Isn’t it interesting that as we get older, our perspective evolves regarding what makes a car “great.” I can remember as a teenager and into my twenties (late 1960’s to 70’s), it was all about acceleration – 0 to 60. I lusted for a 428 Cobra Jet Mustang or Torino, though I never was able to own one. In my later twenties and thirties, I matured a little and went for sports cars – this time I was able to buy a 1977 Nissan JDM Fairlady – a 240Z. I still wish I had that car. Then came marriage and a family and a string of sedans and minivans. We’ve owned a Toyota Estima/Previa for twenty years – currently on our third one, though with the kids now grown, it will soon be replaced. Several years ago in my late fifties, acceleration, sportiness, practicality, were still automotive virtues I desired, but another one was now at the top of the list – comfort for my ever expanding backside. With that in mind, I took a trip down to the nearby Volvo dealership…
I had always admired Volvo’s, but never owned one; primarily because they were out of my price range, and other than the P1800 coupe, they didn’t inspire much passion. But the small Volvo C30 coupe had a funky vibe to it, and channeled a little of the P1800 ES in it’s design. I’ve owned one now for eight years – and plan on keeping it – for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I love the seats.
Volvo’s reputation for excellent seats is well founded. I have never sat in a vehicle with seats so comfortable. The padding is just right, and it’s perfectly contoured – every portion of my upper legs and back come in contact with the seat. The old metaphor of “like falling into a baseball glove” is quite accurate. In other vehicles, I get fairly stiff after a two hour drive – I’ve done six hour stints in the Volvo and step out fresh as a daisy.
There’s one other thing that I’ve been impressed with – look under the seats of most cars and you’ll see two seat tracks and maybe some wiring. Look under a Volvo seat and you’ll see some sophisticated engineering. For several years, Volvo has been equipping its cars with its Whiplash Protection System (WHIPS) – that cradles the occupant by moving the seat downward and back in a rear-end collision. It’s an innovative safety feature that few other manufacturers have yet to copy.
So, even if you’re not a Volvo fan, as a automotive enthusiast, I’d recommend a trip down to the Volvo dealer if one is nearby – just to check out the seats. I assure you your backside will thank you…
Tonight’s episode of Backside Classics is brought to you by Brophy. (“Brophy – We Bring You Buses. Usually.”)
I can’t disagree with all of the above. For years, the Germans made concrete garden seats, with springy foldaway edges. The French made sittage of quite sumptuous comfort, until about three hours was up, and then about five years, by which it was third-class bags of split squashage barely holding the driver above steering height. The Japanese made cars suitable for every need of a Westerner, except any who were a wee bit fat or tall, and, that being most, they suited few. America continued for the longest time to place the many fat and tall who could easily fit across the vast expanse of acrossness of endless benches that served for seating but unfortunately no purpose beyond sickness and an entanglement with eachother not usually seen other than in an Atlantic gale if ever a corner was encountered (as, in other countries, it often was). The Brits made seats, very good ones indeed for long, long motion-free sitting, and waiting, admittedly making them very fit for purpose given Roadside Assist waiting times, but poorly on the days of actual movement.
The variations on these differentiations continued apace until a (possibly secretive) meeting was called amongst all manufacturers in about, well, not hugely long ago, and the agreement of Variations On Hardness was arrived at and applied ever since.
An exception amongst this pattern was ofcourse the Swedes, who fitted actual seats for years without regard for nationalistic considerations, with the inevitable result that the product resulting could be sat on and be good for that purpose. It is also undeniable that they insisted upon fitted them to cars marketed at blind death-obsessed snobs who desired to pay too much for unspeakable and ugly – if safe – “cars” such as the Volvo 200 series, but it is no matter if such fools were the beneficiaries, the rest of the industry should have learnt to make seats too.
All cars should have seats, in my view.
That’s one funny comment, justy baum. Yes indeed, cars with seats make sense! Cars with safe seats make even more sense. Seats used to collapse in impact situations because the standard for the resistance to such collapses has not been updated for a very long time. So back in the aughts an investigative outfit on TV compared the seats of the big 3 with those of Mercedes Benz and found that these MB seats had some hefty hinges were as the seats of the big 3 had frames that compared about even with those of lawn chairs. In the interview a nerdy MB engineer was shown uttering these words: “We don’t control quality – we build quality.” Of course this does not matter if all one cares for is having a surface to put the butt upon.
What is the practicality of swapping in seats from other makers, e.g. fitting Volvo seats to a Toyota or somesuch? Are there standards for seat tracks and attachments or are manufacturers so wildly different from each other that it is impractical?
If you could shop at a Citroen store you’d soon forget about Volvo comfort, Ten hours in my Citroen and I still fell fine and Ive had a couple of prolapsed discs.
Yes, I think French cars are known for their good seats.
Unfortunately, here in the US we can’t buy any newly made French cars (when Peugeot exited in 1992 we lost that option).
