Graco Nautilus Elite review
In a nutshell
Award-winning Group 1/2/3 car seat that is great value and could last from 9 months to 12 years - but it's not ISOFIX compatible
What we tested
- Ease of installing
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- Safety features
4.5A star rating of 4.5 out of 5.
3.0A star rating of 3.0 out of 5.
4.5A star rating of 4.5 out of 5.
- Worth the money
4.0A star rating of 4.0 out of 5.
- 9 months to 12 years, sturdy, safe, wipe clean, comfortable, quick to install, one handed headrest adjustment and width adjustable headrest
- Bulky and heavy at 9.4kg, not so easy to recline, bland design
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Key features of the Graco Nautilus Elite car seat:
- Age suitability: 9 months to 12 years (9kg-36kg)
- Installation in car: Seatbelt only
- Direction of seat: Forward facing only
- Total cost: £149.99
- Travel system compatible: No
Graco is a US baby products business founded 75 years ago that has a signature American style and reputation for good value.
Pushchairs, nursery goods and car seats are among the brand’s product range, with the Graco Nautilus Elite the highest priced of its Group 1/2/3 car seats at £149.99
The Graco Nautilus Elite has been designed as a forward-facing car seat to take your little one through from 9 months to 12 years (9-36kg).
It improves on the original Nautilus model with, amongst other things, additional padding and an adjustable width headrest.
The Nautilus Elite has a steel frame and features side impact protection system, has a five-position headrest and two-position recline. It also comes with storage pockets and a cupholder.
Its comfort, practicality and value for money were picked up by judges in the MadeForMums Awards 2017, where the seat won the silver gong in the Best Multistage Car Seat category.
The difference between the Elite and the Milestone – Graco’s other flagship carseat – is that the Milestone is designed for use from birth.
The Elite is marketed as the ‘last car seat you will ever need’ while the Milestone is ‘the only car seat you will ever need’. The Elite is slightly heavier at 9.4kg and wider at 50cm than the Milestone, which weighs 8.7kg and is 45cm wide.
Similar Group 1/2/3 car seats include the Joie Transcend (£180), the Kiddy Phoenixfix3 (£224.99), though that only lasts until your child is 4, and the Cosatto Hubbub (£185).
You can buy the Graco Nautilus Elite car seat from Amazon.
The chair is a Group 1/2/3 seat – what age child/ren can it be used for?
Puneet: The Graco Nautilus Elite can be used for children from the age of 9 months to 12 years, or until they are 140cm in height. I tested the seat on my daughters – Tara, 3, and Mili, 6. My son Arjun, 10, refused to get into it! We went on both long journeys and short trips.
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What’s in the box?
- Graco Nautilus Elite car seat
How about installing the car seat?
Liz: The seat slid out of the box almost ready to use - we had to hook the elasticated fastenings on the all-black cover into place and slot the crotch strap of the 5-point harness into one of two positions depending on the occupant’s size.
It was a five-minute job and the instructions were clear with good diagrams. Graco’s manuals cover an extensive 21 languages, and are usefully separated into three manageable booklets.
Also, the Nautilus Elite weighs 9kg, comparable to other Group 1-2-3 car seats from Britax or Cosatto for example, and is lighter than both my children. I found it easy to get into the car, especially with the quick-to-adjust headrest in its lowest position. And it was also simple to secure when we used it for our two children, 15 month-old Hannah, and Catherine, aged three and a quarter.
What do you think of the car seat's safety features?
Liz: Like all other 1/2/3 car seats, the Nautilus Elite is forward-facing and can be used for children from 9 to 18kg. It comes with an inbuilt 5-point harness and older children up to 36kg (around 12 years) can use it as a high-back booster seat with the car’s own 3-point seat belt.
I like the substantial padded armrests, which offers protection each side of Catherine or Hannah’s legs. Graco’s safety surround protection system also incorporates a headrest that adjusts at the sides as well as up and down, meaning a child’s head would be further protected in a side impact collision.
Puneet: The seat definitely feels solid and safe. I was a little concerned that it appeared bulky when lifting it out of the box but because it is sturdy and so padded, you get peace of mind knowing that your little one will be comfortable and secure in it.
For me, the intuitive lock-off mechanism for secure seat belt installation was great. Many parents are unsure whether they have threaded the seatbelt properly and this car seat makes it easy.
Unlike most 1/2/3 car seats the Nautilus Elite does not have an ISOFIX fitting, what do you think of that?
Liz: Because it doesn’t have ISOFIX we have the reassurance it will fit in a wide range of hire cars, which is useful because not all cars have ISOFIX (although the Renault Captur does).
However, ISOFIX does offer a very rigid link between the seat and the car and there is little risk of incorrectly fitting the seat, so parents who own a car with those fittings may prefer to choose something with ISOFIX.
Graco describe the seat as having ‘intuitive seatbelt routing’ - a clever way of saying it’s basically idiot-proof.
There are red plastic buttons and guides on all the important bits like the slots for the seatbelt to secure the seat for younger children, buttons to adjust the headrest and guide points for when older children are using a car’s 3-point seatbelt.
How comfortable is the seat?
Liz: Catherine was the first to test-drive the Nautilus Elite and she found it fairly comfortable. She immediately liked the roomy storage pockets for little toys, crayons and a small colouring book.
When we put Hannah into the Nautilus Elite she was also comfortable. She weighs 10.9kg and is 76cm tall and she was snugly positioned with the extra insert cushion of seat padding.
My six-year-old nephew tried it out for size and was instantly won over. He liked the comfortable padded armrests and loved the storage pockets and cupholder, which made him feel more grown up (although he was drinking juice, not a takeaway cappuccino).
