By on April 23, 2011

Last week we discussed a rumor that suggested the new 2013 Malibu’s rear legroom might be compromised as a result of its redesign, and in the original post I included the official manufacturer numbers for rear legroom in the “big six” midsize sedans. This led to an interesting discussion in our comments section, and the comparison apparently caught the attention of at least one boss of a global automaker’s US operations. This exec (who has admitted to being a daily TTAC reader), wrote in to point out that there are two different SAE standards for measuring rear legroom, the L33 “Effective legroom” test, in which the front seat is placed at the appropriate distance for a driver in the 95 percentile of height, and the L34 “Maximum driver legroom” test, in which the front seat is placed all the way before measuring. As a result of our conversation, I thought I’d share a comparison of the six best-selling D-segment sedans using a different (and hopefully less-confusing) metric: combined legroom. You can move the seat, but you can’t run away from this metric…

Combined legroom (the sum of official front and rear legroom numbers) for the “big six” midsize sedans are as follows:

Hyundai Sonata: 80.1 inches

Toyota Camry: 80 inches

Nissan Altima: 79.9 inches

Chevrolet Malibu: 79.8 inches

Honda Accord: 79.7 inches

Ford Fusion: 79.4 inches

The crazy part: sure enough, the new Malibu lost .8 inches of combined legroom (almost all in the back seat), with 42.1/36.9/79.0 (front/rear/combined), putting it at the bottom of its class in this metric (albeit by .4 inches). But as we noted at the time, rear legroom isn’t the outgoing Malibu’s main problem, hip and shoulder room are. There, crucially, GM did what it had to: the new ‘bu’s rear hiproom has expanded from 52.1 to 54.4, while rear shoulder room is up from 53.9 to 57.1.

We can look at more interior space measurement comparisons if there’s interest, but one of the most important lessons from all this is that subjective reviews of perceived interior space matter. Though “combined legroom” helps keep comparisons on a relatively apples-to-apples comparison, the feel of a car’s interior and and its ability to create a sense of space remains primary to the user experience… and that can’t be broken down into numbers.

Or can it? Obviously the position of the front seat at any given time has the major effect on a given rear-seat experience, but despite this problematic issue, marketing firms still ask consumers about their perceptions of front and rear-seat spaciousness. And based on the results of one such survey, shared with us by our mystery executive, the reactions are as confusing as you’d expect, given that they say as much or more about the consumers than their vehicles. Here are the satisfaction ratings for each of the “big six” (front/back)

Hyundai Sonata: 96%/94%

Honda Accord: 96%/89%

Ford Fusion: 95%/90%

Nissan Altima: 97%/87%

Toyota Camry: 94%/90%

Chevrolet Malibu: 93%/90%

Given the Hyundai’s small advantage in combined legroom, it’s not surprising to see it on top here… but the rest of the results seem to have no connection with the raw legroom numbers. It will comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked inside the industry that consumers don’t precisely reflect the reality, but these numbers simply reinforce the importance of capturing a feel with a car’s interior, rather than just redlining the metrics. And it’s a good reminder that high-quality car reviews focus more on capturing a car’s feel than regurgitating a stream of numbers.

 

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83 Comments on “Follow-Up: Legroom In Midsize Sedans...”


  • avatar
    changsta

    i am DYING to know who the mystery exec is! Can you give us a hint?

  • avatar
    stuki

    Do these measurements take seat height into account? This, by altering seated passengers’ knee and hip angles, can have much bigger impact than the .4 inches in measured combined legroom between #1 and #5.
     
    Also, for the rear seats, how much space there is for feet under the front seats. And cutting out “knee impressions” in the front seat backs help with knee room as well.
     
    Other than that, if all else is equal, I would think getting the most combined legroom out of a given length is basically about making the front seat backs thin, like some of those carbon shells in race cars. Of course, if one car has 80″ of combined with a carbon shell seat back, and another 80″ with a fat foam pad of a seat back, the latter will probably feel more spacious, as it is basically a longer car.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I am with you here. The raw numbers are only the beginning of understanding. I think my 2002 Accord has an outstanding backseat. I have even spent time there while other family members drove. OTOH, GM has always had a problem with back seats. My Father’s 1973 Eldorado — 226 in. from bow to stern with an 8 liter motor, had absolutely no room in the back seat.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        Contrast that to the 92-00 Le Sabre and H-bodies where they had tons of room in the back seat. at 6’2″ I had no problems with room in the back seat of mom’s 92 LeSabre. But yes, the ’70s land yachts were horrible with rear seat room, as even my ’77 Chevelle sedan has mediocre rear seat room for a 209″ car. My 2000 Contour was the absolute worst as it basically was 4 door- two seater car with the front seats adjusted for me.

    • 0 avatar

      Very good points, stuki. As Ed points out, the objective stats tend to be very close. You bring up two factors I often mention in my reviews: the height of the rear seat off the floor, and the amount of foot room under the front seats. Many luxury sedans often lack the latter because the space is occupied by seat motors, cooling systems, and so forth. This reduces the practical legroom by a few inches even if it doesn’t affect the spec.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The variance in combined leg room is strikingly small.  Why would that matter to anyone except advertising copy writers desperately reaching for a distinguishing characteristic to pitch?  If you’re particularly tall what would generally most matter is how well you fit in the front seat.  Leg room is, of course, only one facet of that.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Is legroom officially measured from the leading edge of the rear seat bottom or from the backrest?  GM used to make the rear seat cushions uncomfortably short… I always assumed this was so that the back seat space either looked larger than it was in the showroom or to game the rear legroom numbers.  

    In comparison, our old ’87 Accord LXi was likely no larger than a Civic is today but the backseat felt limousine like at the time… likely due to a comfortable backrest angle and supportive cushion as much as actual leg-crossing room.  I spent 6 hours back there on a trip and never had a complaint.

