By on May 11, 2011

Carlton writes:

It sure would be nice if TTAC would do a piece about seat comfort. My wife has back problems and is not comfortable on long drives in our Mazda 6. I know comfort is largely subjective but are there any objective metrics available? Upright seating position seems to be better for both of us and a firm cushion is much preferred over soft.

I’ll bet many other readers are interested in this subject too.

Sajeev answers:

With enough research, I could write a book on this matter. In my (5) years of TTAC reviewing, seating comfort is far less important than what we experienced 20+ years ago from the same brands. Case in point: the W124 Benz might be a high watermark for automotive seat comfort for any human posterior, and the cushions on a non-AMG W211 are truly tiring after a few hours on the interstate.

My personal favorite was when I sat almost “back to back” (sorry) in a 2005 Ford Five Hundred in the showroom, and a 1986 Fox Body Ford LTD in the junkyard. Validation of my seating “impressions” (sorry) came from a vintage Car and Driver review of said Ford, where they likened the LTD’s thrones to Audis of the day. They were right and even in the junkyard, they still are.

There are seating engineers who dedicate their life to this problem, only to find other people within the Automotive supply chain (chassis designers, bean counters, etc) modify their work to the point of disrespect. I suspect the science of how seats put pressure on nerves/tissue/anatomical components changes almost as rapidly as medical treatments used to diagnose and treat problems in these areas.  You can expect the finest 3-D modeling used to measure chassis behavior in crash testing is also implemented for this science.

Before I leave this query to you, Best and Brightest, can anyone attend this Innovative Seating Conference on our behalf?

Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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102 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Science of Seating Comfort...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    An interesting and timely subject (at least for me), but I’m just about ‘conferenced out’ right now, and need a break.

    • 0 avatar
      miles solo

      Best seats I’ve ever been in/on, including luxury hotels, homes, theaters, etc. etc. were the seats in my ’67 Citroen DS. Close tie for second: Renault R-10 and Peugeot 404. The French do know their seating.

      • 0 avatar
        pacific_waters

        How I miss my Citroen DS19. I need a 3 sided coin. The DS, the Saab 9000 and the Peugot 504 with the Citroen 2CV a distant 3d. Come to think of it, the Fiat 1500 wasn’t bad either, no disrespect to the Maserati bi-turbo. The Accord sucked as does the Sienna. Yeah, I know what do I expect but I’ve sat on more comfortable stadium seats than the Accord and Sienna.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Many vehicles are designed to be “rolling livingrooms,” and as such, they offer poor driving ergonomics. Listening to music, talking on the phone, and watching movies are physically passive activities, so optimizing for that compromises the active activity of driving.

  • avatar
    jaron

    I bought a 2002 A8L several years ago, mainly for road trips. After a couple of hours, the firm but not well-designed seats are uncomfortable for me (6’0″ 170lbs) and my wife (5’0″ 110 lbs). One size fits none.

    We also have a W124, which is worlds better, but not as good as the 1985 300D, which is perfect. Too bad the 300D has had an undiagnosable burnt oil smell for the past few years.

    I did my extensive A8 research on the pre-facelift version, which had much better seats, and I never suspected I needed to make sure the newer ones weren’t worse.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Isn’t the answer to this question usually to just buy a Volvo?

    • 0 avatar
      musicalmcs8706

      Generally yes. Their seats are some of the best out there.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        +1 Having grown up either being driven in or driving my fathers long line of bricks (240, 740, 940), I can honestly say they have the most comfortable seats for long distance hauls.

    • 0 avatar
      patman

      One of the better things Ford took away from their involvement with Volvo was seat design. They’re not quite as good as the seats in my sister’s old 850 but the 2007 Mustang seats I just put in my ’96 GT are leaps and bounds better than the, uh, “Sport” buckets that came out and it sure looks to me that there is some Volvo heritage in them in the shape and form.

      I thought about holding out for Volvo buckets but I need folding coupe seats for the ‘Stang and there’s not enough of them in the junkyards and nobody’s replacing theirs with racing seats so there’s none to go around.

      • 0 avatar
        vbofw

        …”One of the better things Ford took away from their involvement with Volvo was seat design. “…

        Karesh seemed to like the seats in the Focus, and the interior profile shots sure do make them look nice. It seems to come at the expense of the back seat, which to me is the perfect mix for a daily commuter.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife drives a 2002 Opel/Chevrolet Zafira. Two hours driving it and I want to kill myself. I drive a 94 Volvo 850 and can go 4 hours straight on the highway without any pain at all.

      Yes. Buy a Volvo :)

  • avatar
    anchke

    . . . or just buy a Saab.

    But here’s the thing — when in any car review you’ve read anywhere are the seats mentioned? The subject is just ignored, even though there are few things more annoying on a long trip and being, say, 100 miles out, and your tail bone gets that familiar ache and your can’t seem to find a comfortable position.

    Next to the Saabs in my family fleet, the comfiest seats I’ve been in are those in my ’05 CR-V EX. They’re just well designed and don’t try to make you believe that the most important thing about the driver’s perch are the aggressive bolsters that keep you planted whilst canyon carving, like that’s something I do most of the time.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting that you like the seats in the CR-V. I seem to receive more complaints about the seats in Hondas than any others, and especially about those in the CR-V. Different model year, possibly.

      • 0 avatar
        Selektaa

        I just did a 4 hour drive in a 2005 CR-V, and I’m not a fan of the seats. A short seat bottom and no bolstering means no thigh support, and that got tiring after a while. The seats in my 06 Civic Si, though, are great. The bottom is very cushiony, and long enough for thigh support, and the back is nicely contoured with firm bolsters holding you in place.

      • 0 avatar

        I drove a Honda Fit for 18 months. Neat, spunky little car, lots of personality.

