I think we’re at a point in automotive history when three-row cars are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and I’m all for that. The “way back” seat is a wonderful thing, partially because it’s the only mainstream car seat you’re likely to find that may be facing backwards. There’s two schools of thought when it comes to the third row: face ahead, or behind? I’m curious to find out which we prefer.
I think the current trend is for forward-facing rear seats, as this seems to be the default layout for three-row SUVs, but there are still a few rear-facing holdouts out there. The Tesla Model S may be the best known example, but Mercedes still offers a rear-facing pair of jump seats in their E-Class wagons.
It seems that rear-facing seats have tended to be the choice for fold-away seats in smaller vehicles, though the idea of “smaller” can be pretty relative.
For example, back in 1973, Pontiac offered two station wagons, and they each offered a different type of third row folding seat, one forward facing, one rear:
The two wagons were the Grand Safari and the Le Mans Safari, and one was colossal while the other was merely gigantic. I think the Grand one was just over 19 feet long, while the one Pontiac referred to as their “trim-size” option was a mere 18 feet long.
The “smaller” one here had the rear facing seats (you can see them on the left diagram), and while the car they were in was about a foot shorter, I think the rear layout offered as much legroom and, I think, much easier access.
Think what a pain it is getting into most SUV’s third rows now; it’s usually a grim spectacle of contortion. But a rear-facing seat can use the whole rear hatch or door, which is affords fantastic access.
The advantages of the rear-facing seat are access and legroom, though the room may be at the expense of cargo area, since your legs are sharing that area with the luggage. There often is some area between the backs of the two rear rows, though, even if it is a bit tricky to access.
Personally, I’m a rear-facing guy. Sure, there’s dedicated cargo area losses and the issue of not facing the same way as everyone else, but facing forward feels more cramped, and all you see are the backs of everyone’s heads; looking out the back window as you toodle along gives a much more interesting panoramic view of where you’ve just been, and, as a flip side to the relative isolation from the other passengers, offers a bit of privacy.
Also, let’s say you park somewhere picturesque; you can open the hatch and enjoy the view like a little porch with a rear-facing seat! Front-facing third row seats do not invite any lingering at all.
I know I loved sitting in the rear-facing jump seats of my parents old Ford Country Squire. I’m proud to be on team rear-facing—but I’m open to hearing arguments from the forward-looking crew, too.
I’ll talk about inward-facing side seats and the I think as-yet-untried outward-facing sideways seats at some other time. Let’s stick to forward or back today, all right?