Vehicle technology has progressed massively over the years. In just the last two human generations alone, we've gone from basic cruise control to cars that can steer themselves, change lanes, track other vehicles, and brake on a dime. Zero-to-60 times of 7 seconds were considered respectable in the 90s, but now people won't get out of bed for anything slower than 4.2. Navigation systems will map out the best route to anyplace in the country, and your car is now basically the best sound system you'll ever own.
Then there's car seats—the most persistent user interfaces of any moving vehicle. The place we're in contact with the most, and which is responsible for telegraphing to our brains all the vehicle's movement in space. Our comfort is dependent on them, as is our attentiveness and overall fatigue. They are the thrones in our rolling castles, the anchors through our most frenzied corner drifts.
What of them? They heat up. Sometimes they cool. They'll also occasionally pound you in the butt or back more or less randomly in a feature that's referred to as a "massage" but in reality can just as easily be called a "tepid annoyance."
Granted, there's plenty of science embedded in their design, and they're of course forced to conform to a massive variety of butts and backs, but for the most part they feel like an afterthought, especially after a day on the road in a cross-country drive. But there's hope. I've been in two vehicles recently that have demonstrated that seats are indeed evolving, if not in lock-step with powertrains and driver assistance systems, at least in lock-step with the manufacturers willingness to invest in technologies most users will set once and forget about for the rest of their lives.
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The first car was the new Jaguar F-Pace SVR, the special performance-tuned version of the company's popular SUV. When I drove it back in April, I was startled by the seats. They were so ... thin. That doesn't seem like much of a big deal until you look at most other cars today, especially in the premium luxury segment. The seats are massive, with bulging cushions everywhere and untold inches of space for padding and the aforementioned massagers. The SVR seats are intended, of course, to function as racing seats, being lightweight and firm. These, however, were also cushy enough to be comfortable on long drives yet they still held you firmly in place when things got rough—namely, in the twisties. Furthemore, they also grant rear-seat passengers many extra inches or legroom, or conversely they add to the trunk space, depending on how the designers opt to exploit the thinner front seats. It's not exactly rocket science here, but it's a refreshingly svelte surprise in a normally bulging automotive segment.
What was a greater surprise, however, was my drive in the new Lincoln Aviator, also an SUV. The top trim levels of this clean new machine offers the company's 30-way Perfect Position seats, which are a little weird looking at first, with multiple layers visible from the side, and resembling lounge chairs just a hair. But they're in reality magnificently adjustable devices that allow a degree of customization and optimization unseen in any other vehicle. Not only does it massage and heat and cool, but it allows for individual adjustment of the thigh rests in the front of the car. You can move the left or right individually, either for comfort reasons or to make a slightly asymmetrical arrangement that can help mix up your body movement on the road.
You can also adjust the shoulder support, moving it forward and back in addition to the tilting the hole seat. This is ideal for changing up positions on long road trips, by putting you more upright and thus making you a bit more alert as fatigue might start to set in. Alternatively, it can help you optimize your position while navigating the kind of light-offroad trails the vehicle can handle. Similarly, you can also move the head rest forward and backward, unlike most headrests that can only tilt a little bit.
Finally, the massagers can be set to activate these regions individually—another strategy for diminishing fatigue. Ultimately, the fact that Lincoln manages to build all this in into a vehicle seat without having it turn out like the gigantic, ghastly looking massage seats in malls and airports is to its credit, and absolutely a sign that carmakers may not take the future of car seats sitting down after all.