Most car buyers don’t realize it, but legroom is actually an essential factor to consider when buying a vehicle. Whether it’s a small compact hatchback, sedan, or a huge SUV, legroom greatly influences car purchases.
And we’re not really talking about legroom for the driver and front passenger, because in general, unless you’re buying a tiny Kei car in Japan, most cars have ample legroom even for drivers over six feet tall (182 cm).
However, there is a little bit of confusion over legroom measurements. Like in measuring a vehicle’s cargo space, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has once again come up with different ways to mess with car buyers’ minds.
Car manufacturers can implement one of the SAE’s two standards for measuring legroom. One of these is the L33 “Effective Legroom test”. Using this method, the front seat is placed at a setting where most (between 90 and 95 percent) average-sized drivers can comfortably reach the pedals and all switches, levers, knobs, buttons, and whatnot needed to operate a motor vehicle.
The measurement is then taken, basing the distance from where the driver’s hip would be to the pedals’ surface. The other, perhaps more accurate, method is the L34 “Maximum Driver Legroom test”. Following this procedure, the seat is first pushed back to its furthest position. The measurement is then taken the same way as the first one.
While the L34 standard gives a more accurate measurement, it does not consider the passenger sitting directly behind the front seats. While most mid-sized sedans have more than adequate legroom for rear passengers, some vehicles are so small that pushing the seat so far back takes up practically all the legroom in the rear passenger area, making the back very uncomfortable for adults to sit in.
This is also a common problem in sports coups and sports cars like the Porsche 911 and certain four-seat Ferrari models.
Legroom is undoubtedly not a problem in the case of limousines, full-size sport-utility vehicles, and luxury passenger vans, where rear passengers can stretch their legs comfortably without their knees knocking into the front seatbacks.
For commercially available (not customized) sport-utility vehicles, the Chevrolet Suburban is king, having a roomy 45.3 inches’ worth of legroom in front and 39.7 inches in the back. The GMC Yukon, which is closely related to the Suburban, has almost identical measurements to the former: 45.3 inches up front and 39 behind.
If you’re planning to purchase a new car and is concerned with the legroom, the best way to check if it has ample space for your legs is to just go to the dealership and actually sit in the driver’s seat, adjust the position accordingly.
Make sure you’re comfortable and able to reach all necessary controls. Have someone sit in the back to check for comfort, and if necessary, come to a compromise with the rear passenger on where to position the driver’s seat.