By on October 9, 2008

Rising gas prices and lagging credit markets should spell a revival of the small car in America, but MSN Autos reports that (duh) mid-sized family sedans keep getting bigger and bigger. And it’s not as simple as just pointing out that the Accord has gained 1,400 pounds and 200 hp since it was first introduced. Cars like the Accord and Hyundai Sonata have outgrown their EPA mid-sized ratings and are now classified as “large sedans.” The new 2009 Mazda6 has grown seven inches longer and two inches wider in response to customer complaints that the sporty sedan didn’t offer enough interior volume to compete with the Accord, Camry and Altima. And with more weight, power and size come higher prices: the Mazda6 now tops out at a hefty $34k while returning only 17/25 mpg in V6 trim. Most D-Segment standards now won’t hit 30 mpg on the highway, although improved size, power and safety mitigate some of those concerns. But with CAFE standards headed up, America’s D-Segment sedans may have reached a high-water mark in size and power. Already premium performance sedans like Acura’s TSX and Audi’s S4 are seeing their horsepower numbers decline, and a reduction in size and weight could be in the cards for future D-Class competitors. Meanwhile, sales of compact cars continue to boom, while larger sedans struggle. But will family sedans become the new {SUVs} crossovers, offering family hauling at relatively higher efficiency than the Explorers and Tahoes of yore, or will they wither on the vine as Americans go compact? As Linda Richman would say, discuss.

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41 Comments on “America’s D-Segment Flab...”


  • avatar
    menno

    Put another way, my Prius has interior room within 1/2 inch in every direction, compared to the Mercury Marquis / Ford Crown Vic. Yet people think the Prius is “that cute LITTLE ‘economy’ car”. Duh.

    Then my Newfoundland jumps out of the back seat and the faces of the general public make for SUCH a picture, I should carry a camera with me.

    As for our Sonata, yeah, that sucker is HUGE inside. I euphamistically call the trunk a “five body mafia trunk”.

    Helping our son move furniture with my little utility trailer on Saturday, he said “dad, don’t worry, I can get all 6 chairs in the car”. Never will…. These chairs are from 1968 – huge rotating black vinyl dining room table chairs on massive posts, with 4-leg cast alloy bases.

    He got 4 in the back seat and 2 in the trunk. I nearly fainted.

  • avatar
    gamper

    From a sales perspective, I can totally understand why Mazda made the new Mazda6 larger. The old version was similar in proportions to the current Honda Civic. The Mazda3 and old version of the Mazda6 were practically competing with eachother.

    I dont think that they will continue to grow, there is such emphasis now on weight that did not really exist when these cars were being engineered. I do agree with your point though that a large “Mid Sized” car like the new Mazda6, Accord make decent alternatives for those trading in SUVs. I have considered such a switch.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    And some of the “compacts” are now epa mid-size. But new smaller cars keep coming, like the Fit and Versa. Also, the Civic is coming close to outselling the Accord this year.

    It’s a marketing thing that each new generation has to be bigger and better. But the sales of the Mazda 3 will eclipse the Mazda 6 (if they haven’t already), the Civic will eclipse the Accord, and the Corolla will exclipse the Camry.

    Families need seats and versitility, not just 5 seats and a trunk in a bigger car. Mazda 5 like cars will become more and more popular for them.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    I’m not sure I would use the TSX as an example of much of anything here. It certainly flabbed up with the best (worst?) of them in its latest iteration, and its decline in peak horsepower was inconsequential, especially since it gained some (not enough) low-end torque.

    What I find more interesting is the Maxima, which actually shrunk in its latest iteration. Is this what happens when the flagship becomes too large? Or is this an aberration, and will other automakers drop their full-size cars once the midsizers move up into that spot?

  • avatar
    gamper

    Noslushbox, the Mazda3 does and has been outselling the Mazda6 by a wide margin.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I can’t think of a single occurence when a car hasn’t been replaced by an even bigger car. Cars just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It has always been that way. And when they have grown too big, the automakers invent a new, smaller line. That keeps getting bigger and bigger with every generation. Except for the downsizing of the 70’s, I can’t come up with any examples.

  • avatar
    hurls

    Well, I’d say that the last gen to now gen TSX is an interesting example as someone who will be giving a 2006 TSX back to honda leasing next summer and has no interest in the flabby new one (unless the diesel version is out in time, I suppose).

    But what really kills me is how inefficient the new smaller gen cars are. I know that the EPA standards have tightened up a lot, but compare anything but the base Mazda 3 to the EPA-revised 2006 TSX numbers and you don’t find a lot of difference. Even a Nissan Versa barely cracks 30 on the highway if you don’t go for the CVT model.

