The vast majority of five-passenger cars, CUVs, and SUVs can really only be used regularly for four passengers. If you have seven seats, think of your vehicle more as a six-passenger vehicle. Why? Because the second-row middle seat in just about every vehicle out there sucks. That’s why we see so many people buying seven-passenger crossovers when they have a family of five. They need more room. Even if you don’t have a family bigger than five, actually getting all five people into one vehicle is a major chore and often just about physically impossible.
The fact is that automakers treat the second-row middle seat as an afterthought. This is okay sometimes, but we’d like to see more companies make the middle hump seat something worth sitting on. We know it can be done, manufacturers just have to make it happen.
The Reason the Second-Row Middle Seat Sucks
Back in the day, when long bench seats ruled the automotive world, the second-row middle seat wasn’t all that bad. Sure, you lacked armrests and had a pretty big hump in the floor between your legs, but at least the seat was relatively comfortable. Today it seems that most automakers aren’t even trying. The second-row middle seat is just there in case you have to stuff five people into your vehicle for the short run down to a restaurant.
Issues with the second-row middle seat still have the awkward hump in the middle of the floor and no armrests, but it now goes further than that. Few seats offer any kind of suitable headroom, most have a seatback that doubles as an armrest and cupholders for the outboard seat passengers, and the seat cushion itself is usually much less comfortable than the outboard second-row seats.
It seems that every other part of the automobile has made significant progress while the rear middle seat has gotten worse. How is it that engines, aerodynamics, cargo space, and overall comfort for all other passengers has gone up significantly, but this one area of almost every vehicle has not only continued to suck but gotten worse?
How It Could be Better
It doesn’t have to be this way. The second-row middle seat could be a genuinely nice place to sit. There are a few vehicles that do this right. The Tesla Model S springs to mind first. If you haven’t seen the rear seat of the Model S, take a good long look at the image above. Each seat is well-padded, gets its own identical headrest, and offers essentially the same amount of comfort save for the armrests. There’s even bolstering for the middle seat, a feature not found on most cars.
Another good example is pickup trucks. The next time you’re near a large crew cab truck, like the Ford F-150 or GMC Sierra1500 (pictured below), climb into the rear middle seat. You’ll find a flat floor, a well-cushioned seat and plenty of leg and headroom. The seatback is often rather hard and the headrest non-existant, but otherwise, it's pretty darn good. The rear middle seat isn’t as comfortable as the outboard seats, but it’s not a bad place to be.
The difference between these seats is that the automakers actually planned for them to be used. The middle second-row seat in these vehicles offers as many of the other seats' features as is easily possible. There’s plenty of room for the middle passenger’s feet, enough headroom, and the seat itself is comfortable.
Judging from the attributes of these vehicles, what makes a good second-row middle seat include a flat -- or as flat as possible -- load floor, plenty of leg and headroom, and a comfortable seating cushion and seatback. It seems to us that almost every crossover out there could offer this. With the heightened ride height of CUVs and the front-wheel-drive system that most of them feature, it seems like creating a flat load floor for the rear passengers wouldn’t be that hard. As far as headroom goes, making a bit more space is necessary but not necessarily difficult. Also, reconfiguring the rear seat so the middle seat is actually comfortable shouldn’t be that hard.
The bottom line is that the second-row middle seat doesn’t have to suck. It does because automakers assume people aren’t usually going to use it, so they don’t put much thought into the way it’s designed. That, in turn, forces people to not use the second-row middle seat unless they absolutely have to. It’s a weird kind of irony. Automakers make crappy middle seats because they don’t expect people to use them, and people don’t use them because automakers make them so crappy. We get that the middle seat is the last choice for just about everyone, but that still doesn’t mean the seat has to be uncomfortable. It can and should be good.