    Now that I’m with family and four-door cars are of interest, adult legroom isn’t as important as the ability to get a baby seat back there and many midsize cars are simply incapable of handling the huge rear-facing thrones that we put infants in these days.  And keep in mind that I’m 5’6″ so am able to put the front seat more forward than the average driver but still unable to fit that seat back there.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Even full sized cars are surprisingly hard to judge.  We rented a Grand Marquis on a recent trip, and were surprised to find that our car seat fit with exactly the same near-zero clearance in that ginormous land yacht as well as it does in our Prius back home.  The Grand Marquis has a wider passenger compartment, but the rest pf the dimensions were indistinguishable from the Prius for my purposes[0].  The extra length went to the engine compartment and the trunk, not the passenger compartment…

      [0] My purposes are pretty much limited to holding a carseat. Your needs may vary, but being a relatively new dad has really focused my priorities in this respect.

    • 0 avatar
      enzl

      My wife & I have had this beef with car seats as well. She refuses to drive a large vehicle and I refused to believe that millions of World A/B/C size owners don’t care about their kids.
      We ended up with Sunshine brand seats, which are narrow but built like armored vehicles. They fit in more of the cars I drove home with (I rotate cars once a week, approximately) than any other seat (6!) we’ve owned before.
       

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Our Grand Marquis experience was with a Graco seat and base.  We now have a Sunshine Kids Radian seat in the Prius, because my wife decided she wanted to adopt carseat safety as a cause, and wanted more armor.  Both seats fit fine in our Prius, but the Sunshine Kids seat is an excellent seat now that he’s big enough that the seat can easily stay in the car.

        BTW, a mommy-blogger posted a video a while back showing 3 kids in the back of a Nissan Leaf with the Sunshine Kids seats…!

        It sounds like you can just try your carseat in every car!  That’s a luxury I don’t have.  :-)

        I was really surprised that the Grand Marquis didn’t have more of the kind of space that I care about.  I thought people bought big cars because they have more space, and it does, but it doesn’t have any of the space I need.  The wider seats may be a benefit to some people, but not for me.

        I agree about the A/B/C segments.  People on the other side of “the pond” have kids too and, judging by what I saw on the roads in the UK a couple of years ago, families seem to do really well with cars in these segments.  And my family has too, even though we live in Illinois — and my wife and I really enjoy the benefits that come with driving a small car, too.  (We tend to drive short distances and park in cramped spaces downtown, so the extra care required to park a large vehicle every 5 minutes would significantly detract from our driving-experience. But the backseat of our existing car does pretty well holding an adult on those twice-yearly 12-hour road-trips to go see grandma, so they must have done something right.)

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I’m no fan of the Grand Marquis back seat for adults either. I simply find it uncomfortable.
       

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        The only experience I have in the back of a Grand Marq (well Crown Vic) was when I was in a squad car. Not that I had been arrested, but I was involved in a minor accident with my mom and her friend driving. We all had to pile in the back, and that was rough. No space whatsoever. I’m sure a lot had to do with the “cage”, but still.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I suppose I could study the SAE specs but that sounds boring, so I use the Fred test. I sit in the drivers seat adjust it like I want, then sit in the back and see how it is. Then I give it a rating, sucks, not bad, or wow it’s pretty roomy.

    • 0 avatar
      thirty-three

      I also use the same test.  The current Accord gets a “sucks” because I cannot slip my feet under the front seat.  The Fiat 500 gets a “not bad”, while the Honda Fit gets a “wow”.

    • 0 avatar
      cronus

      Do you use a standard Fred or a metric Fred?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I do the same thing.  At 6’6″, it matters a lot to me.

      Using the new TTAC metric, my xB1 comes out at 83.3″ combined legroom (using official stats), which beats all of the cars listed above.  Of course, the xB1 has a tiny trunk, but usable interior room is longer and taller than most cars around (including most luxury cars), so I never have to apologize to the passengers seated in the back.  Most M-B and Jag drivers can’t say that; I notice the XK adds up to only 70.6″, but of course nobody buys that car for its passenger room.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Just curious — how do these numbers compare to the Europeans (E class, 5 Series, A6, XF)?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Well my question would be what do you gain by going up a size?  How do the Avalon, Impala, Maxima, Taurus, Azera… (et. all)  compare to their competition in the showroom?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Most of the Europeans are tighter.  As for the fullsizers: the Azera is/was roomier than the old Sonata but I don’t know about the new one; the Genesis is quite nice in the back and the Avalon is much roomier than the Camry. The Impala and Taurus are wider, but not much longer, and the Impala has a terribly short and low cushion; if you value your rear-seat passengers, the Malibu is a better car.  Ditto the Maxima and Altima.

      The Nissan Versa is better than pretty much all of them.

      In terms of raw rear seat comfort, the best car (not minivan/crossover and not ultra-premium limo-grade) that I’ve been in recently is the Ford Five Hundred, which just pips the Avalon  Before that it was the Dodge Intrepid.  

      Fullsize cars generally net you hood and trunk, but by and large they’re big cars for small people.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    This is important.  There’s something embarassing about your passengers having trouble squeezing into your car.  Would love to see the manufacturers find a way to get rid of the hump in the back too.  It has been done before, the old GM FWD E-bodies for example.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I was surprised that the “hump” in the Forte that I recently bought is minimal, but I think it’s a different class than those being discussed. Window sticker reads mid-size, EPA reads compact. I know one measures compact, midsize, large, etc by wheel-base and one measures by passenger volume, I forget which is which. EDIT: FWIW the combined legroom, front and rear, is 78.3 inches versus the Optima’s 80.2. Not a huge difference for me.

      All I know is that it’s more than large enough for me, I’m single without kids, and the few occassions when I have my brother, his girlfriend, and their 6 year old son. Part of this might be due to the fact that I have to sit a little closer to the wheel than normal, being I have fairly short legs and this is a manual.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Maybe their marketing and demographic studies suggested that trunk space was the way to go…

  • avatar
    James2

    When my parents had a Lexus ES330 (since replaced by an ES350) I always thought the back seat was cramped. It probably had oodles (technical term) of legroom, not to mention other dimensions, but the high beltline and thick pillars (and extra-thick seatbacks?) imparted to me a subtle sense of claustrophobia. The ES350 seems much better in this regard.

