Six luxury-car features I'm ashamed to admit I loveThu, 16 Oct 2014
A hot compress felt wonderful on my sore back. The methodical kneading of my shoulder blades loosened the knots that formed over several hours of driving. The Swedish-style pulses firing into my lumbar region released more tension.
I wasn't getting a much-needed massage following a recent road trip. I was getting it during the road trip.
It came courtesy of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a car which provides an array of "hot stone" massage features in the driver's seat. Controlled through distinct chambers in the seat, the luxury car offers six varieties of massages that lull a driver into automotive bliss.
I grew up riding in the back seat of a 1976 Chevy Nova. But once you use these lux features, it's easy to go soft.
On a barren stretch of interstate, the massage made my ride not just tolerable, but wholly enjoyable. I left the chair massage on for hours, and when the time came, I lamented the fact I had reached my destination.
These days, more and more luxury-car customers expect these sort of perks. Buying a luxury car is as much about the creature comforts as it is the precision of the powertrain. As the luxury carmakers seek to keep their brands a cut above the rest, they've gotten more creative in adding these indulgent innovations.
Over the past year, the seat massage has probably been my favorite creature comfort in a new car. But it has hardly been the only one I've come to appreciate.
Enjoying these new comforts doesn't come naturally. I grew up riding in the back seat of a 1976 Chevy Nova. But once you use them, it's easy to go soft. If it's been a while since you got behind the wheel of a luxury car, here's a look at a few of the advances you're missing out on:
Heated Steering Wheels
Available on a wide variety of mainstream and luxury vehicles, steering-wheel warmers were at the pinnacle of my personal list of unneeded automotive technology. Between a decent pair of gloves and regular heat in the car, the warmers seemed redundant.
Then came last winter. Not sure how dreadful it was where you live, but here in Michigan I lost count of the number of subzero days. At one point, we went more than a month without breaking freezing. Steering wheel-warmers went from something I sniffed at to the unsung hero of the Michigan winter.
Seat warmers have been available in most vehicles for more than a decade now. More recently, automakers have introduced their opposites, seat coolers. Done right, they can do a far better job at cooling occupants than the ordinary air conditioning. Sit in an Infiniti equipped with seat coolers, and it feels like you're sitting on a slab of ice without the hassle of getting your pants wet.
Take note, that depending on the carmaker, some of these cooling systems can work better than others. Nissan and Infiniti's rank as the best. The ones in many General Motors vehicles, however, are so ineffective the cooling effects can hardly be felt.
Luxury cars provide the means to make exerting yourself in the most minor of ways an optional task. Take for instance, the BMW seatbelt extender. If you find the act of turning and grabbing your seatbelt too irritating, BMW's extender eliminates that task.
Upon closing of the door, the extender pushes the seatbelt forward so the driver can grab it with a slight movement of the hand. Think of it as a personal automotive butler who brings you the seat belt when you're ready. A wonderful feature for the lazy at heart.
Along the same lines in the exert-as-little-energy-as possible category comes the automatic trunk and/or liftgate button – as seen here in opulent Rolls-Royce Ghost formulation.
I hesitate to include it here, because powered liftgates are found on many mainstream cars. But you'd be surprised to know they're not found on some luxury vehicles – certain trim levels on the Cadillac ATS and Audi A6 do not have this feature.
It's easy to dismiss this as a frivolous feature. But once you've gotten accustomed to closing the liftgate or trunk with the push of a button, it's a hassle to go back to manually closing them. (Have I really gotten this lazy? Yes, yes I have).
Mercedes-Benz Seats, Part II
Lest you think the only claim to fame for the Mercedes-Benz car seats is their massage capabilities, check out the additional comfort they provide when cornering.
The multi-contour seats contain air bladders that inflate or deflate as you round corners to bolster side support. Centrifugal forces be damned, these seats snugly hold your body in position.
Lambs' Wool Floor Mats
I could never advocate driving while barefoot. But I'll certainly forgive you for wanting to should you ever sit behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce.
Slightly hard to illustrate with photographs (as you can surmise from our Ghost II picture above), the inches-deep, downy-soft pile of the Rolls floor mat is nevertheless one of motoring's ultimate luxuries. If you have the means, I highly recommend them.
By Pete Bigelow
See also: Researchers halfway to cutting carbon fiber costs by 90%, History of BMW touring cars looks splendid in Adrenalin trailer, 2015 BMW X6.