Consumer Reports Has an Ingenious Way of Testing Vehicle Cargo Space

Some people pay closer attention to performance specs when car shopping, but cargo space is an important consideration to most consumers. Even in the large SUV segment, you might find a model with far less storage space than others. Automakers typically list cargo capacity in cubic feet. However, it’s not always clear how much of that space you can actually use. Fortunately, Consumer Reports uses a creative method to measure vehicle cargo space.

Consumer Reports tests vehicles for usable cargo space

Consumer Reports vehicle cargo area
The cargo area of a 2012 Range Rover Evoque | Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Instead of measuring total cargo volume, the Consumer Reports team counts the pieces of luggage a vehicle’s cargo area can hold.

When testing SUVs and hatchbacks, CR uses an artificial box made of a flexible pipe frame to stretch along the rear storage area. After filling it, testers document the number of duffel bags and suitcases the box can hold during the vehicle’s road test.

CR has similar methods for measuring cargo capacity in trucks and sedans.

In pickup truck testing, CR measures only the volume below the bed’s side rails. That gives drivers a better idea of the items they can safely carry in the bed. That’s especially useful for drivers hauling heavy equipment.

Testing a sedan’s cargo capacity is more straightforward. CR loads the trunk with luggage containers and counts how many fit. Still, that mental image is easier for most car buyers to envision than cubic feet.

Here’s why you need a vehicle with a high cargo capacity

SUVs and crossovers are two of the most popular segments because of their utilitarianism. Drivers like having vehicles with plenty of seats and storage space for their families’ belongings. Even if you’re a single rider, it’s nice to have space for groceries, sporting equipment, and other personal items.

Sometimes, the total cargo capacity isn’t the most important factor. For example, large families of seven or eight members might need to occupy all seats during most trips. So they prioritize finding a vehicle with plenty of storage space behind the third row. CR usually includes this total in its road test report and the car’s total storage capacity.

Depending upon your daily driving needs, a vehicle that doesn’t have much usable cargo space might be a deal-breaker. For instance, the mid-engine Corvette C8 drives like a daredevil’s dream, but you can’t fit much in its 12.6 cubic feet of storage space, especially because the front and rear cargo compartments split that space in two.

Other unique testing regimens at Consumer Reports

Some automakers tout 0-to-60-mph acceleration times, but Consumer Reports also evaluates cars in other practical areas, such as braking distance. CR performs this test on wet and dry pavement, giving everyday drivers a better understanding of a vehicle’s limits.

Consumer Reports is also known for its avoidance maneuver tests. CR drivers use a course of cones to determine how fast they can push a vehicle without hitting any cones. That’s how CR determines a car’s body roll, too. The test also simulates the vehicle’s adeptness at avoiding animals and other obstacles.

In addition, Consumer Reports scrutinizes the car’s interior, from ease of access to the overall fit and finish. Testers also evaluate technology features (including advanced driver-assistance systems) to gauge their ease of use and effectiveness.

A new (or even used) vehicle can be expensive, so it’s essential to be informed. CR’s in-depth testing gives you more insight into what any given model offers beyond a spec sheet.

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