Final Inspection

The Most Comfortable Car Seats in the World

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Continental and Mercedes are taking seat massagers to a new level with an electronically controlled system that uses 14 separately actuated air bladders.

Mercedes-Benz boasts the new ’14 S-Class sedan is the “best car in the world.” Competitors no doubt will disagree, but the claim the new Mercedes flagship has the most comfortable seats in the world may be tough to dispute, especially after a new air-cushion massaging system transports skeptics to Nirvana.

The new massaging system, available in both front and rear seats, was developed by interiors supplier Continental and further enhanced by Mercedes engineers who added a heating feature that feels like warm stones being placed strategically along the spine, imitating a spa treatment.

I tested a stand-alone seat on a buck at a Continental event in Germany earlier this year and on a 200-mile (322-km) drive during the North American press launch of the S-Class in Toronto. Luxury car seating has come a long way, but this latest electronically controlled pneumatic wizardry is unparalleled in its ability to create a state of bliss.

Continental will be showing off its massaging system at the upcoming Frankfurt auto show, where lucky visitors will experience the technology first-hand.

The mechanical rollers and other devices typically used for the massaging function in luxury car seats do deliver a decidedly pleasant sensation, but they pose no threat to masseuse job security.  

Continental and Mercedes are taking pampering to a new level with an electronically controlled air-cushion system that uses 14 separately actuated air bladders instead of electro-mechanical contraptions buried beneath the upholstery.

Of course, this strategy requires even more sophisticated electronics and hardware. Besides air cushions and multiple air lines, more powerful yet ultra-quiet compressors are needed, along with fast-switching valves and an electronic control unit just for the seat pneumatics that must have more computing power than the first space shuttle; maybe even the last shuttle.

But, ooh, la, la, is it worth it. All that hardware and software provides a stronger and more nuanced kneading of the muscles, back and shoulders that’s much closer to the real thing.

“This field of technology is gaining in importance. Initial massage functions already are being offered in midrange vehicles, so we are integrating more and more pneumatic products and functions into seats," says Andreas Wolf, head of Continental's body and security business unit.

In the S-Class, six different types of massages are available, including slow and gentle, fast and vigorous and two versions with the hot-stone treatment. Plus, the massaging program can be further customized using an iPad or other mobile device.

The air cushions also operate dynamically, providing additional lateral support during hard cornering and other maneuvers.

After listening to me heap praise on the Continental/Mercedes massage, a serious-minded colleague wondered aloud if it could become a new and insidious form of driver distraction.

Well, no. The massage is the best I’ve ever had from a car seat, but it’s still a car seat. By the time Conti develops a seat massage good enough to cause me to drive off the road, it also will have perfected the self-driving car, another area of its expertise.

dwinter@wardsauto.com

 

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