The thought of spending more than a couple hundred dollars on a stroller once seemed absurd to me. When my son was born nine months ago, my wife and I settled on something cheap—the Graco SnugRider stroller frame, which isn't even a stroller but a set of add-on wheels for a car seat. It was $60, and we loved it.
But everywhere we looked, people seemed to have better strollers than we did. Theirs had big, beefy wheels that didn't jostle the little one when they rumbled over bumps and curbs; ours sometimes got stuck in the cracks on the sidewalk. Their strollers had lots of padding to keep the kid comfortable and big overhead shades to keep the sun out of their eyes. Most of all, other people's strollers just looked better. Ours looked like it cost $60.
Look, I admit this is shallow, but I let my envy get the better of me, and decided to try out five top-of-the-line baby movers. You certainly can't justify their cost based on function alone—a $600 stroller doesn't do three times as much as a $200 stroller. But you can say that about a lot of things in life. A BMW doesn't do three times as much as a Honda Civic, either. The luxury comes in the small things—the smoothness of the ride, the way the doors sound when they close, the softness of the seats. That's true of strollers, too.
I rated the strollers based on these criteria:
Ride (10 points): How easy is it to push, and how impervious is it to bumps in the road?
Flexibility (10 points): Is it a hassle to fold up? Can you recline the baby easily, or position him so that he's facing toward you or away from you?
Storage space (5 points): Babies need lots of stuff. Can your stroller handle it?
Amenities (5 points): Does it have helpful extras such as a cupholder or snack tray? How much protection from the sun does it offer?
Lifespan (5 points): Does it have an add-on for a second child? Can it fit a car seat or bassinet?
Style (5 points): Does it look expensive?
Stokke Xplory, $1,014.99 on Amazon.com Remember what strollers used to look like—four wheels, a seat, not a lot of extra fuss? That's what Stokke seems to be going for with the Xplory, a modern, minimalist take on the baby mover. The Xplory is just a frame and a seat. The seat can be adjusted in numerous ways—like most of the strollers I reviewed, you can have the baby face toward you or away from you, and you can also raise, lower, and tilt him at different angles, a bevy of options that certainly won't prepare him for a lifetime flying coach. The whole thing is quite handsome, too. If all you cared about were looks, this would be your pram.
But looks aren't all you care about. Sometimes you'd like to take your stroller out on errands, and leaving the house with a baby requires more matériel than Eisenhower called up at D-Day—you've got diapers, clothes, food, toys, earplugs, etc. Where to put all that stuff? The Xplory offers only a tiny knapsack that's too small to pack most of the baby's things, and if you plan on getting more stuff while you're out—groceries, say—forget about it.
Also, unlike the other models I tried, the Xplory offers no expansion seat for a second child. With all the stuff you're going to have to carry while you're out with this thing, though, there's a good chance you'll swear off any more children.
Storage space: 0
Phil & Ted's Verve, $699.99 on Amazon.com for the single-seat model, $819.98 with the double-seat option
There's a lot to like about the Verve. It's got a buttery smooth ride, it folds up small, and it offers ample space for the baby's belongings. But it's hampered by one major shortcoming: It lacks a detachable seat; the baby sits in a cut of fabric that hangs from the frame. This makes it convenient to carry around—all the other strollers folded up into at least two pieces, while the Verve is just one—but means that you can only face the baby forward, not towards you. I also docked points for its fixed-height handlebar, and the persnickety straps and levers involved in folding and reclining it.
On the plus side, the Verve offers a large second-child add-on seat, and I liked its emergency brake—a red button on the handle that instantly halts the wheels.
Storage space: 4
Bugaboo Donkey, $1,199 for the single-child configuration, $1,499 for the two-child package
As Helaine Olen pointed out in Slate recently, Bugaboo, once the Goldman Sachs of the high-end stroller industry, was hit hard by the recession. The Donkey is its next great hope. For the most part, I liked it, and I can see it being ideal for a very specific sort of customer—people with two kids, a huge minivan, and a lot of upper-body strength.
The good: The Donkey offers the smoothest ride of any stroller I tried. It is also almost comically reconfigurable—it morphs from a single stroller into a double with just a few snaps, and either seat can be positioned forward or backward, or switched out for a car seat or bassinet. There's also a good amount of storage space, a comfortable and highly adjustable handlebar, and lots of overhead shade for the baby.
But man is this thing a pain to fold up and put away. It's heavy and unwieldy—more than once I injured my shins while folding it—and even at its most compact, it just barely fit into the trunk of my wife's VW Golf. It's also quite wide in two-seat mode—you won't be able to zip in and out of the aisles with it. In its weight and girth, the Donkey feels like a capitulation to all of the baggage of parenting—hey, now that you've got kids, why bother pretending anything can be convenient anymore?
Storage space: 5
Uppababy Vista, $679.99 on Amazon.com for the stroller and bassinet There's not much to say about the Vista other than that it just works. Think of it as the Toyota Camry of the market—the Vista is solid and reliable, and does pretty much everything you'd like it to do without much flourish. It delivers a smooth ride, it's easy to fold up, it offers quite a bit of storage space, and the baby appeared quite comfortable in it.
The only knock on it is style. If you spend a boatload on a stroller, you kind of want it to look like you've spent a boatload on a stroller. The Vista won't turn any heads. You'd better hope your baby's a looker.
Storage space: 4
Total: 29 (Technically this is tied with the Bugaboo, but the Vista's price wins the tiebreaker.)
Orbit G2, $900 for the starter set, hundreds more for add-ons as your kid grows When Joseph Hei, the CEO and co-founder of Orbit Baby, stopped by my house a few months ago to deliver my demo model, I told him that I was interested in the G2 because it looked like a stroller as Apple would have designed it. Hei had heard that before—comparisons to Apple are de rigueur for Orbit, which grew out of Hei's work at Ideo, one of Silicon Valley's pioneering industrial design firms. Everything about the G2 is elegantly designed, and there are many small, thoughtful features that I found myself relying on every time I went out. If I had a fortune to spend on a stroller, this is the one I'd choose.
The system's many interchangeable parts—the starter set comes with the stroller frame, a car seat, and a car seat base; there's also a bassinet, and as your kid gets older you can get the toddler seat and the toddler car seat—all snap onto a circular docking base. It rotates, which means you can turn the kid to face backward, forward, or sideways without lifting. You can also use many of the Orbit's features single-handedly—you can fold it in a swift one-handed movement, and you can pivot the seat without ever taking your fingers off your phone. I found this especially helpful since, when I'm out with the baby, I often only have one hand free (the other is busy carrying a grocery basket, diaper bag, or texting).
A drawback is that the Orbit doesn't have much storage space. The under-seat carrying case is tiny; I almost always went out with the optional side-mounted baskets, which were useful but did make the stroller quite wide. Perhaps as a way to compensate for this defect, the Orbit's handlebars are split, allowing you to hang your grocery bag or man purse from the handles. (Every other stroller had a full bar for a handle, so I couldn't hang anything.) Another drawback: The G2's second-child add-on will only be released later this year, Hei told me.
None of that bothered me too much, though, because the G2 was the most comfortable stroller I tried—both for me and the baby. The G2's seat felt softer and sturdier than any of the others, and its safety harnesses were less of a hassle to adjust. Plus, the G2 is the only stroller I tested with a built-in cup-holder and a place for your keys and wallet. Although after you purchase the G2, you probably won't have much use for that.
Storage space: 2