How is rear legroom calculated?

Specifically, is it measured with the front seat pushed forward (maximizing rear legroom and minimizing front legroom) or with the front seat pushed backward (maximizing front legroom and minimizing rear legroom)? Also, is the measurement taken at rear-seat height or higher?

Amy, Los Alamos, N.M.

We’re not trying to be wise guys, and we wish we could be more specific, but the best answer to your first two questions is, yes. Rear legroom may be measured with the front seat all the way back (minimum rear legroom) or with the front seat further forward. Every manufacturer is supposed to play by the same rules, set by the Society of Automotive Engineers, but they have leeway in interpreting the rules, and they may use measurements that give them an edge over rivals.

The SAE is an international organization that sets standards for a number of automotive measurements, including horsepower and torque. The SAE standard for interior dimensions, J1100, is a few hundred pages, so it isn’t light reading.


Under SAE guidelines, legroom is measured using an H-point machine (for hip-point), a mechanical device with a single leg and adjustable joints that “sits” on a seat. The H-point is the starting point for measuring legroom, but Gary Pollak, a manager of SAE research programs, said it is not a linear measurement but a curve based on several points. “There are a number of ways to do it,” Pollak said, and a consumer may not be able to replicate a manufacturer’s measurement with a tape measure.

“It’s a question of how they go about reporting (the measurements), and some may take liberties,” he said. “People interpret the standard to their advantage, so there’s not an easy answer.”

The bottom line is that the interior dimensions published by manufacturers are best used as guidelines rather than gospel. If you’re shopping for a vehicle based on interior space, the best measurement is for you and family members to sit in the seats and see how well you fit. Keep in mind that some power seats may have more or less fore-aft than manual seats, and legroom may change on SUVs and minivans depending on seat options for the second and third rows.

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Answered by Rick Popely on August 29, 2011 in I'm Just Wondering | Permalink

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