  • avatar
    aspade

    At 6’3 I have long been painfully aware that brochure driver legroom figures have zero correlation to my comfortably fitting in the car.  So it’s no surprise to learn that rear legroom is similarly cloudy.
     
    Largely a moot point as the current wind tunnel friendly rooflines in that class of car run out of headroom before you run out of legroom.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “Largely a moot point as the current wind tunnel friendly rooflines in that class of car run out of headroom before you run out of legroom.”

      Well said. The four-door coupe styling is getting very tiresome very fast.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      While they’re not quite as bad as the 2nd gen Camaros and Firebirds (over 5’10″? Just lay your head on the parcel shelf in the rear seat area in order to fit) I have noticed many sedans made since the start of the aero era still have rear seats useful only for children, as the steeply sloping roof renders the rear seat area extremely uncomfortable for adults. Perhaps forcing the stylists and aerodynamics team to endure a series of 12 hour road trips in the rear seating area of the vehicles they are responsible for designing would result in dramatic improvements in rear seat ergonomics.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Amen. The swoopy styling of so many modern vehicles is destroying headroom and visibility!

    • 0 avatar
      FleetofWheel

      The solution is for the mass market mid-sizers to offer two versions:
      1) Business/Family with upright glass and roof structure which will allow for more leg room.
      2) Sport edition with low roof line and low, snug seating
       
      It would be a win-win as those who value room and outward visibility get what they want while those choosing the sport version feel a sense of exclusivity.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “…the comparison apparently caught the attention of at least one boss of a global automaker’s US operations.”

    I hope it’s a Chevy exec!

    Sir: If you are a Chevy exec, please do the next Impala right by giving it three taillights! I’m waiting…

    Also, be mindful of the height and length of the rear seat cushion, trunk opening, toe room under the front seat for rear seat passengers. This is from a proud Impala owner!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    It will comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked inside the industry that consumers don’t precisely reflect the reality

    You mean, uh, perception?

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Rear legroom is a “nice to have”, how often do you really have someone sit in the back? Weekends, once or twice. If you really needed it you would be looking at a bigger car or a van. A sedan is such an inefficient use of space. If you want good space in the back and decent trunk space get a hatchback or a wagon. Other wise its just a bit like arguing about airline seat sizes.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Maybe for you…  But it really depends on who you are and what you do.

      Personally, I don’t like big cars.  Any car where I can’t see the roof when I’m standing next to it is too big for me, and I’m 5’4″, so that eliminates pretty much everything in the SUV and Crossover genres (and the faux offroad styling doesn’t appeal to me either).  I have a family, but with only one toddler, a minivan is excessive for the next few years.  When I go anywhere, I usually have a kid in the backseat, and the wife or I often ride back there with him to keep him company.  Grandma and grandpa ride back there, too.  So, a small or midsized car/wagon/hatchback with a good backseat is pretty much the only vehicle on the menu for me.

      Our Prius does surprisingly well in this respect (it’s small on the outside, big on the inside), but I’m in the market for a second vehicle to compliment its abilities, and these details matter. It sure would be nice if I could handle external cargo and tow a small utility trailer. I see a used Subaru in my future (the new Outback is a hair too big), though the 2012 Impreza might be a nice if back seat works for my purposes.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      I frequently drive with three to four people, including myself, aboard. I agree that a midsized wagon or hatchback would often be ideal for my needs, but have you noticed how few of those are actually made anymore for the US?
       

  • avatar
    SV

    I’m pretty sure Hyundai/Kia use the L34 test system, partly because I seem to recall that being mentioned in a review here and also because Hyundais and Kias tend to have front legroom measurements near the top of the class and rear legroom measurements near the bottom. I think most others use the L33, but it seems that regardless legroom is extremely similar between most midsize sedans.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    GM wants you to upgrade to the new Impala when it comes out.  Also, they want to sell the Malibu in ‘world markets,’ and in Detroit, Europe and Japan are synonyms for “small backseats.”

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    The distance from the floor to the top of the seat cushion is important too.   The higher (and more chair-like) your seat the less distance you need between your knees and the seat (or dash) in front of you.
    Our ’87 Civic wagon was tolerable in the back, for a 6-footer.   Maybe not all day, but for a few hours.   Plenty of headroom.   Can’t really beat a tall blocky car with seats at chair height.   My son’s new Jetta, by comparison requires one to be a contortionist to get in and out of the back seat.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I would think that rear seat space, or the lack thereof in a family oriented car is what makes it or breaks it in the market place. Perfect case in point…Ford’s Contour/Mystique. I still can’t figure out how a car with a 106″ wheelbase, which is the same as a first generation Taurus/Sable, can have such a tight back seat. Of course with me being only 5’6″ with short arms, I keep the seat rather high and close to the wheel, so leg space isn’t much of an issue for those that ride behind me. In fact, when I have multiple passengers, they tend to argue over who gets to sit behind me, because they will get the most leg space!
     
    I sat in an ’09 Sable today, now that car has a LOT of room in it! Problem is, I’m not so sure I want such a large car for just me…

  • avatar
    william442

    For many years, I have used the back seat only to clean the inside if the rear window. I have yet to find a car with enough room to do this in comfort.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    By far the best backseat room I’ve ever sat in was a new F150 s/crew. (2009) Phenomenal amount of space and it’s shape is a box, no contortionist manoevers needed. The stepup is a bitch tho.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      That’s great, if you happen to need a pickup truck.

      If you really need a 5-seat passenger car or a wagon, though, a nicely equipped 4-door F-150 gets you a $40k 5000lb sedan that takes extra effort to park where the trunk is exposed to the elements (unless you buy a cap or a tonneau cover, in which case you’ve added another thousand dollars to the cost of the vehicle).  It may be the right choice for some people, but it clearly isn’t the right choice for everyone.

