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.