        But the seats. AWFUL!

        – Not adjustable for height
        – No tadjustable for seat-bottom angle (I’d resorted to shims under the mounting bolts to tilt the bottom back a bit.
        – Narrow bottoms, with unsupportive bolsters – I could actually feel the seat frame through the…
        – Too soft cushions. not adequate support.
        – Seat frame put undue pressure on my sciatic nerve
        – Seatback has a pressure panel mid-back to activate the active headrests, meaning you have a constant source of pressure mid-back, above the lumbar region.

        It was my 4th Honda (out of 7 cars, the others being a Jeep, a GMC, and my current tC) It was the worst for seat comfort, hands down, of any of them, or any of my exwife’s cars (Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Nissan). After that experience, seat comfort was put much higher on my prospective vehicle criteria, and the ’11 Scion tC surprised me with its well designed seat. I can forgive hard plastics… I can’t forgive numbness and tingling because the seat is jabbing the side of my leg.

        A real shame, because otherwise, the Fit was a very fun little car, and there aren’t many other cars under $20k (a major psychological limit for me as a divorced guy making about $65K/year)

      • 0 avatar
        anchke

        That’s possible. I think Acord seats are knocked by long-torsoed drivers who have to sit hunched over to get along with the headrest. They complain about neck and shoulder pain. What I like about my CR-V seat is that it’s very easy to adjust the seat to fit my frame, which in clothing is right between M and L, long-waisted and somewhat short-legged.

        I think the common flaw in seats — other than proportions — is the crease between the seat and the seat back. If there’s a dead spot there, my tail bone finds it pretty darn quick and the ache is persistent and hard to ignore.

        My missus’ No. 1 complaint is high bolsters. Getting out of the car, her feet don’t touch the ground until she scootches over the bolster. It’s kind of cute, but she hates it.

        If Saab and and Volvo can make comfy one-size fits all seats, I guess it’s not impossible. Problem, I suspect, is that interiors have become more of a design element with some models.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        The seats in the 2007+ CR-V are unbearably firm. There’s simply no give in the seat cushion – it’s really jarring and uncomfortable at first, but it’s the sort of thing I get accustomed to after a few hours at the wheel. I tend to prefer too firm over too soft. But the driver’s seat only has up/down height adjustment, not 4-way, and that’s a major deal-breaker for me. My folks have an ’11 – Mom doesn’t mind them at all and Dad can’t stop complaining.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      Most Kia Optima reviews I’ve seen include some whining about the seats but you are correct that most reviews just mention side bolstering at most. I’m sure part of this is that a proper seat review takes a long time since you have to drive for hours to really know.

      The Camry has really great long distance seating though, at least the power seat for the driver with height, angle and lumbar adjustments. You can drive 10 yours straight without much issue whereas trying to do the same in say an Impala is asking for back pain even though it theoretically has lumbar support the support is the equivalent of putting a rock in your back.

      Truly ergonomic aftermarket seats aren’t cheap either (i.e. Recaro ergomeds) so I do think seat comfort is actually very important for actually living with a car. Lousy seats will make even the nicest car a literal pain in the ass.

      • 0 avatar
        FromaBuick6

        I dunno about the Camry. I’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of an ’05, and I owned a 4Runner with identical seats for awhile. I’m 5’11″/160, so the lack of bolstering really got on my nerves, especially with the slippery leather upholstery in the 4Runner. But they were good for all day drives once you got the angle and lumbar right, although as with almost every car I’ve owned I’d like more thigh support.

  • avatar

    It’s very difficult to design a seat that suits the full range of human shapes and sizes. At the same time, you’d think that manufacturers would have developed a viable solution by now, and would then stick with it. Instead, seats vary a lot. Why?

    Because there’s so much variation, and because problems sometimes only become apparent after a few hours, nothing is harder to evaluate during a test drive. My advice: before buying a car get as much time in the seat as possible.

    I live in the Detroit area and would be willing to attend this conference if they provide media passes. Otherwise, it’s a bit pricey.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    To the topic starter:
    You can resolve your problem without changing your vehicle – shop around for the aftermarket orthpaedic seats (Recaro, etc.). You can also move them over to your next car, once you sell the current one, if you want.

    To Sajeev:
    I agree with your assessment of W124 seats. But I put them next to SAAB’s affairs as found in 9000 Aero, 9-3 Griffin and 2002-08 9-5 Aero. They are THE best.

    But really the average quality of seats profile improved drastically as compared to 10-15 years back.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      I have replaced my OEM seats with a pair of Recaro Toplines:
      http://www.recaro-automotive.com/us/product-areas/aftermarket-seats/product/sport-sport-topline.html

      Not so much because of comfort reasons, but I personally prefer the bolsters of good sport seats. The Toplines are indeed very comfortable, though not well suited for People of Size, and the seat heating is separate from the (more controllable) OEM system.

      One of the things that annoys me in many seats is the ratchet seatback control. It’s fast to adjust, but does not provide the infinite control of a knob.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      The problem with aftermarket seats is 1) they may not have side impact airbags (mounted in the seats in my newer car) 2) they may have no provision for heating/cooling and biggest of all 3) good ones are expensive.

      When he graduated college in 1980, my brother had such a bad back problem that he made two automotive purchases right away – a new car, Dodge Omni at $5k’ish and a single aftermarket seat at $500’ish. The seat was wonderful and when he threw the car away many years later, he kept the seat, still in good shape.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      High end recaros with the same features the OEM seats had cost an exorbitant amount. For example the loaded Kia Optima comes with heated and vented power seats and the recaro ergomeds with the same features run 2500 a piece…that’s 5 grand to do the front seats! You can get cheaper recaros but even then we’re looking at several thousand dollars which is a lot of money.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      I simply could not agree with this statement more… W124 seats are some of the best ever, but if you want the BEST BEST then there is no substitute for any of the Saab seats. Yes, the Aero (all models) are the better of them but even the most standard 9-5 seats (1999 – 2010) are just so perfect it almost defies logic.