      $40k can buy an awfully luxurious regular car (or minivan).

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        How nicely equipped do you need it to be?  You can get a 2WD XLT crew with the newly tolerable V6 for around $25,000.  That isn’t luxury car money.  It’s barely past Camry money – at least until you start filling it up on a regular basis.
         
        If you’re going to spec out a luxury car it’ll cost as much as a different luxury car.  But nobody’s twisting your arm.
         
         
         

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @aspade, $25K for a new F-150 supercrew XLT?  The Ford web site prices it starting from $33,170 with no options.  Or is Ford offering $8K on the hood?
         
        And that’s substantially more expensive than an Escape or Taurus, for example.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        I checked again and the first result I had found on cars.com – at $25.4 -was mislisted as an XLT, the sticker says it’s actually an XL.  The MSRP was 31.
         

  • avatar
    JMII

    Agree they are too many factors going on to just use a measurement, you really have to sit back there and get a feel for it. Room for your feet under the seat in front is a big one, because at 6′ if I can stretch my legs I’m usually comfortable. My wife is 5’3″ so as long as I’m sitting behind her or we swap places (me in front / her behind) then most cars work fine… even our “small” C30 has acceptable back seat room for short trips because of our height difference.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    By now, everyone should know that all cars are created equal. In the name of justice, America must legislate the equality of leg room in American autos with their foreign counterparts. A Car Czar – and no, not the disgraced Doug Brauner – should be appointed to distribute cash to our auto industry in a way that protects it from the capitalist evil of competition.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Great topic, Edward. It amazes me that so many makers of family cars seem not to understand that such cars should be comfortable, front and rear. Yes, the actual space available (along with the sense of spaciousness it gives) is of great importance. That is why first class on an airplane is so much better than coach.  It’s not the free drinks or warm nuts, it’s the ability to maintain one’s cherished personal space that makes it more pleasant.
    I always check out back seats of cars I am considering. All cars, really, since my friends consider me a car expert and solicit my advice. I’m amazed by how hard the back rest is in many cars. Almost feels that there is very little padding there. The bottom cushion is often too low. It doesn’t seem that the designers create enough seat height via a higher roofline and/or deeper floor pans. Raising the seat height makes the single greatest contribution to maximize total leg room. Another all too common flaw is front seat power mechanisms that limit toe room for back seat riders. Then there is the matter of back seat center armrests. Or more precisely, the lack thereof. A major demerit for the current Malibu and its precursor the Saturn Aura. GM will never know how many sales they lost because of this monument to the price-cut mindset.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Great topic, Edward. It amazes me that so many makers of family cars seem not to understand that such cars should be comfortable, front and rear.

      I have a different oppinion.  I believe that they understand it, they would just rather sell you a CUV or an SUV than a sedan.  I think this is a cynical move to drive people into higher profit margin vehicles. 

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        That’s what I miss about the Chryslers I used to own – The Plymouth Acclaim and Dodge Spirit & Dynasty along with the 5th Avenues were built for rear seat comfort and accessibility. Classic three-box style! I hope that concept returns quickly!

  • avatar
    Jimal

    All this tells me is that you can take any random set of numbers and play with them the right way to make any car first or last on a list. Nothing more, nothing less.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      Yea no kidding and it’s worse for trucks as everyone is advertised as the biggest baddest most effienct truck “in it’s class” I suppose those last 3 words make the right.

  • avatar

    I call this the 15k for one foot of metal issue.  Look at a 3 or 5 series BMW for an example.  Same engines, brakes, and electronics, all at the same cost.  Putting those bits into the 5 body magically raises the value 10-15k, only because you have kids and the rear seat should be large enough to accomodate something other than packages.
     
    Cars are sold according to extensively researched perceived values and the target market’s ability to pay (which is why the sport version of any car is always excluded from the incentives)  If you have teen kids, they know you are in the fat of your earning curve, and can’t do without, so you WILL pay, because you have no choice. (Yes, I know you do have choices here, panther-cough-panther but think like the marketers)

    If you have teens, you will use the back seats a lot, so they ARE important. Make the midsize a notch “small”, and your target market will be looking at the Truck, Full Size car, etc, at full size price.

    • 0 avatar

      What’s interesting to be is the rate of depreciation, compared between the 3- and 5-Series. I was looking at 3-Series wagons, CPO, roughly $25-30k, without even considering the 5-Series wagon. Same vintage, similar mileage, same price.

  • avatar

    Yeah, this whole topic is incredibly interesting to me at the moment as we are about to be dealing with a rear-facing child seat. In my Fit, the thing has to go behind the passenger seat, otherwise I am quite literally all up in the steering wheel’s grill. If my wife is in the front, she’s squished into the dash. Idally it would be in the middle of the seat, for safety, but that’s just not an option.
    In the wife’s Camry the situation is better, but still not ideal.
    Damn car seats are huge these days…

    Se we’re looking around, and from what we can tell just by the specs, things don’t get much better until we step up to a minivan or SUV, which is from our perspective total overkill.  It’s too much of a sacrifice in fuel economy to have seating for seven, when we’re only three (and a medium dog). 

    Looking at CPO 5-Series wagons at the moment…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Try the Nissan Versa.  

      I shopped it and Fit (went with the Fit, but that’s because I rarely take both kids at once but do carry some bulky cargo frequently) but the Versa could easily swallow a rear-facing carseat, even some very large ones, and still have room for a six-footer in the front.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      According to my wife, the middle rear seat is considered the safest.  The problem is that your vehicle owners manual may forbid putting a carseat in that position (the manual for our Prius says that carseats may go in either the left or the right rear seat).  As near as I can guess, the reason is that the LATCHes are designed to be attached to only one carseat, and putting a carseat in the middle may be an invitation to put a carseat on either side of it, thereby overloading the LATCHes.

      Our seat fits fine in the middle, but we decided to go with the manufacturer’s recommendations — I work in the engineering-related field and have some idea how those recommendations are made, and I’m reluctant to ignore them without knowing more than I do about the analysis and legal considerations that went in to the recommendation.

