Qotd what price do you put on comfort – the truth about cars

Thinking back on the vehicles I’ve owned over the course of my life, not a single one stands out for reasons related to discomfort. Physical discomfort, to be clear, as a couple drove me to drink due to embarrassing unreliability (Hi, Chrysler Corp!) and infuriating electrical gremlins (Ahoy, Honda!).

I’m sure my back (and backside) would factor more heavily into this discussion if tinkering on cheap foreign exotics played any kind of role in my life. It’s not easy squeezing this lanky frame into a cramped cockpit, and that could surely drain the joy from any man-machine relationship. Yes, front seat comfort ranks extremely high on my list of automotive demands.

If a vehicle is to be anything more than a pastime plaything, comfort needs to be assured.

Some very common vehicles are simply out of the question for this reason alone. Ford Taurus? Unacceptable. Toyota Corolla and (outgoing) Corolla iM? No way. Third-generation Nissan Altima? Forget it. Nissan Rogue? Maybe if I was shorter. Fiat 500? Maybe if I was much, much shorter.

In the Taurus’ case, it’s a matter of cramped footwells making this big-on-the-outside sedan a non-starter. The Corollas and older Altima couldn’t be better suited for causing spinal implosions, all thanks to overly soft cushions and nonexistent lower back support. As for the Rogue and Fiat, the issue boils down to legroom and headroom, respectively.

A vehicle might boast dodgy reliability, lackluster performance, and embarrassing styling, but physical discomfort trumps bank balance woes and behind-your-back snickers any day, in my books. Do you agree, or have you purchased a vehicle before where comfort ranked dead last on its list of attributes? Is it something you found you were able to live with, or did your muscles and vertebrae eventually make the case for a replacement?

Sitting in it isn’t driving it, Slavuta. Nearly everyone has acknowledged that the interiors LOOK identical, other than bits of trim. It’s how they drive that counts. And yes, if your sense of “fun” means ‘the fastest car on the track’ then by no means is it fun–again, we all know it’s slower than the Miata. However, the way it feels as you drive it; the way it wants to throw its tail around; the way it sounds; the old-school ‘throw it around the curves’ type of performance, even though it slows the car down, type of sensation; THOSE add to the fun factor. Sometimes being fastest doesn’t make it the best. Sometimes the actual ability to manhandle the car is what makes it a success, even if it isn’t the most popular car in the world.

Remember, Toyota and Subaru joined forces to create a mini-coupe that was designed for the exact same type of driving. As a practical car it’s practically worthless but it’s still one heck of a lot of fun to drive. They intentionally put it on undersized rubber (meaning less tread width) just to make it easier to throw the car around despite being anemically powered.

Older Wranglers are incredibly uncomfortable. The seating compartment is quite cramped. The seats have almost no adjustability and they are over bolstered to keep the driver in place while offroading. Unfortunately, older Wranglers and CJs are narrow so the seats are narrow and the bolstering tends to apply pressure to the kidney area. Plus, the seating position is so upright that your blood collects in your feet if you’re doing a cross country marathon.

Did I mention the heat? The sun beating down on the black top will radiate directly into your head space, and the heavy duty powertrain generates a ton of heat, which bleeds directly through the huge transmission tunnel into the tiny passenger compartment. So you take the top off to get relief from the heat, and you get roasted by the sun, which you can’t feel until the next day because the wind is keeping you cool as you drive.

Oh, and I nearly forgot about the abysmal ride. It’s solid axle in the rear, and the wheelbase is sub-100″. Driving on bumpy pavement is like having Mike Tyson kidney punch you in rapid succession. The narrow track also makes undulations in the pavement seem quite pronounced, and if you’re tall, and the seat is all the way back, there is a chance you will hit your head on the roll cage, which might still be padded depending upon the age of the components. If you’re unlucky, yellow foam dust will come flying out when you hit your head. Fun times.

Anyway, comfort is quite important to me because my second vehicle must provide a safe space for me to convalesce after extended driving in my Wrangler. High profile cushions and floaty suspension are greatly appreciated, along with excellent sound deadening and a nice stereo.

We presently have a 2011 Nissan Xterra, and a 2009 Toyota RAV4. The Toyota, in particular, is awful. The seats are too flat, poor lumbar, and lack leg room. In fact, in the past I have found most Toyota seats uncomfortable. The seats in the Nissan feel OK at first but don’t cut it on a long drive.

We recently went shopping for another vehicle to replace our RAV4. We were at the Subaru dealer trying the Forester and the Outback. The Forester had easy entry, wonderful visibility, and great leg room and head room. But the seat bottom was too short and was a deal breaker. The Outback was better and the seating was more car like in that you sat out more rather than up. We didn’t test the Outback with a long drive yet.

The older salesman made an interesting observation about seat comfort. He said some people find sitting out more horizontal, as in a car, is more comfortable to many people, whereas, many people feel a more upright sitting position is best. I would say I am a car person. My 2012 Mazda 6 was very comfortable on long trips.

I like to go to dealers every few months and drive a couple cars. The very best feeling I ever had for seat comfort and driving position was last spring when I tried out, of all cars, a VW Golf. From the moment I sat in the car, it was pure delight. Of course, seat comfort and driving position are extremely subjective, but it it nice to hear what car seats are comfortable to some drivers and which ones are not.

As a guy that’s big and tall (6’1″ @ 265) I need a measurable amount of legroom above all and the ability to fine tune my seating and steering geometry. I can sit low to a point, as long as I can adjust the height/pitch of the seat and distance away from the pedals. Headroom is important too.

As far as seats go, I’ve never been super impressed with any seats of a car I’ve driven or rode in, from Mercedes and Lexus to Jettas and Accords and everything in between, including my Mopars. Nothing on particular ever stuck out as bad but nothing ever impressed me either. If I drive/ride for more than 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter what car it is, I start shifting in my seat. I never have discomfort in my back though, it’s always my thighs/posterior.

Chilly AC is paramount as well, especially here in Utah where the summers are brutal. Sunroofs are nice on cooler days. Seat warmers are useless to me. I’ve never turned mine on, even in the middle of winter. Ventilated seats seem nice on paper but my OCD can’t handle the thought of having thousands of little holes, so I stay with plain leather.