Why Don't All Full-Size Sedans Have Fold-Down Rear Seats?

img972846701 1474993134626 jpg 2016 Toyota Avalon | Manufacturer image

CARS.COM — They don’t?

In these days of buyers flocking to SUVs, you might assume that all sedans have a fold-down backseat and trunk pass-through to add some extra utility and bolster the body style’s practicality, given its generally lower price and higher gas mileage. And you would be right until you get to the biggest cars, the full-size sedans from mainstream and premium brands.

Related: Which 2017 Three-Row SUVs Offer Captain’s Chairs?

In a reverse of what’s usual in car shopping, the more you spend, the less likely you are to find this feature. Most new car full-size sedans from luxury makers do not offer a folding rear seat (Volvo’s new S90 is an exception). Instead, in most of the high-priced flagships, you can get fancier rear features in the backseat, such as consoles, additional electronics and controls, multiple seat adjustments and other luxury amenities.

Most big sedans from mainstream brands do offer a fold-down, extending the utility of their big trunks and making the backseat more cargo-friendly. But a couple of these highway cruisers buck that: Toyota’s Avalon, one of the better-selling big cars, continues to have a fixed backseat. So does Kia’s Cadenza, which just got a classy redesign for 2017. Meanwhile, Buick, which aspires to a premium-brand image, nonetheless goes mainstream with a folding seat for its LaCrosse.

Toyota said its decision was based on priorities for the current-generation Avalon, redesigned for the 2013 model year and refreshed for 2016.  “During the initial development, we wanted to improve the ‘fun to drive’ aspects of the vehicle,” said spokesman Corey Proffitt. “To improve body rigidity related to handling, we added a V-brace behind the rear seat. This required a fixed seat structure.”

A byproduct was a bigger trunk than the earlier model’s. “The prior generation had reclining [not folding] seats, so we were able to simultaneously improve luggage volume as well,” Proffitt said. “This resulted in a good balance of usability and performance improvements.”

Kia said it also had other priorities, particularly cabin serenity. “The reason why we do not have [a folding seat] has to do with enhancing the stiffness of the body structure, which helps reduce NVH [noise, vibration and harshness]. NVH was one of our highest development priorities for the new Cadenza,” said Eddie Rayyan, product manager for the Cadenza, which also employs such noise-reducing measures as laminated front glass and underbody covering.

At its rollout of the new Cadenza, Kia noted that these big sedans attract an older, more traditional buyer, as well as business users, such as real-estate agents. A big trunk might suffice for cargo needs of such buyers, who might be more concerned with putting people in the back seat.

Buick, however, despite its more premium positioning, had a different perspective for its redone 2017 LaCrosse. It has a fold-down seat like its less-expensive Chevrolet Impala cousin and unlike Cadillac’s new CT6 sedan. “GM offers rear folding seats on a majority of its large sedans. We’ve heard anecdotally from customers that they appreciate the flexibility this feature provides,” said Arianna Kughn, Buick LaCrosse spokeswoman.

She said that Buick planners see this as an advantage overs rivals without one. “Providing customers the option to extend their cargo space allows the LaCrosse to fulfill multiple needs without forcing those same customers into an SUV,” said Kughn. Buick’s engineers were able to add one without downgrading “quietness, rigidity or features,” she added.

img 111222638 1470675567393 jpg 2017 Buick LaCrosse | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek


Photo of Fred Meier
Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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