      We have a Sunshine Kids Radian seat rear-facing in our Prius.  It works well for us, but the carseat does rest against the driver’s seat.  Neither my wife nor I are particularly tall (we’re both in 5’4″ish range), and it sounds like you may be a lot taller than I am.

      I can recommend against the Grand Marquis — as much as some of the folks on this board love the Panther platform, its ability to hold a rear-facing carseat is no better than our little Prius.  I can’t speak to any crossovers or SUVs, since they don’t agree with with my tastes, but our neighbor (the ones who are too hoity toity shovel their 20′ driveway) bought a Honda Pilot after their son was born, and they seem to be pretty happy with it. Still, every time I look at a crossover, I do the mental math and the forward and aft distances between the seats and the cargo area usually look really close to the Prius, though there’s a lot more headroom, and the seats could be higher off the floor — but the distance between the LATCH and the driver’s seat when it’s adjusted for me is pretty much the only dimension I care about.  Grandma’s Grand Caravan holds our backup carseat very well, though, and it was very easy to install the seat in the 2nd row.

      There are a lot of carseat forums where people who have various cars can weigh in on their experiences.  My wife frequents  these forums, but I don’t.  It sounds like there’s both a lot of good advice and some groupthink there, but they’re very useful.  The carseat certification course that is taught to firefighters, EMTs, and those kind of folks is also open to interested parents.

      • 0 avatar

        My wife is at home on the couch, awaiting the eminent arrival of the kid. I have no doubt that at this moment she’s on some baby related forum, so I’ll suggest if she gets bored learning about how to make your own baby-safe bath soap, she might look into some seat forums for advice on cars.

        We don’t necessarily have an immediate need for a car. Both the Fit and Camry are paid for. Her’s is closing in on 150k miles but will probably last another 4 or 5 years if things go well. My Fit has about 75k miles and is as tight as the day it rolled off the line. We are open tot he possibility that over the next several months we may realize we’re being too frugal when it comes to safe, reliable, right-sized family transportation. That’s hard for us to estimate at the moment. My concern witht he Fit is its size, both with regard to comfort as well as safety. Austin is a notoriously dangerous city and the idea of my kid riding in the back of a tiny car mere inches from the door makes me more than a little nervous. With the resale on Japanese econo-cars booming at the moment, it might be a good time to upgrade. The question is to what…
        Anyway, thanks for the advice and commiseration. I’m sure we’ll figure something out, and we have the time to do it.

      • 0 avatar
        crales

        Try a carseat built for the European market…they are not so oversized. The Chicco Keyfit and the Combi Cocorro are both good from this perspective. The Chicco fits fine in the middle of my G37x and my wife’s 2009 Jetta (you can use the seatbelt in lieu of the latches), and I’m 6’2”. BTW the Jetta mkV is a great small family car due to the reasonable backseat and the absolutely cavernous trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      The final countdown!  I was on the edge of my seat for 6 weeks….   Eep! :-)

      Good times, though!  :-)

      It took me a while to realize that one has time to figure out details like cars and how the house is arranged, and that keeping our thinking caps on makes everything OK.  I’m glad you’re there already!

      P.S. I paced myself wrong for the birth of my son.  I thought that the actual birth was the big event, and I put all of my energy in to helping her get through it.  But, it’s just the beginning, and having some stamina left over to take care of the baby for a few hours after the birth so that she can relax a bit would would have been better.  She was high on hormones for the first night, and the hospital staff made sure that everyone was taken care of, but still!

      • 0 avatar
        Coley

        Congrats to you both on the new or upcoming additions to your families.  Humor me for a moment and listen to some perspective from an early-30′s father of two, soon to be three, kids.

        Quite bluntly, you guys are chasing windmills here. You have ideas in your heads about what you feel today’s car market ought to be offering you, and you’re desperately searching the fringes hoping to find something that confirms your perceptions. You look at your neighbors, with one kid and their Honda Pilot, and you think “Ridiculous!” In a way, you’re right, but your own admitted automatic aversion to SUV’s is making you equally irrational. 

        Look closely at some of the excellent insights in this article, and one trend is apparent here: “family sedans” are no longer manufactured for families. Searching out CPO BMW wagons (and presumably coming to terms with their long-term maintenance costs) because CUV’s are not to your taste reminds me a bit of my late great-uncle in his later years desperately scouring the new-car lots for something, anything, that still had a bit of chrome on that could be “shined up.”  The world changes.  Station wagons are a niche relic.

        A Pilot is probably overkill if it’s not your thing.  A minivan might be overkill for one, or even two kids (although, with the third on the way, we’ll soon upgrade our excellent, eight-year-old CR-V for an Odyssey; the CR-V will be relegated to commuter duty for me).

        In your case, though, a CR-V (although the fuel economy is a bit behind in 2011), RAV4, Sportage, or their ilk just make more sense for you.  They’re designed and built FOR YOU. Euro-luxury wagons are built for Carmela Soprano.  And you’re not sacrificing much of anything by picking a car-based CUV.  They’re not trucks, they’re modern station wagons.  And they get you and your family a little higher off the ground, which helps out quite a bit in overall safety, although the NHTSA ratings tend to ignore this.

        Which car-seat fits where is the tip of the iceberg.  There’s also the matter of the pack-n-play, the stroller (regular, umbrella, jogging, or all three?), the backpack carrier, the jumperoo, the portable booster/high chair, diapers (three types per kid, sometimes, what with regular, overnight, and swimming), any toys to occupy them, and so forth.

        You’re laughing now, and thinking “We certainly don’t need to travel with all that stuff–typical suburban American.”  No, you don’t need to, and you won’t NEED to take ALL of it, every time. But the truth is that sometimes the more conveinences you can cart, the more enjoyable your trip becomes.  What you can do without and what you would choose, given the option, are rarely the same thing.