    • 0 avatar

      I need to sit in said SAABs. That said, SAABs (and Volvos) in general have amazing seats. What really spoke to me about the W124 is the perfect blend of road-holding contouring and soft springiness in all the right places. And they are so wide and open, just about any body type fits with ease. Most sporting seats aren’t made for large Americans.

      If the VW Beetle was the People’s Car, the W124 has the people’s thrones. SAAB people, your comments?

      • 0 avatar
        Sam P

        The comments about W124 seat excellence are interesting. My folks had a W126, and for a car that cost over $80k in inflation adjusted dollars new, the seats frankly sucked. Hard and unsupportive after a couple hours, but still better than the seats in two consecutive Subarus that I and my wife have owned.

        The best seats I’ve experienced? 2nd gen Lexus GS300. Buttery soft leather and perfectly supportive. Not too hard and not too soft.

  • avatar

    I noticed that I trend towards a more upright position as I get older, too. This quickly freezes me out of many nice cars and confines into SUVs and trucks.

    Apropos, there is an industry of seat replacement for Jeeps. Corbeau, Smitty, and a few others produce an array of seats, although most of them are designed to keep you less bruised when racing off-road (e.g. if you want to enter The Chili Challenge). The problem is – how to check them out before buying?

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      “I noticed that I trend towards a more upright position as I get older, too. This quickly freezes me out of many nice cars and confines into SUVs and trucks.”

      I went this way a while back after having a pro race driver show me proper seat adjustment (wrists just break over top of steering wheel, leg almost at full extension pushing brake pedal to floor) at a BMW driving event. Climbing behind the wheel of friends’ cars or rentals with raked out seats just feels ridiculous – no leverage on the steering wheel, can’t see over the hood, contorted neck, etc.

  • avatar
    photog02

    There are some pretty clear ergonomic guidelines to follow in designing a seat. However, there is an equal amount of leeway involved due to issues such as who you are designing for, safety equipment in the vehicle and (increasingly) the seat, and what price constraints are being worked within.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Every human body is different — there is no such thing as a seat that is comfortable for everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        photog02

        There are, however, conventions to follow in the design of seats that accommodate what is known as the 5th to 95th percentile of bodies. You can design a seat that can reasonable accommodate that range of people and provide fine-grain adjustment capabilities that allow for people that fall within that range to find a comfortable seating position.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        Can you provide a link? 5th to 95th percentile of bodies where? Japan? North America? Europe? What were the metrics used to define that area under curve?

        Personally, I’m skeptical that anyone can provide a single seat that 90% of the population can sit in comfort for more than a couple hours while continuously operating a moving vehicle.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Amazingly, I have never had a problem with the base cloth seats on my 95 Golf, even after 9 hours of driving. The only other car ive spent alot of time in is a ’10 DTS, which i think is extremely comfortable and lux, and perfect for this car, in which u will do no hooning. The DTS however required a little adjustment every now and then, luckily power things everywhere. I drive a ’02 corolla occasionally, pain in 1 hour. There seem to be no metrics about this, i lucked into the VW and the DTS. Oh and a ’99 diesel Mercedes 300 i think it was, i drove all over the Loire in france – that was comfortable too for all 4 of us. I’ve always heard that Volvo seats are the best in the business.

  • avatar
    Boff

    How much seat time is enough? For my wife, an extra half-hour would have made all the difference when we bought a 2000 Focus. After an hour and a half on our first road-trip after buying the car, she was in such excruciating pain that I had to pull off the highway and buy her an Obus Forme (seatback insert). And she’s never had a back issue with any other car we’ve had, including another Ford.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the seats in our first BMW (an E46 wagon) literally changed my life. Though they were super comfy, they were rock hard and necessitated, after 25 years doing it the same way, a change of wallet placement from my back pocket to my front!

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      It will always depend on the seat and person. A few minutes in a friends new Outback was enough to eliminate it from my future shopping list as I have no back issues but my lower back was killing me almost right away in those seats. I have ridden in their car several more times and it is the same every time. Why Subaru changed the seats that I have in 2006 Legacy to these is a mystery as I find mine perfectly comfortable even on long trips.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny you say that. My dad had (a few cars ago) a 2004 SAAB 9-3 Aero (‘vert) with the sport seats. They were super comfortable and supportive… as long as you removed your wallet from your back pocket on trips. It became painful quickly. Take it out, you’re good to go.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Sajeev,
    Great subject, glad to see a discussion on this. I have a 5 level spinal fusion from 1979 that for the most part, was very successful.
    That said, seat comfort in my 70+ (each way) mile commute is hugely important.

    One of the best seats I’ve ever been in was my W123 Mercedes which I drove for 9 years, provided the seat base hadn’t broken down. I did replace it once– At the core of its comfort is adequate thigh support. It’s critical to have a bottom cushion that has an adequate front-to back size.
    At the opposite end of the comfort spectrum was the 2001 LeSabre, the most horrible example of seating (for me at least) I’ve ever seen. Despite having a 6 way power adjuster and lumbat support, there was no way I could get comfortable. 1/2 hour into a drive and I was in pain. And why? Bottom cushion too short, and nearly zero side / lumbar support. Another element to this is the difference in height location between the brake and accelerator pedal. The Buick had a nearly 2″ difference between the 2, with the brake pedal sitting higher. That forces your leg muscles into quite a contraction / extension trying to work through stop & go traffic.

