Of all the factors car shoppers consider when deciding on their next vehicle, comfortable seats are not typically among them. Reliability, fuel economy, safety and styling are all important for choosing a car that will provide satisfaction over years of ownership. But for many drivers, especially those who have back pain or regularly drive long distances, a comfortable and supportive seat is just as important. It's tough to enjoy a vehicle when driving causes physical pain.
Unfortunately, finding the right seat may not be as easy as comparing fuel economy or safety ratings. There is no perfect seat for every driver. But these tips can help you find one that's right for you and your budget so that going places in your next vehicle will be fun and pain-free.
Before even considering the seat itself, try out a vehicle's driving position. It can make all the difference in comfort. It's not only sports cars that have a low, extended-leg position that's stressful on a bad back; some sedans and even some crossovers do, too. A more upright, chairlike driving position is often helpful in improving comfort, especially on longer trips. It eases stress on the back by more evenly spreading weight across the bottom cushion of the seat.
Another advantage of taller seats, especially in vehicles such as minivans and smaller crossovers, is easier entry and exit. Just getting in and out of a low seat can cause discomfort before the drive even starts. Choose a vehicle with both an upright driving position and the proper seat height for entry and exit if you find it troublesome to climb in and out of lower cars.
Lumbar support for the driver seat is a common feature and can relieve those with back pain. Even economically priced models are often offered with optional lumbar support, though sometimes it's included only as part of an options package or higher trim level.
Lumbar supports typically offer some adjustability. The most basic supports let you manually dial in more cushioning for your lower back using a lever. More sophisticated systems on upscale and luxury models are power-operated. Some also allow you to adjust not only how much support you want but also where you want it, higher or lower on the back.
Supporting the legs can be as important in providing a comfortable experience behind the wheel. Taller drivers can benefit from deeper seats or ones with adjustability for the bottom cushion. The extra support for the driver's thighs can increase comfort, especially on the long haul.
Many luxury models offer power-adjustable bottom cushions. Manually adjustable thigh extensions first appeared on sportier cars but are now on a range of affordable cars and crossover vehicles.
Other Seat Features
The more adjustability a seat provides, the easier you'll be able to find the most comfortable position. Power seats are not a must for comfort, but they do provide benefits. They're more likely to offer greater adjustability; the most highly adjustable manual seats are typically found in sportier models. Plus, some include memory functions. That's a huge plus if more than one person in the household uses the vehicle. Finding that sweet spot without the memory function can be tricky and time-consuming with either manual or power seats.
The most luxurious -- and expensive -- new car models offer features such as heated and ventilated seats, and even massage functions. If such a vehicle fits your budget, try these out on a test drive.
A Longer Test Drive
A test drive is really the only way to know if a vehicle you're considering has the comfortable seats you need. And you might need to take a long test drive. If you don't typically experience pain or discomfort until 20 minutes into a drive, make sure your test drive is at least 30 minutes. Just let the salesperson know ahead of time that seat comfort is a top priority.
Automakers know how important comfort is to drivers, and they've responded with more supportive and more adjustable seats across their model lineups. Gone are the days of seats that just slide back and forth. And gone, too, can be those store-bought cushions that never quite ease stress on the lower back. Whether you're looking for a budget-minded economy car or a 3-row luxury crossover, a seat that fits your needs is available. Just determine which features listed here are important to you and be sure to give that seat a solid try before you make your decision.