What is a car wheelbase?

If you’ve looked at buying a car through carwow, you might’ve come across one of our dimensions guides. These let buyers know how long and wide a car is, helping them work out if they’ll be able to park their new purchase.

In addition to a car’s length, its wheelbase is often given, but what does this actually mean? Do you want a long wheelbase or a short one, and what are the advantages of each? Read on to discover the answer.

What is a car’s wheelbase?

Put simply, a wheelbase is the distance between a car’s front and rear wheels. Length, on the other hand, is calculated from the frontmost point of the car to the rearmost point of the car. Wheelbase is measured from the centre of the wheels and serves as an indication of the level of interior space for the given external size.

The car shown above is a Rolls-Royce Phantom – it’s 6,091mm long and has a 3,820mm wheelbase (the area highlighted in blue). This long wheelbase means it has huge amounts of interior space, so anyone sitting inside has plenty of room to stretch out in.

Long wheelbase vs short wheelbase

Depending on what kind of car you need, either a long or short wheelbase will be more appropriate. Cars with longer ones, like the Phantom above, tend to have a larger interior because there’s more space between the axles.

A longer wheelbase will also ride better thanks to the greater time between front and rear wheels hitting bumps. Finally, a long wheelbase will feel more stable at speed due to its larger footprint on the road.

With a shorter wheelbase comes a smaller cabin because there’s less space between the axles. Shorter wheelbase cars do, however, suit city traffic better because they’re more manoeuvrable and can turn tighter.

Wheelbase to length ratio

Another thing to consider is what proportion of the car’s length falls between the front and back wheels. In general, a car with a longer wheelbase compared to its overall length will make better use of the cabin space and feel more stable on the road.

This is how small cars like the Volkswagen Up are able to offer such compact dimensions and a stable ride. Its wheelbase is 2,420mm, or 68.4 per cent of its 3,540mm length. The Rolls-Royce’s wheelbase, by comparison, is only 62.7 per cent of its overall length, meaning the VW offers more interior room compared to its exterior size than the Phantom.