Tall Cars for Tall People
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October 30, 2014
I've got a big problem with new car design. That problem weighs about a dozen pounds and tops off just a bit over six feet two inches from the ground.
Compounding the issues my head has with new cars are my proportions. I have a giant torso and short legs, making the distance between my ass and my head longer than that of a "normal" 6'2" person. So putting the seat back almost to laying down isn't an option, because then my short arms couldn't reach the wheel.
Roof crush resistance standards and side airbags have been forcing automakers to beef up their roof side rails just as style trends and improving fuel efficiency through aerodynamics have been lowering those rooflines.
Over the years those shrinking door openings have been getting harder and harder for me to get in to. Sure, most cars are okay once I get inside, but a few days ago I found myself almost physically unable to fold myself into a midsize Ford Fusion, my shoulder coming in contact with the door frame while sitting on the seat, which is a shame because I really liked the car. This comes a month after a really embarrassing episode involving me and Mazda3 that I'd rather not go into detail about.
Aside from minivans, full-size gas-chugging SUVs, a few crossovers, and pickup trucks, there are but a handful of new vehicles I could get in to easily and sit up comfortably in.
But vans, trucks, and SUVs aren't options for all of us who can't afford them or the gas for them. For those with the height of an NBA star but can't buy a baller's luxury SUV because they're living on a beer vendor's salary, there's a different class of car: the narrow, tall profile wagon.
While at the Ford dealership we tried a C-Max. This matches, in many ways, the profile of the Pontiac Vibe I drive now. The compact Vibe has such a high, curving roofline that it's taller than the Ford Taurus I used to park next to at the office despite being narrower and a lot shorter.
While you'd never get three people sitting across the back seat of the C-Max, this car's roofline accommodated me on entry, exit, and sitting down for a ride in both front seat and back.
This closely matches the "microvan" Mazda5 we were at the Mazda dealership to try earlier.
The Mazda5 is fun, light, tight handling and a bit quirky with the sliding side doors. The Ford C-Max is tricked out with all sorts of toys inside, a more substantial feeling vehicle with some tasteful style, and it even includes a hybrid version rating 40mpg highway.
Also rating high on the fun scale is the hamster-piloted Kia Soul. Lime green, light-up speakers, Hyundai/Kia reliability, and a style that won't be mistaken for anything else on the road make it worth driving whether you're seven foot tall or four-foot-seven.
Hopefully more of this type of car make it to market, but having to decide between the Soul, Mazda5, and C-Max isn't something that would make me feel "stuck" in one car or the other.
The field used to include the Chrysler PT Cruiser (created by stretching a Dodge Neon the way a full-size sedan frame is stretched out to form a conventional minivan), the perfectly proportioned Kia Rondo, and my personal favorite Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix pair, but those vehicles have since left the new car market.
So if you happen to know someone who complains about headroom issues and doesn't want to buy a big-ass gas guzzler, tell them about these not-so-popular cars. Especially if you've got that environmentally-conscious friend who just can't fit into the Prius he really wants, send him to a Ford dealership and have him ask about the C-Max Hybrid.
Fleet owners should also be conscious of this kind of vehicle. We know Hertz has a lot of Mazda5's in their fleet, which are great for accommodating taller travelers. These cars are able to fit the widest range of people possible without being substantially more expensive than the average midsize sedan. This makes them perfect not only for rental agencies but security contractors, couriers, dealership loaners, parts stores, and basically anyone who needs a small fuel-efficient car that won't exclude a number of their employees from driving duties for being over six feet tall.
I know it's not a huge niche to fill, but it may get more important in the future American car market as people get taller and taller on average, roof strength standards become more stringent, and the increasing cost of fuel puts larger vehicles out of reach of more buyers. Europe has been dealing with all three issues on an even more accelerated scale, especially fuel costs and safety standards, and their market now includes several such cars, selling very well there, that aren't yet available here in the States.
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