    I guess I’m just saying the bloat is (obviously) everywhere… and I think it will probably have an affect on all classes, not just the D-segment. As someone who’s starting to shop now, I wouldn’t mind going down a class or two, but there’s really not much of a fuel economy benefit to be had there (barring going tiny like a Mini — definitely on the hot list) or going hybrid/diesel.

    As a side note: sometimes I wish we had kept my wife’s 90 CRX instead of my 90 miata — that thing was a true 35+ MPG gas sipper while still being fun to drive! Guess we won’t see those days again until manufacturers start putting some money into lightening their vehicles… maybe honda will have enough money to do so!

  • avatar
    davey49

    Is it really that bad having a few different sized sedans? Do we have to be stuck with 2-3 sizes?
    And the current mid sizes are still not as large as 1960s intermediates. Personally I think the people who go from a big SUV to a sedan are making a mistake. They lose all the utility. They should get a small SUV or wagon instead.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Count me in the camp that thinks the old Mazda 6 was a decent mid-sized car. The civic, corolla, 3 are all too big IMO, as well the current behemoth we call the Camry, Accord, Altima.

    And for everyone that says the Crown Vic is a “big” car, I’ve never been more uncomfortable than riding around in one of those. Size alone doesn’t make up for zero ergonomics. You can design a very small car to be very comfortable.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Ingvar : The 2008 Corvette is shorter and lighter than both the 1988 and 1998 versions.

    I tested the Miata but it has grown very slightly in weight and length over the generations.

    I can’t even start to think of any mainstream cars that have been shortened or lightened.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Ingvar :

    I can’t think of a single occurence when a car hasn’t been replaced by an even bigger car.

    I believe the latest Maxima and Altima finally broke that trend by shrinking an inch or two from the previous generation.

  • avatar
    hurls

    davey’s got a good point — where the heck are the wagons from these folks? I understand people want CUVs, but a wagon on the same platform is typically lighter, better handling and more fuel efficient. The euros still offer them (and I love my e46 wagon), but the japanese have simply stopped offering them in this segment. Which pisses ME (and maybe no one else) off royally.

    All would be forgiven with the new TSX if they offered an acura version of the euro accord wagon :)

  • avatar
    davey49

    hurls- a lot of people on other forums (especially CR) are waiting for an Accord or Camry wagon. I can’t imagine that’s the end of demand but the carmakers will claim there isn’t enough.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I don’t see a problem. Some people like to drive big cars. The 4-cylinder versions of those big sedans get decent mileage anyway.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    If new cars were not so exspensive as to require a big loan for purchase and gas prices were low, I think some folks would not bother to buy a small car. The major reasons people buy small cars are for the cost and/or fuel prices. For Example: If we lived in a society where money did not exist and you had a choice over say a base KIA Rio or a Lexus ES, why would you choose the KIA? The only reason small cheap ass cars are around is that they are small and cheap and may get a little better mileage than a larger car. Just my humble opinion.

  • avatar
    kkleinwi

    newcarscostalot – Did you have to go to college to learn that stuff or are you just a savant of some sort?

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    I am naturally that smart.

  • avatar
    Liger

    The Mercury Marquis / Ford Crown Vic are old, poorly packaged cars whose interior is not nearly as roomy as the cars external dimensions would suggest. From what I understand the Prius is about as roomy as the last generation Camry, slightly bigger than the Corolla.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Everything old is new again. In the 1980s we saw a radical downsizing of what where then the mainstream American cars. I suspect we will see that again in the decade ahead if money stays tight and fuel expensive. But on the other hand, crude oil prices are in free fall right now and some forecasters are predicting we will soon be back to $40/barrel, which means around $1.50/gallon for gasoline.

    These are strange times right now and nobody really has a clue what is going to happen next.

  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    I had occasion to rent a G6 last weekend. My overall impression? What a remarkably uninspired car. If I could have what I want I’d be out buying a Mazda6. But here’s the thing: even in the G6 we were comfortable and I never wanted for more power (4 cyl/A). Could have taken 5 people(but, fortuntely, it was just two). Got 27.5 mpg over 400 (mostly hwy.) miles. If you compare it to a late 60’s malibu, your talking roughly the same horsepower with half the cylinders and maybe 30% better milage, much cleaner breathing.

    I guess that’s something, huh?

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Well, you get ALOT more car for your money when you choose mid-sized/large sedans.

    Corolla for 17k or much roomier Camry for 19k OTD?
    Civic for 18k or Accord for 21k OTD?

    And keep in mind when you sell the bigger car you get a few grand more for your money.

