If you spend more time in your vehicle than most folks, your ideal vehicle should be truly comfortable, but what does that exactly mean? It's easy to get distracted by the car's looks, amenities, and other details that may not factor into a car's overall comfort level. Consider the fact that poor comfort leads to fatigue and diminished alertness. Here are five key areas that are paramount when it comes to driver and passenger comfort. They're more important than you think.
Excellent Seat Comfort and Quality
If you're going to sit in your car for hours on end, you'd be smart to choose a vehicle that's known for having excellent seats. This doesn't mean good-looking seats. Almost anyone can do that. But certain automakers take the time to make sure they do their homework. Support, cushioning, and bolstering
- Support: The seat should support your body weight evenly on the cushion and on the seat back. If the seat is too narrow or too short, you'll experience discomfort in a short period of time.
- Cushioning: The seat foam should strike a good balance between soft and firm. If it's too soft, you'll experience lower back pain. If it's too hard, your backside will start to hurt.
- Bolstering: The sides of the seat should hold you in place in turns. If the seat is too flat on the sides, you'll slide around when turning.
Automakers that do seats particularly well are Lexus, Volvo, and BMW.
Driver-Friendly Infotainment System
Infotainment systems are ubiquitous. In fact, there are very few cars left on earth that don't have them. Even the cheapest car in America, the Nissan Versa, has a rudimentary infotainment system. But even some of the fancier car brands can't seem to do infotainment right. Too many menu layers, poor response time, a screen that washes out in bright sunlight, and bad graphics can make using them while driving not just painful but dangerous. Here's what to look for:
- Large and Vivid Touchscreen: A screen size of 8+ inches is ideal. Just don't settle for a screen smaller than 6.5 inches because fonts and icons have to be smaller to fit. It should also have enough contrast and have good placement/angle for viewing when the sun glare hits.
- Easy Menus: Menu icons should be easy to figure out quickly, and the icons and on-screen buttons should be large enough so you don't easily mash the wrong function.
- Optional Physical Controls: Sometimes you don't want to mess with the screen when you're driving. A good system should have control knobs on the center stack or between the seats on the center console.
Manufacturers that provide great infotainment systems are Ford (SYNC3), Fiat Chrysler (Uconnect), Mazda (MazdaConnect), Audi (MMI), and Hyundai (Bluelink). Hyundai is especially good at making great infotainment systems.
Great Head/Leg/Shoulder/Hip Room
You can have the greatest seats in the world, but if you don't have a solid amount of space for you and your passengers, you can't maximize the seats' real potential. Headroom, legroom, and shoulder room all play a role. And just because a vehicle is large on the inside doesn't automatically equate to
- Leg Room: Keep in mind that the vehicle has to fit your height (and, ideally, your family members', too). Just because someone who's 6'4" can fit in the driver's seat doesn't mean it's right for your 5'5" body. Good adjustability fore and aft are key. The pedals and steering wheel should be in the right position to make for the right fit for you, too.
- Head Room: Watch for sunroofs/moonroofs that diminish headroom. Also, if you can height adjust your seat, it may increase or decrease your headroom based on your ideal visibility setting. Rear passengers may suffer if your roofline slopes based on the car's design.
- Shoulder/Hip Room: This is more a factor for rear passengers when seated three across. If your family gets shuttled around, and the rear seats are occupied often, pay attention to the dimensions.
Typically, larger cars do have more overall driver/passenger space, but that's not always the case, so test out the front and back rows for the car(s) you're considering. Dodge does a great job with their new RAM 1500 Crew Cab.
Supple Ride Quality
Ride quality is one of the most important factors when it comes to overall comfort. Sports cars and sporty sedans generally have a firmer suspension setup that is performance-leaning, meaning the ride can be jarring over bumps and gaps. This is a necessary sacrifice in order to extract ideal handling and performance characteristics.
- Luxury vehicles and larger vehicles (except for pickup trucks) tend to have softer rides for maximized comfort levels
- A longer wheelbase (the distance between the wheels) means a more compliant ride.
- Also, look at the vehicle's wheel and tire setup. Bigger wheels and a shorter tire sidewall means a firmer ride.
Not all larger vehicles have plush rides, but the Chrysler Pacifica is one that stood out for us this past year. It'll keep you and the whole crew happy.
Powerful Climate System
You can have the most supple seats, all the room in the world, and a creamy ride, but if your climate system sucks, you'll be miserable. Also, if you happen to live in an area that has extremes in temperatures, both good heat and ventilation are important.
- Quick Startup: a good climate system should power up quickly. Waiting forever for your car to start cooling or heating can be a driving distraction. Keep in mind that getting your car moving helps queue up the system faster.
- Big Vents: some automaker sacrifice vent size for styling. Smaller vents tend to restrict airflow and diminish a system's ability to provide good heating or cooling.
- Physical Controls: some systems operate solely through the infotainment touchscreen. This can be frustrating if you have to get through layers of menus to do so. Quick, easy-to-operate physical knobs and buttons add safety and expedite adjustments while driving.
- Automatic Climate Control: This is a set-it and forget-it type system that lets you program the perfect temperature. If there are multiple control zones, even better. Your passengers will be just as comfortable as you are.
Not all climate systems are created equal. The one in the current Toyota Highlander is especially good. Combined with space, comfort, and a great ride, it's a smart buy