Nothing demands more trust from a parent as a car seat. Driving is perhaps the most objectively dangerous commonplace activity mums undertake.
By strapping your little one into a car seat you are trusting the most precious thing in your life to a product, its safety features and its correct installation. Get it wrong – on either side of the consumer fence – quite simply the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Spanish manufacturer CasualPlay, which started as Play in 1966, has plenty of experience with safety and functional design, and has received awards for its products.
Its key design principles are movement, and excitement. CasualPlay wants to make it easy for parents to get out and about with babies and toddlers, and focus on making outings easier so parent and little one can enjoy the experience.
The seat comes togged up with ISOFIX fittings and base. It promises comfort and safety with rear-facing options to an impressive age in one complete, well-priced package. So on paper, things look good. But how did the CasualPlay BiCare Fix fare in use?
Out of the box
I’ll admit my initial thoughts weren’t resoundingly positive. It feels like a premium product and looks the business. The black fabric with red stitching is classy, and what initially felt like clumpy bulkiness I quickly came to realise was robust, functional quality.
How was it to fit?
As mentioned earlier, the amount of trust parents are asked to place in car seats is as total as you can get.
It’s high stakes, and fitting these seats correctly is critical – so why, oh why are the manuals supplied with them so bewildering or lacklustre?
The manual for the CasualPlay came with seemingly straightforward diagrams which were at best clear, but at worst felt almost like spot-the-difference sketches, with ticks and crosses aligned against happy faces and sad faces and very little to tell between them.
I found myself getting frustrated at not understanding what was being shown then worrying I was missing some important statement of safety. There were so many languages involved and so few well-written explanations I ended up trying to figure it out myself, which shouldn’t be the case on such an important safety product.
So please – and this is by no means directed purely at CasualPlay – some investment and thought into really clear, detailed, hand-holding instructions please. A recent survey found 70% of car seats within a sample group were fitted incorrectly, so clarity is clearly needed.
How is it to use in the car?
The ISOFIX base is a fairly standard affair, and while it doesn’t feature the electric gadgetry of other seats, it does have click-activated colour indicators which reassure you that you’ve fitted it correctly.
The ISOFIX system is a doddle to connect once you’ve figured it out, and is fairly intuitive. However, the base is extremely heavy (the whole system comes in at a back-breaking 15kg) though this does have the unlikely advantage of stopping the seat and base from rattling when empty.
It’s a big seat, there’s no getting away from that: my husband’s car is a three-door, and while it fit okay, it was tricky getting it in and out and there was little room to manoeuvre. This is something that is important on this seat in particular, as we’ll come to.
How comfortable was it?
It definitely scores well on comfort. It almost looks like a small seat within a big seat, which with the infant liner I suppose in effect it is. Our petite little girl looked a little lost in there, but she also looked very comfy and well-cushioned.
The straps were nicely padded and didn’t dig in, and the whole thing certainly made the MaxiCosi look almost lacklustre in the comfort stakes. There are three positions of recline and a feature CasualPlay call AFS (Air Flow System) which is basically a mesh-vented air channel built into the side of the seat.
Evelyn certainly didn’t seem uncomfortable or overly hot, which I suppose is the best compliment we can give. The three position recline was also ergonomic and practical for use with a newborn. It’s as if CasualPlay really have thought of almost everything with this seat. Almost.
How was it to adjust?
The seat also comes in with a very clever moveable headrest operated by a handle hidden behind it, and automatically adjusts the height of the shoulder straps accordingly.
Tweaking the tension of car seat straps can be incredibly stressful and confusing when your little one is upset, and I can report that the CasualPlay’s means of adjustment is as simple as it gets: a lever-release and a single pull-cord.
Is it washable?
Yes, the cover is and I loved that the seat fabric is removable without the faff of removing the harness and is machine washable.
My niece gets car sick, and it’s often mission impossible cleaning the car seat after an ‘incident.’ So if Evelyn is anything like her cousin this will prove an asset to us.
What to watch out for
This seat is great for older children. But while CasualPlay has considered newborns in its impressively featured design, I feel this is not the most practical seat on the market for a very small baby.
Critically for me, there is no carry handle. You wouldn’t expect one on a larger car seat, but for a small baby I’ve found them to be indispensible. In those first few months which are invariably hectic with doctor’s appointments and shopping trips, it was important for me to limit the amount of times I was disturbing Evelyn by lifting her in and out of the seat.
My preference is being able to pop Evelyn into the seat in the house then carry her out, or more importantly carry her into the house before unclipping her from the seat. If you park in the street – which I sometimes have to – then manoeuvring your child out of a car seat with a door hanging open isn’t the most practical or safest way of transporting them to and from the car.
Also new mums might like a car seat they can clip straight into the pram, something I enjoy about the MaxiCosi but is sadly not an option with the CasualPlay.
It’s worth noting though that CasualPlay do make a Baby 0+ Carrier, which clips into their range of pushchairs and with a 13kg rating is more geared for smaller cars. Needless to say, this shouldn’t put you off purchasing as the range of features, quality, robustness and reasonable price make it a good buy for many reasons.
Is it value for money?
The seat is a beast – especially compared to the relatively tiny seat (MaxiCosi CabrioFix) my three-month-old daughter, Evelyn, currently uses.
But there’s a reason for this difference: while the MaxiCosi is rated for groups 0+ up to 13kg, the CasualPlay is rearward-facing safe for infants from birth up to 18kg, or group 0+/1, which could keep Evelyn safely seated for three or even four years.
I was resigned to upgrading the MaxiCosi within a year or so when Evelyn got too big for it – something we had considered a slightly irritating but an unavoidable cost.
I’ve always looked at car seats that claim to be suitable over a relatively large age range with suspicion, but had no such reservations with this. I only felt sorry I hadn’t come across this car seat when I made the decision to buy the MaxiCosi.
I would have happily traded the funky look and wide choice of colours if it meant saving a substantial amount of money from the outset: so the CasualPlay scores brownie points straightaway for the cash savvy mum who doesn’t want to compromise on safety.
This is for you if you are after a good-quality product with the option of rear facing up to 18kg, offers great safety and is cost effective.
If you’re looking for a dedicated newborn-specific system that is easy to manoeuvre, and don’t mind paying for a new seat when the baby gets too big, consider the Baby 0+ system or something similar instead.