Best Compact Cars for Tall Drivers

2015's Best Compact Cars for Tall Drivers

Oh, you’re a brave soul. Despite all of the warnings that you need to buy a pickup truck or SUV, and despite all of the jokes about clown cars and Hot wheels, you’re looking for a compact car.

It’s okay. I understand. The car I’ve been driving since high school is a Honda Civic, and even though I’m 6’7 it has plenty of room for me. And when it comes to buying, choosing a compact car over a mid-size sedan can help you save a bit of money.

So lets take a look at 2015’s best compact cars for tall drivers.

2015 Compact Car Leg Room

First let’s take a look at the ever-important metric for tall drivers – leg room. Keep in mind that the best leg room from my mid-size car report was 45.5 inches, and the worst was 41.6 inches.

2015 Compact Car Leg Room

 

The Hyundai Veloster leads the pack here with 43.9 inches of front leg room. The Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra follow with 43.7 and 43.6 inches respectively. Most of the other contenders are around the 42 inch mark. Based on my experience, legs wearing a 34 inseam or lower will feel just fine in anything above 42 inches of leg room. Of course I haven’t tested all seat configurations, but I’m just a big guy, not a full-time automotive leg room investigator.

But you don’t have to be very smart to know that the rear seat in a compact car behind a tall driver will be a special kind of hell for the average friend.

2015 Compact Car Rear Leg Room

Let’s be honest. A compact car with a tall driver at the helm is a three-seater. Or is it? Here are the facts on rear leg room in compact cars. For reference, the worst rear leg room in a mid-size sedan was 34.7 inches.

2015 Compact Car Rear Leg Room

The obvious standout in the compacts for rear leg room is the Toyota Corolla with 41.4 inches of rear leg room. In fact, the Corolla gives your rear passenger just shy of an inch less leg room than it gives you. Now the driver in this case will most likely have his/her seat adjusted to in-your-lap position, but your legs might not necessarily be crushed. The VW Jetta, Sentra and Civic also provide a decent amount of space, comparatively.

2015 Compact Car Head Room

Now let’s talk about what’s going to be a recurring problem for tall drivers in compact cars, and that’s room for your noggin. For reference, the worst head room in a mid-size was 37.7 inches.

2015 Compact Car Head Room

The Hyundai Elantra leads the pack in front head room with 40 inches of head room. That’s 2.3 inches better than the shortest mid-size! Other notables are the Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Sentra.

All together now…

My thoughts: I think if I were looking for a vehicle that gives me (the driver) the most room, I’d be test driving a Hyundai ElantraNissan Sentra, Chevy Cruze, Kia Forte and Mitsubishi Lancer. They offer a good leg room/head room combo, and really a lack of head room is what I find most annoying as a tall driver.

Now if you’re looking for a compact car but you’re going to be regularly transporting passengers in the seat behind yours, I’d have to look hard at a Toyota CorollaNissan Sentra, and Honda Civic.

No matter what the measurements are, seat adjustments and steering columns always cause problems with a tall driver’s experience. You really just need to test drive them (with a passenger behind you, of course) and find out. Let me know how it goes in the comments.

Tell a friend!

19 comments

  • RW

    I really appreciate your articles and real-life discussions about leg room.

    I’m not a “tall guy” like you and most of your readers. I’m only 5′ 11″ but all my height seems to be in my thighbone. I’m a couple of inches longer there than my spouse. And age and injury have made my driving knee really sensitive to being cramped up.

    Another issue — maybe you’re not at the age where middle aged derriere spread pushes you forward and subtracts from the available leg room? That makes it worse. I am fairly sure, if I were younger and skinnier, I might have more possibilities.

    So I’m in the market for a hatchback, or a small crossover or SUV with a hatchback — but it has to FIT me. I’ve limited myself to Top Safety picks. And only good visibility and reliability history. That narrows the market. I’ll try some of the other ones you have mentioned but luxury cars are out for me.

    I’ve found that the legroom measurements in the specs just are not a predictor of fit for me. And neither are short test drives. I’ve tried to rent cars on weekends to get a better feel for quirks and fit.

    So I was driving a VW Golf this week and didn’t find it that short in the front (though it’s essentially a 2 person car with almost no leg room in the rear if you are a tall driver in the front.) So is it possible you got the VW Golf’s front leg room figure replaced with the rear leg room measurement?

