There is a problem of comfort with large luxury SUVs

The above image, floated around social media by BMW, advertises the new X7. It’s the brand’s largest and priciest SUV yet. Numerically, it reflects the 7-series, meaning that it is kind of, sort of focused on passenger comfort rather than the driver comfort. But there’s a problem here and it is clearly pictured – it’s the rear seat.

Think back for a second to some of the biggest and most comfortable rear vehicle seats you’ve ever experienced. There’s one car that stands out to me personally; the late Lincoln Town Car Signature L. The huge bench seat itself was soft, like sitting on, or rather in, a fluffy pillow. The leather wasn’t perhaps the most subtle but it was much nicer than what’s optional on many loaded CUVs these days. And it only got softer with use.

The backrest on that rear seat in the Town Car was tall, with the rear headrests easily supporting the neck of anyone less the six-feet six inches tall. The bottom cushion was deep, in a way forcing the occupant to extend their legs. And in the LWB model there was plenty of room for a pro volleyball player to extend their legs. The whole thing was so comfortable and relaxing that you just wanted to doze off back there. That, to me, was a luxurious rear seat. As seen below, there really isn’t much to it.

The Reason

But these huge modern SUVs don’t have seats like that. They have seats that are flat. The seating surfaces, while nice, don’t have the sort of depth that would slowly absorb your posterior and adjust to it like a La-Z-Boy recliner. They say that quad captain chairs are the most comfortable seats to get but that’s a lie. And in many cases, there is a shortage, or at least lack of abundance of rear seat legroom, too.

And there is a damn good reason why those new huge luxury SUVs suffer in the rear seats…

A Sport Utility Vehicle, by name, has to be utilitarian. That utility comes from being able to fold down the rear seats to make room for, supposedly, sporting equipment. And that causes a huge challenge for interior designers. Simply put, a seat that is designed to fold flat just cannot be as comfortable as seats with fixed, or non-folding backs, such as those on large luxury sedans and La-Z-Boy recliners.

Front and rear seats may look alike, but aren’t

In recent years, much progress in terms of comfort and safety has been made with the front seats. In the Lincoln Navigator, for example, the front thrones are just amazing. All aspects are excellent be it the amazing support, how they adjust, deliver massage, or the heating and air-conditioning. Everyone will be comfortable in them after some adjustment. But even if the rear captains’ chairs somewhat resemble the fronts, they are far from being the same seats. In these vehicles, it is the front seat passengers who are the most important occupants in the vehicle.

The rear, middle-row, seats were designed in such a way that the back has to be able to fold flat. The whole seat is actually hinged, mounted on sliders, and raises up to allow access to the third row. With this much hardware under the bottom of your seat, a compromise has to be made and it falls in the face of comfort. They’re great for kids or smaller people, but the volleyball player who was coddled in the Town Car won’t be nearly as comfortable here.

Pricey Solution

There are a few luxury vehicle makers where designers realized that this was an issue. In each case there are optional non-folding rear seats available. The ones that come to my mind are the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Bentley Bentayga, and the Range Rover SVAutobiography Long Wheelbase. All three vehicle throw the functionality of folding rear seats out and in their place install what look to be some amazing rear seats. There are also folding tables, coolers or refrigerators, fancy drinking glasses, and more.

In conclusion, if you are looking for the best, the biggest, most comfortable, rear seat on the market, forget the X7, the Escalade, the Land Cruiser, and the rest.

Just buy a Lincoln Town Car Signature L.

19 Comments

  1. But…will a BMW X7 owner ever fold their seats? I’m sure there is some market research at the bottom of it.

    Comfy seats that I lusted after as a teenager:

  2. Lincoln’s clearly already accepted that a flat floor in the Navigator just isn’t that big of a priority, given that 2nd row console. I’m sure given that extra height, they could easily design seats with a back that folds adequately flat, and just on the same level as the console lid, with all the extra padding and adjustment and such.

  3. Poor rich people, paying 100kUSD and much more, and still get a third row like a Polo rear bench, and only room for the luggage of three people. They would have been better off with two 5-series…or a six-pilot-seat-equipped VW T6 van.

    What is this ridiculous trend with third rows anyway?

    1. From my observation, it’s mostly folks with 3+ kids and/or frequent carpool duty with said offspring and their associates. A van, you say? Why would automakers sell them a van for $30k when they’ll buy a truck for $80k?

          1. It looks to me as though the 2nd row seats are on tracks and slide forward in its entirety. Then again, unless you really need 6 seats, why not just go truly bonkers with a Renault Avantime?

        1. Sorry, I can’t get past the cup holder surrounds not being wrapped in leather…

          At least when you are on the inside, you don’t have to look at the outside. Just keep your eyes averted from reflective windows etc.

      1. Excellent point about the price tags, although there are veery nice vans out there – but citing (kind of) that Bentley manager, “there is nothing you can buy above 150kUSD” – cue the Bentley Bus…

  4. I had to google “Range Rover SVAutobiography” just to confirm that you didn’t sarcastically make that up. That’s ridiculous.

  5. I’d comment on the backseat comfort but since I’m not Chinese none of the luxury makes will care what I think.

  6. I’m not sure there is a problem – front seats aren’t that ‘deep’ because they have foot room underneath. Those X7 and Navi seats look fine to me.

    1. That’s the thing… they’re just fine. Similar seats can had in a minivan. I want better than fine in my $75,000 trophy-wife mobile.

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