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Folding Rear Seats Flat Without a Chinese Fire Drill

September 12th, 2011

Most of us have done it.  You come out of Costco or Home Depot with a big item, wheel your shopping cart up to the back of your SUV or Crossover, and open the tail gate.  That’s when it hits you.  Your new treasure’s never gonna fit in the cargo area with those rear seats up.  Furthermore, you’re already late picking up your kid from swim practice, and the thoughtful driver of the vehicle to the right of yours left you less than a foot of clearance between his vehicle and yours.

What happens next depends a lot on which particular vehicle you own.  In many SUVs and crossovers, you have to squeeze around to the side of the vehicle, open the rear door as far as Mr. Considerate’s park job allows, wedge yourself inside, unlatch the seat, and then fold it flat.  And just folding the rear seat flat often requires two or more separate steps.  Then, if you need both sides of the rear seat folded, you run around to the other side of the vehicle and repeat the process.  Finally, you walk back to the rear of the vehicle, only to find your cart has rolled out into the middle of the lane, blocking a driver looking for a parking spot.  You wave sheepishly at the disgruntled driver, roll the cart back to the tail gate, and finally load your item.  When you get home, you unload your item, only to repeat the process of running around both sides of the vehicle to fold the seats back up, so your spouse can take the kids to the movies.  As you walk into the house, you can’t help but wonder if the person who engineered those seats ever had to actually use them.

When it comes to ease of folding and raising the rear seats in an SUV or crossover, not all models are created equal.  True Consumer Reviews assembled over 100 SUV and Crossover owners to conduct detailed vehicle evaluations of all the major competitors in each of three categories: Compact, Midsize, and Medium Luxury SUVs and Crossovers.  Here are some top rated models whose ease of folding and raising the rear seats can help avoid the Chinese fire drill.

Compact SUV / Crossover:

  • The Toyota RAV4 has folding rear seat release levers in the cargo area that allow the seat to be easily folded from the rear, but unless you have a long reach, you may still have to go around to the sides to raise them again.

Midsize SUV / Crossover:

  • The Ford Explorer offers an optional electric folding third row seat allowing the third row seat to be raised and lowered at the touch of a button.
  • The Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia, all have folding seat release levers and long straps on the back of the third row seats that allow the seats to be easily folded and raised from the rear.

Medium Luxury SUV / Crossover:

  • The Lexus GX460 has an electric folding third row seat allowing the third row to be folded and raised from the rear at the touch of a button.
  • The Acura MDX has seat back releases and straps allowing the third row seats to be folded and raised from the rear.