Sitting high up provides a good view to all sides and displays on the instrument panel. Image Credit: Hugo A. Sanchez /© Gulf News

Dubai: Do you pay any attention to the car seats when deciding to buy a car?

Experts will tell you that you should. In fact, that should be among your top considerations when purchasing a vehicle.

Seats are as important as the engine, particularly if you are driving a fast car. A good seat helps improve safety, makes us better drivers and can even increase a car’s fuel efficiency, say experts.

Whether buyers take car seats seriously or not, manufacturers are certainly doing so. It’s not just cushion, fabric and leather that goes into making a car seat. Seat making has become a specialised field now, with automakers contracting dedicated firms, such as Adient, Faurecia and Lear, to get the job done.

Just consider this: A typical car seat design and manufacture involves the following areas — designers, chemists, ergonomic specialists, metallurgists, artisans, biomedical and software engineers. Every one of them has a definitive role to play in the final reality of the car seat.

Having the right sitting position is very important for safety... and back comfort. In a good driving position, you can reach the pedals and steering wheel easily without moving in your seat.

- Carl-Johan Ramberg, Consultant Neurologist, German Neuroscience Centre Dubai

According to a recent study by Harvard Health Watch, a typical driver spends nearly 38,000 hours behind the wheel in a lifetime, covering some 1.2million kilometres.

Car companies know an uncomfortable perch can mean a lost sale, no matter how exceptional the car is. Rarely offered in sizes, the same seat that supports a five-foot frame must please a six-foot-four rugby player. No wonder, most carmakers these days are allocating a high chunk of their budget for seating, second only to the engine.

When Nissan got serious about improving its seats, it looked at data collected by Nasa on the shape of the human spine in space. In theory, cradling the back in this neutral posture reduces the fatigue of sitting. The Zero Gravity seats that debuted in the 2013 Altima scored much better with consumers than the departing units.

“Zero Gravity isn’t just a buzzword,” said Chris Reed, vice-president for platform and technology engineering at Nissan. “People actually noticed. Our testers driving the developmental cars for 5,000 miles at a stretch told us they were a solid improvement.”

So, what is a comfortable seat?

Speaking to Gulf News, Peter Setterberg, technical expert, Volvo Cars, said that there are many aspects to consider when assessing comfort. The three basics to be taken into consideration: initial comfort, cruise comfort and active comfort.

Initial comfort: “The initial comfort is to be judged in the showroom or when entering the compartment. The visual look, does the seat look comfortable, the material, shape and styling. When sitting in the seat for the first time, you should have a firm but stable feeling with enough support without feeling squeezed,” said Setterberg.

Cruise comfort: It is considered when taking the car for a long drive. “You should be able to sit in the seat without getting pain or uncomfortable local pressure. It should be possible to get out of the car without being wearied too much.”

Active comfort: This is to have enough support when driving active at curvy roads. To have support from the side bolsters without that they are in the way.”

For American luxury carmaker Cadillac, comfort is more about well-being.

“The most important attribute in a car seat is an ergonomic design. It’s vital that the seat has been designed and developed with well-being in mind, whilst importantly, maintaining a premium, handcrafted feel,” said Christian Soemmer, Managing Director, Cadillac Middle East.

However, he adds that comfort doesn’t have to be boring.

Ergonomics also play a key part in the customer’s decision-making, this is usually dictated by a person’s height,
weight and overall posture.

- Saud Abbasi, managing director of Al-Futtaim Toyota

“At Cadillac, we make comfort feel stylish and performance-focused. For instance, our all-new XT4 compact SUV houses sport-inspired seating with prominent seat-bottom and seatback bolsters that balance comfort with the support typically found in sport sedans,” said Soemmer.

According to Toyota, in seat comfort, customers look for features such as adjustability, headroom, legroom, cooling options (in our region as opposed to heating features in other parts of the world) design, stitching and also material used in making the seat, especially the durability and longevity of these materials depending on individual needs and use.

Saud Abbasi, managing director of Al-Futtaim Toyota said that comfort is generally dictated by a customer’s budget.

“Ergonomics also play a key part in the customer’s decision-making, this is usually dictated by a person’s height, weight and overall posture. Customers also need to consider the number of seats and configuration when deciding, for example, families with children,” said Abbasi.

200 parts in a car seat? They can be even go up to 700 parts.

Competing to meet the growing expectations of consumers, manufacturers are going out of their way to add mechanisms that allow seats to slide, fold, raise, pivot, tilt for entry or drop into the floor to create cargo room.

A simple front seat can have around 200 parts, while a more complex luxury car seat can have up to 700 parts.

“From a Lexus perspective, delivering and perhaps exceeding [customer’s] expectation has always been our flagship Lexus LS. With its newest model, the cabin has been designed to create an environment, which allows the driver’s focus to stay on the road ahead, by positioning instruments and panels within the field of view,” said Mohammad Maktari, managing director of Al-Futtaim Lexus.

Lexus calls this concept ‘Seat in Control’.

“Armrests slide comfortably under your elbows and buttons can be pushed without taking your hands off the wheel. This emphasises the driver’s ability to operate all systems without changing body posture,” added Maktari.