    The figures I have from cars.com are:
    Front legroom 41.2 ” which is more in line with the other cars.
    Rear legroom 35.6 ”

    I’m actually really disappointed that the Honda FIT (I like that car’s versatility) and the HR-V are not long enough for me to drive. I have to bend over the steering wheel. They added all the extra leg room in the rear, not the front. :(

    I like that car enough for my current purposes that I am tempted to go for seat extension rails if they make that model as aftermarket. But I think if you change the position of the front seat, the airbags front and side and the seatbelt will not line up and there goes your safety out the window.

    But we went wandering around a Carmax lot last week just to see what would fit my taller son, and were really surprised to find the Ford Escape fit him best so far. Hate to go there, as it doesn’t meet my safety and reliability requirements.

    I liked the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport small crossover for my needs — but while safety is Top Pick, the engine is like a generation older and doesn’t deliver on gas mileage for its size, and we worry about Mitsubishi engines, having had 2 in Chrysler cars that started burning oil with age, and worse.

    One hatchback that really surprised me while renting compacts (or subcompacts) this last year was the Nissan Versa Note. That car had tons of leg room! If only it were safe and made better! Sure is cheap. If you don’t value safety.

    Any more suggestions for a small hatchback with good miles, and space? Did you try the Mazda3? We found Mazda’s tight in space in the rear seat.

    I found the Subaru Crosstrek too tight in front leg room. But don’t remember that on the Impreza Hatchback even though they’re supposed to be the same platform. They’re both pretty narrow inside. The Forester had okay leg room but I have trouble calling it small. I really wanted to downsize.

    The Kia Soul was actually sorta roomy but it felt like an old-fashioned wagon or something? Rambly inside? (The 2016.) And not enough power. (I didn’t go back and try the more powerful engine.)

    If you can tell, I’ve tried a good many cars and am getting a bit discouraged.

    • Will Eifert

      Great to see that you’re doing your homework! I appreciate the compliment. I’ve never really been a total auto junkie, but I noticed that hardly any “automotive journalist” writes about things like whether or not you can actually be comfortable in the vehicle!

      Looks like you’ve driven a ton of vehicles, and I’m going to give you a suggestion for one that I don’t see on the list – the Scion xB. I’m not big on how it looks, but that could just be me. I’ve never fallen in love with toaster-style bodies. That said, if I was going to buy a toaster car, it’d be this toaster car. The roominess of this vehicle is something that I don’t think I’m able to accurately describe in words, but I’ll try. It’s like a living room on wheels. At 6’7″, I could sit in the back seat with the front seat fully extended, lift up one leg and cross it over the other. And the seats were just extremely comfortable.

      I know that you don’t have the severe height issue, but with an interior like that, it’s kind of like shooting a comfort bazooka at you, so I’d assume that it may be pleasant for people of all shapes and sizes. I don’t quite remember the driver seat, however.

      I’ll admit I haven’t driven it, but if given the opportunity I would take it around for a week or so and see what it’s like. If you do happen to get ahold of one, let me know how you like it.

      This weekend I’ll be heading out to the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, so if you follow me on Twitter and want me to check a vehicle out, let me know and I’ll be happy to do so.

      • Mike Johnson

        I’m 6’6″ and owned a Scion BX for about 10 years. I loved it beyond reason. I remember the story like yesterday: A couple months into my first salary paying full-time job I was teasing my friend (also 6’6″) about forgetting to un-box his car before leaving the dealership. His only reply was “dude, come sit in my car.” It was the roomiest experience I’ve had in a car that got 30+MPG and cost less than $40k. The Scion XB could have pink flames shooting out of a scull and I’d still pay above full blue book price for one.

        As Will mentioned the front seat scooted back far enough to fully extent my long legs (flat footed on firewall with a 36″ inseam). The head room, oh the beautiful headroom, the XB has 8 more inches of head room than a Suburban (and overall more comfortable). I sometime struggled to reach my GPS when attached to the windshield. I fit just as comfortable in the backseat, even with the front seat fully back. The storage was limited with all the seats up, but lower the back row and I could move washers , dryers, and chest freezers in the car (only one at a time). At only 13′ long, parking in places like NY City was a breeze. We found many spots that other cars just couldn’t fit in.

        The only down side was it width. Three adults could not sit side by side in the back seat. In fact, three average car seats wouldn’t fit side by side. With three kids at home, that was the deal breaker that forced me to sell my XB. I would have shipped it when I moved to Europe if only three car seats had fit in the back. Now I am looking for a replacement and have yet to find a spacious dream like-unto the Scion XB.

        For anyone who cares, I must mention the Scion XB doesn’t have a lot of power. It would go 80 MPH, but it didn’t like it. I never won any races at a green light (at least against anyone trying), but for 29-33 MPG (at 180k miles old) I never complained.

