Automobile drag coefficient

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Edmund Rumpler's 1921 Tropfenwagen was the first series-produced aerodynamically designed automobile, before the Chrysler Airflow and the Tatra 77.

The drag coefficient is a common measure in automotive design as it pertains to aerodynamics. Drag is a force that acts parallel to and in the same direction as the airflow. The drag coefficient of an automobile measures the way the automobile passes through the surrounding air. When automobile companies design a new vehicle they take into consideration the automobile drag coefficient in addition to the other performance characteristics. Aerodynamic drag increases with the square of speed; therefore it becomes critically important at higher speeds. Reducing the drag coefficient in an automobile improves the performance of the vehicle as it pertains to speed and fuel efficiency.[1] There are many different ways to reduce the drag of a vehicle. A common way to measure the drag of the vehicle is through the drag area.

The importance of drag reduction[edit]

The reduction of drag in road vehicles has led to increases in the top speed of the vehicle and the vehicle's fuel efficiency, as well as many other performance characteristics, such as handling and acceleration.[2] The two main factors that impact drag are the frontal area of the vehicle and the drag coefficient. The drag coefficient is a unit-less value that denotes how much an object resists movement through a fluid such as water or air. A potential complication of altering a vehicle's aerodynamics is that it may cause the vehicle to get too much lift. Lift is an aerodynamic force that acts perpendicular to the airflow around the body of the vehicle. Too much lift can cause the vehicle to lose road traction which can be very unsafe.[3] Lowering the drag coefficient comes from streamlining the exterior body of the vehicle. Streamlining the body requires assumptions about the surrounding airspeed and characteristic use of the vehicle.

Drag area[edit]

While designers pay attention to the overall shape of the automobile, they also bear in mind that reducing the frontal area of the shape helps reduce the drag. The product of drag coefficient and area – drag area – is represented as CdA (or CxA), a multiplication of Cd value by area.

The term drag area derives from aerodynamics, where it is the product of some reference area (such as cross-sectional area, total surface area, or similar) and the drag coefficient. In 2003, Car and Driver magazine adopted this metric as a more intuitive way to compare the aerodynamic efficiency of various automobiles.

The force F required to overcome drag is calculated with the drag equation: Therefore: Where the drag coefficient and reference area have been collapsed into the drag area term. This allows direct estimation of the drag force at a given speed for any vehicle for which only the drag area is known and therefore easier comparison. As drag area CdA is the fundamental value that determines power required for a given cruise speed it is a critical parameter for fuel consumption at a steady speed. This relation also allows an estimation of the new top speed of a car with a tuned engine:

Or the power required for a target top speed:

Average full-size passenger cars have a drag area of roughly 8 sq ft (0.74 m2). Reported drag areas range from the 1999 Honda Insight at 5.1 sq ft (0.47 m2) to the 2003 Hummer H2 at 26.5 sq ft (2.46 m2). The drag area of a bicycle (and rider) is also in the range of 6.5–7.5 sq ft (0.60–0.70 m2).[4]

Example drag coefficients[edit]

The average modern automobile achieves a drag coefficient of between 0.25 and 0.3. Sport utility vehicles (SUVs), with their typically boxy shapes, typically achieve a Cd=0.35–0.45. The drag coefficient of a vehicle is affected by the shape of body of the vehicle. Various other characteristics affect the coefficient of drag as well, and are taken into account in these examples. Many sports cars have a surprisingly high drag coefficient, as downforce implies drag, while others are designed to be highly aerodynamic in pursuit of a speed and efficiency, and as a result have much lower drag coefficients.

Note that the Cd of a given vehicle will vary depending on which wind tunnel it is measured in. Variations of up to 5% have been documented[5] and variations in test technique and analysis can also make a difference. So if the same vehicle with a drag coefficient of Cd=0.30 was measured in a different tunnel it could be anywhere from Cd=0.285 to Cd=0.315.

Production Vehicles
Calendar Year Automobile Cd
1938 Volkswagen Beetle 0.48[6][7]
2018 Jeep Wrangler (JL) 0.454[8]
2012 Pagani Huayra 0.31 [9]
2019 Toyota Corolla (E210, UK) 0.31 [10]
2001 Toyota Prius 0.29[11]
2005 Chevrolet Corvette C6 0.286[12]
2012 Tesla Model S 0.24 [13]
2017 Tesla Model 3 0.23[14]
2019 Porsche Taycan Turbo 0.22[15][a]
2021 Mercedes-Benz EQS 0.20[16][b]
2022 Lucid Air 0.197[17][c]
2024 Xiaomi SU7 0.195[18]
1996 General Motors EV1 0.19[19]

Concept and Experimental Vehicles
Calendar Year Automobile Cd
1952 Alfa Romeo Disco Volante 0.26
1933 Dymaxion Car 0.25
1954 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7 Concept 0.19 [20]
2021 Aptera SEV (2019 relaunch) 0.13[21]
2000 General Motors Precept Concept 0.16 [22]
2022 Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX 0.170 [23]
2013 Volkswagen XL1 0.19[24]
2018 Ecorunner 8 (Shell Eco-marathon) Prototype 0.045
2022 Sunswift 7 0.095[25] [26]

