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January 24, 2006

Why I Love And Hate The Maxi-Cosi Priori

priori.gifExcept for the way the knobs stick out unnecessarily far on the sides and would often hit my leg, I totally loved the Maxi-Cosi Cabrio infant car seat. We went with it because it was the Bugaboo-compatible carseat in the EU (and we didn't like either of the US options). But it also looked good, worked very well, was light, had nice touches [the little compartment in the back, the brilliant disappearing canopy], and was rated to last longer than most infant seats in the US. The fact that it was technically illegal to use in the US didn't faze us at all; the EU standards were plenty stringent for my conscience, thanks.

Anyway, all this meant that we were destined to stick with Maxi-Cosi when we needed to get a bigger carseat, and we did. We got a Priori XP, and we've had it for almost 7-8 months, but I rarely talk about it, except in passing. That's partly because buying and shipping it was a total fiasco that took three months; part of it is the ambivalence I feel toward the thing; there are definitely some good points and some huge failings, and even though I can't really think of many car seats I'd trade it for, I don't know that I'd buy it again, given the occasion.

The ebay.de purchase fiasco
First off, I should have bought the Priori when we were in Holland at the end of last February and brought it home on the plane. Time and money-wise, this is the smartest thing to do, ever. You get free shipping, an instant VAT refund at the airport, and instant gratification. But I was cocky, and picky about the color/fabric, so I figured we'd just wait and get exactly the one we wanted online when we got back. Big mistake #1.

Second mistake: not buying from someplace like Babycare.nl, who didn't have the fabric we wanted in stock, and whose shipping seemed a little pricey. In hindsight, they would've been the best option; by the time I bought and waited--and waited and waited--for my ebay.de purchase to arrive, Babycare had plenty of inventory, and the cost difference would have been pretty minor.

Buying on ebay.de was a nightmare, where the very experienced [i.e., high-volume, high feedback] seller knew nothing about shipping to the US. Or accepting payment from anything besides pfennigs or whatever they use on ebay.de. Then because of her ineptitude, we waited for a month with constant emails back and forth about tracking numbers, VAT refunds, etc., all with conflicting information. Net net; I paid for DHL, she shipped via untrackable post, and she pocketed the difference and my VAT, total sandbag, like EUR70.

Why I Love The Priori
First off, it's a great-looking car seat, and it's strong. Solid. The production quality and finish is pretty superb. It should be, though, because it cost nearly $300. But it's a well-built piece of equipment, and it's extremely comfortable and beneficial-seeming for the kid. Is it 50-100% better than what you'd find on a US store shelf? In some ways, yes. In other ways, probably not. I know the fabric [Black Reflection, btw] looks, washes, and wears much better than the Canvas on our Cabrio, though. One thing's for sure, though: If you don't have to pay shipping and VAT, you'll feel a lot better about the Priori vis a vis whatever else you're considering.

Perhaps the greatest feature--the deciding factor, in fact--is the way the Priori reclines. There are a lot of reclining car seats on the market, but as far as I could find last year, the Priori was the only one that allowed you to tilt the seat back without taking it out and readjusting it. The Priori has a handle on the front edge of the seat, reachable with one hand from the driver's seat, that drops the seat back. We love that. The kid slept three straight hours on a recent drive between NYC and DC, enabling me to do the whole trip in a blindingly quick four hours.

Why I Hate The Priori
So many of the things we loved about the Cabrio, then, turned out not to continue to the Priori. But once you have a 20lb kid in a 20lb chair, I guess you shouldn't expect a lot of convenience/portability.

Solid European Engineering? The Priori weighs nearly as much as that other piece of S.E.E., our 80's-era Mercedes tank. It's almost not portable between the house and the car, so forget taking it anywhere else. When it never came from ebay.de, we ended up having to buy a stopgap, the cheapest Graco we could find. Well, we'd have to do that anyway, because you will not want to move this thing between cars, and even if you have sherpas traveling with you, you will NOT take it on a plane. It is A. Car. Seat.

The other huge drawback is something you see in later-model Mercedes: over-engineering for its own sake. You can argue that safety is most important, period, but I'm sorry, safety is the ante that every carseat maker has to cough up to play in the game. The Priori shows that Maxi-Cosi has some serious blindspots when it comes to user scenarios and user experience.

