Wednesday 28 September 2016

How today's car seats can make all the difference

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

The seats in the new Opel Astra were designed in consultation with NASA
The seats in the new Opel Astra were designed in consultation with NASA

As one who has suffered from the odd bout of bad back (understatement) I am always aware of, and tuned into, seats in cars.

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Which is why I have no bother admitting I sometimes 'like', or criticise, a car that may otherwise be ordinary or exceptional.

Usually large, luxury vehicles have big, strong, electrically adjustable and lumbar supportive seats. They don't necessarily suit everyone but, in the main, they work for me.

More mainstream cars have improved lots over the past few years in what I consider to be a crucial area of the vehicle.

Nissan, for example have used NASA guidelines to pinpoint the myriad areas of the body that require support. It is all in the detail. Interesting to see the graphical representation of all the points that need support.

Last week I drove Opel's new Astra. Without in any way diminishing the marque's new connectivity or the car's significant improvement on composure, handling and ride, I feel the need to re-visit it again because of the seating.

The seats are slim, they are compact (I'm not) and they are anchored on a floor of an interior that is quite low.

Ordinarily I would approach such a combination with a degree of trepidation as it involves a bit of a crouching and possibly an uncomfortable 'lean' while driving.

That wasn't the case. While the car is smaller, there is a tad more room up front and at the back.

But the design of the seats was key for me. Like Nissan, they've consulted NASA.

The result, for me anyway, is a seat that fitted particularly well. My (female) driving companion had a similar verdict.

The result was that I got out of the car and straightened up immediately; sometimes it can take a few seconds due to stiffness in the old lumbar region.

There is more to feeling comfortable in a car; steering adjustment, angle, seat adjustment, distance from, and spacing of, the foot pedals etc are all vital contributors.

But if the basic seat isn't right then no amount of adjusting is going to help.

Not so long ago I drove a new car for just a few minutes. It was a top-of-range model with comfy seats. But there was no real support for my lower back. On that basis I wouldnt buy it.

I'm using the Astra as an example of a good job in an area that many overlook when they are buying. Don't forget the first thing you do is SIT when you get into a car.

Often we are so preoccupied with driving, temperature, listening to the radio and so on that we subliminally overlook the amount of adjustment-on-the go we carry out. Ever watch people at traffic lights? Lots of them nudge seats/backrests forwards or backwards a little. Why? Because their bodies are telling them things aren't quite right.

I drove the Astra a good bit and I don't think I shifted a millimetre - apart from when I was parked and writing on my laptop.

The moral is: take a long time making sure the seats in whatever car you are thinking of buying fit you as well as possible.

They can't all fit you like a glove - manufacturers have to aggregate size, weight of occupants etc.

But it is the one area where you will only find the best for you by sitting on the job.

What cars have you found suited you best/worst? Let us know. ecunningham@independent.ie

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