        So, just adapt to the times.  There are no family sedans any longer.  CUV’s are not as offensive as you think.  And we haven’t even addressed the issue of the second baby.  With one parent sitting in the back for periods of time to keep the kids entertained.  Or carpooling.  Or a third child.  Suddenly, minivans will start to make a whole lot of sense.  Even in Austin.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        A factor that you’re missing is that a minivan or a Pilot won’t fit comfortably in my driveway.  They will fit, but my old Ranger (which is the vehicle that’s up for replacement) blocks the view down the street and uglies up the neighborhood, and an SUV or an old minivan would be even worse.  (We live in a modest little 1950s suburb 2.5 miles from work.)   And, yes, we’ve been traveling for 15 months with the baby, pack-and-play, and all of that other stuff in our Prius — and it works pretty well. Those annual roadtrips to grandma’s house usually last about 12 hours each way, and sitting in the back of the Prius with Baby is fine for hours at a time. It does help that my wife is good at packing, and that the Prius has unusually useful interior space for such a small car.

        I fully realize that I’ll want to upgrade to a minivan when its necessary, but it’s clearly overkill until some time after we have our second kid — and that will be a few years.  The other problem is that crossovers and SUVs just don’t agree with my sensibilities.  Once I remove my prejudices about the styling and the faux offroad machismo, the problem with these vehicles is that the crossovers and SUVs I’ve looked at just are too tall for me to use the roofracks effectively — I’m 5’4″, and I don’t want to be lifting and securing a load of 2×4′s that far above my head. I need to be able to see around the corner of the roof (or pack a stool) in order to secure that kind cargo safely, and bringing a stool to load my own car would just be humiliating.  Combine that with the seating and cargo areas of most crossovers being roughly comparable to the Prius (though taller), and it’s really hard to make the case that a CR-V is better than what’s sitting in my driveway.
         
        I’ve analyzed what I need and it comes down to a small/midsized wagon LATCH and good roofracks that can tow a folding 4′x8′ utility trailer to the hardware store and back without voiding the warranty.  I’ve got a list of possibilities (some new, most used), but even Subaru has turned their nice midsized sportwagon into that Outback CUV thing.  It’s a shame, though, because my wife and I both like CVT, I like the Subaru line of engines, and the MPGs are acceptable — but any vehicle that big should have 3 rows of seats, and I keep having to walk around one that sticks out into the sidewalk because it doesn’t fit in the driveway of a house that’s a few streets away from mine. A number of older (smaller) used Subarus and a Hyundia Elantra Touring are also on my list.

        I agree that I’m searching at the fringes of the market and trying to find something that matches *my* idea about what a family car should be, not yours, and not the car manufacturers.  I’ve found that the tired old meme about buying an SUV or a minivan when you have a family just isn’t holding up to my experience driving my family around a small car.  I am looking for a little extra capability that my Prius doesn’t offer (towing, external cargo carrying), but  I’m also just really tired of marketers trying to tell me what I should want.  The reality is that, even though I live in Illinois, my needs and constraints are much closer to that of a European family — and that really drives my taste in cars.

        P.S. What on earth does getting the vehicle higher off the ground have to do with safety, other than increasing the rollover risk?!? The extra visibility doesn’t get you anything unless you’re taller than that F-150 Office Worker Editions that clog up the roads…

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        As for “adapting with the times”, you may be unaware that that oil is a limited resource.  I’m fortunate that I live within walking/biking/bussing distance of work and won’t be using the car that I purchase as a commuter vehicle, so I’m not obsessing over MPGs on this one, but driving a vehicle that’s bigger than I need is hardly “adapting with the times”.

        I don’t know when the oil strain on the oil supplies is going to become obvious, but it’s likely to be some time between 2015 and 2040.  In other words, some time during now and the time my son is my age.  Some people think that the oil strain is already obvious, but I’m not sure they’re looking at the data objectively.  In any case, I don’t want to be the guy who’s trying to figure out how to fill up the tank on a full-sized SUV when gas prices start going up for real.

        This car will replace my compact pickup truck, and the car that eventually replaces our Prius will likely be one of the crop of electric cars (such as the Nissan Leaf) that are slowly making their way on to the market.

        Giving in and driving an oversized vehicle where I can’t easily reach the roof is hardly “adapting with the times”…

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      CPO 5 series? Nah. Get a new Subaru Outback for the price, or maybe one of the new Acura TSX sportwagons. The E60 platform is a b!tch to take care of once out of warranty.

  • avatar
    Coley

    Luke,
    Only after I replied to the thread did you mention the roof-height issue.  My comment about adapting to the times was mainly directed at the possibility of a used 5-Series wagon as a sensible and economical family vehicle; I realize that this was not your suggestion.

    To answer your question, getting higher off the ground means that, during a collision with another vehicle, your car is struck in a relatively lower spot where it’s better able to absorb and dissipate the impact. This is a tradeoff that you have to consider against the fuel economy gains from low-slung aerodynamics.  Equally disturbing is that these safety gains come at the cost of making your own vehicle a greater danger to others on the road–it’s a bit of an arms race. Be that as it may, I assuage this concern with the fact that I don’t drive while intoxicated (half of all fatalities) or while distracted, texting, etc.

    I wasn’t referring to visibility.  The rollover risk you mention has been all but eliminated by modern stability control systems.

    As for Peak Oil, we’ll just have to wait and see. I too, will adapt to the times when necessary.  $4 gas, or $6 gas, does not make that necessary for me.  Of course, as the price rises, worldwide demand will drop off accordingly, which will mitigate any further price increases.  Remember, I’m not driving a Range Rover or Hummer or even a Pilot.  I’ve got two 4-cyl cars that get a pump-calculated 31 mpg and 27 mpg.  I’m planning to buy a minivan that gets 27 highway mpg.  There’s a balance to be struck here.