  • RW

    Thanks for the reply. I watched for days and didn’t see it ’til a new post came out today (2 wks later). :( Must have been a computer glitch.

    [ Wish I’d seen this earlier. Waiting to see your post on the 2016 auto show. I certainly would have followed… ]

    Ha! A comfort bazooka! Do I dare backtrack and try a Scion? I think that’s what I caught sight of across the Toyota lot today! The Toyota sales people might cringe or run for a bazooka for sure if I ask to try yet another car — I’ve tried so many cars, and I’m not a Saturday afternoon “out for a lark” test driver by nature. I’ve never wanted to be short, but this car hunt may put a dent somewhere in my psyche.

    The Scion sounds a bit like a Kia Soul in the roominess. ( I just did not go back and look at a more powerful model of the Soul. After feeling so enclosed — too enclosed — driving almost all these compact cars, the roominess of the Soul I drove was too strange! I felt I was rattling around… )

    I went back to confirm that the Subaru Impreza and Crosstrek definitely are just that bit tight in leg room for me. I’ve decided that it’s a red flag if I actually notice leg room other than at the beginning. “Gee, this feels — it doesn’t — feel cramped!”

    I’d been looking at the Prius V, which felt like the Camry with maybe an inch more driver leg room. Taking a wild pot shot, I test drove a 2015 Prius — the regular sized model, which I had assumed would be too small — today. I was very surprised that it had enough leg room for me. And visibility to park in a crowded parking lot.

    So we walked over to the new 2016 models, and it had been totally redesigned — totally different leg room front and rear. The 2016 didn’t fit.

    All of this just goes to demonstrate that leg room and height and comfort do not follow the general progression of models in a fleet. It’s more like the manufacturers had a randomizer on their comfort bazooka. Like the design team for one model uses a different sizing chart for their target market than next year’s model.

    Still looking…

  • RW

    I totally forgot to mention that I test drove the new Fiat 500 X since I wrote 2 wks ago — the new compact in their line, which actually has good crash test results. I’d ended up at a rental counter last Summer and they gave me a Fiat 500, which surprised me (like the Nissan Versa NOTE) by having enough leg room. So someone pointed me toward the new Fiat.

    That is one compact car — under 14ft long — but it’s surprisingly spacious in the front seat and front leg room for its size… from their website:

    FRONT HEAD ROOM 39.0 in. FRONT HIP ROOM 53.3 in.
    FRONT LEG ROOM 41.5 in. FRONT SHOULDER ROOM 54.3 in.
    REAR HIP ROOM 52.2 in. REAR HEAD ROOM 37.8 in.
    REAR LEG ROOM 34.8 in. REAR SHOULDER ROOM 52.8 in.

    Seems they put all the space in the front passenger area.

    I guess maybe it’s a crossover, the seats are higher off the floor which can lead to more comfort for some knees – – it definitely did for me.

    For a tall driver, the back seat might as well have been left out imo. They call it a 5 passenger but we marked it as a 2 passenger car for tall drivers, like the VW Golf.

    But space does matter to me, and the Golf has only 93cu ft in the passenger area (94 for the Golf Sportwagen), while the Fiat has — wait for it — 100cu ft!

    In perspective, passenger volumes (I started keeping notes on the few important figures, because they all blur now): Toyota Prius 94; Mazda 3 hatchback 96; Toyota Prius V 97; Subaru Impreza 98. Going up to Crossovers and SUV’s, out of the compact range, the rambling-interiors: Kia Soul Plus is 101; the Toyota Rav-4 102; Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V are 104.

    So you can see that Fiat number either included some air space above — like mining rights for land go below surface — or they’ve made that Fiat very surprisingly spacious!

    And it was comfy. Just so little cargo space (18.5 cuft/ half those SUV’s(, and the smallest of any we looked at. This is a SMALL car. And a vestigial rear seat for tall drivers. Sigh. But if you can tell from numbers, most of the space is in the front, so maybe it’ll fit someone else looking.

    Oh, while on the Fiat, the gas mileage is not that impressive (22/31) for such a small car, and the cost higher — you can get a bigger compact for less. Not the best value on the market. But — such surprising space in the front. And lots of different configurations available to individualize the car to fit your needs and comfort. If the gas mileage were better and they offered me a deal… it was a nice car. We both liked it.

  • Tami

    We are replacing my hubby’s corolla so I found a slightly used honda civic coupe and thought it would be a perfect commuter for him. It was too short–his head hit the ceiling….so when I saw your height chart with that exact information on it, I knew this was the right article! I looked up all of your recommended “tall guy” cars in consumer reports and he test drove a Hyundai Elantra and we are DONE. Thanks for great article, saved us lots of time!