    I just replaced the 123 with a Gen 2 Toyota Avalon. Very comfortable seats, though somewhat firm. Dittos with our Gen 2 Scion XB. A little snug, but great side support. At least Toyota got it right.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    My favorite is how the cost of the vehicle has nothing to do with comfort. Fleet spec early 2000s Taurus sitting in the Central Office parking lot? Very comfy up front as long as you remember that there is a lumbar adjustment.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    The best seats I have ever spent a lot of time in were Recaro SRDs in a first gen M3 and the same basic seats in a 2000 Cobra R I had. They were great for long drives, supportive amd upright and you stayed in place.

    The seats on my 01 F250 are actually great too. I’ve put in lots of seat time on hunting trips without any issues. I did a north Minnesota to south Arkansas trip straight through in it once.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Recaro pretty much taught everyone what a seat could be, but now I keep reading that the ones in the CTS-V are attrocious. Odd.

      • 0 avatar
        M 1

        I read somewhere that they went the way of Bose and other legendary names of bygone decades — bought up by some conglomerate who immediately folded the real company and proceeded to slather the name on a bunch of junk from China.

        Not sure if it’s true or not, I just ran across it while shopping for racing seats about a year ago.

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        M1, that’s an interesting comment. In an anecdote that is sure to elicit compassion from no one, I was stoked to see Recaro brand seats in Lufthansa business class initially, only to find them uncomfortable, cheap feeling, and possessing a very odd articulation mechanism that first lifted you in the air as your reclined and then about dropped you down to the floor when fully extended.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The seats in my 2007 Honda Civic Si are the best I’ve experienced. Every front seat passenger compliments them. They’re moderately bolstered and firm for the street, but I’ve driven back to back 1,100+ mile days in them and gotten out with no fatigue or soreness. My previous BMW’s seats were good up to about 600 miles a day. More than that, and I’d stagger out. They, in turn, were a big improvement over my two Audis’ seats, which were comparable to my Jetta’s. I had a Mercedes with comfortable seats, but they weren’t particularly fit for aggressive driving. Back in the day, I had some American cars with seats that were styled rather than designed.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Seats in my 2002 Dakota = terrible, I hate them with a passion. After a long day of fishing sitting on uncomfortable seats is pain in the backside (literally!). I’ve heard that PT Cruiser seats fit on the same rails so maybe a junkyard trip is in order.

    Seats in my 2008 Volvo C30 = awesome, best ever, narrowly beating out the seats from my 1996 Prelude Si. The Volvo seats are the first ones I have ever experienced where the headrest actually hits my head in the right place and feels good. Even more shocking is both my wife at 5’3″ and me at 6′ find them comfortable. Based on other replies its clear Volvo knows something other manufacturers have yet to figure out when it comes to seat design or materials.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Somehow, I get the feeling that the Volvo engineers don’t allow the accountants to have much say on the finished design.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      In 2000, Dodge in their infinite wisdom decided to cheap out on the seats in the Dakota, which prior to this (1997-99) were quite similar to the supremely comfortable seats in the contemporary Ram.

      My limited time in a PT Cruiser would steer me away from looking there. Short and narrow seat cushion, for starters.

  • avatar
    Syke

    There are a lot of times when I believe that seats are designed by the accounting department rather than engineering. Case in point: The ‘leather’ (reminded me of a $25.00 biker vest bought at a low end motorcycle rally) seats in a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis (Panther love is grossly overrated) were the most excruciating torture devices I’ve ever sat in. The seats in a rental Aveo were moderately comfortable by comparison.

    Good seats? My old E30 325is. My current 924S. The material is secondary. The shape is what really matters.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I loved the seats in my ’07 GTI. They really hugged my 5’8″ cyclist body and were covered in attractive plaid cloth. My ’10 4Runner doesn’t hug me, but I rarely find myself readjusting in the seat like I’d occasionally have to do in the GTI. I’ve also pulled quite a few 4 hr drives in it without the slightest discomfort. Our ’05 MINI S seats are my least favorite seats I’ve “owned”. No thigh support and the lumbar portion puts all the pressure on my lower back instead of evenly distributing it across my back. My favorite seats were in a UK spec Impreza WRX STi. Those were proper sports car seats!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Best seats I ever sat in: smart fortwo. Seriously. Nice high-back buckets with moderate bolstering, and I’m convinced the seat foam is the same stuff Koni makes bumpstops out of. Soft enough to let you settle in, and firm enough to provide hours of support.

    The S2000 seats are shaped nicely, but the leather annoys me so I picked up some aftermarket cloth buckets. The seats in the ’92 SE-R are also pretty nice. I read somewhere that they were unbadged Recaros.

    • 0 avatar
      miles solo

      Absolutely, unquestionably, the most supremely comfortable automotive seats I ever sat in were in my ’67 Citroen DS. They were the best seats I’ve put myself in or on ever, including home furnishings, waiting rooms, hotels, and even the expensive after-market air ride seats I installed in various big rig tractors. A close tie for second were the seats in my Renault R-10 and Peugeot 404.

    • 0 avatar
      Roundel

      I am going to have to agree with you on the seats in the smart. It was one of the reasons I bought it over the mini. I’ve owned an Volvo 850 before, and they nearly match them for quality. What I like about the smart is the fact that the bottom cushion is angled perfectly to support my thighs. I have LONG legs and cars with a short and flat buttom cushion really irritate me.
      The first gen Jeep Liberty’s seats are horrible, way too short.
      I have noticed that Hyundai and Kia seats can have a long enough cushion, the problem is that there is NO angle to them whatseover.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Worst seats? My rental Altima 2.5S sedan last week. My back has finally recovered! That was only a 4½ hr. drive, too, with two stops each way! Fabric-covered park benches.

    Our 2002 Honda CR-V, not much better.

    My 2004 Impala – very nice w/lumbar adjust.

    Our old 1996 Intrepid – very comfy.

