Top 10 Compact Cars With the Largest Back Seats

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

A couple weeks ago our Top 10 target was the large-sedan segment. We looked at a diverse lineup of full-figured four doors, comparing them based on their theoretical maximum range. We multiplied the number of gallons in their respective fuel tanks by each of their highway economy ratings.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Large Sedans With the Longest Range

Against all expectations the Volkswagen Passat TDI drove away with top honors, and it did so by a wide margin. It wasn’t just the comparison’s valedictorian; it skipped two grades took all AP classes and still wound up with a GPA of 4.2. This diesel-powered “People’s Car” can devour nearly 800 miles on a single tank!

On the other hand, today’s big idea is small. We’re examining cars at the opposite end of the spectrum, specifically C-Segment sedans. We’re comparing a crowd of popular compacts based on, wait for it… rear-seat legroom! Which popularly priced car offers the most-spacious back bench? Which one will give an agoraphobic night terrors? Click ahead for all the details you can stomach.

The Hyundai Elantra is a solid C-Segment offering. It delivers style, feature content and an attractive base price of roughly $17,000. What’s not to like? Well, back-seat legroom could be one potential snag.

Running down the spec sheet it offers up 33.1 inches of space for rear-passenger extremities, enough for a last-place finish. Ironically Hyundai trumpets the Elantra’s overall interior volume on its website, claiming it tops the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Now, it actually does trump those two main competitors in overall volume, unfortunately that space isn’t in the rear seat. Moving on…

GALLERY: 2013 Hyundai Elantra

Barely, and we mean BARELY edging out the Hyundai Elantra is Ford’s fun-loving Focus. This Michigan-built C-Segment sedan delivers 33.2 inches of back seat sprawlin’ room, just one-tenth of an inch more than the Hyundai.

At 90.7 cubic feet the car’s total passenger volume is considerably less than what’s served up by the Elantra, which delivers almost five more cubes. Ford’s Focus has the smallest overall interior in this Top 10, but since we’re comparing rear-seat legroom it’s spared a last-place finish. It lands in ninth by the skin of its teeth, or rather, the film on its windshield.

GALLERY: 2013 Ford Focus

Beating the Focus by an even two inches is Dodge’s brand-new Dart. The alliteratively named small sedan offers rear-seat passengers an almost-grownup 35.2 inches of legroom.

The “Double-D” may finish near the back of this pack, but surprisingly it has the most interior volume of all at 97.2 cubic feet. But that should come as no surprise; by a fraction of an inch the Dart also has the longest wheelbase in this comparison. From hub to hub it spans 106.4 inches.

GALLERY: 2013 Dodge Dart

Winding up in seventh place is Subaru’s C-Segment salvo, the Impreza sedan. Unlike the other cars in this comparison it has two stand-out features that set it apart from the pack, both of which reside under its distinctively Japanese coachwork.

The Impreza is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder; all the other cars here feature inline engines. Additionally, it has Subaru’s famous Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which gives it mountain-goat grip in all weather conditions.

As for rear-seat legroom, the Impreza offers 35.4 inches of total space, resulting in a mid-pack finish. Surprisingly this car has the second-shortest wheelbase here but it still offers the second most FRONT-seat legroom and the second most overall interior volume. Clearly Subaru prioritized cabin space over luggage capacity. The car’s trunk is the smallest at just 12 cubic feet.

GALLERY: 2012 Subaru Impreza

The Chevrolet Cruze ties Subaru’s Impreza for aft-cabin space. They both deliver 35.4 inches worth of room for passenger extremities.

The Chevy’s overall interior volume is about two cubic feet smaller than the Subaru’s but its trunk is bigger by the same amount. Front-seat legroom is also slightly less in the Cruze than in the Impreza. GM must have focused on cargo capacity over passenger space. As always, life’s a tradeoff.

GALLERY: 2013 Chevrolet Cruze

Topping the Cruze/ Impreza twins by a full half-inch is the Kia Forte. Rear-seat riders are treated to nearly three feet of maximum legroom.

At 106.3 inches this Kia rides on the second-longest wheelbase in this Top 10. Curiously two other cars span the exact same distance: the Hyundai Elantra and Nissan Sentra. In most other measures the Forte finishes mid-pack, just call it Goldilocks.

The 2013 Civic is Honda’s mulligan, a do-over, a fresh start. The brand screwed things up with the 2012 model, cheapening its interior and ruthlessly eradicating any excitement the way scientists wiped out smallpox. Automotive media roundly criticized the car, which was not up to the company’s typically high standards. To right this wrong and save face Honda embarked on a crash course (no pun intended) to improve their perennial best-seller.

The 2013 Civic is the company’s mea culpa. It builds on what the previous car did well and fixes its notable faults. Space wasn’t necessarily one of the its issues. Riders are treated to the same 36.2 inches of rear-seat legroom.

In other dimensions, the Civic’s trunk is a little on the small side at 12.5 cubic feet, but frontal space is completely competitive at an even 42 inches.

GALLERY: 2013 Honda Civic

Like the Focus topping the Elantra, Toyota’s geriatric Corolla bests the Civic by one lonely tenth of an inch in second-row room. Passengers are treated to 36.4 inches of cross-your-legs comfort.

The Corolla’s podium finish is pretty impressive given how old it is compared to the competition and the fact that it rides on the shortest wheelbase here, a tidy 102.4 inches. This Toyota also has the second-smallest trunk after the Subaru Impreza and the second lowest overall interior volume, topping only the Ford Focus.

GALLERY: 2013 Toyota Corolla

Driving away with a silver medal is the Nissan Sentra. This automotive Nancy Kerrigan delivers 37.4 inches of legroom in the back seat, fully an inch more than the Corolla. That’s practically enough room to host a square dance, but compact-car buyers don’t go to hoedowns so ignore this analogy.

Trunk volume is also second-best at 15.1 cubic feet. Overall interior volume is somewhat middling at 95.9 cubes.

GALLERY: 2013 Nissan Sentra

And lookie here, Volkswagen clinches another win. A couple weeks ago its midsize Passat TDI took home top-honors by delivering the longest theoretical driving range, and now it’s the Jetta’s turn in the winner’s circle. This C-Segment sedan offers up a limousine-like 38.1 inches of rear-seat legroom. VW promises that’s enough space to conceive a child – maybe even twins. (No, not really. We just made that part up. Fertility is not guaranteed or covered under the car’s Three-Year, 36,000-mile warranty.)

The Jetta is a champion in one other area as well. It offers the biggest trunk in this Top 10. It’s commodious to the tune of 15.5 cubic feet.

While this “People’s Car” has a big boot and lots of back-bench legroom it’s pretty average in other areas. The wheelbase is only 104.4 inches; its overall passenger volume is third worst at just 94.1 cubic feet; and the Jetta delivers the least amount of front-seat space, just 41.2 inches.

Still, if you need a C-Segment car with lots of room to stretch out in the back, Volkswagen’s Jetta is your best bet.

GALLERY: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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4 of 7 comments
  • Jenn Jenn on Dec 14, 2013

    I just bought a new Sentra, but of all the compact cars I looked at, the Versa had, by far, the most rear leg room! It didn't even make the list??? How?

  • Julia Julia on Jan 05, 2015

    I have a 2013 corolla with 0% interest for 60 mos I love my car but I need more space in the back for my family to be comfortable. I am looking to trade in my car for the same interest just need more space is this possible to do??