    • Will Eifert

      Hi Tami! Thanks for reading. I’m glad that the articles helped you out and your husband find a car!

  • Luke

    Ford C-Max, Any thoughts? Tried the Cruze but at 6’4″ felt like when I got it back in the right seat position, I felt like I had to lean forward to see around the “B” post. A blind spot for me. Also when I had the drivers window down I couldn’t rest my arm on the window ledge cause I was back farther than most people.

    • RW

      I had tried the other Ford’s — the Fusion, Focus, and Escape…
      … (originally had tried the Edge but don’t remember about leg room for it, I was looking for a smaller car )…
      and been surprised that they just did not have enough leg room…

      So both the sales person and I were both shocked when I saw the C-Max across the salesroom — hey, what’s THAT hatchback compact? — tried it, and found it had more leg room for me than the others. But I’m not as tall as you by a long shot.

      What I will say about the Ford C-Max is that if it weren’t for two issues, I would have bought one. Price is too high being a hybrid (and depreciation is really sharp for the first year, far as I can tell). And Ford reliability — my fear it’ll shorten the life of the car.

      I drove it twice, and it didn’t feel like a weird hybrid the way the Prius versions do. I went thru all the way the electronics / infotainment works and wasn’t put off by any poor user interface.

      [ Note about the C-Max. If you do look at the C-Max, I think it matters what year you get. 2013-16 all have acceptable safety ratings. I don’t think they’ve changed the body along the way? But I remember in 2014 there would have been a programming fix having to do with gas mileage on the original model — there was a lawsuit because Ford had used mileage tests from one of their other cars (the Focus sedan? because it’s the same base? but a very diff car in aerodynamics and engines) instead of testing the C-Max, and users weren’t getting the gas mileage advertised. Ford paid recompense and updated the programming sometime in there. And in 2016 model, they did some fixes with the infotainment or audio system? So check for model upgrades and recalls along the way. ]

      Anyway, with the C-Max, there weren’t any glaring design missteps, either, for me — like missing quick releases to lower the back seat for cargo.

      Or worse for a taller driver, something I saw on the Chevy Trax. So I’ll mention it here in a new thread — because it’s… just TERRIBLE.

  • RW

    Just adding this hear for anyone reading. Not sure if the Chevy Trax is a compact, small SUV, or crossover or what size, but believe it or not, if a tall driver has the seat all the way back on the rails, you first can’t lower the rear seats for cargo — and then if the seats are down, you can’t move the front seat back on the rails again! I took notes at the time so I would not doubt or forget this model of car.

    I’d taken a look at the smaller Chevy’s and was working my way up looking for a hatchback, so ended up looking at a Trax. Not sure which year I was looking at but this was in Feb 2016.

    At first seating, it had leg room. But a closer look uncovered that you have to move the driver’s seat forward several inches — way way forward — in order to lower the seat portion of the rear seat into the floor space between front and rear, and then lower the back of the rear seat down, a 2 step operation. (Even then, the back does not lay flat but that’s not the problem.)

    This is the killer — I am almost sure but doubt myself after some months — you could not push the front seat back on the rails all the way after the rear seat is down on the floor. The seat on the floor prevented pushing the front seat back again. So even if I was willing to go thru moving my driver’s seat forward to lower the rear seats, I couldn’t then drive the car — there was no way a tall driver could both drive, and use the rear cargo with the rear seats down!??

    If anyone tries out a Trax, verify that because it’s been driving me mad to think the designers could make such a horrible mistake. Just having no rear leg room for rear passengers — making a car essentially a 2 passenger car… well, I see that as intentional marketing choice. But the way this was done, I can’t see this problem as intentional at all.

  • Rick Spradlin

    I have a severe headroom problem, actually a door opening problem, due to a long torso a thick middle and a messed-up neck. I had to sell a year-old Maxima because I had awful neck pain from getting in and out. I bought a 2013 Nissan Cube, and I love it in town. We need a highway cruiser now, though, and I’m down to a half-ton pickup or Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon. Not much choice. The C-Max and the Forrester were near-misses. Any other thoughts?

    • Anonymous

      I just thought I’d interject that it seemed to me in the Forrester — and the Subaru Outback?) as though the windshield sloped really close to my forehead when I was driving, though I had the seat pushed all the way back. All my height is in my legs/thigh bones, not torso or neck. So at the time, I thought that would be a difficult car for a tall person. (My son needs the head room, too.)

