Headroom


You could argue that 6’4″ (1.93 meters) is the top range of standard size for men — Abraham Lincoln and John Wayne were both six feet four inches.  There was a time when being 6’4″ wasn’t a problem in terms of clothes and cars.

Times have changed, especially for drivers.  There are perhaps some advantages to being tall, but in terms of cars, tall people get the short end of the stick.  Manufactures place a premium on aerodynamics and styling when they design cars, and they are understandably willing to sacrifice head and leg room for drivers over 6’1″.

Unfortunately, the sacrifice of head and leg room is particularly acute if you are looking for a sporty car.  I was looking forward to buying something that was fun to drive, but also with decent fuel economy.  It needed to be suited to winding mountain roads, and capable of quick acceleration (very important when merging onto the German Autobahn.)

Recently Peugeot came out with a new sports coupe. Because of the great service at my local Peugeot dealer I was very interested in this car.  I waited for two months with my fingers crossed until it arrived at the showroom.  Unfortunately it was way too small in terms of headroom.  It’s a beautiful car and marks the beginning of my search for a sporty car with headroom.

When looking for cars you quickly discover that height is more than inches or centimeters.

When I started looking for a new car I found a very useful German language website www.grosseleute.de (= big people.de)  It’s a forum where tall people share experiences, and there is a very helpful section on cars.  There I found the next car that interested me, the Audi TT.  On the forum there were people who were 6’8″and taller and had lots of headroom.  So being only 6’4″ I was very optimistic when I went to to the dealer to check out the Audi TT.

After adjusting the seat to the absolute best position with the dealer’s help , I had just enough headroom, but with less than an inch to spare.  So what’s up?

Did you ever notice that lots of tall guys have very long legs?  In relative terms you could say they are short waisted (talk show host Conan O’Brien would be an example.)  So for these folks, leg room is probably more of an issue than headroom.  Personally, I wear jeans with a 34″ or sometimes 36″ inseam, so my legs aren’t  short, but I guess I still might be a bit long waisted (distance between shoulders and waist that is longer than average.)  So if headroom is your issue, perhaps my experience will give you a few insights.

I also tried out an Audi A3.  Again, several people taller than I am reported having lots of headroom.  For me it wasn’t even close, I could fit in an Audi TT (not sure how it would be on a long drive) but I had no chance in a 2010 Audi A3.

I should mention that headroom is also a bit misleading.  In fact, in some cars I can ride comfortably as a passenger with sufficient headroom, but for styling purposes the roof line dips well below my field of vision.  So, while I can sit upright, I can’t see the road.  That was the case for me with the Audi A3.

I also checked out a Mercedes SLK.  Again there were people a few inches taller than 6’4″ who had sufficient headroom, unfortunately for me — not even close.

But while I was at the Mercedes dealer I found another car that ended up on my short list.  In fact, if I had left my heart and emotions out of the decision making process, I probably would have bought a Mercedes CLC Coupe with a sport package.

The interior is beautifully done and the leg and headroom are unusually generous.  The field of vision isn’t perfect (that’s life in the modern world) but in terms of the road view it’s fine.  I read a lot of reviews and it seems that it gets better marks for style than for performance, but for a person who needs plenty of headroom, this is a car you should test drive.

I also stopped by the Volvo dealer and sat in everything they had on display except the SUVs — again no chance because of the roof line and the limited field of vision.  Same thing at the Toyota dealer, although I didn’t really see anything I was interested in anyway. TOYOTAUPDATE 2013 

Just got back from the Toyota dealer to see the GT86 — finally something from Toyota to get excited about!  If I tilt the seat backwards, I could drive this car!  It’s not the headroom, it is the field of vision being cut off.  But it is a sports car that I could theoretically drive.

There is talk at this point of a hybrid version with an electric motor to give it a “boost.”  The batteries would be placed low to improve the center of gravity (if this is indeed done.)  There is no turbo charger on this car, so I’m going to wait and see how this develops.  Not as much headroom as my current car (see below) and not a fast (but close.)  But this is a tempting development.

