Key features of the Ickle Bubba Solar 1/2/3 car seat:
Age suitability: 9 months to 12 years (9-36kg)
Installation: Universal ISOFIX with Top Tether
Seat position: Forward-facing only seat
Features: Multi-stage car seat; side impact protection; harness to 18kg;
Since launching in 2013, Ickle Bubba has made a name for itself for producing smart, functional and affordable parenting products.
The British brand started with buggies but is spreading its award-winning wings, with Solar its first Group 1/2/3 car seat, which has a clever recline feature for more comfortable napping on the move.
It comes in three colour options – black, dark grey and light grey – with reversible head and seat cushions and buckle pad, in contrasting fabrics.
As the trend for adaptable, multistage car seats continues to grow, this is a smart offering by Ickle Bubba. Costing between £129 – £169, it isn’t budget but it definitely affordable for the quality and longevity.
It should see your child from around 9 months until they are out of a car seat altogether at 12 years or 135cm tall, whichever comes first.
It can be used in Group 1 mode with a five-point harness from 9kg to 18kg (approx. 9 months to 4 years) and in Group 2/3 mode with the car’s three-point seatbelt from 15kg to 36kg (approx. 3 years to 12 years).
This group of car seats is great, as it allows parents to buy one product to see them through all their child’s car seat needs from around 9 months of age.
The trick is making the seat super adaptable, comfortable and sturdy – no mean feat. At an RRP of £169, the Solar is at the more affordable end in this group.
Other similar multistage, forward-facing car seats include the Britax Evolva (£210), Cozy-n-Safe Excalibur (£149.99), Bebylux Alexa (£249), oie TranscendJ Joie Transcend (£180) and Kiddy Phoenixfix 3 (£224.99).
Ignoring price variations, the seats all seems a little different in key features. For example, the Joie and Kiddy both have special impact shields that go over your child’s lap, while the Cozy-n-Safe can stay in five-point harness mode until 6 years old.
The Solar is forward-facing only, which may put some parents off who want to continue to use a rearward-facing seat for as long as possible for improved safety. Ideally that would be our preference but we have a small two-door car making it completely impractical in terms of space and access once you have a toddler.
Intro to our reviewers:
Alex was testing the Ickle Bubba Solar with her sturdy toddler Ralph in their two-door Seat Ibiza, on local journeys and three long distance trips.
Anna was testing the Ickle Bubba Solar with a two- and a four-year-old in a short trips around town, as well as weekends away and travel abroad.
What’s in the box?
Group 1-2-3 seat with integrated base
Removable head and seat cushions
Two window sunshades
When we took the seat out of the box, we were pleasantly surprised at how roomy and comfortable it looked.
We had previously been using an older Axkid Kidzone which was Group 1/2 and a lot more snug for our 13.5kg toddler who is on the 91st centile. Also, the fabric was very padded and plush to the touch, and it was all ready to be installed.
It came with two sun visors which is a thoughtful added extra, except that they were far too big for our car windows! I also think most people would already have them by the time they are buying this stage of car seat so would most likely end up unused.
How does the seat install in the car?
The Solar is a universal car seat, meaning it is both ISOFIX compatible and suitable for installing with a three-point car seatbelt.
The ISOFIX installation takes moments and is very straightforward. You simply pull the red lever under the front of the seat, push the fixing points into place and they will click when they connect.
There are indicators on either of the fixing points which turn from red to green to indicate correct installation.
Unfortunately, you’re supposed to be able to install the seat with just the seatbelt, even in Group 1 mode with the harness in place, the instruction manual doesn’t provide guidance on this. The brand has a video online, which briefly shows this option.
You have to unhook and tilt the seat forward from its ISOFIX base, and then thread the seatbelt through the guides. However, it doesn’t show exactly how to guide it through, so I wasn’t confident enough to try this option.
Even though the brand was super friendly when I contacted them about this, they haven’t yet sent me fool-proof instructions – although they said they will be revising the manual.
The instructions to install it in group 2/3, so without the harness, are pretty clear, and was very easy.
The red guides on the seat are great at keeping the seat belt in the right position, and the headrest is very easy to adjust to my four-year-old’s height. Removing the harness from the seat is a bit of a mission and a faff – I certainly wouldn’t want to do it repeatedly.
I was a bit worried about the top tether, whether I would find my anchor point and be able to clip it all in properly.