    Our 2007 MX5 – ummm…other factors involved there.

    My old 1996 Ranger – like a toilet seat, all butt-sprung with a gaping concave depression – I’m not fat, either! That’s why I have my beloved Impala today!

    Our old 1992 LeBaron convertible – veeery nice.

    My old 1992 Jeep – well, you know – it’s a Jeep thing.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      My worst ever seats were in a rental car too; a 1983 Buick Regal coupe with a bench. In a two hour drive, the bench did damage to my mother’s back that lasted months.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        In contrast to your 1983 Buick, our rental 2004 Buick Century sedan we used for a Chicago trip in late 2004 was a dream! Doggone near wanted to buy one, but already had my Impala!

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        In contrast to that 2004 Buick, the 1983 Buick’s Oldsmobile twin was one of the best selling cars in the US. Losing that market may have forced GM to think about things like seats. The last really uncomfortable car I spent much time in was a 2004 Cadillac DTS. The steering wheel was huge, and it was right in my lap. It adjusted only for rake, and in HUGE increments. I had a choice of crushed thighs or city bus wheel angle and blocked gauges. The dash was low and bulbous enough to foul my knees too. I can’t recall anything about the seats themselves though, so they must have been okay as I used it for a number of business trips to LA.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      My old 1990 LeBaron convertible also had comfy supportive seats. All of the sporty Chrysler fwd turbo and non-turbo cars were pretty good from the 80’s thru early 90’s.

      My current commuter car has great seats. Ford ZX2 (2000 model year). They are cloth, manual, not even a an adjustable lumbar, but they are great. I have taken long naps in them without any back pain.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Worst seats? My rental Altima 2.5S sedan last week.

      Once again, we see that seat comfort is highly personalized. I drive over 20,000 miles per year for business in a 2008 Altima SL with heated leather seats – much of this is highway trips of four to six hours. I have a bad back, arthritis in my hips…and what can I say? I truly LOVE this car’s seats.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Best seats I’ve sat in (luxury): any Volvo S60/V70/S80/XC90, Mercedes W124, ’02 BMW E39 “Comfort Seats”

    Best seats I’ve sat in (reasonably priced): VW Golf, Mazda 3, Chevy Cruze (most recent models)

    Worst seats I’ve sat in: ’11 Toyota Corolla (seriously, how does anyone spend more than five minutes in these?), Pontiac Sunfire (obviously), ’05 Chrysler Town and Country (damn you Stow and Go!)

    Oddly enough, I remember sitting in an early BMW E60 545i with “comfort seats” and finding them somewhat uncomfortable. Maybe it was a defect, since it was an early car?

    • 0 avatar
      windnsea00

      Funny, I find the current Corolla seats comfy and relatively supportive, far better than the previous generation. They do feel a bit small however for me at 6`0.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Toyota has had an awful tendency towards short seat cushions in non-rear-drive Lexus models. Thigh support is awful, even in some pretty big cars.

        The only exception I’ve seen are the aforementioned Lexuses (IS, GS, LS) and, weirdly, the Yaris. The Corolla is pretty bad, IIRC.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      I thought the corolla seats were decent as well, not nice like a Camry but not painful. But I find that really evaluating a seat requires sitting in it for at least 3-4 hours since many cars will pass as comfortable until you’ve been there for that long.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      Actually, the Corolla was a 2010. I think the 2011 models had some changes to the seats, since the Scion xB and tC seats are much better than they were before – both are surprisingly good for compact car seats.

  • avatar
    M 1

    I sense another opportunity to simultaneously praise and bash Mercedes.

    They make generally great seats, as the article notes, but you’d better pray that nothing ever goes wrong, it depends on some of the more expensive pieces of hardware in the car. I had a friend with one of those awful compact 2-door C series… everything broke on that car, eventually.

    Early on, though, the power seats developed a mind of their own. He eventually laid out $880 in parts costs alone for new computer control modules for both front seats. Apparently you have to replace them both at the same time even if just one breaks, and replacing them is a two day dealer-only ordeal.

    Ludicrous. And this is on their cheap-o model. Fortunately he unloaded it before the coating started flaking off the supercharger rotors, the model’s most egregious (and largely unavoidable) engineering flaw.

  • avatar
    otter

    Bumpy, the seats in old SE-Rs (I’ve had a ’93 since new) are nice, but they’re not Nissan seats, not Recaros. I wished only for slightly firmer cushioning and a cushion-tilt adjustment. The seats in ’94-’96 Infiniti G20ts address both these issues, though they raise the h-point maybe an inch.

    My favorites, after all these years, remain the Recaro LX seats in my old 320iS and, on the cushier end of the spectrum, the seats my childhood family’s final mom-mobile Volvo 740.

    This is an interesting subject, and one I’d enjoy writing about.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    For me, RWD Peugeot seat reign supreme over all others. Just superb, especially the mult-adjustable 505 Sport seats.

    Second are RWD Volvos – as I am reminded daily by my beater ’95 945. Cloth too, and the butt-heat still works like the fires of Hell.

    Saabs, well, *I* do not get along with any Aero seat AT ALL. I am just too big, and the headrest hits the top of my shoulders even on the highest setting. C900 seats were OK, but needed a lumbar support adjustment. My 9-3SC seats were OK too, but the foam tended to squish and compact into concrete on long drives – it was just too soft. Regular 9-5 seats were not quite right either.

    BMW and MB seats were just OK as well. I had a W124, I wouldn’t call those seats wonderful, but they were OK on a long haul. I have never driven ANYTHING American or Japanese that I found comfortable for more than 20 minutes at a time.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    I think you guys are fondly remembering old car seats because at the time you had a young body. You probably could have driven across PA while seated on a cinder block. Now you’re old and every seat bothers you after 2 hours.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    I don’t have problems in most seats but short seat bottoms are definitely annoying!

