Volkswagen Tiguan

Automotive Industry

Long Wheelbase is a Challenge for Car Design

Extending the car between the axles has become quite a versatile visual resource. However, there are not many ways to do it right

Audi A8 L Horch
Traditional limousines, like the Cadillac Fleetwood, are made by cutting the car in half and reconstructing the central part, only longer

What is long wheelbase?

First of all, wheelbase is the distance between the car’s axles. Considering that most of the cabin sits precisely between them, that measurement has become an indicator of how spacious it is. The longitudinal distances from each axle to the respective end are named front and rear overhangs; the sum of all three is the total length of the car.

Vans like the Dodge Caravan need room for people and cargo, so they usually have their rear overhang extended as well

Why is it difficult to design?

Just like the human personality, car design can have either flexibility or strong character. Extending the necessary parts while keeping all the rest untouched is simple and easy but usually yields horrible results. Reinterpreting the entire car makes the adaptation unnoticeable but implies an extra investment which takes a toll on the selling price.

The Toyota Hilux shows how flexible pickups can be. However, automakers do not offer all combinations to limit the wheelbase’s variation

What cars have a long wheelbase?

Traditionally, sedans would use it to become limousines and vans would use it to serve multiple business purposes. Pickup trucks are another good historical example for having offered different lengths for cabin and bed, both of which directly affect the wheelbase. In the 1990s, minivans adopted it to move from five to seven occupants.

Automakers now use complex plans to create LWB versions: the Mercedes-Benz E-Class L has exclusive rear doors and third windows

Why do the Chinese like long wheelbase?

Before the industrial and financial boom that made China the powerhouse as we know it, even national cars were inaccessible to most of the population — the situation was even worse for imported ones because they could only come with hefty taxes. In a few words, that situation ended up making them strong status symbols in the country.

Porsche’s solution for the Panamera was to place the rear door handle further from the upper crease to minimize the visual disruption

What solutions are used now?

We can observe that, the more expensive the car is, the more effort the maker puts into its adaptation. Business vans are the only ones still merely stretched to the desired lengths. Mid-range sedans such as the BMW 3 Series extend the rear doors and dissimulate the size difference by toying with the relative sizes of windows and sheetmetal.

Opel Zafira Life in short (left), medium (center) and large wheelbases (source: WheelsAge)

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Danillo Almeida

Danillo Almeida

3.3K Followers

Content writer and engineer-to-be who aspires to work in car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.