Another car shopping question, this time concerning seats and back support.
July 28, 2007 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I test drove a Nissan Versa and I liked the car very much, but felt that maybe my lower back hurt after 45 minutes or so of driving--even though the seat felt good when I first climbed into it. Otherwise, great value. And when I talk to other people who own this car, they tell me how comfortable the seats are. I'm 5'11", 160 pounds--pretty average I would suppose. So my question: 1) How likely is it that my back will "adjust" to the car? 2) If the seat doesn't work after awhile, has anyone had success with lumbar support products (pillows, etc.)--or is that just wishful thinking?

For what it's worth, I also test drove the Honda Fit. I liked the firm seat. Didn't like the price tag for such a bare-bones car.
posted by _sirmissalot_ to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Edmunds Inside Line is doing a long-term test on the Versa. One of their blog entries also mentions the uncomfortable seat and attributes it to sub par padding.
posted by roomwithaview at 9:40 PM on July 28, 2007

I'm about your size, and I've spent quite a bit of time driving a Versa ... I've found the seats pretty comfortable, although not as adjustable as the seats in my VW. (I like a seat that's firm, with a deep 'racing bucket' feel and a firm lumbar support to keep me from slumping even slightly.)

The Versa's seats definitely seem to be built for a more relaxed driving position, and have a lot less lumbar support. I find myself having to scooch myself back into the seat pretty frequently in order to keep my shoulders aligned over my spine (which is how I avoid back pain).

Not entirely sure about aftermarket products, although if you're going to be driving the car a lot, you might want to consider just getting a replacement seat. Get it when you get the car and amortize it out over time; it's a cheap upgrade (less than $1k) for comfort, if you do a lot of driving and plan on owning the car for a long while. (And probably cheaper than buying a car that comes with firm racing-style seats from the factory.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 PM on July 28, 2007

There was a previous question about car seats: Possible to relocate car seats? The point being, make sure the seats are acceptable, because doing anything about it after you own the car will be very challenging.

I'll also offer the observation that what makes comfort long term is not what seems comfortable the instant you sit down. The debate about what makes a comfortable bicycle saddle is interesting here.. Turns out excessive padding causes circulation problems.

I suggest you rent an example of the car, and take a very long day trip, or even a weekend trip, to see how it works long term. This is a major investment, sinking a little money into research is not unreasonable.
posted by Chuckles at 9:57 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there an upgraded seat option? One that perhaps has more adjustable features / areas? I drove a couple of pretty much identical Hyundais once and the one that had 'deluxe' seats could be made to be much more comfortable - and had the advantage of being changeable as the driving time increased.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:03 PM on July 28, 2007

I'm tall and had two Nissans and they damn near crippled me. I ended up giving the second one to my mom who is 5'6" and she drove it for 10 years and had no issues.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 PM on July 28, 2007

I have a 2000 Sentra GXE, and had a 2004 Sentra SpecV. The SpecV had terrific, supportive seats; the GXE's seats have always been awful -- so much so that I'm keeping my 1993 Mazda Protege and selling the GXE, even though it's in good shape.

Go with your gut (and your back) on car seats; each body is different, and 45-minutes-to-pain is much, much too soon. I can drive my Protege (or my wife's MPV) for at least a couple of hours before I feel any discomfort at all, whereas in the Sentra it's less than an hour. After seven years, I didn't get used to it, and I didn't adjust. Odds are you won't, either.

Note about the Fit versus the Versa; the Fit's resale is going to be good for quite some time, and the Versa's will not, so factor that into your cost analysis.
posted by davejay at 11:15 PM on July 28, 2007

OH, and I second renting your new car for a weekend or a week before purchasing; my wife and I loved the Ford Focus when it first came out, and after a test drive, but then we rented one for a week and HATED it for so many reasons (from small to big) that I can't bear to list 'em here.
posted by davejay at 11:16 PM on July 28, 2007

Consumerreports reports that the 'Front seat comfort' is 'Very Good.' This is not to say that it is not different for some people. It has been pointed out that other people seem to be complaining about the same issue.

Here is some more info from CR if you are interested.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 11:16 PM on July 28, 2007

The point being, make sure the seats are acceptable, because doing anything about it after you own the car will be very challenging.

I guess that depends on one's definition of "very challenging." Replacing the seats in a car isn't exactly unheard of, particularly on the Asian pocket-rockets. Any even halfway-decent import tuner shop should be able to do it, or tell you who can.

(I think the problem in the thread you linked to was that the OP wanted the seat moved, not just replaced; that's somewhat more difficult since it requires drilling the chassis. But if you look at aftermarket seats, most of them come with install kits that fit in the factory holes. A straight replacement usually isn't that major, if the seat is chosen appropriately.)

Anyway, coming back to this thread, I agree with your overall sentiment (better to find a car that's comfortable from the get-go) but getting a new seat isn't an insurmountable or even particularly difficult problem, if he's really wed to a car that has hideous seats. It just requires money. (Although really not that much compared to what manufacturers charge for some 'premium' add-ons in new cars.)

I know people who have bought cars and had the entire interiors redone (e.g., had leather installed where the car was originally vinyl/fabric); you'd be surprised at how much you can get done to a car for a few thousand bucks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:29 PM on July 28, 2007

You asked about lumbar support products, here's a data point. A member of my family has chronic back pain and finds even our very comfy Volvo seats not comfy enough on 1hour+ trips. She uses this thing and absolutely loves it. There are probably less expensive versions, but this one really does the trick (is supportive for her). She drags it to her office chair when it's not in the car. Anyway, we had discussed replacing the car seat before finding this. Maybe an option for you.
posted by artdrectr at 12:53 AM on July 29, 2007

I'm about your size and had the same problem. There's nothing wrong with my back, but sometimes I could barely get through the test drive. I tried using a small pillow against the small of my back, and was amazed at how much this helps.
posted by futility closet at 4:55 AM on July 29, 2007

I own a 2007 Versa, and I'm much heavier than you. I've noticed no comfort issues with mine, but I do have the upgraded Versa (the S series) that comes with a slightly more-adjustable drivers seat (height as well as forward-back and tilt). The armrest to me seems crucial - as I drive stick, I could never have purchased the base model Versa as they don't have an armrest.

The only problem I ever noticed with the seating was the difference in shape of the seat from my previous vehicle (which I had driven for 7 years prior to buying the Versa). After a few days, though, I no longer noticed the difference, and I certainly notice no discomfort. YMMV, of course.

My recommendation is to test drive an S series, since they have the upgraded interior, and see if the problem persists.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:58 AM on July 29, 2007

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