    It makes no sense to downsize. Especially since small-car plastics/seat cushions/radios/wheels are total shXt.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    Yes, Mainstream sedans are getting bigger, but is that a problem? As long as a vehicle gets highway mileage somewhere in the mid 20s or higher it is generally accepted has having good fuel economy in this country. Many people are willing to give up a little fuel economy in exchange for comfort, space, and features. I keep my thermostat set at 68 degrees, which means my electric bill is higher than those who suffer through the day at 75, but the expense is worth it for me to be comfortable in my home.

    One big drive in the proliferation of small cars lately is that the compacts are cheap (on a side note, can we get away from this a/b/c/d segment crap? cars come in compact/midsize/fullsize. I can possibly agree to allow subcompact, but anything else is shit). When someone comes in and wants to buy (not lease) a new car with a payment $300 a month or less, compact is pretty much the only option.

  • avatar
    vwet9394

    romanjetfighter, what state are you in?

    Here in Northern CA, Corolla is 15.5K, Camry is 19K.
    http://cdn.travidia.com/rop-sub/23777519
    http://cdn.travidia.com/rop-sub/23777525

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Well, you get ALOT more car for your money when you choose mid-sized/large sedans.

    Corolla for 17k or much roomier Camry for 19k OTD?
    Civic for 18k or Accord for 21k OTD?

    I think I have to disagree. Buying just that little bit more on the off-chance you might need it has gotten us into the state we’re in.

    I’d like to propose an alternative: why pay 19K for a Camry when you can get a Corolla, which is just as well-trimmed, about as comfortable and gets better mileage for $17 or less. Heck, step the materials feel down a peg and the Yaris is actually more spacious, more fun to drive and gets amazing mileage.

    I’ve been shopping recently, and I have real trouble justifying larger cars.

  • avatar
    DeanMTL

    ^ Why even think about the Corolla when a Mazda3 sedan is like a mini-BMW performance-wise?

  • avatar
    Rix

    Subaru Impreza WRX got 2 inches shorter in the ’08 model when they moved to a hatch.
    However, the car added 80lbs, because some parts were switched to steel from Aluminum as a cost saving measure.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    ^ Why even think about the Corolla when a Mazda3 sedan is like a mini-BMW performance-wise?

    Well, the 3 rides a lot harder and doesn’t give you quite the same mileage. Rather like Lexus, really.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    a lot of people on other forums (especially CR) are waiting for an Accord or Camry wagon. I can’t imagine that’s the end of demand but the carmakers will claim there isn’t enough.

    I love 4-cyl DOHC wagons. The last decent (reliable) ones were the Camry and Accord in the mid-90s. The whole point behind the 1st gen Highlander was to get you to pay $5k more for a tall Camry wagon. Which we’ve gladly done. I guess you can count the Legacy as well, but the mpg and weight penalty of AWD earns it an asterick.

    I was disappointed when the last gen Mazda6 only offered the 6 cyl in their wagon. I was also very disappointed when they barely sold.

  • avatar
    CyberNick

    We’re currently driving a 2007 Mazda 6 hatch model and we feel its size is just right for us. We are disappointed by the new larger Mazda 6 mainly because of its size, we went to see it in person at the local dealer a few weeks ago. I see many of them on the road now too, so they seem to be selling well. The Mazda 3 for 2010 seems to have gotten larger too, it seems nearly as large as the first gen 6. I would like it if Mazda brings the smaller 2 to NA. I think it would be a great second vehicle for our family.

  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    Psarhjinian makes a good point. There are smaller nice cars out there, I actually think the Suzuki SX4 Crossover or Pontiac Vibe are good small cars with added value such as AWD and stability control. On-Star is a neat feature. I feel that if people did a little homework, they might purchase one these cars instead of a used car or cheap, no feature subcompact. Re-sale value is important also.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    I don’t know if you all are aware, but the Altima AND Maxima shrunk AND kept their weight down from the last generation. The 2.5 Altima weighs the same as a Jetta and has a stiffer structure AND more room. AND the Altima weighs about the same as a lot of smaller cars AND gets better fuel economy than a few as well (Jetta, Mazda3.) AND it’s faster.

    The reason a lot of people are buying larger cars is that smaller cars can be uncomfortable. YES, even this day in age, some require you to lock your elbows or have your head way too close to the outside, or it’s deficient in one dimension too many (YMMV.) And if you’re buying a sedan, you’ve usually got someone riding in the back seat, and if you’ve got someone riding in the back seat enough for you to warrant a sedan purchase, chances are you don’t want (the kids) whining about the lack of legroom.

  • avatar
    Rix

    I prefer the dynamics of a smaller car and have the cash to buy what I please. I am surprised that the American auto industry has missed the entire compact luxury market. Where is the American 3-series? Or American Mini? Or even Civic competitor? Lexus has the IS, BMW the 3-series, Audi the A3, Acura the TSX….Ford has what, perhaps a $30k Mustang? Not quite the same market. (Volvo does have a model, the something or other but doesn’t get much attention). GM doesn’t even have that.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    I’m in SoCal, and I was comparing the prices of the cars when similarly equipped. I don’t think 15.5k gets you PW/PL?