“If you have a good basic seat, you can make it even better with additional features,” said Volvo’s Setterberg. “Volvo cars seat with cushion extension is a bit shorter than the basic seat, which means it could fit even better to shorter and taller people by adjusting the cushion length. Volvo Cars have chosen to have a shape that is as wide as possible to give as much support as possible sideways for the legs. In addition to the cushion extension, there is the tilt that adjusts the frontal part of the cushion to get correct leg support in height. On top of this, when driving for long time it could be good to get some movements in the seat. Then the full back massage help with all the possible massage programmes,” said Volvo’s Setterberg.

What is a crumple zone?

Al-Futtaim Toyota’s Abbasi explains: “Crumple zones are areas of a vehicle that are designed to deform in a collision. This absorbs some of the energy of a potential impact, preventing it from being transmitted to the occupants. Crumple zones work by managing crash energy, absorbing it within the outer parts of the vehicle, rather than being directly transferred to the occupants, while also preventing intrusion into or deformation of the passenger cabin. This better protects car occupants against injury.”

Malin Ekholm, vice-president of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, points out that its vehicles’ seats have vertical crumple zones. “In the event you run off the road, we wanted to do more. Peak forces in such accidents were found to be above the limit of the human spine in many cases, and the crumple zone is designed to reduce or remove the spinal injuries.”

Take a seat and learn this

Cadillac: Danger alert

Cadillac customers can specify the ‘Driver Awareness Pack’ which has the cutting-edge ‘Safety Alert Seat’ technology. The ‘Safety Alert Seat’ features two small motors in the driver’s seat, which are connected to the car’s electronic safety systems, when a potential hazard is detected, one or both motors gently vibrate under the driver to alert them to danger.

Toyota: The Sashiko Technique

Lexus UX, the latest compact crossover in the Lexus line-up, has been designed by Mrs Chika Kako, executive vice-president of Lexus International and chief engineer, which uses material technologies to improve weight reduction, eco-friendliness, durability and design.

The UX, offers different types of seats to choose from. The leather seats for instance, feature an upholstery pattern created using the traditional Japanese quilting technique, sashiko, as well as perforations incorporating new design elements such as mathematical curved lines and gradation. The sashiko technique is used commonly on uniforms worn in Japan’s traditional martial arts such as Judo and Kendo, and it visually gives an impression of strength. The stitching also provides a nice feeling of grip.

Volvo: “In the backrest attachment, there is an energy absorber built in that works together with the complete system of the seat to eat energy in a potential rear crash. This to prevent possible whiplash injuries. Volvo Cars have also introduced a system to lower the Z forces for the spine in an off the road situation. In addition to how the seat is designed with different materials and possible movements, there is also an energy absorber built into the height adjuster,” said Soemmer.

Smart seats:

At Lear, seats are soon expected to become smart devices. “Our new Intu seat is the world’s first intelligent system using sensors and intelligent features,” Ray Scott, chief executive of Lear, said.

Discreet sensors in the seat provide medical-grade data to the vehicle, which can then react with tones, vibrations or visual responses when it thinks the driver is stressed, drowsy or distracted. The seat can also automatically adjust itself “into an optimal position based on the occupant’s size, shape and location in the seat,” Scott added.

What they said ...

Syed Safdar

Syed Safdar, Indian, sales supervisor: “Comfort in car seat is very important to me, the idea of test driving a car is to check the comfort level of a seat before buying a car. But beyond basic for me personally it doesn’t matter how the seat looks or what features does it have. For cars are used mostly to communicate from A to B and a seat is a small matter and it can be adjusted or upholstered if need be. So when I am buying a car, seats won’t be one of the top factors.”

Salah Al Battashi

Salah Al Battashi, Omani, project manager: “When it comes to car seats, the only thing that matters to me in terms of practicality is, how less prone it is to getting dirty. I drive a Toyota FJ Cruiser and what I love about the seats in the car is that they are spill resistant and they don’t catch dirt very quickly. The comfort levels and other features also matter, but for me if a seat is going to be in good condition for five years I am going to go for it.”

James Lustre

James Lustre, Filipino, engineer: “With the traffic here and the long drives we have daily, comfort matters a lot. When I was younger, styling and other factors were very important for me when buying a car, but what I care about more is how comfortable the drive is and seats play a big role in making you feel comfortable and relaxed. I don’t like being cramped in a seat so I like cars with wider seats and with features that will give good support to my back.”

Bashar Daud, Jordanian, engineer: “When I bought a car recently, I hardly looked at the car seats. Of course comfort is important, but for me the seat is about the fabric or the cushion it is made of. I generally go for leather seats. But I don’t spend too much thinking about the seats when I am buying a car. I think it’s just a small matter while making a choice. I know for some people it is important, but to me it’s not that big a factor.

Tip: Need a tiebreaker when choosing your next car? Experts say to look for a bottom cushion that’s long enough to support your thighs, as it supports 60 per cent of your mass. Soft cushioning appeals during a 15-minute test drive, but firmer foam gives the best support for most physiques on long trips.