I feel that seats are by far the most underrated piece of technology in a car. Sure, the way a car looks will be what catches your attention first, or maybe the way it sounds. But more than anything, when you’re actually in the car, seats will be what makes or breaks the experience. Yet, they’re often overlooked. So we made the decision that this article had to be written to highlight this vital component, and what makes a good one. (It’s worth noting that I have been a passenger in, or have driven every car on this list.)
For the B-Road Blast: Ford’s Fiesta ST, Focus ST, and Focus RS Recaro seats.
Before you’ve even sat in these seats, you know they’re going to be the business. The bulky back and thigh bolstering grips you and keep you in place through even the sharpest corners. Which is a good thing because these seats are used in the outgoing Fiesta ST, Focus ST, and Focus RS models. The Fiesta ST and Focus RS in particular need seats a cut above the rest because both cars can outgrip just about anything else on twisty British B-roads. The cloth inserts also provided extra grip and provide a noticeable difference over full leather.
But as performance focused as they are, they also feature strongly contoured shoulder support to prevent muscle strain when driving for longer periods of time. Even though they’re not designed to take long motorway miles with ease, they are exceptionally good at it. There are decent levels of support right the way up the spine. Although the rather flat extended cushioning behind the knees could benefit from being contoured – so that they would hold your legs as snugly as they hold the rest of you.
They are also missing the adjustability that seats may have. This means that they are a bit one-size-fits-all. You see, I personally don’t notice it much, but I’ve heard fatter people find them difficult to fit into. Once again though, I should utter that they’re designed for performance, not comfort. And they do performance so well that once you’ve driven one of these cars on a twisty road you’ll forgive any faults that can be found with them – they really are that good!
(Note: These seats were only used in the front – the back seats in all three cars are shockingly bad. I’d rather ride in an LDV minibus than in the back of a performance Ford. Also, an even more performance-focused seat option was available in the Focus RS.)
For the Finer Things in Life: Rolls Royce Dawn and Wraith seats.
Rolls Royce have really upped their seat game since the Wraith came out. They were always comfortable seats, but prior to the Wraith they were more like a big three-piece-sweet than car seats. And who could blame them? Nobody was ever going to thrash one up a mountain pass like their hair was on fire – because that’s what you’d buy a Bentley for. No, instead they were for wafting a slouched Mi’ Lady and Sir everywhere in the back, ten below the speed limit. But of course, the Wraith was different. Even though Rolls Royce had done big coupes in the past, the Wraith was the first one capable of any real performance. Don’t get me wrong, by no means is it a sports car. But it did appeal to a more driver-friendly demographic than Rolls would typically accommodate itself to.
And this is reflected in their seats. Just as you’d expect, you’re able to sink into them and just feel immersed in them – cut off from the rest of the world thanks to the high standard of sound deadening and insulation in the car. The back bolstering is the perfect amount for the car, It feels luxurious and capable, without being as vulgar as to feel sporty. The headrests catch your head just the right way too. No need to strain your neck by keeping your head up. Your body feels propped up on them. Almost as if you’re putting zero effort into sitting up straight. Even if you choose to slouch you’ll feel comfortable and supported.
One complaint can be made however by the plastic fake-chrome inserts in them. They’re just cheap and not something you should find on a car like this. I can see why they didn’t make them out of metal, but to be honest they’re just unnecessary.
The Best: Volvo’s R-Design and Inscription seats.
Volvo are renowned for two things; the safest cars, and the best car seats. And as it turns out, those things go hand-in-hand with each other.
Most motor manufacturers enlist interior designers to do their seats. Others will ask companies like Recaro and Sparco who make performance additions for car interiors to design them. However Volvo were the first to disregard those kinds of sources and instead, hire “experts in the muscular and skeletal system” from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg to design their seats. Put simply, you’ll never find yourself squirming to alleviate back pressure in a Volvo seat, because the orthopaedic surgeons who designed them know what they’re doing.
There’s not a single part of one’s anatomy which isn’t supported by these seats. Sitting on them (with thin clothing on in particular) feels like someone’s put a sponge in between each and every disk in your spine – you feel almost weightless. They’re highly adjustable too, to cater for all body types. And speaking of one’s body, these seats do more than offer comfort. Those funny looking headrests are shaped like that for a reason, because if you’re rear-ended in most cars you’ll get whiplash. However those headrests protect against that – meaning that they’re even the most comfortable seats to have a crash in.
The R-design seats are Volvo’s sporty ones. They’re adjustable twelve ways, are made from nappa leather, have power thigh support, can be spec’d at some dealers with alcantara inserts, and are firmer than other trim level seats. The Inscription level trim features the more luxurious seats; they’ve got everything the R-design seats do except they’re softer, are available in more colours, and have a massage function.
The worst: Tesla Model S.
Many large car companies have quality control issues, but we all know that Tesla is the worst offender in the premium segment. And this is more than reflected in their seats…
Their Model S seats are known to cause front seat occupants a lot of pain when the foam inside them tears or separates, driving a sharp piece of the seat’s frame into the person’s upper leg. And in 2017, 11,000 Model X Tesla’s had to be recalled when the company conducted tests which found out (after the car was put on sale, and many had been delivered) that seats would fold, move around, and could even break completely in violent collisions.
Not a great start, it must be said. To make matters even worse, they’re just plain old uncomfortable [and not to mention ugly too]. The bolstering may be better than it looks at first sight, however you find yourself squirming about after sitting on them for a while as pressure points in your back and bum start to make themselves known. After a long journey you’ll notice back pain and all kinds of strain in your neck.
There’s no support through your hips with these seats, and because of that your legs just kind of exist in protest to them, rather than with them. Your legs don’t feel secure or comfortable. This is because the seats are curved in a funny way behind the knee, encouraging your legs to just kind of fall apart in a limp and awkward manor. You feel as if you sit on these seats, not in them.
And to think, I’ve heard the Model 3 is even worse!
Before people start defending Tesla by pointing out how they’ve come from nothing in such a short time and all that: please consider that the purpose of this discussion is to address a selection of exceptionally good cars seats in the premium sector, and speak a bit about the worst. It’s not a bash at Tesla or electric cars.
By James Harrison