How to Judge a Car's Comfort on Just a Short Test Drive
Expert tips for finding a model that best suits you
A good driving position keeps fatigue to a minimum. Look for a car with a tilt-adjustable, telescoping steering column. We believe this feature is key for helping drivers of various sizes find the best position for arm comfort. Neither the center console nor the door should intrude into the driver’s leg space, and the left footrest should be at a good angle and distance.
Make sure the ride is smooth and comfortable by taking the car on a potholed road to feel whether the suspension adequately soaks up road imperfections. Low-profile tires may look nice, but they can make for a rougher ride on a bumpy road. A stiff suspension can get irritating after a while and lead to driver fatigue.
Make sure that you’re satisfied with the level of engine, wind, and road noise, and keep in mind that a short 10-minute test drive is different from a long trip or commute. Some cars make more engine noise than others, and cars with convertible tops and specialty tires, such as knobby off-road tires, can make more wind and road noise.
Extra Features That Spoil You
Finding the most comfortable car for you starts with picking the right model, then equipping it with the features that will pamper you and your passengers. Based on our experience, these are the features worth considering for your next car.
Lumbar Support Controls
Seats with power-adjustable lumbar support can help the driver and front passenger adjust to the needs of their lower back. Two-way lumbar adjusts the cushion in and out, and four-way versions add up and down options. This makes long-distance driving easier, reducing fatigue. For the ultimate experience, consider massaging seats, if available.
Heated and Cooled Seats
These can make a big difference on truly hot and cold days, activating much quicker than traditional heat and air conditioning. In extreme cold, heated seats can quickly warm up your behind. And a heated steering wheel is a treat that once you experience it you'll have trouble going without. In hot weather, cooled seats can keep your legs from sticking to the seat.
Heated and Reclining Rear Seats
Luxury items once reserved for front-seat passengers are now making their way to the rear seat. Reclining rear seats can be found in a lot of SUV models, and heated rear seats are becoming more common, too.
Different drivers like their mirror, seat position, and other settings saved to specific configurations. The memory feature makes it possible for each driver in a family to get their preferred settings at the touch of a button. With all the different adjustments, this can save a lot of time. Many models can identify the driver by key fob and automatically adjust the settings.
A dual-zone system lets the driver and front passenger set their own temperature, adjusting for personal preferences and sun exposure. In some models, even rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls. At minimum, a rear vent is important for airflow. We’ve found that these systems can really help to take some stress out of family travel.
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.