Car seats: what you need to know before you buy

By David Bonnici, 30 Nov 2017 Car Advice

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Car seats: what you need to know before you buy

Seat comfort should be at the top end of your priorities when buying a new car

There’s nothing you use more in your car than the driver’s seat, and its level of comfort can be all the difference between an enjoyable drive and a miserable one, regardless of the car’s other performance or luxury features.

While you don’t always get the opportunity to sit in a car for long periods before buying, there are some things you should consider before signing on the dotted line when it comes to seat comfort.

Airbag of the future takes a front seat

Materials

Cloth: Cloth seats have come a long way from fake velvet and woven knits of decades gone by, and many cars feature seats made from durable and porous nylon, which looks good and keeps cool. Some cheaper cars use PVC fabric, which isn’t as comfortable. Cloth seats are usually well cushioned and comfortable for people of average build.

Vinyl: Once associated with burnt thighs, fading, brittleness and carsick-inducing fumes, vinyl is now an increasingly premium option and referred to as imitation leather, faux leather or even vegan leather. Vinyl seats look good, come in a wide range of colours and are easy to clean. They are usually a more costly option than cloth seats, however they’re not necessarily more comfortable as they tend to be firmer so you can feel like you’re sitting on them rather than in them.

Alcantara: This synthetic suede-like material is prolific in sports cars for seats, steering wheels and trim, and is often used in conjunction with leather. Alcantara is durable, feels good to touch and provides good grip to stop you sliding around the seat in tight corners.

Leather: Real leather seats look and feel luxurious. Their quality and cost depends on the type of leather and the tanning and finishing processes used. Some leather seats have synthetic coatings to enhance colour, feel and durability. While these are usually more affordable they aren’t to be confused with imitation leather, though they can feel just as firm.  The cost of leather seats is often amplified by the fact they’re most likely to come with powered settings.

Ergonomics

Regardless of what seats are made from, their ultimate comfort relies on how well they support your body. The back rest is the most important component. You want side bolstering to prevent lateral movement, but you don’t want it so narrow that it digs into your hips and lower back. You also want good support for your lower back (lumbar support) and the lower seat cushion to be deep enough that it supports most of your thighs.

Your basic car driver’s seat has height, forward/back, headrest height, and backrest pitch adjustments, which are all you really need if the seat is well constructed and suits your body shape.

But it’s very difficult to make a one-size-fits-all seat, so extra settings may be necessary, such as adjustable lumbar support, which is great for long drives. Bigger people might also appreciate the ability to adjust side bolstering, under-thigh support and headrest height.

Seats with all of these functions usually use electric switches for all or some of the functions as they’re less bulky and offer more precision, but they do drive up the cost. 

Creature comforts

Even if you get your seat to feel Goldilocks right, there are even more ways to add to your comfort levels, such as heated seats. This may seem like an unnecessary feature if you have never tried it, though it really does feel relaxing to jump into a car on a cold day and feel that warmth, which can also help soothe a sore back.

Ventilated seats are also becoming more common and are great for Aussie summers. As well as the comfort they offer on a hot day, they help prevent sweating and getting your shirt wet, which is very handy if you’re a sales rep.

Massage seats are a totally gratuitous feature, though a back rub while you drive could be a godsend if you have back problems and/or drive long distances.

Do you want to drive your new convertible with the roof down at every opportunity even in winter? An ‘air scarf’ located below the headrest blows hot air on your neck. Like the above features, it seems rather superfluous until you try it.

Seat position memory settings makes it easy return the driving position to your preferred spot after someone else has driven your car. Two memory positions are common, though more premium cars have three or four settings. As well as adjusting the seat, some cars with this function also adjust the door mirrors and steering wheel.

Weighing up the costs

Upgrading from cloth seats with four manual adjustments to full leather, with 10-power settings and other creature comforts, will add thousands to the cost of your car.  There’s a lot in between, but it’s not always a simple matter of being able to add one or two things. For example, if you want lumbar support or heated seats you’ll generally need to upgrade to vinyl or leather, which are more likely to have power settings, which further add to the cost. Or it could mean having to choose a higher spec model of the car you’re buying.

See what options are available and how they’ll benefit you. You won’t regret spending a little more if it means making your new car a more pleasant and comfortable place to be.