However, the padding around the crotch strap was also poorly designed - the Velcro fastener was not deep enough so it twizzled around with the child and offered little in the way of comfort.
Puneet: I do like that this car seat is so padded. I’ve had car seats in the past that were just too hard that you could almost feel the plastic underneath the covers but this one doesn’t have that issue at all.
Mili told me many times that she felt her little sister Tara should sit in this seat because it is more comfortable that the other seats we have.
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Tell us about the 5-point harness – what age can it be used until?
Puneet: The 5-point safety harness actually grows with your child. This is a welcome relief – you don’t need to take apart the car seat to rethread it as the child grows – I have done that in the past and it is a big job! The 5-point harness can be used until the child is 18kg, after which you need to use the car’s own seatbelt to strap the child in.
Liz: The 5-point harness buckle was a let-down for me, I find it fiddly to couple the two pieces together and slot them in place. I needed two hands each time I fastened it and I think with an uncooperative child, or a tantrum brewing, it might turn into a two-person job to get your little one strapped in.
What’s the headrest like?
Puneet: The adjustable headrest has five different height positions and it is quite easy to manoeuvre with just one hand. It is also a good feature that it is curved – my little one, Tara, who has just turned 3, always falls asleep in the car so it was a relief to see her head rested against it rather than falling forwards into her lap! But even more impressive is that the width is adjustable too – simple squeeze inwards or out.
What do you think of the size of the car seat?
Puneet: The seat is a little too bulky at 50cm wide for a small car, but we manage OK as we have a 7-seater Vauxhall Zafira.
Did it transfer well through the different stages?
Liz: Yes, Catherine weighs 15kg and is 99cm tall so she still uses the 5-point harness, and there is still plenty of room for the harness to go higher as she grows. Adjusting the harness straps is a breeze - when you adjust the headrest for taller children the shoulder straps rise upwards with the headrest.
It means we don’t need to rethread the harness in between children, a massive plus compared to many other seats, such as our previous Kiddicare Shuffle Group 0/1 seat.
Removing the 5-point harness is fairly straight-forward but we did need to consult the instructions carefully before it was taken out and ready for the 3-point car seat belt.
It’s not a job I’d like to tackle on a regular basis, and the instructions for putting the harness back simply state: ‘Reverse instructions to reinstall harness.’ However, whilst my elder daughter is still using the 5-point harness I will easily be able to use the seat for both her and Hannah.
Because we don’t have a car, our child seats live in the house and both Hannah and Catherine insist on keeping the Nautilus Elite downstairs next to the sofa so they can pretend it is their own executive style armchair.
Puneet: My eldest daughter is 12 and I could never imagine her sitting in this seat! She is 5’ 3” already so doesn’t need a car seat but even my 10-year-old son who is 134 cm tall refuses to sit in this as it makes his head touch the roof of the car!
Mili, my 6-year-old, refers to this as the ‘baby car seat’ and also has a bit of an issue using this seat. I do think that it is really most suitable up to age 5 due to its size.
Tell us about the recline positions of the car seat.
Liz: The Nautilus Elite has three recline positions, but I find them all inadequate. They are barely noticeable and the seat remains pretty much upright.
Catherine did manage to fall asleep fairly easily but I noticed her head dropping forwards and nodding up again because she was hardly reclined, which disrupted her rest.
She doesn’t normally nap in the day so it wasn’t the end of the world but younger sister Hannah still needs her daytime sleep. However, I was reluctant to drive with Hannah in the Nautilus Elite when it was nap-time.
She only recently graduated from her rear-facing Maxi Cosi Cabriofix Group 0+ seat and into Catherine’s Kiddicare Shuffle and I think she benefits most from a more scooped, reclined position to lull her to sleep.
But from a safety point of view I feel Hannah is as protected as her big sister and I do not feel Graco’s seat compromises on safety despite its wide-ranging adaptability.
Puneet: Making the seat recline is not that easy. Not sure if it was my car’s headrest getting in the way but I found that I needed to slightly pull the car seat itself forward to make it recline. And when I did this, I felt a little panicky as though it was too far forward so I found myself avoiding the recline feature if I could.
I guess it is good for long journeys but if you want to keep reclining for short journeys, it’s a little awkward.
The recline was noticeable once you actually managed to get it right. It’s just fiddly doing it.
The Nautilus Elite comes with an inbuilt cup holder, is it a useful attachment?
Liz: It certainly is, the cup holder is a winner all-round because it keeps my daughter’s drinks upright and within reach, making everyone’s journey easier.
I would recommend putting the seat behind the driver though, so the cup holder is by the door - because when Hannah is in her seat behind the driver and to the right of the cup holder she can reach her sister’s drink, causing numerous sibling squabbles.
Is it value for money?
Liz: Yes. Halfords sell the Nautilus Elite for £149.99. But parents looking for a better deal could shop around.
Puneet: You don’t need to buy any optional extras – retail price is around £150 which I think is fairly good value for a robust seat that goes from 9 months to age 12.
Graco’s Nautilus Elite car seat offers value for money if you’re going to use it as a group 2/3 seat with the occasional need for a group 1 car seat.
The ability to instantly adjust the 5-point harness between children makes this a good choice as a ‘second seat’, either in a parent’s second car, or a childminder or a grandparent. It’s quick to fit in multiple cars and it will adjust easily as your little one grows older.
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MadeForMums product reviews are independent, honest and provide advice you can have confidence in. Sometimes, we earn revenue through affiliate (click-to-buy) links. However we never allow this to influence our coverage. Our reviews and articles are written by parents who are professional journalists, and we also include feedback from our parent community and industry experts.
|Child age (approx)||9 months to 12 years|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Removeable cover for washing||Yes|
|Height adjustible headrest||Yes|