Commentary: Sitting Down, Fitting In

2013 Cadillac XTS 9
Photo by Randy Stern

When you are a sizeable bloke like me, fitting into an automobile is almost like trying to find a good pair of shoes.

Sizeable? Um, yes – about six-foot-two, hovering at 285 pounds, size 14 shoes and so forth. You would probably understand the challenge of ensuring comfort for both a good pair of shoes and a proper seating position behind the wheel.

Whenever I am at a car show or another automotive-related event, the first thing I would have to do is to see if a certain vehicle "fits." I consider my own body shape in the process – long torso, love handles, chicken legs, etc. (and, no, I am not going for self-esteem issues or a pity party here, just stating facts!). I have to look carefully at the cabin to see whether I could be comfortable behind the wheel or not.

In the past, I had failures in this department. Small cars are often tough on my body. Sports cars are worse. Having said that, I would find myself in surprising situations that would register a positive towards perhaps asking for that particular model to review.

For example, I was very surprised how the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ were right for my body. The seats were big enough and bolstered well for me to stick in them for even a long drive. The seats and the steering column had more than enough adjustments to ensure a full fitting behind the wheel. Not to mention, the Scion/Subaru was an ergonomic delight with instrumentation and switches falling into place with my hands (despite the Scion using those not-so-great audio system faceplates). These are very positive developments, as I rarely get a chance to drive a real sports car these days.

On the flip side, I had my issues fitting into the Ford Fiesta. I am certain it is possible, only if I could contort away from the B-pillar upon exiting the car. I also found Ford's global interior design a bit off-putting in terms of switchgear and instrumentation readout. I had to question this considering how I was able to recently enjoy one of its competitors – the Kia Rio.

Most of today's subcompacts are great for drivers my size. You may want to debate the motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster of the Chevrolet Sonic, but you can never deny that it lacked the room and comfort needed for a big fella like me. Rear seat room is a different story.

My heart does go south whenever a Chevrolet Corvette is presented to me. The first time I sat in the C6, my dismount was complicated by a tangled right foot in the pedals. My ankle was sore for a few days afterwards. I always feared the same result in most of its competition, despite the Corvette being comfortable for me to drive.

Over the years, I noticed a trend towards opening up space for bigger drivers in most of the vehicles in the marketplace. I remember a time when getting comfortable behind the wheel of a 1988 and newer Toyota Corolla was a chore. It still is, but I felt some more room opened up for me behind the wheel. I am smaller now, but still I hope that perhaps Toyota will do something for the next generation of its hugely successful global product.

Older Porsche 911s used to be spacious for guys like me. They were just open and airy behind the wheel – seats went back with no protruding consoles and such. The last 911 felt tighter in some areas. The footwells seemed much smaller than I recalled. I also felt a bit of claustrophobia once I sank into the smallish seats with the console closing in on my thighs. It was sad to see that a car I would love to drive someday would not accommodate me comfortably. Does that mean that I have to drive the Cayenne instead to experience Stuttgart's finest?

There are vehicles that would be considered a "no go." A year or so ago, I got to ride in a Tesla Roadster – practically the same body as a Lotus Elise. No matter what or how, I was able to get inside the passenger seat – barely. Getting out was a different story. I believe I had to fall out of the car to actually get out. It was not as bad as the guy before me who was about almost double my size. When he got out, I heard an unfortunate noise. I prayed that said dude did not break the monocoque or subframe somehow…

Agreed, I am not the most graceful human being around.

These seating adventures are not exclusive to smaller cabins. It is a struggle when presented with a seat that appears to be comfortable and supportive turns out to be otherwise. Even subtle adjustments in steering wheel height or the lack of lumbar support become a cause for concern to this reviewer. You would be surprised which vehicles I panned in the past for such subtle seating faux pas.

When I do find a great place behind the wheel, you bet I would be excited enough to try to pursue a full review of said vehicle. In a recent sitting in the 2013 Cadillac XTS, I found perhaps the perfect seat. There were more than enough adjustments, along with the exact amount of cushioning, lumbar support and bolstering to strap me in comfortably behind the wheel of this big luxury sedan. And, we are talking about a traditionally sized Cadillac here!

The important part of our car is the driver's seat. You can have enough horsepower to destroy a new tar job, a great gearbox and the best design ever, but you need to control this vehicle. To maintain control of any vehicle, you need to be comfortable and in-tune behind the wheel.

This is why I became very sensitive about driver's seats lately. It is also why I hate shopping for shoes.

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