  • avatar
    carve

    BMW seats are good in general, but the optional, very expensive “comfort seats” are particularly good.

    Seats from ’80’s Toyota Supras were fantastic. Most stuff back then was awful though.

    You know what I’d really like to see: Seats designed like those Herman Miller Aeron “ergo” office chairs, where there’s a frame and then a semi-transparent film of tightly stretched nylon webbing. That with some side bolsters, a cooling fan and AC duct nearby, and some heating elements would be super comfy, not to mention light-weight.

  • avatar
    relton

    I’ve worked in seating comfort for a couple of decades now, so I think I’ve gained a little insight.

    Several things affect people’s perception of seating comfort. The smoother the engine is, a 6 vs a 4, the more uncomfortble the seats will seem. I’ve done enough back to back comparisons to document this very well.

    Ditto the smoother the car rides, the more people find fault with the seats. Also, years of back to back comparisons.

    Even the color affects comfort perceptions, a little. Warm colors are better than cool colors.

    Other parts of the vehicle affect the seated position. For example, there are lots of cars where the front wheelhouse intrudes enough so that both feet are in different planes. That is, the right leg is extended more to reach the gas pedal than the left leg can because of the wheelhouse. Tauruses and FWD Continentals are prime examples.

    Another factor is the fact that the seating dummy, commonly called Oscar but actually named SAE J826B, has no lumbar curvature. In order to make J826B fit properly, the car will not have enough lumbar support. The manikin has to fit the seat to make all the rest of the car meet FMVSS standards. The standards are generated about the position of the manikin.

    I wrote an SAE paper about this dilemna in ’93, in which I proposed a simple seat adjustment with 2 positions, the “meeting the standard position” and the “real life position”. The prototype sat I built was well received, but, of course, went nowhere.

    A seat that feels good when the car is new can feel pretty bad after 5 years use if it isn’t durable enough. It is not unusual for the sat to sag, for the H-point to drop, more than an inch after some use.

    Styling is another big problem with seat comfort. Stylin people try to make a seat look comfortable, as opposed to being actually comfortable.

    In this country, knob type recliners are a flop in the market. Americans don’t have the patience to dial in the exact adjustment. They just want to lift the lever, move the seat back, and let go. I don’t know how many times this has been proven. It is just the opposite in Germany.

    There’s a lot that goes into seating comfort.

    Bob

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      For me, the key question of how low I can get while retaining 90-degree angles for both calf/thigh and thigh/torso. In many cases, the seat just doesn’t tilt up enough for me sit as low as I’d like.

  • avatar
    sco

    Any car with seats that allow me to sit very upright with my legs level and my head not banging against the headliner (gen 1 Scion Xb is a good example) is OK by me. Any seats that require me to lean back and pull my knees up aroung the wheel (Civic) will kill my back in minutes. I also would rather have manufacturers put money into quality materials rather than power this and heated that. Simplicity is a virtue and in that regard I second the comment from krhodes1 – the seats on my Peugeot 504 are thrones.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Seats are weird. As I write this, I am sitting in my Recaro seat desk chair which I bought for over $1000 24 years ago. It’s an honest to God Recaro car seat mounted and a swivel pedestal base, with height and tilt adjustments and arms built on (which, admittedly, look kind of kludgy). The seat has served me very well, and, considering the amount of time I spend sitting at a desk and the seat’s longevity, was money very well spent.

    A huge factor in seat comfort is the height of the seat off the floor. The high cars of our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ day — and today’s SUVs — featured upright chair-like seating, which is innately more comfortable than sitting close to the floor. If you have to sit close to the floor with your legs fairly well bent, your weight is concentrated at the back end of your butt. A really good seat re-distributes this weight, but it’s an inherent problem with that position. Many of today’s cars have some sort of variation of that position, the Chrysler 300 being a notable exception. On the other hand, I can say from personal experience, that sitting on the floor with your legs nearly fully extended doesn’t have this problem, probably because more of the weight is borne by the underside of the thighs. I made some long trips in a TR-4, a Fiat 124 Spyder and my own Karmann Ghia (with the seat tracks mounted further back) with no complaints. The first two cars had footwells that extended forward along the side of the transmission, if not the engine itself.

    The first generation Mustang was known for its uncomfortable seats and, even to a 20-year old, more than an hour or two in them was torture.

    I agree with the comment about Volvos. My dad’s first Volvo (1970) had fantastic seats, as did every one he bought thereafter. My ’02 Saab 9-5 Aero wagon (which has Saab’s best) has seats that look and feel great initially, but over the long haul don’t feel so good, for either me or my wife, despite all of the adjustments.

    The leather seats in the ’97 Altima that I bought my oldest daughter in ’02 were terrific. I drove that car from DC to LA in 2.5 days with no discomfort at all.

    The seats in the topline ’96 Previa were fabulous, too. I drove from DC to Mobile, Alabama in one day with no discomfort. But the seats in the topline ’08 Highlander that we shopped immediately nixed the deal for my wife. She couldn’t understand how Toyota could make such a great seat in ’96 and such poor one 12 years later. Can you say “de-contenting”?

    The seats in my ’01 Z3 are torture unless you get them adjusted just right; then they’re o.k. The distressing thing is that the correlation between seat comfort and the price of the car is not close as you would expect. There are some cheap cars with good seats and some expensive cars with not so good seats.

  • avatar
    aspade

    My personal peeve isn’t the shape of the seat. It’s the space. I realize that matching every spine is impossible. But putting in two more inches of rearward travel wouldn’t compromise anything. If you aren’t tall enough to use it then don’t move it that far back.

    I’ve lost count of the cars I’ve crossed off the comparison list because it’s all the way back but my ankles are cramping up and there’s nowhere to put my knees.