But it was very easy and intuitive, and it felt great to have the added security. The top tether is stored neatly in the back of the seat, and allows you to clip the seat to the integrated harness point on the ceiling, behind the main seat or in the boot, for extra security. It has an indicator that shows green, when the tether is tight enough.
The solar didn’t fit my car seat perfectly, which is a great reminder to always check a seat fits the back seats of your car before buying.
With us, there was a bit of a gap between the back and the car seat, but the manufacturer told me this is acceptable, and the tether works great for added security.
It claims to be lightweight for transferring between cars – what is the weight, and does it feel light?
At 13.3kg, it is a fair bit heavier than many of its competitors. The Kiddy Phoenixfix 3 is a mere 6.6kg and the Joie Transcend is only 7.83kg. But to put it in context, it weighs roughly the same as my toddler and I can happily carry him for a short time.
You wouldn’t want to be move it around often as these multistage seats are generally a bit cumbersome to lift, but it isn’t out of the question and providing you use ISOFIX, installation takes seconds. I certainly wouldn’t spend another £169 buying a second seat for another car to avoid this job.
How does the five-point harness work, will it last, what do you think of it?
It is very straightforward to use. There is one strap on each side for the lap and shoulder, with a two-piece buckle.
The pieces of buckle slot together and clip into the holder on the crotch strap. You can tighten and lengthen the straps by pressing the red button to the front of the seat and pulling them or the excess strap accordingly. It’s very easy to use and conveniently hidden under a seat pad, so little fingers can’t play with it.
You’re allowed to use the 5-point harness up to 18 kg, which my four year old grew out of ages ago. However, it was perfect to strap my two-year-old into place. The shoulder pads were comfortable, and the harness fit smoothly against my little. The clasp is also easy to do up and undo.
There are other seats which use the five-point system for longer (the Cozy-n-Safe Excalibur for example, which goes to 25kg), but I suspect my son would need to move into the Group 2/3 fitting with seatbelt sooner than 18kg anyway, because the headrest would not adjust up enough to fit his height.
How do you find putting kids in the seat?
Very straightforward and easy. The strap adjustment mechanism is smooth, although you do have to push firmly on the red button, and the pieces fit together well.
The shoulder pads on the straps are wide and feel very comfy. They are attached to a second piece of strap which means you don’t have the perennial problem of them slipping out of place.
The seat has also a magnet on both side protection wings, marked by a white dot, to attract the buckle pieces and keep them out of the way so you are not fumbling for them under your child’s bottom, as is often the case.
It’s a nice feature in theory but my experience was that you never remember to place them there after the previous outing, defeating the purpose.
What do you think of the design?
It’s stylish without being too flashy and would look good in any car. It’s also roomy without being bulky.
The fabric is plush and really comfortable. I liked the option of reversing the head and seat cushions to the black side, to give a contrast with the light grey material on the seat, and the other colourways look good too.
Also, on a very hot Sunday, we were pleased to note that when we returned to the car after a couple of hours and I’d forgotten to throw a muslin over the car seat, it did not feel remotely hot to touch.
Does it feel sturdy?
Very much so. It feels like a solid, well-made seat.
What’s the headrest like?
The headrest is a good size and covered with the same fabric as the seat. There is an insert cushion for Group 1 mode which the straps fit through to keep it in place.
Ralph seemed to find it very comfortable when snoozing on long journeys.
How many positions does the headrest have?
There are two when it is in Group 1 mode and this increases to six once you move into Group 2/3. There is a lever you squeeze behind the headrest to adjust it up and down, although I found it a little stiff to operate.
I don’t think this is much of a problem unless you are using the seat for two different children on a regular basis, but it would probably loosen with regular use anyway.
How many seat positions are there and how easy is it to recline the seat?
This was my favourite feature of the Solar. There is a red handle under the front seat which you pull towards you to slide the seat base out and recline your child.
It is very smooth, fine to operate with one hand and there are two recline options on top of sitting upright. I could do it when Ralph was asleep without disturbing him.
The recline really came into its own when we made two long evening journeys between York and Wales, setting off at Ralph’s bedtime. I was travelling alone with him and normally struggle to deal with the inevitable lolling head, but this solved the problem. It looked a lot more comfy for him too.