My Father owned one French car (bought new) here in the US…a 1968 Renault R10. The seats were vinyl, but comfortable as I remember, even though the Renault was a budget car, along the lines of the VW Beetle. He had back problems around this time, but strangely afterwards was OK until right before he died (in 2016). Around 1967-1968 he was making many trips to France for business, and though we had a Beetle, once it got totaled out from an accident, he decided on the Renault…though he had driven Beetles in Germany in the army during the Korean conflict (he almost went to Korea but was detoured when a troop train carrying soldiers from his city was hit by another train in Ohio and many soldiers were killed…including several who’d served in WWII).
As a Certified Volvo Nut™, I heartily endorse this message. I’ve owned Volvos from the 60s to the 90s, and your statements hold true even going back that far. They used to brag that their seats were designed by orthopedic surgeons as opposed to automotive seat designers.
The best seats I ever had were in a Volvo. The paint was a nice red. Otherwise, many problems for a new car. A Divco milk truck can be driven with no seat, the clutch and brake would be on one pedal, with the clurch disengaging, and then the brakes engaging.
I also was in serious automotive lust over a 1972 Datsun/Nissan 240Z…until I finally purchased one.
The steering was stiff, it lacked sound insulation, the A/C was about the same as a wet washcloth on my face, the seats uncomfortable.
After the newness wore off, I wanted my fuel injected, 4 speed/overdrive 1975 Volvo 164 back! I missed the freezing c-c-cold A/C, comfortable seats, over 20 mpg at a steady, quiet, strain-free 75 mph interstate cruising speed.
About comfortable seats: I greatly improved the ride quality of several 1980’s base model Japanese pick up trucks my swapping the thinly padded bench seat for junk yard Peugeot 504 seats.
The difference was astounding!
Totally agree. But I am a Volvo turbowagon guy.
The seats in my 2007 V70 are really good, but the ones in my 1995 850 Turbowagon were spectacular.
The next best seats (minus the too short lower cushion) were the ones in my 1994 Mustang GT Premium.
The worst: my 1988 Chevy Beretta GT. They were back ache inducing.
The reference to Volvo seats brings back memories of my cycling days in college: Every year for the Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV) we’d have a crowd come rolling in from the Boston area driving an Austin Maxi festooned with enough Bianchi (an exotic bicycle in Erie, PA back then) stickers and bicycles on the roof rack that it looked like a Bianchi team car from Le Tour or the Giro.
Said guys would roll in, stay at my place overnight, work on their bikes in my attic shop and turn my gang on to some of the best acid we ever hand, and this absolutely rocking local band called Aerosmith. After a day or two of insane partying, we’d head out in caravan to Columbus, OH for the start of the ride. Two days and 210 miles of cycling wonderfulness.
And besides being the only Austin Maxi I’ve ever seen on the road in the US, they’d redone the interior with Volvo seats – because they were into long haul traveling and comfort. This was my first indication that Volvo’s had something unique about them. But I was really fascinated with that Maxi.
When I bought my first car, a ‘65 Volvo 122S, in 1975, I was excited to get the first year of Volvo’s revised seats which looked far more modern and ergonomic than the buckets in my parents’ 1964 122S. But in fact those newer seats had inferior internals, and despite being a year newer and with lower mileage, the foam and springs and support bands under the upholstery were shot and the seats weren’t actually that comfortable. To boot, the stitching was much poorer quality and already unraveling, unlike the older seats which held up well for the 22 years my mom drove her Volvo. I think it was those early seats which cemented the reputation for Volvo, and I’m glad to hear the newer ones are back up to par. Despite my intimate familiarity with 122/140 Volvo’s in the seventies, I’m not sure I’ve sat in any Volvo newer than a mid-90’s 850. I do like the C30 though, more and more as time goes by.
Worst seats have to have been on full-sized Mopar products in the early 70’s. Caved in after three years because of the cheesy springs and thin padding. Interesting that these cars had extremely rugged drivetrains but pitiful passenger accommodations. Japanese cars were much better at having everything wear out at the same time.
Yes comfortable seats are much higher on my priority list than they used to be. They have been high on my wife’s list for sometime and therein lies the rub. Most seats she deems comfortable don’t work for me and vice versa.
So when looking for my current front line car I spent some time trying to find one with the Multicontour seats with active motion. There are 3 separate lumbar bladders, each individually adjustable as are the bottom and back bolsters. Those lumber bladders along with 4 in the bottom can be set to massage.
Now my wife thought I was crazy and said you don’t need such silliness, however she loves them and is quick to turn on the massage function, often before we get out of the driveway.
I always liked the look of the C30, and now I have another reason to want one.
A small sporty shooting brake but with extra comfort sounds like just the ticket.
