The most comfortable car seats for bad backs – a handy guide

If you have a bad back, we sympathise. It’s not a nice thing to have and the affliction can, unfortunately, last for many years. Also, having to live with taking painkillers isn’t the best way to go.

So, we’ve decided to research the most comfortable car seats so that it can make life that little bit more comfortable for you.

Finding the best seats actually starts before you get into the car. Why is that?

Think about the positioning of the seat in the car. If the seat is higher, and the hip point is taller, it’s going to make getting in and out a lot easier.

Put it this way: Would you rather get into a Lamborghini Aventador or a Toyota LandCruiser when you have a bad back? While the Aventador would undoubtedly be more fun to drive, if you have a bad back, then it could almost be impossible to get in or out. And it’s for this reason that we think that SUVs automatically are the better choice for anyone with chronic pain in their spine.

However, there are certain brands to avoid completely. Subaru’s vehicles, for example, never have enough lower back padding, so while that’s fine for those with larger posteriors, for the majority of consumers they end up with back pain.

Our focus won’t be on passenger car seats, no matter how comfortable the actual seat is. Rather, we’ll be looking at SUVs, because we’re taking a holistic approach to this subject, and we want the best seats in the best kind of vehicle.

Seat design makes a difference

There are some very good seats in the marketplace. And they’re very comfortable, with excellent padding, and just enough bolstering to stop you sliding around. Materials matter, too, with certain leather being softer than others.

But the issue isn’t with how they’re made or what they’re made from – it’s the design.

You see, if you’re getting into a seat with very high sides, it can make sliding across them quite difficult. Imagine something like a Jaguar F-Type R, with its shapely buckets. Now imagine trying to slide into it. You basically can’t and you end up having to fall into it; not good for a bad back.

Then imagine getting out and having to arch over the bolstering. You get the idea. People will be in a world of pain.

So, having side bolsters that reach up into the sky like a pair of seedlings seeking out the sun probably isn’t going to be the kind of seat that you’re after.

Instead, if you have a bad back, the most comfortable shape is a flat seat. Not too flat, of course, but with minimal bolstering.

Jaguar F-Pace S front seats

Seat materials influence comfort

If you have a bad back, the last thing you want to do is shuffle around in your seat. Generally, you want to find the comfiest position and then stay there. But for some, they need to shift around to reposition themselves when their back starts to get sore.

This is a deeply subjective issue because everyone is different. Some people have issues with scoliosis while others simply have alignment problems. For others, it’s nerve damage.

So while we would normally recommend leather over cloth, there are some factors that may make you choose cloth over leather.

Most people assume that leather will be far more comfortable than cloth. And that’s true for the most part, depending on the leather. We’ve covered the Nappa leather versus pigskin more in-depth in another post, but briefly, there are various grades of hides.

“Nappa” leather is the most common form of high-grade skin, which is a form of aniline with a bit more pigmentation. Cheaper leathers don’t stretch and don’t give as much when you sit on them, so if you want to sink a little into the seat, then Nappa would be the way to go.

Of course, if you need to shift in your seat, you don’t want to be stuck – you want to be able to slide. Thus, leather will be better than cloth. And this is especially true if you get into the car.

In terms of comfort and padding, either cloth or Nappa will do the job just fine.

Volvo XC90 seats

Finding the most comfortable seats

Rather than just giving you one vehicle, we’ve decided to give you a list of five to choose from. They’re reasonably priced and flat enough so that you can get in easily. But bear in mind that if you option a sports pack on any of these vehicles (or even get more powerful spec engines) they will usually receive more aggressive bolstering.

So, stick with the lower grade versions and you’ll find that these will give you the best seats if you have a bad back.

  • Audi Q5 (Nappa leather)
  • BMW X5 (Nappa leather)
  • Audi Q7 (Nappa leather)
  • Mazda CX-9 (Nappa leather)
  • Volvo XC90 (Nappa leather – Contour seats)

Of course, you’ll notice that all of these are luxury SUVs. These have the most comfortable seats because the more you pay for an SUV, the more time and attention is paid to the comfort levels. But also, the more you pay, the more expensive the padding and foams are, which are usually more comfortable.

And because there has been more research done into the foams, they’ve been constructed to be layered in densities. What this means is the top layer is quite soft to allow you to sink in a little, but it progressively gets firmer the harder you push into it – this gives you the best support, but comfort at the same time.

This support is the key to long-distance comfort for bad backs.

What else can help with back support?

We’ve also found that a simple lumbar support cushion made from┬ámemory foam can conform to your back’s shape and fill in the gaps. For some people, having this extra support on their lower back prevents the spine from shifting down and rearwards.

It’s this rearward movement that can pinch nerves or agitate muscles. Having this support is definitely worthwhile.

A cushion like that can be transported from place to place and doesn’t weigh much. It’s also a good size to just throw into your vehicle or on the porch chair – wherever you are.

We hope this guide has been helpful. We’d also suggest trying these seats and products out for yourself, as every person will have individual preferences and needs, but we hope this has provided some relief.

About Karl Peskett 435 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.


  1. This is exactly the information I have been after! Thank you! Had decided on an suv for ease of entry and exit, but also for the better vision the height provides. I expected better from the new Subarus and Hondas I drove this last week.(took a VW as well). Will look at your suggested options this week. With chronic spinal pain I just need to be able to drive for half an hour without the ensuing severe pain and lost days.

  2. Hi Liz.

    Sorry to hear about your back pain. I know it’s not an easy thing to live with.

    Thanks for the positive feedback, though, and I hope that you can find your ideal SUV from that list.

    Let us know how you go.

  3. Motor manufacturers need to be informed that a non adjustable passenger seat is wrong
    Passengers have backs like the driver and require to be comfortable as well but they are just ignored in most cars

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