Motoring: Are you sitting comfortably? Now that's what I call true luxury

Going against the trend, the new Volvo S80 has reverted to genuinely soft seats

MAYBE JUST sitting on our butt does prevent us from thinking straight. How else can we explain that the single bit of a car we're closest to - the seat - is the very item on which car makers typically spend the least time?

A simple block of foam sculpted to look attractive and offer tolerable support, the seat is about the most low-tech (and one of the cheapest) components on a modern car. This is probably why many orthopaedic specialists say that the typical car seat offers an inadequate underpinning, especially on long runs.

Some car makers spend a bit more time on them, most notably Mercedes- Benz. Its seats usually have springs and fibres (they used to have horse hair). And its latest seat, to be found in the new and excellent S-class, must be about the most high-tech contraption on which mankind has ever rested its backside. Push a switch and the seat starts imperceptibly to massage your spine, reducing ache. In addition, little fans in the seat provide ventilation, reducing sweat and fatigue.

Volvo is another maker which seems to be showing more than a passing interest in the science of seats. Its new S80, a likeable if unwieldy big saloon, has many novelties. But one of the most appealing is that its seats are soft. Every other so-called "luxury" car has seats with as much give as a sheet of slate.

It was the Germans who popularised rock-hard chairs, kidding us into believing that only firm seats could be truly supportive. Italian, British or French luxury cars built before about 1970 (before they copied the Germans) had great squishy chairs into which one's backside sunk like a boot in mud.

They were modelled on old-fashioned lounge chairs, which derived their comfort from the softness and thickness of their cushions rather than the shape of the seat - although they were, in fact, superior to most lounge chairs. Sculpted, supportive seats were virtually invented by the car industry.

The great American designer Walter Dorwin Teague wrote in 1940 that: "The automobile manufacturers have made, in the past few years, a greater contribution to the art of comfortable seating than the chair manufacturers have made in all history." Many would argue - especially after a long run on the M1 - that that is more of an indictment of chair makers than it is praise for car makers. None the less, in the past year or so, real progress has been made.

I like the new Volvo chairs because, for me, comfort should equate to luxury, and luxury should always pamper. Seats with about as much give as a park bench may, because of their curvature and bolstering, be able to support our backs and minimise ache. But true comfort - even in these ascetic, Blairite times - should be about more than merely reducing discomfort.

I own a four-year old Mercedes E220 estate and its fibre-and-springs seat - as hard as a Kaiser's helmet - have never caused me grief on a long run. But they also have a spartan feel which is inimical to true luxury. It is one of the reasons why no Mercedes or BMW is truly a luxury car, not even the new vibro-massaging S-class.

Rather, they are superior executive cars, designed to do a job rather than to offer joy. They are sensible rather than sensual cars, and luxury is a very sensual thing.

That is what I like about the Volvo S80's seats. They support, and yet they are supple. You feel special every time you climb on board, and disappear into your own little hedonistic world before it is time to start the engine, get going, and join the rat race.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SEN Teachers and Support Staff

    £50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

    English and Media Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

    Y1 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Y1 Teacher required for a So...

    Senior Financial Services Associate - City

    Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week