QOTD: No One Got Your Back?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Comfort comes up as a topic quite often around these parts, and a recent QOTD asked which unlikely vehicle surprised you with its level of coddling and tranquility. We’re definitely not talking about that today.

No, today we’re talking about physical misery so bad, so acute, that it costs an automaker a sale. It’s amazing that, after constructing a vehicle out of thousands of components both major and minor, OEMs sometimes succeed in making a mass-market automobile that’s literally a pain in the ass.

I’ve mentioned the 11th-generation Toyota Corolla and its iM cousin before as glaring examples of “I could never daily drive this,” but in this installment, we’re singling out another very accessible automaker for crimes against vertebrae.

Sorry, Kia — I know we ragged on the leather-clad Telluride yesterday, but you’ve got a problem with your chairs. Some of them, at least.

About a month ago, a friend thought he’d stumbled upon a sure-fire replacement for his aging midsize sedan. Roomy, jet black in color, and endowed with an agreeable amount of content and horsepower, this five-year-old four-door was the one. Or so he thought after setting out from the dealer. Ten minutes later, halfway through the test drive, he was counting down the seconds until he could escape the 2013 Kia Optima, gritting his teeth in agony.

Having suffered an injury during military training, my friend’s back is not the steel beam Kia must have envisioned — or it might have demanded a smidgen of lumbar support in that flat seatback. And so, despite the car being perfect for his needs (and budget), a sale was out of the question. He’s still looking.

I made a similar observation after renting a Kia Optima to drive to Detroit back in January, but, given my back’s status as merely “dodgy,” I managed to weather the trip in one piece. Still, it always felt like something could give way at any second. It’s always embarrassing when you suddenly can’t stand up straight in public without screaming.

The Optima incidents came to mind after our managing editor complained of discomfort after testing the next-gen 2019 Forte last week. While his main gripe centered around the Forte’s thrashy engine, NVH is a liveable — if annoying — condition. A car that actually hurts to drive? That’s a no-go zone. A non-starter. Only the truly kinky fork over money in exchange for punishment.

And yet an automaker kiboshed potential sales by spending hundreds of millions designing a car with seats that may as well yell belittling insults at the driver. (Think this is a localized, minor gripe? Google “Optima front seat discomfort/uncomfortable” and watch the hits roll in.)

Is my friend’s story relatable? Have piss-poor seats ever killed the purchase of an otherwise competent vehicle? Sound off in the comments.

[Image: Kia Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • WallMeerkat WallMeerkat on Sep 12, 2018

    The seats on early 2000s VW group small cars (Golf, SEAT Leon, SEAT Ibiza) seemed to have this strange quirk where the sides of the seat bases didn't seem to have a lot of padding, I would end up nipping my thigh when getting out of the seat and it would be painful. Best seats I encountered are either a 1970s Citroen CX or a similar era Merc W123 which had seats like properly sprung armchairs. Best seats in cars I owned were probably the Citroen Xantia or the Saab 9-3.

  • Boozysmurf Boozysmurf on Sep 12, 2018

    Fellow bad-back person, couple of fused lower vertebrae, so, I know the bad seat pain. So, my worst-to-best seats were: worst: 1992 Mercury Sable. Ungodly uncomfortable for any drive longer than 45 minutes. Back and forth between Ottawa and Toronto was excruciating. Remarkably-not-worst: 1988 Ford Temp. Not awesome, but not bad. Pretty damn good: 2003 Acura RSX premium. I really liked these, and I was rarely fatigued. Best I've Ever Owned: 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe. I did Fontana Village/Tail of the Dragon to Ottawa, ON (1789km/1110miles) in 15 hours, stopping for gas, coffee, and the border. Got out of the car fresh, and I could have done another two hours to Montreal, had I needed to. Side-story. One of my buddies, who has had two back surgeries, and is now out of the automotive industry/mechanic world, swapped seats from a 2003 Hyundai Tiburon into his 1998 Dodge Dakota, and he adored them. I have one of the same seats on my racing simulator rig, now, and I've got zero issues turning laps on Forza, Assetto Corsa or iRacing for hour after hours. Remarkably good seats... for me. As people say, it's a super-subjective subject and what's good for me, may not be good for others.

  • Lorenzo The unspoken killer is that batteries can't be repaired after a fender-bender and the cars are totaled by insurance companies. Very quickly, insurance premiums will be bigger than the the monthly payment, killing all sales. People will be snapping up all the clunkers Tim Healey can find.
  • Lorenzo Massachusetts - with the start/finish line at the tip of Cape Cod.
  • RHD Welcome to TTAH/K, also known as TTAUC (The truth about used cars). There is a hell of a lot of interesting auto news that does not make it to this website.
  • Jkross22 EV makers are hosed. How much bigger is the EV market right now than it already is? Tesla is holding all the cards... existing customer base, no dealers to contend with, largest EV fleet and the only one with a reliable (although more crowded) charging network when you're on the road. They're also the most agile with pricing. I have no idea what BMW, Audi, H/K and Merc are thinking and their sales reflect that. Tesla isn't for me, but I see the appeal. They are the EV for people who really just want a Tesla, which is most EV customers. Rivian and Polestar and Lucid are all in trouble. They'll likely have to be acquired to survive. They probably know it too.
  • Lorenzo The Renaissance Center was spearheaded by Henry Ford II to revitalize the Detroit waterfront. The round towers were a huge mistake, with inefficient floorplans. The space is largely unusable, and rental agents were having trouble renting it out.GM didn't know that, or do research, when they bought it. They just wanted to steal thunder from Ford by making it their new headquarters. Since they now own it, GM will need to tear down the "silver silos" as un-rentable, and take a financial bath.Somewhere, the ghost of Alfred P. Sloan is weeping.