Other competitors also offer a recline function but the Britax Evolva needs to be removed from the car to adjust into this mode, which seems to defeat the purpose, while the Bebylux Alexa and Kiddy Phoenixfix 3 reclines were judged as limited by their MFM reviewers.
Do you think the side wings provide good protection?
The Icklebubba Solar comes with some additional side impact protection cushions, which give added protection in a side-on collision.
This provides an extra sense of safety. If you’re tight for space in your car, you can use only the cushion closest to the door, which is handy. However, despite watching and reading instructions, I found the cushions a bit of a struggle to ‘slide and click’ into position.
I had to have numerous gos at it, and found it very frustrating. So I started to wonder why they weren’t just installed permanently as part of the design in the first place – it’s a bit silly to leave it to the user to install extra side impact protection in my view.
Tell us about the side impact cushion technology
The car seat comes with two extra side impact cushions, one for each side, which slot into the seat quite easily. The idea is that you put it onto the side exposed to the outside of the car for added protection.
It’s a nice idea and will no doubt be a selling point for some, but I was confused as to why they weren’t just an integral part of the design, either fixed or with parents strongly advised to use them. Surely no one thinks extra safety is a bad thing – so why are they optional?
I also think you’d be bound to lose one if you’d didn’t just have them permanently attached to the seat.
What do you think of the size of the car seat?
The Solar measures 47cm from front to back by 53cm wide and 67-71cm high. It’s roomy for my son without dominating the back of the car, especially pleasing when we have a smallish two-door car.
I particularly like how wide it is around his legs as he seemed a bit squashed in our previous seat. When the car seat is reclined, the front passenger seat can’t be pushed fully back, which is fine if I’m in it but not for my husband.
However, I think most car-owning families have a bigger car than us so this would be less of an issue!
This is a Group 1/2/3 chair – what’s the best age child for this car seat and why?
The Solar reportedly lasts from 9kg to 36kg, which is roughly nine months to 12 years old, depending on your child’s size. We started using it when Ralph was 19 months and feel that there is definitely plenty of room to grow.
I adapted the seat to the Group 2/3 mode and asked a friend if her almost 8-year-old son would try it for size. He weighed 30kg and was 125cm tall, which is 10cm off the height where a child is no longer required to use a car seat.
It was a cosy fit but his dad said no different to their (more expensive) car seat and he said he felt comfortable. The area that seemed a little restricted was actually around the shoulders rather than the legs or head.
How easy it is to change to Group 2/3 mode?
This was quite a headache! The instructions were not very comprehensive and it took a lot of fiddling about – and help from a friend with older children and much car seat experience – to work it out how to remove the five-point harness straps.
What wasn’t clear initially is that while you have to remove the shaft stick from behind the headrest area and push the seat away from the base, you also need to move it to full recline setting in order to access all the different holes for pulling the strap pieces out.
It took a good half an hour in the end. Putting it back together was still fiddly but easier once I knew what to do. The only consolation is that you would only need to do this once or maybe twice ever.
You need to remove the seat from the car to do this but it is easy to refit afterwards, either using the ISOFIX or strapping in using the three-point seatbelt.
How comfortable is the seat for your child?
Extremely! Our first proper journey was actually the day we moved from London to York, 200 miles away, in the midst of horrendous snow.
It made our four-hour drive more like six but Ralph was incredibly happy for the whole trip, napping and looking out of the window. I also did two additional 250-mile drives to and from Wales and the recline mode meant he slept well on those long journeys.
The fabrics used also keep him warm in winter and cool in summer, and do not pose a burn risk on sunny days.
Is it easy to clean?
Removing car seat covers is never a speedy job, as any parent who has had a poonami to clean up will know. These aren’t the hardest I’ve encountered although it is a bit annoying when you have to flip forward the seat and unhook the straps to get the head cushion off.
I was disappointed that the instruction booklet doesn’t give any cleaning instructions, other than not washing the harness clips, so it wasn’t obvious whether I could machine wash the covers or cushions.
I braved the seat cushion on a 40C synthetic wash – it came out fine and dried very quickly too.
The brushed texture of our light grey seat was also quite resistant to staining and easy to wipe or brush down.
I think so. The seat has longevity and is for the most part well-designed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Ickle Bubba Solar. It has lots of thoughtful design features, it easy to use on the whole and feel very safe. Most importantly, my son seems extremely happy travelling in it, which is half the battle. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a multistage seat at a good price who doesn’t require a rearward facing option.
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