The one I'm thinking of: puking. The kid had a thing for hurling for a while; not sure why, but it often happened in the car. In the car seat. We'd gotten pretty good about stripping the Cabrio and washing the cover. The Priori is both harder to strip, and harder to clean. Some pieces like the shoulder strap pads can't be removed at all and can only be wiped down. But the real problem was the inability to get at all of the car seat's structure, nooks, and crannies. When the kid hurled a particularly rich mixture on the way to my mother-in-law's recently, puke got deep, deep, into parts of the Priori that, clearly, no Maxi-Cosi engineer ever expected a parent would go.

Turns out there are several completely inaccessible spots in both the seat and the base that function as catchbasins. After an hour with a roll or paper towels, Clorox wipes, and finally, Q-tips, I would still find an unending sloshing supply of goo. I ended up turning the hose on the thing, spraying every which angle I could, and shaking it upside down for another 40 minutes. In December. It felt like I was giving my TV a bath. All the while, I kept thinking that other car seats must be like this, too. But then I started looking around, and no, there are plenty of seats that can be wiped down easily, no hidden spots, and some can be stripped and hosed down without a care in the world. I don't hold out much hope for M-C's head office to be too responsive or to do anything about it, though; the sense I get from them is, actual users in the wild--as opposed to focus group subjects--are a dangerous species best avoided.

Anyway, now that I've written far too much about far too little, I think I'll stop. And I'm going to start taking a closer look at the Recaro car seats, which, in addition to being cool, are also already in the US. As for me, I'm out of the car seat market for good. For the moment.

Previous Maxi-Cosi love, etc. on daddytypes

posted January 24, 2006 1:44 PM | add to del.icio.us | digg this


I realize that the EU standards for car seats is different but perhaps equally or more stringent than the US standards. And yes, they are better looking.

But it seems like there are two other concerns that would keep an American design-o-phile from importing a nice European car seat:

1. If you are in a car accident and the child is injured, is it possible (likely?) the insurance carrier would view this as an illegal carseat and therefore withold paying claims? And might you be fined or arrested for committing a crime?

2. Would it be difficult (impossible?) to fly within the U.S. with a non-FAA approved EU carseat?

I love the Cabrio, but I just can't see ways around these two issues to make importing an EU carseat a good idea. Thoughts?

posted by: HGH at January 24, 2006 3:38 PM

I think issue 2 is a non-issue, since there is no requirement that you have a carseat at all when you fly?

[not if a kid's under 2 and rides on your lap. Over 2, or if a kid has her own seat, you need an FAA-approved childseat. -ed.]

posted by: Kate at January 24, 2006 3:41 PM

The FAA allows foreign car seats to be used if they are labeled as meeting the standards of a foreign government or the United Nations.

posted by: Kate at January 24, 2006 4:01 PM

but what about the rearfacing car seats for the 10-25 kg range? they are supposed to be a, way safer b, way harder to instal and c, you can only really get them in sweden and norway... any thoughts?

[not yet. several folks have emailed me about them generally, but I haven't seen them. Nor can I envision how you would fold up a 25kg kid in a rear-facing car seat. Of course, I can't envision living in 23hr/day darkness, either. -ed.]

posted by: k at January 24, 2006 4:29 PM

This sounds like a total nightmare. I can't help thinking, Greg that sometimes you choose form over function. That you are making purchasing decisions based on the wrong things --like color of fabric which, when covered in vammit, really doesn't matter. (IMHO and from the owner of an in-every-car-Britax Marathon. But hey! At least I got a Quinny!)

[when it's all laid out, in hindsight, it looks a bit different from the moment-by-moment process, obviously. After a great exper. with one product, sticking with M-C seemed natural. Checking it out in person in NL, then deciding that, since it's easy enough to order exactly what we wanted online (like we'd done before, no sweat) was the same. As was deciding not to wait 6 wks for babycare, but to just go ahead and get one right away from ebay. and on and on. Meanwhile, though, I've posted proudly about how we like--or don't mind, anyway--our fugly Graco, so...so I'm not sure whether to say, "no, you're wrong," or "yes, that's exactly my point." Just a cautionary tale, learn from it what you will. -ed]

posted by: Xdm at January 24, 2006 4:45 PM

Thanks for this post. I was considering this seat based on your love of Cabrio. I like to keep hose time to a minimum.

