The length of each car differs based on its purpose, its vehicle class, and even the manufacturer. When considering a car, many people neglect to factor in its length, but the length of a vehicle can have several practical effects on the way it drives.
Not only does length affect the way a car handles and performs, but it also affects its maneuverability around town or in parking lots.
Another thing that most people do not consider is that the length of a vehicle does not always translate to the amount of interior room it has. This is where the overall length and wheelbase come into play when discussing the length of a car. Even though the overall length is the actual length of a car, the wheelbase of a car is arguably more important.
Overall Length vs Wheelbase
When describing the length of a car, the overall length is usually used as its basis. This is how long the car is from its front-most point to its rear-most point. Most often, this means that measuring a car from bumper to bumper will provide those numbers.
The wheelbase is the measurement between the centerline of the front wheels and the centerline of the rear wheels. Even though this is not a measure of how long the physical sheet metal of a car is, it is quite important when considering a car’s maneuverability and handling capability.
Typically, a car with a relatively long wheelbase will provide passengers with a more comfortable ride than a vehicle with a short wheelbase. A car with a short wheelbase will typically be more maneuverable than a vehicle with a long wheelbase.
A practical example of this is a bus and a car. A bus has more material in between its front and rear wheels, forcing it to make wider turns as its rear wheels keep it from rotating faster. A car has less distance between its front and rear wheels, allowing it to rotate faster.
Even though most cars with a larger overall length will also have a longer wheelbase compared to smaller models, this is not always the case.
Additionally, neither overall length nor wheelbase by themselves are good indicators of how much passenger and cargo room a particular vehicle will have.
A good example of this can be seen when comparing a 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe and a 1980 Cadillac Deville. The Tahoe is an SUV that has an overall length of 204 inches and a wheelbase of 116 inches. The Deville is a two-door car that has an overall length of almost 205 inches and a wheelbase of 114 inches.
Even though the Deville is a large “land yacht” type of car typical of the 1970s and 1980s, it clearly shows how a quick examination of overall length and wheelbase are not true indicators of a vehicle’s usability and space.
Types of Cars and Their Length
The overall length by itself is not a good indicator of the true length of a car. Both wheelbase and overall length are best used side-by-side as a better indicator of the general length of a vehicle, even though they are technically defined differently. When both are considered, along with other factors such as vehicle type, the length of a car becomes much more understandable.
Types of cars are more defined by their interior space than their length, but the two are fairly proportional to each other. Because of this, the average length of several types of cars falls logically within categories corresponding to their overall size which includes interior space, overall length, and wheelbase.
The shortest four-door subcompact car is the Chevrolet Spark hatchback at 143 inches of overall length and a wheelbase of just under 94 inches.
The largest four-door subcompact car on the market is the Nissan Versa sedan at 177 inches in length. Its wheelbase is just over 103 inches. The subcompact car segment includes more than 30 inches in overall length difference between the longest and shortest but less than 10 inches difference in wheelbase.
Even though the calculated average overall length between the Spark and Versa comes out to about 160 inches, more subcompact cars such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Chevrolet Sonic sedan come in closer to the Versa’s length, making the average subcompact car closer to the 165-170-inch range. The average subcompact car wheelbase is around 100 inches.
Compact cars are the next step up the size ladder from the subcompact segment.
Cars in this segment include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Jetta, and Hyundai Elantra. The Volkswagen Jetta holds the current title for the longest compact car on the market with an overall length of just over 185 inches and a wheelbase of 105.7 inches.
The compact car segment is more evenly distributed than the subcompact segment in terms of length with most sedans coming in between 175 and 182 inches. The shortest cars in the compact segment are hatchbacks. The Hyundai Veloster is 166 inches long with a wheelbase of 104.3 inches. The Volkswagen Golf, the smallest four-door compact hatchback comes in at 168 inches in total length and a wheelbase of 103.8 inches.
The calculated average compact car total length is 175.5 inches, but the majority of compact cars are longer than that. Wheelbase length between the longest and shortest compact car is much closer than in the subcompact segment making the average compact car wheelbase around 104.5 inches.
