Review of the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite 3 in 1 car seat

Graco Nautilus 80 Elite Review – The Best 3-in-1 Seat?

by Pamela Halstead |

Highly Recommended: Graco Nautilus 80 Elite

We have reviewed a lot of car seats on Experienced Mommy and this one gets some of our highest marks.

When your child approaches the maximum weight limit of their convertible seat, you will find yourself looking for the next car seat stage: the harness-to-booster seat. There are many options out there – some are just harness seats, some go to a backless booster. The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite is a 3-in-1 seat that should be the last car seat you need after a convertible car seat. The maximum weight limit for the Nautilus is 120 pounds, and with a maximum weight limit of 80 pounds for the harness stage, it is a great car seat at an affordable price.

What are the weight limits?

The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite can be used three different ways: as a harness seat, a highback booster seat, and a backless booster seat. Graco refers to the Nautilus as a 3-in-1, which can be a little misleading, as many people think of 3-in-1’s as a seat that an infant can use (rear-facing) too. The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite is forward-facing only. Below are the weight and height ranges for each stage of the Graco Nautilus 80 seat:

  • Harness booster: 22-80 lb, 27-52 inches
  • Highback booster: 30-100 lb, 38-57 inches
  • Backless booster: 40 – 120 lb, 40-57 inches

As you can see, the Nautilus allows you to keep child harnessed until they are 80 pounds. Keep in mind that it is best to stay in each stage for as long as possible, since safety drops significantly with each progressive stage.

When do you switch to a harness booster seat?

The minimum weight requirement for the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite is 22 pounds, but you really should wait until your child outgrows their rear-facing/forward-facing convertible seat before making the switch to a harness seat.

Graco recommends a minimum age of 1 to use this seat. I find that a little misleading because it is recommended to keep children rear-facing until at least two years old. This car seat is NOT rear-facing. It is forward-facing ONLY. Newer recommendations actually state you should keep your child rear-facing until they reach the upper weight or height limit of their rear-facing convertible seat. Just keep these recommendations in mind when deciding when to graduate your child to the next car seat stage.

Key Features

Graco Nautilus 80 Elite dimensions:

  • Product weight: 20.5 lbs
  • Product width: 20 inches

This seat is a little bulky, but it does give your child that much more room to grow and still be able to use it.

Body support

The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite features full body support, which can be removed as your child grows and no longer needs it. The body support is padded and soft, for maximum comfort.

Steel-reinforced frame

A steel reinforced frame provides not only structural reliability, it also will help to absorb accident forces in the event of a car crash.

5 position headrest, easy to adjust

With a simple squeeze of a button, you can adjust the back and headrest on the Graco Nautilus 80. This makes it easy to ensure your little one will always be comfortable. You won’t need to uninstall the seat or anything to quickly readjust the height of the headrest.

Machine washable cover

I absolutely love when car seats have a machine washable cover. Who wants to hand wash a car seat cover (or anything, for that matter)?

Great for bigger kids

If your child is on the higher end of growth charts, you may find this seat to be even more helpful than most. Some parents are forced to limit their child’s time in a car seat because they outgrow it earlier than most kids. With the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite, you will not only be able to use it until a maximum weight of 120 lbs, but you will be able to use each stage for longer as well. The seat can be used as a harness booster until your child reaches 80 lbs or 52 inches, whichever comes first. Many harness seats on the market only go up to 65 lbs. Again, it is best to keep your child in each stage for as long as possible, because safety drops significantly with each stage.

No rethread harness

This is a big plus in my book. A no rethread harness means that you can adjust where the harness straps come out of the back of the seat. They are supposed to be right at or slightly below your child’s shoulders. On many car seats, you must remove the straps, and rethread them. This can be time consuming and overall just an annoying task. With the Graco Nautilus, you simply adjust the height of the harness straps with the press and lift of the adjustment button.

3 Recline positions

The Nautilus can be reclined at one of three positions, to help make the seat comfortable for your child. Just make sure to read the manual to see restrictions on these positions – Graco states that once your child reaches either 65 pounds or 49 inches, they should only use the seat in the most upright position.

10 year life

The Graco Nautilus 80 Elite has a 10 year lifespan. This assures you that it can and will last until your child no longer needs a booster seat. Like most car seat manufacturers, Graco does recommend replacing the Nautilus after any car accident, just to be safe.

FAA approved

This car seat is approved by the FAA for air travel. It is pretty heavy in the realm of car seats though, so make sure you keep that in mind if you plan on traveling with the Graco Nautilus.

Watch It

Installation

Concerns

Hard to install

Like a lot of car seats, hard-to-tighten straps make the Graco Nautilus somewhat hard to install. Unlike Britax car seats, which feature easy install technology, the Nautilus may have you straining to get the seat straps tight enough in your car. There are tips and tricks out there to help get the job done right, but I highly recommend checking out a car seat inspection location to make sure you have your seat installed correctly. They are amazing at getting the straps tightened to where they need to be!

Cover is hard to remove and put back on

Although the cover is machine washable, it is tedious to take off and put back on. When you think about how long you will be using this car seat, you are bound to have to remove the cover any number of times. Rest assured that it is doable, however, it is a nuisance.

Doesn’t come assembled

Unfortunately, the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite does not come fully assembled. There are only 5 steps you need to take to get it fully assembled, so it’s not like you will be putting every single part together. It is annoying, though, and in my opinion adds some risk letting customers do the last final steps. Similar seats, such as the Britax Frontier, come fully assembled and ready to go.

Similar seats

Still not sure about the Graco Nautilus? There are similar car seats on the market that may be better for you depending on what you are looking for.

  • The Britax Frontier is a bit more roomy, is easier to install, and comes fully assembled. However, it is more expensive, and is even heavier of a seat than the Nautilus.
  • The Evenflo Maestro seat is a less expensive option than the Frontier or Nautilus, but only accommodates children up to 110 pounds – so you may find yourself needing another booster down the road.

Pros

  • Wide range of weights and heights for each stage of the car seat – great for kids who are big for their age, to keep them in a harness seat for longer
  • Sufficient body support which is also removable
  • Steel frame
  • Easy to adjust harness/headrest
  • Machine washable cover
  • No rethread harness
  • 10 year life span

Cons

  • Heavy/bulky
  • Hard to install
  • Cover is hard to remove/put on
  • Doesn’t come assembled

Reviews

  • 4.7 out of 5 stars, 1331 reviews – Babies “R” Us
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars, 72 reviews – Target
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars, 67 reviews – Buy Buy Baby

 

My Recommendation

I would highly recommend the Graco Nautilus 80 Elite for any parent. I love that it can be used for such a long period of time, and also allows you to keep your child in the harness stage for as long as possible.  It can be tricky to install, and it is a heavy seat, so it may not be the best if you plan on switching it between cars or traveling by air (although it is FAA approved). Overall, this car seat is a great product and because you will be getting so many years of use out of it, I find its price very affordable.

If you want to see all the Graco Nautilus review info, and also find out why the 80 made our list of bests, head over to our Best Booster Seat article.

 

Pamela Halstead
I am a stay at home mother to one son. With a background in safety and health, I am very safety-conscious, especially when it comes to products for my child!

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