posted by: mark in sf.ca at January 24, 2006 7:13 PM

Hi all,
Not curently living in the states. So getting Maxi-Cosi products is a differnt story here. Yet with Maxi-Cosi's wisdom I still find myself wanting other colours than our local importer provides. So I have done the shipping route for a Quinny Zapp(red) from Babytrader which allways works out better than what Babycare will quote you. As my brother has also now just used them for a Cabrio+ Zapp adapters to go with the Zapp he picked up on a trip to Canada. Point being as far as the shipping their not the quickest yet pay them by cc-or paypal getting them to send you an e-mail with order details so you can correct their spellings of names as their english is quite "EUROPEAN" & you'll do fine...
Oh if anyone cares think I'm going to go with a Maxi-Cosi Prioi XP in Graphite Grey as the sucsessor to our Cabrio Topline in Borduex bet thats one most of you haven't seen!!!

posted by: Sam at January 25, 2006 3:28 AM

Just as we were leaving Europe to come back to the US, we had to upgrade from an infant car seat. We had a Maxi-Cosi cabrio as well (all black) and thought we'd just upgrade to the Priori XP. We went to a couple of baby stores and the staff kept recommending we "upgrade" to the Romer King (www.britax-roemer.de--apparently now owned by Britax). We did the side by side comparison and while the Maxi Cosi was batter looking, the Romer King was easier to install and seemed to have a bit more heft to it.

posted by: DSM at January 25, 2006 9:53 AM

honestly, are there NO nice looking carseats to be purchased in the US??? (loving our cabrio/quinny combo, but soon to outgrow) anyone?

posted by: suzanne at January 25, 2006 3:18 PM

Thank you SO much for this post, Greg! It came at just the right time. I was about to load the Priori XP into my shopping cart after having been so pleased with our Cabrio (and the Quinny Buzz too, thanks to DT!). I think I know the German e-tailer you're talking about. I too had trouble getting our Cabrio from these guys in time for the baby and ended up buying the cheapest Graco we could find while at the hospital! Shipping wasn't cheap either.

Thanks for the tip on the Recaro. Not sure I'm willing to go through the whole EU hassle again if there's a half-decent seat like this on the market in the US -- not as nice looking as the Priori but the safety features look to be at least as good. Also, the price at $250 for the Recaro Young Sport seems reasonable given the free shipping.

Love your blog -- DT's helped us out a ton!

posted by: Melanie (another mom-crasher) at January 26, 2006 12:43 AM

I have had the MCP for 5 years now, when it was sold in the US. Its a great seat but there are better seats sold in the US. Britax seats are much better than the MCP, they have higher weight limits and rear facing tethers. I have flown with the MCP and its no big deal, its actually easier to install on the plane than any other seat because of the recline.

Using a non us seat is illegal but if it wasn't for Britax being sold here I would do it too. US seats are just not as good. When my son turned three he still fit rear facing in a Britax seat, he had plenty of room. Seats that are made for larger kids rear facing actually have room for them. Kids should be rear facing as long as possible, its so much safer.

posted by: Rachel at January 26, 2006 11:57 AM

We just came back from demo-ing the Recaro Young Sport at BBB. My dh was floored when he saw that Recaro made baby car seats. The Recaro seems much sturdier/safer from the side impact perspective and compared to our Britax Marathon, the buckle clicks on both sides, Yay! We found out on the Britax seats it clicks only when the second side goes in, (the first side doesn't click). We hate this feature and thought it was broken at first.
But, the problem with the Recaro buckle is that it sits awefully low and the sides protude (right into the chubby thigh area). A DT review is much anticipated.

posted by: jenny at January 28, 2006 11:01 PM

I'd like to see feedback on the Recaro seats as well. The infant sized ones have just been released in Australia, and I'm yet to see one. On top of that, some of them are ISOFix compatible which appears more elegant from an engineering and asthetic perspective than straps all over the place.

Now I just need Standards Australia to catch up with the ISO. I can't see that my insurance company would be all that friendly with me if I smacked the WRX into something, and damaged the kiddie in a non AU standards approved baby bucket.

They have 3 months to get themselves in order!


posted by: Cam at January 29, 2006 2:19 AM

Maybe I need to revise my decision to go with the Priori XP. With the Feb. release of the Tobi of course also from Maxi-Cosi. Now I could have it all done in "Double Quick" time. Hey Greg can you see them using a promotional campaign similair to the old Spearment gum adverts double please for everyone...

posted by: Sam at February 21, 2006 10:53 PM

can anyone please tell me if i can use britax first class si which is a european car seat in canada as i really love this seat & how do i find out which car seats are aprroved in canada.


posted by: abhinav at April 30, 2006 3:31 AM
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