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Taking the long way home


You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that an advantage of a long wheelbase vehicle is to provide more space for occupants.

Isn’t that exactly why such companies as Ford (for now, anyway), Holden and Jaguar offer long wheelbase limo-like models as their range-toppers? If that was all there was to it, this would be a pretty short article and the page designers would be scrambling to find some rather large photos to fill the space.  Fortunately, several other things come into it when considering the pros and cons of long wheelbase (LWB) vehicles.  Wheelbase, by the way, is the distance between the front and back wheels, measured at the centre of the axles.

Generally, vehicles fall into one of three wheelbase categories: short, medium, or long. Trying to define which is which is a bit difficult; for example, what American manufacturers see as medium is likely to be long to the rest of us, despite downsizing in Detroit’s thinking!  But clearly, a tiny Smart Fortwo falls into the short wheelbase class with its 1810mm spread. Something like a Toyota Camry is medium at 2775mm and a Holden Statesman’s long at 3009mm. It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to add more wheelbase to their basic design to create extra interior space.  Ford and Holden have done that on the Falcon and Commodore for years, although Ford has announced an end to its Falcon-based LWB offerings. It only takes a minute comparing, say, a Commodore with a Caprice or Statesman to see the advantage of a longer wheelbase. Rear-seat space is hugely improved. No wonder the LWB cars have been a favourite of chauffeur and taxi companies. Beyond that basic, LWB cars usually have better stability and handling at speed, as well as a smoother ride – features that attract some buyers who have no need for the added space.

A longer wheelbase is also regarded as better for towing, although it takes a stronger equalising hitch to transfer weight to the front wheels of a longer wheelbase tow vehicle. LWB SUVs may also be better off-road in rough conditions, with an ability to straddle ruts and tackle some hills better than the shorties. However, LWB vehicles of all types are less agile and usually have a wider turning circle – a curse in narrow urban streets or when trying to work tight spaces off-road. The long vehicles are almost always heavier than the vehicle on which they are based, leading to higher fuel consumption and lower performance. But the differences don’t have to be large. When Jaguar added 125mm to the wheelbase of the current XJ, weight went up by only 24kg, considerably less than most of its stretched rivals.

By the way, wheelbase debates aren’t just a motor vehicle thing. You’ll also hear it discussed whenever touring cyclists get together.
Proponents of long wheelbase bikes also cite greater stability on, say, a fast, bumpy descent, quicker steering and comfort. The long chain stays also mean more useable space on the frame.

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