No-one expects the Comfy Chair (any more)

The Spanish Inquisition had many weapons at its disposal, if you believe the rhetoric of the Monty Python troupe. Fear, surprise, and a fanatical devotion to the Pope were among their chief weapons. And yet one item used in so many of their interrogations has seemingly been consigned to the scrapheap. Whether they unexpectedly attend in a SEAT or a Jaguar, the comfy chair appears to be a thing of the past.

This belief was forced home on a recent journey to Dorset and back. The old Jaguar Sovereign I’ve been wafting around in is to be sold at the next SWVA Classic Car Auction (26 April 2019) and a colleague and I had the job of taking it down to Poole to be consigned. Fearful of getting attached again, I let my colleague take the helm of the Sovereign and followed him down in Kelsey Publishing’s 2017 Jaguar XE.

Of all the marques available on the open market, nobody would expect a Jaguar to be anything but relatively soft and squishy. Its chief weapon used to be comfort, but it’s taken a leaf out of Cardinal Ximineth’s book and become unexpectedly unyielding. Granted, the walnut and leather RAC Club vibe had to go for the simple reason that Jaguar needs to sell cars, but Jaguar has always been good at the ride/handling balance, and at soft armchairs that relax you as thoroughly as a nice back rub. And I suppose in a world where sporty cars are prized, a firm (albeit well-damped) ride shouldn’t have come as a shock. But the seat was equally firm – I didn’t sink into it, I felt I was perched upon it like an office chair.

If the Python troupe strapped you into this seat and started poking you with the head restraint, they certainly wouldn’t need to push all the stuffing up to one end like they did with the old lady’s cushion. Some will argue that as seats are designed more orthopaedically the need for firmer padding becomes more apparent. Sorry, but I’ve had scores of comfy cars with orthopaedic seats. The Rover 800 springs to mind, as does the 75. SAAB 9000s and Citroen XMs have some of the best long-distance seats on the planet, and both cosset you in a way that modern cars just don’t seem to. I take the point that something like a Citroen DS might have seats that many people would find just too soft, but there’s a balancing point in the middle. And it’s a long time since a modern car has hit the mark for me.

Mercedes-Benz is a particularly sad case in point. In Mercs of old including both my W124s, the seats felt as if they were still sprung the old-fashioned way; less reliance on foam, more on springs. Mercedes seats were some of the few that genuinely got better with age and a little wear, they were comfortable, good at long distances, and I’m struggling to think of one I’ve ever seen collapse. Not only have they now replaced the wonderful MB Tex vinyl with a lesser product fatuously named Artico (Artificial Cow), but the seats upon which it is fitted have become homogenous; they feel no different to any other automotive chair. Seats were always a Mercedes strong point, along with a build quality that ensured that you’d still be motoring long after everything else had been consigned to the crusher. Having lost one half of this reputation in the late 1990s, it seems the other half has departed too.

I put this point to Hagerty newsletter editor John Mayhead, and he started talking wistfully about the seats in his old Alfa Romeo 2600 and his Porsche 944 – a car that demonstrates that a good seat doesn’t have to be too firm even in a sports car. My hard-charging, firm riding 325bhp Jaguar XJR makes the same point on behalf of the world of the sports saloon.

There will be some who are reading this and thinking that perhaps I’m old before my time, and that at 27 I ought to be more concerned by performance and handling than by a soft and squishy seat. And maybe I am, but older people often have higher disposable incomes and thus represent a larger proportion of the buying public. If I speak for them, surely I am speaking for the majority when I say that seats should be softer. And in the current climate, I’d like to call on Audi to start looking at ways of making the A6 more like a sofa in a bid to attract these buyers.

After all, nobody would expect that.


This article was originally published by Hagerty Insurance on 25 Mar 2019.