Hot Feature for Luxury Cars: Big Backseats

Lexus ES sedan
Source: Lexus
Lexus ES sedan

Long the domain of dogs and yappy kids, the back seats of luxury cars now are getting first-class attention from automakers.

More of them are adding rear legroom to premium sedans to please empty-nest Boomers, who now see big back seats as a place to impress friends on the way to dinner or other events. Most midsize and larger luxury cars are sold to well-heeled buyers in their 50s or older.

Cadillac, Acura, Lexus, BMW, Lincoln and Audi are among the luxury brands who've said they are paying a lot more attention to rear-seat comfort in various models. It's not just about pleasing jumbo-sized American customers, either.

With luxury car brands making more models that can be sold around with the world with the fewest modifications, the trend also caters to the demand for lush rear seating in China. There, in what is now the world's largest car market, many luxury vehicles are chauffeur-driven with owners always riding in the back seat.

Along with added space, the back seat is evolving from a dumping ground to an entertainment zone, both for pleasure and business.

The new Cadillac XTS sedan has 2 inches more rear seat legroom than the outgoing STS it replaces. Owners "might drive important clients to lunch," says Jeanne Merchant, the executive in charge of the XTS. "They want to feel like they have the best seat in the house."

Honda's Acura luxury division says the next generation of its RL flagship sedan will go from having the least rear-seat legroom in its class to the most:

The brand isn't giving out dimensions yet. The new model is expected to go on sale next year.

Acura's designers went to work after research showed the buyers of large luxury sedans crave lots of interior space. "They were not buying for fun-to-drive factors," says Vicki Poponi, an assistant vice president for Acura in the U.S. The goal was to add the space, yet make the car remain sporty.

Lexus added 4.1 inches of rear legroom to its next ES sedan. "Empty nesters," explained spokesman Bill Kwong, "are entertaining a lot more friends — and their friends aren't kids."

Finding ways to add the space isn't always easy. Lexus lengthened the wheelbase of the new ES by 2 inches. Audi squeezed near a half inch of more back-seat legroom into the 2012 A6 sedan by moving the front axle forward 3 inches.

It's too early to tell if the improvement will please finicky "back-seat drivers." But at least they will have more comfort.