    Headroom is a problem too. Dropping the seat to clear the headliner makes a short cushion seem even shorter. This is exacerbated by stupid option bundling that forces you to buy the sunroof – losing 2 more inches of headroom and, again, crossing more cars off my might buy list.

    Fix the easy stuff before you worry about the hard stuff.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    Great seats: 2004 Golf R32 Recaros. Incredible.
    Terrible seats: 2006 Audi A3 Sport. Easily the worst thing about the car.

  • avatar
    CraigSu

    Well, I can only second what others have said here. Our 1991 Volvo 245 seats provide comfort without back or leg stiffness over several hours of driving. My wife is 5’4″, my daughter is 5’9″, and I’m 5’10” with spondylolithesis to boot (http://www.bing.com/health/article/healthwise-1250001955/Spondylolisthesis-Topic-Overview?q=spondylolisthesis). Our 1999 Saab 9-3 SE seats are a close second to the Volvo’s.

    My other favorite seats were in my 1978 Renault R17 Gordini. Leather with individually adjustable side bolsters and individual spring-loaded thigh supports; all adjustments were manual, not electric. According to the person from whom I bought the car, the seats were made by Recaro for Renault.

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    Am I the only person that hates an adjustable lumbar seat? I can never find a “neutral” position in the adjustment range – it either feels like I’m sitting against a railing or that part of the cushion near the base is missing. I rarely have any lumbar complaints on non-adjustable seats. Maybe it’s all in my head like relton alludes to above.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I love lumbar adjustments. In our district owned vehicle pool there is a first gen Equinox and an a last of the mid size Tauruses. Equinox, no lumbar adjustment = seat sucks for long distance travel. Taurus, manual lumbar adjustment = nirvana for long drives.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      It depends on the style of lumbar support with the bladder style I can usually get it just right, but the mechanical units often are just like you say either your sitting against a pipe or nothings there.

  • avatar
    gogogodzilla

    For me, I can’t sit in any Nissan for any length of time, for the seats are so bad… I can’t stand up straight afterwards. They have an appalling lack of any lumbar support.

    That said, the Kia Forte manages to actually make Nissan seating look good. When I sat in the Kia, the seat pushed my upper back forward while holding my lower back in a concave “C” shaped curve. In essence, that seat was the exact reverse of the proper back curvature.

    Now, some of the best seats I’ve ever sat in were in the VW GTI, Mazda3, and all makes of Volvo’s.

    • 0 avatar
      red stick

      I’ll second the poor seats in the Forte–my back couldn’t take a recent twenty minute test drive. Not sure about the shaping, but way way too soft.

      As for the Recaro-like seats in the Sentra SE-R, I always found myself shifting around in them after awhile and wishing they had a height adjustment, but I’m 6 feet tall and long of leg.

      Biggest surprise over the years? I had rental Chevy Cobalts several times and never had a complaint about the seats, even after 800+ mile days. Now that Chrysler Sebring, on the other hand . . .

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    The seats in my Mustang are surprisingly good. Decent bolstering and actual thigh support. In past cars, I’ve had to crank up the front half of the seat cushion (if possible) to tolerate a long drive. Not the case here…Ford must have learned a few things from Volvo.

    My personal worst was probably my old mid-’90s Accord DX. Short cushion, no height adjustment, no lumbar support and the seatback didn’t move far enough forward to compensate. But Accords of that vintage were still a bit more foreign-flavored, with smaller, firmer seats that compensated at bit. My Civic LX is a little better on account of more seatback travel and a more upright driving position.

    In terms of worst experienced? I’m going to go with any number of early W-bodies with their flat, unsupportive, useless seats. And the godawful standard-issue late-’80s GM blue or red cloth upholstery didn’t help, either. Of course, The same assessment applies to a variety of other A/B/C/G/H bodies from that era, as well.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    Unfortunately due to their relative rarity, most of you have never/will never experience the magnificently designed and supremely comfortable thrones found in the 1988 and 1989 Merkur Scorpio. These are hands down the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced. Well bolstered, yet not intrusive, proper rake to the appropriately long seat cushion and plenty of adjustment range to fine tune the experience. I’ve done a number of 1100 mile days in these seats with no fatigue, stiffness or soreness whatsoever. Add to that some of the nicest leather short of a Rolls Royce – and when I say leather, I mean the seat is 100% leather – no vinyl on the seat sides or even hiding in the generous map pockets. I’d love to put them in my living room as they blow away any seating device ever found indoors.

    Some honorable mentions: The seats in the last two years of the Mark VIII LSC – very similar to the Scorpio seats in general shape and comfort. I also found the seats in my 2001 300M to be quite comfortable as well.

  • avatar
    wallstreet

    I take there is no proponent of “gangster lean” here.

  • avatar
    Ion

    The best seats I ever sat in were SRT-8 seats. Unfortunately they’re too big and too pricey to fit in my DD.

  • avatar
    DarkSpork

    I actually really like the seats in my 2003 Ford Ranger. Maybe I’m alone or it’s my size, but I was never uncomfortable in them. I drove 1,000 miles in a day in them and the only thing tiring about the drive was watching the needle on the fuel gauge drop. When it comes to seat comfort, my Focus is a step down and I hope the same drive won’t be too brutal next month.

    Wife has a 6th gen accord with leather seats and it’s pretty comfortable but the seat bottoms might be a little too soft. 500 miles in a day without any real problems.

    As for seats I enjoyed on short drives: E46 BMW, 8th gen Civic Si, Ford Taurus X, Cobalt SS Supercharged, and C5 Corvette. Everything else I’ve driven has been mediocre to uncomfortable in terms of seat comfort.