Automobile examples of CdA[27]
CdA sqft CdA m2 Automobile model
3.00 sq ft 0.279 m2 2011 Volkswagen XL1
3.95 sq ft 0.367 m2 1996 GM EV1
5.52 sq ft 0.513 m2 2019 Porsche Taycan Turbo[15]
6.0 sq ft 0.56 m2 2001 Honda Insight[28]
6.05 sq ft 0.562 m2 2012 Tesla Model S P85[28]
6.20 sq ft 0.576 m2 2014 Toyota Prius[28]
8.79 sq ft 0.817 m2 1956 Citroën DS Spécial[29]
13.0 sq ft 1.21 m2 2019 Ram 1500[30]
17 sq ft 1.6 m2 2013 Mercedes-Benz G-Class[31]

Concept/experimental cars
CdA sqft CdA m2 Automobile model
0.21 sq ft 0.020 m2 Pac-car II[32]
2.04 sq ft 0.190 m2 2011 Aptera 2 Series[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ in Range mode in combination with a low level and closed air intake flaps
  2. ^ w/ 19-inch AMG wheel/tire combination in "Sport" driving mode
  3. ^ w/ 19-inch wheel/tire combination


  1. ^ Wang, Brian (2009-03-16). "Reducing Drag on Cars and Trucks by 15-18%". Next Big Future. Archived from the original on 2018-01-29. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  2. ^ Turner, Mike. "Aerocivic - Honda Civic modifications for maximum gas mileage -". aerocivic. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  3. ^ Guinn, Wayne D. "Camaro Spoiler Equipment". Camaro - Untold Secrets. US. Archived from the original on 2000-05-19.
  4. ^ "(a bicycle's lower frontal area is offset by a higher drag coefficient)". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
  5. ^ Hoyt, Wade (October 1985). "Shaping up tomorrow's cars". Popular Mechanics: 131.
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  8. ^ Visnic, Bill (2017-12-18). "Level Zero hero". SAE International. Archived from the original on 2019-05-29. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  9. ^ "TG meets the Pagani Huayra - BBC Top Gear". 2012-06-08. Archived from the original on 2011-08-28. Retrieved 2013-04-05.
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  11. ^ "2001 Toyota Prius Press Kit" (Press release). Australia: Toyota. 2001-10-04. Retrieved 2020-07-10.
  12. ^ "2006 Chevrolet Corvette" (Press release). US: General Motors. 2005. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
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  14. ^ "Press Kit" (Press release). Tesla. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  15. ^ a b "Aerodynamics: The best value of all current Porsche models" (Press release). 2019-09-04. Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  16. ^ "The new EQS: passion for electromobility" (Press release). Stuttgart. 2021-04-03. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  17. ^ "Lucid Air Touring and Air Pure Now Ready for the Road with Market-Leading Range and Aero; Air Sapphire Dominates Test Tracks on the Way to 2023 Introduction" (Press release). Newark, California. 2022-11-15. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  18. ^ Lye, Gerard (2023-12-28). "Xiaomi SU7 debuts in China – brand's first EV; up to 673 PS, 838 Nm, 800 km range, 265 km/h top speed". Paul Tan's Automotive News. Retrieved 2023-12-28.
  19. ^ Brown, Aaron (2016-03-16). "Here's the story behind GM's revolutionary electric car from the 90s that disappeared". Business Insider. Insider Inc. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  20. ^ "1954 Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7". Retrieved 2019-11-15.
  21. ^ "Aptera Vehicle Features". Retrieved 2024-05-01.
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  23. ^ "VISION EQXX – taking electric range and efficiency to an entirely new level". Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  24. ^ ZOELLTER, JUERGEN (2013-06-14). "2014 Volkswagen XL1". Car and Driver. Hearst Communications, Inc. Retrieved 2017-12-25.
  25. ^ "Australian solar-powered race car nets Guinness World Record after nail-biting finish". ABC News. 2022-12-19. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  26. ^ Martin, Neil (2022-12-19). "EV record breakers! Sunswift 7 goes 1000km on a single charge in world's best time". UNSW Newsroom. Retrieved 2023-11-12.
  27. ^ "The Mayfield Company Homepage - Coefficient of Drag Tables and Curves". Retrieved 2010-12-07.
  28. ^ a b c Sherman, Don. "Drag Queens: Aerodynamics Compared" (PDF). Car and Driver. No. June 2014. Hearst Communications. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
  29. ^ "Aerodynamics". Le Double Chevron (#59). 1980.
  30. ^ "2019 Ram 1500 – More Space. More Storage. More Technology". Archived from the original on 2018-01-16. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  31. ^ "Taking the drag out of aerodynamics: Aerodynamics world champion in almost all vehicle classes" (Press release). Daimler. 2013-10-05. Retrieved 2021-03-02.
  32. ^ Santin, J. J.; Onder, C.H.; Bernard, J.; Isler, D.; Kobler, P.; Kolb, F.; Weidmann, N.; Guzzella, L. (2007). The world's most fuel efficient vehicle : design and development of Pac Car II. Zürich: vdf, Hochschulverlag AG and der ETH. p. 113. ISBN 978-3-7281-3134-8.
  33. ^ "Power Consumption - IGSS'13". Retrieved 2015-09-30.

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