Abhishek Mishra on: seating capacity

Posted by abhishek at 05:41 am on Saturday May 10, 2014


Last month, a friend wanted to buy a “big car”. Not because he’s got a big family, but because his brother had just bought an EcoSport and my friend wanted something bigger. Now, the EcoSport is fairly compact to begin with, so he had no dearth of options. But he wanted to buy a car that seats six or seven. Comfortably. Over long distances. He said since the EcoSport is a five-seater, he wanted something that seats more people.

This got me thinking about size and seating in vehicles. In most cases consciously, and in some cases subconsciously, men are still slaves to the “mine is bigger than yours” mindset. This mindset severely impairs their good judgement in many areas of life. Perhaps automobiles are the most obvious example of this.

The cheapest hatchback and the most expensive sedan have a seating capacity of five adults. But neither of them can seat five comfortably. Big cars like the Mercedes S-Class and the Audi A8 actually come with the option of only four seats; they do away with the middle seat in the rear. It makes more sense to seat four in supreme comfort than have a fifth seat just for the sake of it. That space can be better used to chill champagne.

And then, very, very few five-seaters in the market –sedan, SUV or MPV – can seat five adults in comfort for even a couple of hours. A lot of hatchbacks may not even be comfortable for two rear passengers over some distance. Tata hatches like the Nano and the Vista offer brilliant interior space. But a lot of Japanese, European and Korean hatches don’t. Coming to cars that offer seven seats. The 2 + 3 + 2 layout makes more sense on MPVs like the Innova and the Xylo. In comparison, SUVs are clearly more cramped and uncomfortable for people in the last row.

Six-seater MPVs with a 2 + 2 + 2 layout are the most comfortable. The first two rows get individual ‘captain seats’, which are more comfortable than the bench seats. The last row is still cramped, but at least you can stretch your legs in the space between the two seats in the second row. For a moment now, I’m going to discount the tourist taxi market, even though they’re the biggest buyers of these six- and seven-seater MPVs. Private buyers of these vehicles are typically people with large families. And any large family has at least a couple of annoying kids. They’re really whom the last row is for. They fit easily in the last row and the driver is fairly distant from their nuisance.

Point is, if you really want passengers to be comfortable, you need to load your car with one or two less. As I explain this to my friend, he says he feels cheated. He says if the spec sheet says five-seater, a car should be comfortable for five.

So I try and draw his attention to motorcycles – they’re designed to seat two. Again, I’m gonna discount commuter-class bikes here. If you’ve noticed, almost no decently powerful bike is comfortable for two people. Bikes like the Yamaha R15 and the Pulsar 200 don’t even pretend to be. They’re quick street machines that can seat two. But they’re really built only for the rider – the pillion seat is ornamental, really.

You may think cruisers would be able to carry two comfortably. Not really. Iconic touring brands like Harley-Davidson are really built only for the rider. The pillion is uncomfortable on most of them. I know you can order a large, comfortable pillion seat on their top-end models like the Street Glide, but in most other cases, these bikes are comfortable only for one – the rider.

The good bit, at least when it comes to bikes, is that we finally have a couple of decently powerful motorcycles that can seat two in comfort – the Triumph Bonneville and the Suzuki Inazuma. I’m sure there are people out there who’d be happy to load fewer people in a car. But on a bike, they’d be happier riding with a pillion.

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