A couple of years ago , courtesy of an elderly deceased relative ( who once owned an 1800ES ) I found myself with her V50 on my drive. Next of kin lived some distance away and the relatives house had been sold. Could I possibly find a buyer for the bereaved Volvo ? Obviously, since I knew the history, I had a good look at the car in case I could summon-up any enthusiasm. The seats were the feature that impressed me , but sadly that was about it.
At 70+ I still enjoy good acceleration, sharp responsive steering, and being as close as possible to the road.
I have never had significant seat time in a Volvo so I will take you at your word.
The best seats I can recall were either in my 77 New Yorker or my 94 Club Wagon Chateau. The Chrysler was both firm enough and soft enough and the lower cushion went nearly out to my knees, something that has pretty much disappeared from modern auto seating (at least in reasonably priced models).
The worst is my Honda Fit in terms of long drives because the bottom cushion is so hard. For general comfort it was my 86 Marquis wagon because the design of the tilt mechanism latched the back on the outboard side and relied on the seat frame to keep the inboard side even with it. Which it did not, causing me to drive with a twist towards the center until I would get in back and bend the seat back straight again.
Volvo seats have been fantastic for years, other manufacturers could learn things from them. Peugeot seats used to be great as well, you can say what you want about other parts of the interior but I defy anyone to find more comfortable seats than those in a 505.
Yes the seats in my 740 Turbo Wagon were spectacularly comfortable while looking quite plain. After that probably the ’93 Audi S4 with the extendable thigh support, made by Recaro at seemingly no expense spared. The Alfa Giulia I recently reviewed here had extremely comfortable seats as well, with side bolsters that could be adjusted in or out at the touch of a button as well as the extendable thigh support. And, of course, they were red which always results in a higher rating.
Our current Highlander curiously has a powered extendable front lower cushion on the driver’s seat that makes it fairly comfortable overall, you hold the button (separate from the regular power controls) and the lower cushion sort of unfurls an extra inch or two, nice feature and wholly unexpected.
Short seats (as in a short lower cushion) tend to be the worst overall, something about not supporting the whole upper leg just makes everything else not work as well. Subaru, looking at you here!
Current C30 owner with 215,000 miles on the odometer here. Yes I love my seats and they were a quantum leap forward in quality compared to the 1997 Civic EX I upgraded from. My only beef is the driver side lumbar seam has blown out from top to bottom & I’ve admittedly been too lazy to replace it. Now that half the foam is gone I’ll need to buy that too. The loaner Cross-country I used for a couple weeks had vastly superior leather, roughly four times thicker. I don’t know if that’s because of the side impact protection air bags or not but the leather in my C30 is paper thin and glued to a fabric substrate. My thinking is the construction must be that way so they can break away for airbag deployment?
Yes, Volvo did change to a much thicker leather in 2012 – the thinner version had a wonderful feel to it but as you mention, it tends to fold and tear easily. My C30 has leather similar to a basketball – grained and much thicker. Jim.
Current Volvos use imitation leather, rather than the real thing.
I’ve had some seat time in a 2005 Volvo S80 and thought the seats were amazing. The worst, has to be in my old 2003 Toyota 4Runner Limited. The seat bottoms are rock hard and after 45 minutes in them my butt hurts. I also agree with JP Cavanaugh, the full size Ford vans have excellent seats. At least in the higher trim levels, and I love the dual arm rests.
The best seats in any car that I’ve owned were in my 1988 Lincoln Town car. So comfortable that when I sold it for junk, I saved the seats, front and back. My plan is to make wooden arm frames for the comfy Lincoln seats to be used on my screened in porch. Yes, they are just that comfortable.
This piece sparks memories and a realization of how important seats are!
*Fell in love with Volvo 164 seats in the early seventies, even as a young man. Thrones.
*Bought a wool-covered (!) Recaro for my Scirocco. Still have it as an office chair.
*Owned a Toyota Supra Mk II for many years, with its supra-comfy cloth seats and that squeeze-bulb pump.
*Current BMW’s seats are excellent, too. Their extendable fronts make a big difference, they tilt and the bolsters can snug up for sporty driving. Heated, of course, but not modern enough to have A/C. Oh, the hardship!
I agree totally about Volvo seats, I had an S60 for a while and the seats were fantastic. However what point are good seats if you can’t get the ride right? Volvo’s suspension and ride is generally inferior to it’s competition, although to be frank most cars built after 2000 have focused on handling at the expense of ride quality.
A couple of years ago, I spent considerable time in a Volvo V60 estate, with mixed impressions in many ways (overall 7/10, should do better TBH) apart from the seats, which were terrific for just about anyone, short, tall, wide, narrow, heavy, not heavy.
My Dad had a sequence of first series S40 saloons which also had superb seats, front and rear, albeit more compact than the V60 of course.
Strictly from an aesthetic standpoint, apropos a question from the other day, I feel like the seats in the top-most photo could do with some contrasting piping.