    It may be worth mentioning that I’m only 5′ 5″ and 125-130lbs. The things I hate about the Focus seats are:
    *The headrest is too far forward
    *Seat feels like it’s tilted back, so if I raise the seat too high it’s uncomfortable for me to use the pedals (only a problem because I’m short)
    *Could use a bit more cushioning

  • avatar
    Sam P

    BMW sport seats with the adjustable thigh support at the front of the bottom seat cushion are awesome, whether they’re in an E30 or an E46.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    The most comfortable seats ever put in a passenger vehicle are the original Q45 seats. I can’t remember if my uncle’s was a Q45t (he later got a Q45a that he didn’t like as much), but those seats were just phenomenal.

    Not like my first car – the ’85 Olds 98 Regency Brougham – those sofa-like cloth seats had no support, but cushy as all get out and better than a mattress. What else is a 16 year old supposed to do with chairs like that?

  • avatar
    relton

    Actually extra rearward seat travel compromises a lot.

    FMVSS standards require crash testing with teh seat set in the mid-position, halfway between full forward and full rear. If the manikin is too far from the dashboard, or IP, he will fail the test.

    So, if the seat is moved rearward, the IP has to also. This compromises accommodations for short people, or, more accurately, people with short legs.

    There are ways around this, but I’m not going to let on. I spent years developing these things. See the service manual or the TSBs for the car for a clue.

    Bob

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      So it compromises the ability to pass ridiculous tests that don’t account for design variations? Or is there something else I’m missing.

      Manual transmissions have a similar problem. They compromise the ability to achieve good EPA fuel economy numbers due to absurdly defined mandatory shift points.

  • avatar

    Even though I’m a self-professed Saab fanboy (parents had 9 of em, i’m still on my first as a project car) I realize they don’t do a WHOLE lot of things right.

    But the one thing they do more right than anyone is seats. Seriously.

    My C900 (1988 900 SPG) has 23 years of wear and tear on it’s seat cushions, springs, and frame rails – but the seats are still more comfortable for long trips than my daily driver ’07 Accord.

    Literally the most comfortable seats I’ve EVER parked my keister in are bolted to the front seat rails of my friend’s ’97 9000 Aero. If you aren’t familiar, here’s a picture for reference:

    http://www.kiddoh.com/cars/saab/Aero_frontseatsSM.jpg

    they’re just amazing. Tons of lateral support, but not stiff pointy bolsters – they’re very comfortable. A full-length headrest that actually supports your head. Electic seat heaters to loosen your back. Lumbar support in all the right places.

    Modern Saab seats of the non-sport variety as still this comfortable. I know the current 9-3 is “hopelessly out of date” if you listen to auto journos with no sense of perspective, but drive one for an hour back to back with a 3-series and you’ll see what I’m talking about. No one does seats like Saab.

    Second mention goes to Volvo, although theirs have been getting less so gradually since the Ford acquisition. My first car was a ’97 850 sedan, and it had cloth heated seats – they were awesome as well.

  • avatar

    Other Honorable mentions

    2004 VW R32 Seats are super comfy, however the torso and thigh bolsters are both SO THICK that the seat doesn’t really fold very well to allow for rear ingress.
    2005 (E46) 330Ci ZHP sport seats – in my girlfriend’s car. The manual sliding thigh bolsters rock pretty hard, supportive but not too hard, these are great seats. No heaters though, wth?
    Volvo S60R seats: Amazing in the normal leather. The orange “atacama” is more like “froma camel” – very tough.
    2002 Audi TT seats – a little lacking in lower back, but huge bolsters for hard cornering, very powerful heaters with 5 adjustments. Comfy even in my friend’s 160k TT.
    2006 Infiniti M45 Sport seats – bolstered and lumbar support in all the right places, heated and cooled, MMMM
    Dodge/ChyCo SRT-8 Seats: Oh my lord. So comfortable. Shame about… uhh, everything else in the interior.
    new SHO Taurus seats – not a lot of lateral support, but massaging heated and cooled makers up for a lot of sins.
    Lexus LS400 – as great as you’d expect them to be.

    DIShonorable mentions
    Focus – I think everyone’s beat this issue to death, but they’re probably the worst seats ever put in a car. Ever.
    B5 Passat seats – no thigh support whatsoever. Very short bottom too.
    Ranger benches – OWWWW MY BACK
    Toyota Yaris – feels like you’re flying out the window when you corner, no support or cushion or anything really

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    The best seats I’ve ever sat in were in Buicks, in particular the 1992-94 Roadmasters. I could have sat there for days. I also enjoyed the overstuffed seats in the early 80’s Park Avenues. Ford seats in the 1990’s were very supportive. The two Ford Contours I owned were very comfortable for me.

    A power seat adjuster makes a big difference for me. If I can raise my legs up at the knee, I’m good to go.

    The best car I ever made the Florida to Michigan run in was my old 1987 Cutlass Supreme Brougham. I could spend 10-12 hours in that car and I felt great at the end of the day.

    Now one thing that I never understood was how people could sit with the lumbar pushed all the way out. Completely uncomfortable!!! Whenever I get into a car with it pushed out, I have to get rid of it completely or else I am hurting within seconds…

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Most seats have been acceptable to me. Here are the ones that were not:

    ’99 Pontiac Sunfire cloth. Cover materials feel thin and cheap. Padding too soft. No support. Lumbar support is just a solid bar that can be easily felt through the minimal cushioning. You can move it, but it’s always there, digging into your back uncomfortably.

    ’01 Jeep Grand Cherokee cloth. The middle of the seat was like a pit. I decided not to buy the vehicle the second I sat down in the driver’s seat.

    ’06 Dodge Ram 2500 cloth. Cushioning is thin, and there’s a hard bottom section for about an inch from the back of the seat. You have to slouch to avoid having it dig into your butt. Strangely, the ’04 and ’05 leather seats are decent.

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