The midsize car segment includes heavy-hitters such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu, and Mazda Mazda6.
It also has one of the tightest ranges when it comes to overall vehicle length. Every offering currently on the market falls between 190.6 inches and 194 inches in length with nearly 80% of those falling between 192 and 193 inches. The Subaru Legacy bookends the small side of the spectrum while the Chevrolet Malibu edges out the Volkswagen Passat as the longest midsize sedan.
Wheelbase largely follows the same pattern. Again, the low-end outlier is the Subaru Legacy with a 108.3-inch wheelbase. Surprisingly, the midsize car with the second shortest wheelbase, - the Volkswagen Passat – is two inches longer than the Legacy, even though the Passat is the second-longest overall in the class.
The Ford Fusion owns the longest wheelbase in the class but not by much. At just over 112 inches, it is only several hundredths of an inch longer than 90% of the field between 111 and 112 inches.
Again it is much easier to arrive at an average with the amount of similarity in length and wheelbase within the midsize segment. An average midsize car is between 192.5 and 193 inches long and has a wheelbase of about 111.5 inches.
The full-size car segment is small in terms of models offered but is the largest in terms of overall length and wheelbase.
Examples of full-size cars include the Ford Taurus, Dodge Charger, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, and Kia Cadenza. Like the subcompact segment, there is more diversity between makes and models as the full-size segment is not bookended by a smaller and larger class of cars.
The longest full-size car is the Ford Taurus at nearly 203 inches. The shortest full-size car is the Nissan Maxima at 192.8 inches.
Like the Volkswagen Passat, the Ford Taurus has one of the shortest wheelbases in the segment even though it wins for overall length. Its 112.9-inch wheelbase is not as short as the Nissan Maxima’s 109.3-inch wheelbase.
The Chrysler 300 has the longest wheelbase in the class. Its wheelbase is 120.2 inches, just two-tenths of an inch longer than the Dodge Charger, but the next largest competitor falls behind that by 5.5 inches.
The average overall length of a full-size car comes in around 195 inches and a wheelbase of around 113-114 inches.
The full-size car segment is more complicated than that, though. Luxury cars are often considered to be in a segment of their own because of their inflated price points and features, but many tend to fall within the full-size car segment because of their size.
Even though luxury cars do not have to be full-size cars, compact and midsize luxury cars still have other segments around them. Full-size luxury cars like the BMW 5 Series, Volvo S90, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, often fall into line with average full-size cars.
The most luxurious full-size luxury cars like the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class tend to be longer than even the largest full-size cars, because they are built for comfort over everything else.
The BMW 7 Series has an overall length of 207.4 inches and a wheelbase of 126.4 inches. The Audi A8 has an overall length of 208.7 inches and a wheelbase of just over 231 inches. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the baby of the group and has an overall length of 199 inches and a wheelbase of 116 inches.
Not all luxury cars fall into the full-size car segment, but the ones that do the largest ones can push the average overall length and wheelbase numbers up.
There are several other types of cars like sports cars, station wagons, coupes, and convertibles, but these types of cars vary drastically depending on the make and model.
Sports cars especially come in all shapes and sizes, so trying to calculate the average lengths of these types of cars can be very difficult. All of these other types of cars can also fall into the same size categories as those listed above.
Generally speaking, sports cars will have an overall length and wheelbase similar to a subcompact or compact car to allow nimble handling.
Station wagons will vary based on the model of car from which they are derived, as they usually follow the size schema of sedans. Convertibles are similar, but their length will depend on the type of car on which they are based. Many convertibles are based on midsize luxury cars while others are made to be sports cars.
The length of a car is an often overlooked specification, but it has more to do with a car’s driving experience than you might think.
Length does not always determine how much passenger and cargo room a car has which is why it is best to consider other factors when looking at length.
Additionally, overall length and wheelbase length should always be considered together when looking at car length as an entire unit. This allows a better understanding of what the car’s capabilities are and what it can offer you in terms of ride quality, performance, and maneuverability.