We’ve found manufacturer-published cargo specifications an unreliable representation of space, especially when comparing numbers across different vehicle types and automakers. So we developed our own method of evaluating the cargo space behind the backseats of test vehicles that’s consistent across all vehicles, regardless of brand or body style.
This is a complicated task, as cargo areas are hardly uniform spaces. Our as-tested volumes combine two measurements: relatively straightforward depth, width and height within a typical cargo area’s major boundaries — the usable space if you needed to fit a large rectangular box from, say, your local furniture store — and then all the various nooks outside of that box into which an owner might stuff belongings.
We report this total volume behind the backseat or, for a three-row vehicle, behind the second row with the third row folded. For three-row vehicles, we conduct a separate accounting of space behind the third row using the same methodology, and we publish both figures. We don’t cite maximum room (with all seats folded) because too many variables exist to accurately measure such volume with the tools at our disposal. (The variables include space in the second-row footwells and the many crevices inherent in rear doors.)
We won’t go into great detail, both because it would get terribly boring and because we worked for many years to arrive at a methodology that we don’t want to share with competitors, but here are the highlights:
- We measure to the tops of the seatbacks, excluding head restraints or seat belt guides. (You shouldn’t consider space above the seatbacks as usable cargo volume, as it compromises visibility and safety.) In an enclosed trunk, we measure height from the floor to the top of the trunk opening.
- We account for any gradients in the cargo floor — a considerable factor in some vehicles.
- We place any sliding backseat in its rearmost position and adjust any reclining backrest to a standard angle before measuring.
- We place any height-adjustable cargo floor in its lowest position.
- We measure partitioned space under the load floor, excluding incidental crevices around a spare tire.
Compare Regardless of Body Style or Seating
All of our figures are comparable regardless of body style or seating configuration — which is to say, you can compare our numbers between hatchback and sedan body styles for a given nameplate. That said, cargo volume alone is but one facet of overall storage provisions. Remember, the open cargo areas in a hatchback, wagon, minivan or SUV still present inherent advantages to maximize cargo room behind the first row, with other seats folded. Enclosed trunks in sedans and coupes, by contrast, universally limit what you can shoehorn through an opening with the backseat folded down.
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Consistent Across All Makes
You might notice our volumes are often much smaller than manufacturer-published cargo volumes in open cargo areas, even behind the second or third row. Such manufacturer-published volumes may extend to the ceiling or bear other differences in practice, such as seating position or what exactly gets accounted for. Practices are hardly uniform from one automaker to another, or even between two cars from the same automaker. Our as-tested cargo volumes aim to give real-world consistency across the spectrum.
Always secure your cargo, and note that certain specifics — namely, a spare tire or extra stereo speakers — can alter cargo volume in the example you’re shopping versus what we test. To give the best frame of reference, we’ll note all relevant specifics in each test car for which we publish cargo volume.
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