      I wish we had access to the car shows! We have a CarMax dealer nearby and the easiest way I’ve found to just try many cars on for fit is to just go wander their lot — the cars are unlocked and there’s a real variety. (But their used car prices are vastly inflated — I can get a new car for almost the same price or even less.)

  • Small car I had which had the most head room was the 1967 VW Bug I bought at a garage sale when I was in high school. It was surprisingly easy to rip the seat rails out and then screw them in farther back so the front seat would go all the way into the rear seat so there was 0 leg room. I could drive my legs completely straight. I think I’ve grown 2 or 3 or more inches since then. Head room was great since it had a sliding sun roof I could open.

    I’m about 2 meters.. 6’4″ about I think.

    Having an option front seat which was lower or vertically adjustable would be good for head room. I’ve been in sports cars and sometimes the seat is real low.

    Some seats are less wide. Having multiple seat options so one is available so there is one which fits the main.

    Smallest car I ever drove was a Honda 600 but I was in a Honda 360 too as a passenger.

  • dr. christopher landauer

    thankyou very much for this article

    i’m only 6’1″, but all my height is in my torso, so headroom is the main measurement i need (VW bugs are good, pontiac grand prix are too small)

    i drive a hyundai elantra, which i was pleased to note had the most headroom in your list (headroom is a safety issue; if i need to get out of the car in a hurry, i don’t want to bang my head on the top of the doorway)

    my issue is that i travel a lot, so i rent a lot of cars, and almost no rental company publishes the headroom available in their offerings (and the ubiquitous phrase “or equivalent” means only categories that are not separated according to headroom)

    BTW, my neighbor has a minicooper, and i do fit that (because the seats are so low)

    so keep up the good work; the more cars you look at (well, sit in, actually), the easier it will be for me to choose a car that fits next time i go to europe

  • Luke

    I have had Ford C-Max now for a little over 2 months and I am really happy with my choice. At 6’4″ I usually have to worry about head room but even with moon roof this is non-issue with the C-max. Great car and have enjoyed the fuel mileage as well. If I had one complaint it would be with center console and where my right knee comes in contact with it, But this is minor.

    • RW

      How are you doing with the Ford C-MAX after about 6 months?

      • luke

        The comment I hear the most from friends and ppl I ride share…”This car has a lot of room.” I do really like and I am happy with it. I just got back from KS and felt good in the car it handled well. The mileage decreases on fwy but still getting about 40 mph.

  • Brad Altemeyer

    Hi Will,
    I am also 6’7″ or just a bit over. Currently I drive a Nissan Cube -but they dropped that from the US market (42.5 inches of headroom/ and at least what seems like ok leg room). Just started shopping for my next vehicle since my daughter now has her license (and my cube is a 2010/ paid off).
    My wife used to have a Buick LaCross, but I know why they never showed SHAQ getting into or out of the car -that part is a bit awkward/ once in it is good/ my wife’s new car is a Infinity QX50, which with the steering wheel adjusted up and telescoped out, and seat back reclined I can squeeze into at times.
    My key problem in shopping for a car is both SIZE and PRICE- because my daughter is shopping colleges for the next couple of years I don’t want a high price car that will pinch the budget.
    ahh… the frustrations of life- So, I’ve started at least looking at the new Canyon / Colorado since they bumped headroom up to 41.4 from the abyss they had it in the past.
    Went to a dealer that had their last Nissan Quest 2016, but the turkeys had already sold it to themselves on their paperwork for rental use by the dealer- could’ve been a soccer mom/dad…but no.

  • Jess

    I just wanted to say Thank YOU !! to all the big guys all of your comments are helping my husband and I with the ever so hard search for my son’s college car. He’s 6’8 and huge, not only is the head room a must, it is where are the pedals located next to one another, with a size 16 4E shoe, he has a hard time not hitting the other pedal sometimes. Knees hitting the dash all of it, this site really gave us a starting point. !! Thank you. For those looking for a truck that fits you . My son LOVES his 2001 2500 Dodge Ram, extended cab. If you are able to find one of the older models it fits him like a glove, for some strange reason that model year (s) 01-04 I think made those trucks including the 1500 series look like they had lift kits in them, so he just slides right in. When the rest of us (and I am 5’11”) have to jump . However, we have all agreed that truck at 10mpg (please note the sister truck that we own to her is a 1500 1999 – and she still gets 15 mpg and for that year that is great) is not the best to be taking 450 miles away to college (ME) It will be right here waiting for him at the house when he gets home, as he will not let me sell it EVER.

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