space within the 40 pound RF weight limit, and also among the convertibles with the highest seated height limits at 28 inches. It’s important to note that the Marathon ClickTight seated height tops out at around 26 inches; if you’ve got a taller child, you might want to go with the Advocate CT or Boulevard CT instead.

With the ClickTight triplets, you can choose from 7 different recline positions in the base to get the rear-facing recline angle you need as suggested by the angle indicator. The more upright you can get the seat, the more space you’ll have. Keep in mind that newborns and young babies will naturally need more recline than toddlers or older children.

advocate4-1-1Britax Advocate G4.1 – Review here, buy here.
Britax Boulevard G4.1 – Review here, buy here.
Britax Marathon G4.1 – Review here, buy here.
Britax Pavilion G4 – Review here, buy here.
Britax Advocate G4 – Review here, buy here.

The G4.1 and G4 seats are also great choices for rear-facing without taking too much space from front-seat occupants. There are 3 recline positions available in total, but you can only use one of them when rear-facing. If you need to use a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle beneath the base to find an appropriate recline angle, you can do so without worry. This is most likely to be the case if you have extremely sloped car seats and have a newborn or infant in the seat.

nex1Chicco NextFit – Review here, buy here.

The NextFit has one of the highest seated heights I’ve yet measured (26 inches) for a 40-pound convertible seat currently on the market, which helps prolong the time you’ll be able to use it for rear-facing.

You can choose between 9 recline positions on the base to find an appropriate recline angle while rear-facing; the angle indicator will tell you what’s in a safe range and what’s not. The more upright your recline, the less space the seat will take up front-to-back. The ability to choose from so many different angles is part of what makes the NextFit such a good seat for smaller vehicles.

purplerainierDiono Radian RXT – Review here, buy here.
Diono Radian R120 – Review here, buy here.
Diono Radian R100 – Review here, buy here.
Diono Rainier – Review here, buy here.
Diono Pacifica – Review here, buy here.
Diono Olympia – Review here, buy here.

The Diono convertible family ranges from the R100 with a 40-pound RF limit to the Rainier and Pacifica with 50-pound RF limits. The RXT, R120, and Olympia are in between with 45-pound RF limits. All of the seats have the same basic design, and all of the seats are wonderful for small cars and small spaces when used with the angle adjuster. All of the seats also take up a large amount of space hen used without the angle adjuster. Remember that you can only use the angle adjuster if your child has full head control and can sit up without help.

s4m1Graco Size4Me 65 – Review here, buy here.
Graco My Size 65 – Review (see Size4Me), buy here.
Graco Head Wise 70 – Review here, buy here.
Graco Contender – Review here, buy here.

The Graco clones are my favorite budget convertible car seats for extended rear-facing. They all rear-face until 40 pounds and include the second-highest seated child height limits in their class; the only 40-pound convertibles that will allow you to rear-face longer than the Graco seats here are the ClickTight convertibles.

That said, the Gracos are not all created equally. While they all share the feature of 3 recline positions with only 1 allowed when rear-facing, the Contender takes up more space when installed in the same seat than the other Graco clones. I’m not sure why, but it’s something to keep in mind, and another reason to buy the Size4Me or My Size over the Contender if you can afford to. You can increase your recline angle in all of the clones with either a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle stuffed beneath the base.

pegpinkPeg Perego Primo Viaggio – Review here, buy here.

The Primo Viaggio convertible is one of the best-performing seats on the list when it comes to the space it saves while rear-facing, especially since it doesn’t need an angle adjuster to provide the space it does while letting you rear-face until 45 pounds, unlike the Radian RXT, Radian R120, and Olympia.

The Primo Viaggio lets you use only one recline position when rear-facing. You can also choose between the first 7 head rest height settings when rear-facing; the top 3 are only allowed when forward-facing. As is the case with most seats on the list, you can increase your recline angle as needed through a tightly rolled towel or pool noodle beneath the base.

flloinkClek Fllo – Review here, buy here.
Clek Foonf – Review here, buy here.

The Clek seats are among my favorite rear-facing convertibles, as they’re two of a handful of seats that allow rear-facing from birth until 50 pounds when used with the infant insert.

The Fllo allows you to use only one recline position when rear-facing. To make the most of it, you’ll want to remove the anti-rebound bar; that’ll give you about two more inches of space to play with in the front row. Although I like the anti-rebound bar, it’s an optional feature in the Fllo, and rear-facing will give you the biggest bang for your buck anyway. If you need more of a recline angle, you can use a tightly rolled towel beneath the base. Unlike most of the seats on this list, the Fllo doesn’t permit the use of a pool noodle.

The Foonf also lets you use recline position 3 when rear-facing. However, unlike with the Fllo, you can’t remove the anti-rebound bar when rear-facing. The Foonf as a result takes up about an inch more space than the Fllo when rear-facing. However, unlike with the Fllo, you can use either a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle to increase your recline angle if you need to.

Conclusion – what’s the best seat for rear-facing space? It depends on your needs!

In conclusion, it can be tough figuring out what the best convertible seats will be for your son or daughter in your particular vehicle. The truth of the matter is that there isn’t a universally “best” seat. Whenever parents ask me for such a seat, I never have any in mind until I’ve thoroughly listened to or read their concerns, as each family’s situation will influence what the best solutions are for them. With that in mind, I’m hoping this will serve as yet another resource for parents and caretakers in search of high-quality convertibles to keep their little ones safe without placing front occupants into dangerous or uncomfortable situations.

If you’re still looking for more information to help you decide which seat is right for your little one, I’d recommend checking out the plethora of recommended car seat reviews and best practice articles I’ve written here. If you’d like to know about the narrowest car seats that will fit in just about any vehicle, you can read my recommendations here. And if you’d simply like to get an idea of some of the car seats that are likely to fit in your vehicle, you owe it to yourself to check out the gargantuan 3 across car seat guide I’ve written up (and continue to add to) here, spanning vehicles of all sizes, years, models, and price brackets.

These are good lists to have in mind when Amazon launches their seasonal car seat sales, such as those on Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday; when you have the chance to score a deal, you want to make sure the seat you’re saving money on is a quality one.

If you find the information on car safety, recommended car seats, and car seat reviews on this car seat blog helpful, you can bookmark and shop through this Amazon link. Canadians can bookmark and shop through this link.

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