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So, I want to upgrade my standard seats (Leon Cupra MK3, same platform as Golf 7). Being a newbie, I thought I go online, I select a seat model I like, I fill in the car model and just put it in my car with the 4 bolts on the floor. Unfortunately, it seems way more complicated, after I searched around a bit:

  • my seats have airbags, only after-market seats I found with them are Recaro Sportster CS
  • passenger seat has an occupancy sensor, which seems car specific
  • my seats also have heating, 3 levels if it matters
  • the seat rails also have an additional sensor, measuring the distance the seats are pushed back, to regulate the force the airbags open, in case of impact.

Now, I searched back and forth, the only option I seem to have, is to buy the Recaro Sportster CS-es, then find out the part numbers for passenger occupancy sensor, heating pads, etc, buy them, dismantle the brand new seat upholstery and try to fit them all on. Then try to build some kind of adapter, so I can fit the seats to my current rails.

My question: is this the usual way of going about upgrading seats? Or am I missing something fundamental? Any advice would be appreciated...

3 Answers 3

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Usually when someone is replacing seats it's because they want racing seats, so the safety and comfort features do not apply so you would put new seats in and leave the airbags and heaters off completely. Occupancy sensors are a bit trickier, you could move that over or there may be a way to trick the sensor, you'd want to check the legalities of that before you do.

Moving airbags over is likely impossible - airbags need to go into specifically made housings and have sensor hookups for activation. Seat heaters are usually a pad, so you might be able to move that presuming your replacement seat has some sort of cover it could go under.

If you are trying to replace your seats with similar seats I'd be inclined to ask why, you'll lose safety features and its a lot of work. It may make sense to refurbish your existing ones.

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  • I don't want to move airbags over, but instead buying a seat already equipped with airbags, then adding the car specific components to it (passenger occupancy sensor, heating, etc). The reason of changing seats is that the standard ones are quite bad in keeping me in place, when driving enthusiastically or at the rare track day event. The Recaro Sportster CS seems ideal for this, I just didn't expect that I'll have to sort heating, passenger occupancy sensors, etc myself, I was hoping there's an easier way.
    – mBardos
    Feb 2 at 7:37
  • For reference my standard seats, have no hard side bolsters: autocar.co.uk/sites/autocar.co.uk/files/styles/gallery_slide/… The Recaro Sportster CS looks way more supportive at shoulder, waist and legs too: cdn.recaro-automotive.com/fileadmin/01-products/dynamic/…
    – mBardos
    Feb 2 at 7:44
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    @mBardos - Instead of going aftermarket, why not look inward? Have you looked at what's offered in some of the sportier Golf offerings of the same age? If the Golf 7 and your car are the same platform, you may be able to get both a sportier seat as well as all the sensors already built in. And, the seat might just fit with minimal or no modification. Feb 2 at 10:45
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 indeed, I did that, unfortunately the Golf 7/Skoda/Audi offerings have the same issues, the seats are comfy, but lack lateral support. The best I could find are the Wingback seats from some Golf 5/6 models, but they go for ridiculous prices. There are bucket Cupra seats too, same generation as mine, but similarly overpriced and rare as bird teeth.
    – mBardos
    Feb 2 at 10:59
  • @mBardos - Have you looked at a Golf R? Or GTI? Feb 2 at 11:12
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The "standard" method (as much as there is any) is either to get an upgraded OEM seat (either from the same brand or a group mate) or to fit aftermarket and lose some of the existing OEM functionality. Because, as you've found aftermarket bucket seats don't come with that sort of functionality, partly because offering it would be a logistical nightmare because of the wide range of makes and models things like the Recaro CS can be fitted to and partly because weight-reduction is often a prime driver behind track-orientated seats.

You've also essentially discovered why second-hand OEM seat upgrades cost so much - 10 year-old wing backs with leather that looks like it lost a particularly vicious fight with a pair of scissors? That'll be £1.5k thank-you-very-much. Sigh. This because if you want to keep the extra bells and whistles and get a better seat they're the only option that doesn't involve major seat surgery.

There is however an upside to this - there's pretty much always a demand for such seats and they don't lose much value with age and use. So while they might cost you a bit more than just buying a brand new Recaro CS if you're canny and keep your old seats when the time comes to change your car you can generally re-sell the uprated ones and you won't lose much (if anything) off what you paid for them.

For your particular car probably the simplest and easiest swap would be the Cupra buckets - they might be a bit hard to find though. The Recaro Wing-back seats from the S3 (2013-) / RS3 (2015-) should be fairly easy to track down, don't have any particular branding on them IIRC and should be easy to fit since the Audi is built on the VW MQB platform same as the Leon Mk3, you do need to pay attention to making sure they came out of the same body style as your car - if you fit seats from a 4-door donor car to a 3-door recipient you won't have the access lever to fold the seats forward so rear passengers will have a hard time getting in or out!

Similarly the Mk7 Golf R - given the popularity of the car there should be a fair few around. Admittedly knowing how many Golf R's were stolen and parted out I'm a little squeamish about buying those on eBay and the like - but that's probably just me.

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  • All righty then, so my suspicions are confirmed then, there is no easier way... Well, considering all the research and the info received here, I'll probably buy new seats having airbags (as those cannot be retrofitted), then with specialist help open up seat cover, install electronics (passenger occupancy sensor, heating pads, etc) then sew seat covers back. Then move seat rails from my current seats to the new ones (so I keep the distance sensor).
    – mBardos
    Feb 2 at 14:53
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    @mBardos Honestly... rather you than me. Transferring the passenger-occupancy stuff is a right pain IMO. Still, it can be done - this post provides some good info on the process, it's for a Golf R but it should be essentially the same for yours. Feb 2 at 15:37
  • doesn't seem simple, indeed, thanks for the heads up!
    – mBardos
    Feb 3 at 8:07
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So, if anyone wants to upgrade their seats, but keep all features of the standard seats, from all the info I gathered, there are several ways to do it, I'll enumerate them from easiest to hardest.

  1. buy better (optional) seats from higher equipment car (so buy Golf GTI seats for a TDI Golf or Cupra optional buckets for a standard seats equipped Cupra): easiest way, as rails, airbags, heating and passenger occupancy sensors will all fit directly, maybe you'll need to change some plugs
  2. buy brand new seats with compatible airbag/no airbag and rails: you will have to buy OEM heating elements and passenger occupancy sensors, take the seat to an upholstery specialist, to take it apart, then to an electrician to install and wire up everything, then to upholstery again to put it back together. If you opt for no airbags, the car's airbag sensor can be fooled with a simple resistor plugged into the airbag connector, but obviously, you will not have airbags deploying from your seats.
  3. buy whatever seats you like but with compatible airbags: as in previous, you will have to source/mount OEM internals and additionally source/adapt the rails too (cutting and welding is involved) to fit the seats in your car. Quite some PITA, it turns out, as very few shops are willing to do this, being quite time consuming, time they prefer spending on making an easy buck on other simple/standard jobs.

Thanks everybody for the info provided!

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