 

There is a sporty turbo charged Opel Astra that interested me, but again the roof line was way too low.

At the Renault dealer I thought I might fit into a Megane Sports Coupe.  In fact, I almost did, if I were a couple of inches shorter it would have been a car I would have seriously  considered.  In terms of price, you get a lot for your money and it has great lines.

Renault just came out with a glass roof convertible version, and surprisingly I had enough headroom.  However, living in Germany in the mountains I wouldn’t consider paying  thousands of Euros extra for a convertible — that’s a car I might rent on vacation, but not something for our wet weather.

I couldn’t fit in the BMW 1 or 3 Series, or in the VW Scirocco.

I was beginning to get genuinely discouraged.

The Audi TT appealed to me, but I remembered it was a really tight fit.  So I wanted to sit in one again.  I drove over to a local VW dealer who had a used one on his lot.  Its back seats were down and two snow tires completely filled all the luggage space.  I had to accept that it wouldn’t be the right primary car for us, and I suspect on long drives it might have given me back pain.

It was starting to look like the Mercedes CLC would be my only possibility, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

SO WHAT TO DO?

When BMW bought Mini Cooper I must admit that I thought that the Mini was an overpriced, over-hyped, and rather impractical car.  I had completely written it off.  Moreover, it is so small I never gave it a second thought.  But as I looked over the German forum for tall people, I found several entries that claimed it was “the” car for tall people.

So out of desperation I took a ride to a dealer in a city nearby to check out the Mini Cooper.  I did fit in the Mini Cooper, but when I sat in the “station wagon” version called the Mini Clubman I knew I had finally found the right car for me.

The Clubman offers a bit more head- and leg room for tall drivers, and, for example, I can fit all four snow tires in the back when I put the seats down.  By chance I parked next to a Smart and I thought it would be good to give folks a idea of their comparative sizes.

Oh, and what about bikes? These come with their own tote bag and fit easily in the Clubman!

2 thoughts on “Headroom

  1. GOOD WEBSITE ! I HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM. I don’t know where the ” headroom ” spec measurements come from, but they are not even close., A car with a lot of stated headroom does not always have more headroom than one with less stated headroom. Even pickup trucks are not generous with headroom. Being a tall guy, you must notice that seat comfort is just as important, and having the seat right on the floor to get some headroom is not comfortable. I’m going to look at a Mercedes CLC as you suggested.

    Did you try a hyundai genesis sedan without sunroof ? I was going to look at one, but will have to drive 140 Km to the nearest one for sale. I drive a Honda Pilot EX with no sunroof and have 1/2 inch of space. The only modern CAR I found with headroom was the Volkswagen new beetle- not a sports car. The Ford Transit van has a LOT of headroom- again, not a sporty car at all.

    Instead of headroom, a more meaningful measurement is the vertical distance internally from the floor to the roof, but manufacturer’s don’t list it. If I can find a vehicle with more than 49 inches of interior vertical space from floor to roof, I can rip out the seats if necessary and fit something else in. It’s a tall order in cars : even the 55 chev, which towers over modern cars, had only 47.5 inches.

    • I didn’t see a Hyundai Genesis when I was searching, but I just looked at it online and that’s an attractive car. My previous car, Peugeot 307 SW had a lot of headroom — very unusual, but I don’t know about the 308.

      You are right, there is no meaningful information for tall people in terms of headroom, especially when you add the variable “visibility.” The sloping roof line is common in modern cars, so even the floor to roof measurement isn’t always enough.

      When all potential car buyers are considered, the 5% or 10% of the bell curve who are at least 6’4″ / 1.93 m tall is significant. I keep expecting a factory option for some kind of a “sports seat” for tall drivers that drops you down 4 inches or so. Maybe using gel in the cushion. That would give a lot of us so many more options

      It would be great if a company like Recaro would work with the auto companies to come up with a tall seat option like that.

      In the meantime, let me know what car you finally buy.

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