    I wish you luck with your specific requirements.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I keep forgetting that driving is supposed to be an arms race!  Silly me…

      If you live in some place like NOVA/DC and drive the Capital Beltway regularly, I can understand the automotive arms race mentality, I guess, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t live there.  There’s no way to win that arms race — no matter how tall your badass SUV is, there’s always something bigger on the road right next to you.  Roads like I-81 and I-95 are filled with tractor-trailer traffic, and the benefit of trading a Jetta for a Suburban means that you go from being smaller than 80% of the vehicles to being smaller than 50% of the vehicles.  All of this seems like a minor point, when you’re sharing your space with a fully loaded tractor trailer weighs 40 tons.

      Out here in Flyover Country, though, things are much better.  The interstates are lightly traveled enough that you can keep some space around you, and the traffic in town (if you can call it that) is placid by east coast standards.  Any modern vehicle with airbags and a proper FEA-analyzed and crash-tested body will do fine.
       

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Let’s see the SAE and automakers come up with a simple ratio of form/function measurement for a 6 foot person sitting in unencumbered upright posture (human form) vs hunched and cramped (aerodynamic function).
     
    The back of a London cab would rank say 95 on this scale.
    The back of a modern Camaro would be about a 35.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The way I measure things (because it all boils down to how things work or don’t work for you personally), is I place the drivers seat so that I can sit comfortably behind the wheel.  I then get out of the car and “sit behind myself” because I know even though I am only 5’11″ I will typically be the tallest person who sits in the car regularly.  Basically it answers for me, can a 5’11″ in person with a 34 in inseam sit behind a 5’11″ in person with a 34in inseam in this vehicle.  That way if I need to carry a full load of passengers I can at least tell a 6ft+ person not to sit behind me and choose to sit behind my 5’3″ fiance where they will likely be more comfortable.

  • avatar

    We like the Outback a lot, actually. I’ve been a big fan of Subies for years. It’s a good size, it drives OK, it’s built like a tank, it’s not too expensive, it’s well appointed. Unfortunately the fuel economy for both the 2.5 and 3.6 is (at the moment) borderline unacceptable. I’ve driven a 2.5 and it’s sluggish. Blame the curb weight?

    But right now, all suggestions are valid. I’m just throwing everything up against the wall to see what sticks. BMW wagons, Subarus, mid-sized CUVs (the wife really likes the Tucson, although again, fuel economy below 30 MPG is more or less a deal breaker). She drives about 20k a year commuting to her school and really needs to maximize fuel.  If she gets her principalship next year it’ll probably mean an even longer commute to the new school, plus more driving (although reimbursed by the district) for all the administrative funtime they have to participate in. 

    And the plan with the kid is I will drop off at daycare and she will pick up, just FYI. As I said, I love my Fit but I’m already nervous about carting my kid in the back, inches from the door, during peak traffic. I know the Fit is a relatively safe car, especially considering its size, but Texas is one of if not THE most dangerous state for drivers. 

    Honestly though, I get the feeling we’re just going to stick with our current rides for as long as possible. We’re saving about $500 a month for a new car down payment, have about $14k already, and MAYBE if we’re careful we will be able to buy the new (or used) car outright with cash. Our only debt is in the form of my federal student loans. House is paid for and goes up in value every year, no revolving debt at all, and I’m contributing 10% with an 8% match toward retirement. Her plan isn’t quite so generous, but we have a decent amount already, spread across various accounts (401, 357, stocks and bonds, etc) and we’re only in our mid-30s. We’re in good shape. How that’ll all be affected by the kid? Who knows. Assuming we have a healthy baby and can stay in affordable, quality health care, and provided we can both keep our jobs, we’ll be OK.  

    Maybe that’s the lesson. Use what you have to its fullest, but when it’s time research the HELL out of every possible option, be prepared financially, and be in a position to make the best possible decision for your unique situation when the time comes.

    Besides, I have my Alfa to keep me busy.

    • 0 avatar
      Coley

      Luke,
      I never said it was supposed to be an arms race, just that it kind of is.  Or, more accurately, it has some of the characteristics of one.

      I do, in fact, drive on the Capital Beltway from time to time, and I also drive on a lot of rural roads.  Honestly, I’m more concerned about the two-lane rural roads.  I’m concerned about a drunk crossing the center line, or someone ignoring a stoplight and T-boning me.  These possibilities are a greater threat to me than the typical 10-car pileup on the Beltway, if not in likelihood than at least in consequence. Statistically, the fatality rates as a function of miles driven on the quiet roads are much worse than busy interstates.

      Your Prius is fine, I’m not trying to say it’s unsafe. I simply pointed out one advantage of a modern CUV over a sedan. Statistically, the marginal improvement might not be very much–safe, defensive, non-distracted driving can go a long way. At the same time, though, there’s no reason to ignore the inherent benefits that relative height and mass bring to the equation. They are a legitimate factor, even if you or I would prefer otherwise. No, it would not be practical to try to outfit yourself against an 18-wheeled tractor-trailer. Of course there will always be SOMETHING bigger; that’s not the point. 

      I’m also interested in your reaction to my response on the “oil is a finite resource” point. My general feeling is that, from a strictly financial perspective, there are more efficient ways to hedge against rising oil prices than by paying the inherent premium for a hybrid vehicle.  The same $5,000 (or whatever it is) will probably do better in an low-cost mutual or index fund that invests in fossil energy corporations.  The, perhaps, 4% annual dividend it might pay out, and the capital appreciation that would almost surely accompany a sharp rise in commodity prices will bring a greater ROI than a relatively expensive personal investment in a rapidly depreciating asset that saves a relatively small amount of fuel over its lifetime.

      Your thoughts?

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        On the Peak Oil side of things, it’s hard to judge.

        The Prius is a win, but not for the reasons that sell the car or and not for the raw fuel savings.  Once the shiny green halo wears off, what’s revealed is that’s it’s just a very good little transportation appliance.  Ours has 7 years and 126k miles on it with minimal maintenance and fuel costs.  It has the lowest TCO and fewest hassle of any vehicle I’ve ever maintained.  The interior space makes it disproportionately useful for a small car.  The other thing that makes it a win is that the people who buy the Prius in my circle aren’t cross shopping it with a Yaris, Fit, or even a non-Hybrid Civic — they’re comparing it to more up-market vehicles and then buying the cheaper/greener/techier Prius.  The Prius isn’t close to being a solution for Peak Oil or environmental problems, but it is a way for people who are committed to a mainstream lifestyle to do it with a little less waste.

