Car Choice: The best seats in the house

The faulty disc in this case is a back problem, not a braking issue. James Ruppert goes in search of comfy rides
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Paul Shatwell wants to replace his 2002 Honda Accord, a 1.8 Sport. He is looking for a car with a much more supportive driving seat. Improved economy would also be a bonus; although he can average 35mpg in the Accord, when he extends the VTEC engine to get any power the consumption falls to about 30mpg.

The car's seat is particularly important, as Paul has a prolapsed disc. Originally, the Honda was used only for a short journey to work, but now he's faced with a two-hour commute. Paul would also appreciate a greater degree of adjustment to the steering wheel. His budget is around £12,000.

It 's that old issue of comfy seating yet again. Paul is not alone in finding that his current in-car seating arrangements are less than brilliant.

Not only that, Paul wants a car that does more miles to the gallon, and with a gallon of fuel now routinely costing a fiver (or, for all those metric pedants who write to me occasionally, one pound a litre), that is not unreasonable.

It should be possible to combine the two requirements, but that requires Paul to "test sit" every seat. Here is a system recommended by osteopaths.

Sitting in the driver's seat, place the hands together, fingertips and palms touching and pointing outwards from the chest. The wrists should actually be touching the chest. In this position, the hands will form a fairly accurate perpendicular to the body, and it should be possible to see if the hands are pointing at the centre of the steering wheel. If they are not, then the wheel may be offset.

With both hands placed symmetrically on the steering wheel, look down at the legs. It should be possible to see equal amounts of both legs between the arms.

With the seat in the normal driving position, make a fist with the left hand, keeping the thumb to the side of the index finger. The depth of such a fist will measure about 50mm, and it should be possible to place the fist on the crown of the head. If it is only possible to insert the flat of the hand between the interior roof-line and head, then there is insufficient headroom in the car.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The simplest route for Paul is to aim for an executive car, which in theory should have a more adjustable seat than a basic model. In my experience, one of the very best cars of this type is the old-shape BMW 5 Series. This model will be within budget and offer Paul a supremely comfortable driving experience. Both the seat and the steering wheel adjust for height and everything else, and the seats are particularly firm and supportive.

Superb refinement is another part of the 5 Series driving experience, so Paul won't be annoyed by harsh noises and (as long as he avoids the hard suspension of the Sport models) he will get a smooth ride. There is plenty of equipment as standard on this model. Ideally, he should also try for the SE models, which have even more kit.

Picking the right engine is crucial, and there are a couple of excellent diesels. The 525d returns 42.2mpg, and the surprisingly quick 530d manages 39.8mpg overall, although on a long run Paul should manage 50mpg with ease. To get a 525d SE Automatic within £12,000, Paul should aim for a 2000 or 2001 model with about 50,000 miles on the clock.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Every Saab has wonderfully comfy seats and an ergonomically correct dashboard and controls layout. Paul should find it all perfect, especially as the steering wheel and the seats have an extensive range of adjustment to offer.

Not only that; Saab also has a diesel in its line-up. Paul could go for the latest 9-3 Sport model, or the older and slightly larger 9-5. Any Saab is almost certain to be within Paul's £12,000 budget; a 9-5 2.2 TiD Vector saloon is likely to be a touch more than £11,000 for a 2003 example with just 20,000 miles on the clock, while a 9-3 Sport 2.2 TiD Vector from the same year and with the same mileage will be £11,500 or so.

The choice is Paul's, but both cars come with just about every conceivable extra as standard. Apart from matching his seat requirement, they also fit the bill on fuel consumption. Overall, a 9-5 will return 42.8mpg, while the 9-3 will manage 44mpg. Hopefully that will meet Paul's needs.

After his Honda, the Saab should feel a bit more special, and the diesel engine is powerful enough to overtake safely and economically. In practical terms, both models are saloons with large boots. In the end it will just be a question of whether Paul wants the extra bulk of a 9-5 - and only a proper test drive can decide that.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

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