        Choosing the right house is a much much more important.  Commuting 20 miles in a Prius uses a lot more gas than commuting 2 miles in 12MPG vehicle — though walking 2 miles is better than either one.  If you don’t have to drive much, then even $20 gas will won’t really break your budget (though it certainly could cause other prices to skyrocket).  The other thing is that most people use as much energy keeping their house warm/cool as they do for transportation (though it’s not usually oil).  Still, in a world that will have less energy available, the remaining energy is likely to cost more, so the efficiency of the house matters at least as much as the efficiency of the car.

        The last thing is that sustainability has financial and social pillars as well, in addition to the usual environmental/energy/climate pillars.  You’ve gotta pay the mortgage, and if people steal your solar panels or whatever, then all of the things that people normally think of when you say “sustainability” are all for naught.  Those people who want to deal with the world’s problems by moving in to the middle of nowhere are going to have an awfully hard time earning the money to pay for their mortgages and the other necessities of rural life if they have to drive to work with really expensive gas…  Also, having access to the economy is hugely useful, but that requires an income — so it makes sense to live close to a major employer for most people (myself included).

        IMHO, the high-MPG car can help if you’re in a situation where you do a lot of driving — and that was my wife and I a few years ago.  Now that we’ve got all of our other ducks in a row, it makes sense to drive something that is popular enough that parts are readily available, but attractive enough that there’s knowledgeable and cohesive enthusiast’s community.  The F-150 4×4 that I co-own (with a family member whose work involves driving thousands of miles a year on unimproved roads) is an example of a vehicle that’s incredibly popular with attainable parts, but the enthusiast’s community doesn’t really bother to put their knowledge on the Internet (where I can find it easily).  The Jetta TDI has a wonderful community, but the parts are barely attainable now, so it falls off the other side.  The Prius has a knowledgeable enthusiast’s community, and the parts picture is starting to improve as the model matures, but it’s could become the wrong tool very quickly if a peak-oil economic squeeze causes my town to stop filling up potholes.  Maybe Subaru is the sweet spot, maybe it’s not — I have a lot of reading to do before I can really nail it down.

        My strong reaction to the “just by a CUV” or whatever thing wasn’t based on the peak oil thing.  It has more to do with the CUVs adding features (like an extra 6″ in height) add to the conspicuous-consumption aspect of the vehicle, while reducing its utility.  Combine that with them marketed in ways that just piss me off — the whole “buy our car, or else you’re a bad father” angle is just downright offensive, and the salespeople who brag about how heavy a vehicle is are (like the Jeep salesman when I test drove a Jeep Liberty CRD a couple of years ago) are just downright ignorant about engineering.  The Peak Oil aspect of things is a lot less personal; if (when?) Peak Oil happens, that’s just something broader that happens in society, and everyone’s busy personal lives will go on more or less as before.
         
         

  • avatar
    Coley

    It’s an interesting analysis, and I don’t think it includes anything with which I would disagree.

    My only observation is that, while there is always going to me marketing or consumer tripe surrounding any class of car–a product which fosters such strong passions–your sensibilities are easily offended only by that which is normally attributed to an SUV/CUV.  Conversely, all the ridiculous hokum one hears from the media and masses about, say, the Prius, doesn’t seem to bother you quite as much.  At the very least, it didn’t prevent you from buying one; whereas, you seem to be citing false-machismo and poorly informed salespeople as legitimate reasons to not consider a CUV (in addition, obviously, to the inconvenient access height for the roof racks).

    Humans are curious, stupidity that offends us in one area can easily be shrugged off in another.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      There are a couple of things going on here.

      First off, when a vehicle is the right tool for the job, it doesn’t have to be justified emotionally.  Like with the F-150 purchase I mentioned earlier; it is simply a perfect tool for the task at hand.  I drove the thing around town for 2 weeks while I was getting the paperwork in order, and getting it outfitted for desert duty, and its a beautifully engineered machine.  It’s a really poor choice for my purposes and does’t match my sense of style, but if you have a job that needs pickup truck, it’s a really great tool for the job.  I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one if I needed one.

      The other thing that’s going on is that it depends on which side of $30,000 you’re on.  When you have a paid off and reliable car that’s been with you for 7 years, there’s a very strong incentive to keep with it.  The question isn’t “which kind of bullshit around the vehicle is more annoying”, the question is “would I give a half a year’s pay to be associated with that other kind of bullshit?”  If the car strikes a chord emotionally, most people (including me?) will buy it anyway.  If it doesn’t strike the chord (and doesn’t match the requirements), then the pushy salespeople who are pushing the scardy-parent narrative turn in to a problem.

      Lastly, when you own a car for close to a decade starting in your early 20s, you’re probably a different person at the end of the 7 years than you were at the beginning, so the question about having different tolerances for different kinds of bullshit is kind of lost in the mists of time.  Another issue is politics — this wasn’t a problem before my friends were sent off to fight a war I don’t believe in, but now I really don’t want to be mistaken for a Conservative.  Especially by certain family members that are hoping that I’ll “come back around” and rejoin some of their misguided causes.  Not that the Liberals are much better…

  • avatar
    chaze

    Don’t forget about the Kia Optima. 45.5 in the front!!! (same as Sonata)
    That’s 3″ better than any other car in your list. Combined measurement doesn’t show that.

  • avatar
    Snow White

    Hi,
    I’m going to bu a car for m son. he is tall and I wonder if ford fiesta is a good option in it’s class?
    I found this article about legroom:
    http://bestinclasscars.com/small-cars/kia-rio-with-the-best-front-seat-legroom-among-2013-subcompact-cars/
    so it seems to be good
    please advise me, is it a good car?

    thanks


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