    And Camry and Corolla and Yaris are totally different when you sit in them. Most any small car feels insides except for Civic or Fit (which are selling for as much as Camrys, check Edmunds Forums). The extra room means I can recline the seat and just snooze for a bit, extra comfort for road trips which people are taking more of now that plane rides are so expensive.

    Psarhjinian – It might be more expensive by a few thousand but you get that back during resale. Also, mid-size cars are safer so… better chance you’ll actually live to resell it?

    Besides, ANY car accident, smaller/unsafe cars = more injuries = bigger medical bills, etc. etc.

  • avatar
    quiksilver180

    Unfortunately I don’t see cars getting any smaller in the future. Us Americans have gotten heavier, which in turn “requires” bigger cars to haul our larger asses around. Sorry, but it’s true.

    About milage, I’m shocked to see my STI gets about 28-30 MPG on the highway (and I’m not very light on the pedal either), while having around 330 HP AND AWD at 3500 lbs. And same with my old 1993 Accord, even though it weighed 2300 lbs… it makes the 08 Accord like a huge porker in all areas.

    Cars seriously need to cut down their weight and size, but it won’t happen because society won’t “allow” it… and it’s quite sad. I personally want to see cars get smaller, because the majority of the time people only drive themselves around, and don’t NEED the 10 cup holders and room for 5 full adults both in the car AND the trunk. Pretty much stop overpopulating and overeating and everything would be okay! Yeah… right.

    Oh well… I’m hoping to see what the next smaller Mini Cooper looks like.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    True, cars have gotten bigger but they have also gotten much more efficient, safer, and cleaner.

    First, compare apples to apples. The Honda Fit is larger and heavier than the first Accord, not to mention that the Civic is larger than the Accord from just 10 years ago.

    Not that long ago it was unheard of for a mid-sized family car to come with a twin-cam V6 with upwards of 250 horsepower… now that is commonplace. However, I agree that the four-cylinder versions of these cars are more than adequate for most needs, if not all of them. It used to be that 200 hp was considered a LOT. Now the entry-level engines are approaching this figure while delivering over 30 mpg highway.

    Also, don’t forget that crash standards and emissions standards are all much tougher than when the Accord was first introduced. This means that cars in every segment are larger and heavier than their predecessors. For example, look at the VW Rabbit. Over 3000 lbs? Really?

  • avatar
    ronin

    Of course, as mid-size cars become classified as large cars based on dimensions, the rental car companies jump on this.

    At one time the Ford Taurus (the original one) was a Hertz mid-size. Now the mid-size category includes (and so Hertz has repeatedly sworn to me) the Cobalt, the Mazda 3, the Corolla.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @no_slushbox :
    I can’t even start to think of any mainstream cars that have been shortened or lightened.

    Mazda2: Significantly shorther and lighter than the last generation.

    @DeanMTL:
    Why even think about the Corolla when a Mazda3 sedan is like a mini-BMW performance-wise?

    The Mazda3 is not “mini” – when it debuted, it was longer than the E46 3-series BMW made then.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @hurls
    All would be forgiven with the new TSX if they offered an acura version of the euro accord wagon :)

    The new Euro Accord wagon is complete garbage compared to it’s own predecessor.

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    IMO Toyota did a good job with the latest Corolla redesign.

    Gen 9 to Gen 10

    Length: 178.3 +0.4
    Width: 66.9 +2.4
    Height: 58.5 -0.8
    Weight: 2530 +215

    Weight is an obvious concern. The change in overall dimension is 2.4% while weight increased 8.5%. I would guess this is due to additional standard safety gear to include airbags and associated structural changes. New brakes & subframe to prepare for the optional 2.4L engine, too.

    In any event, I would really question a C-segment sedan growing beyond this. My 2003 Protege5 slots comfortably between the two generations of Corolla in the height and width measurements, although it is significantly shorter (by 8 inches).

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    As far as cars reducing in size, the only modern examples I can think of are all japanese sports cars (rx7, mr2 spyder, celica). Sedans generally don’t go down in size. I think that the way to go will be to increase interior space and decrease overall size by having smaller engine compartments and overhangs. The future though needs to be more towards things like the scion xB. Lower the ride height on a CUV, throw out the 4wd in favor of traction control and let the mileage increase. Let people pretend their tall wagons can go offroad, they don’t need to. The closet thing to this right now seems to be the xB or the CR-V.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    I don’t understand the need for bigger and bigger at all. Granted, I’m not a breeder, so the only ass I’m hauling around is mine, and sometimes a passenger. I would be perfectly happy and comfortable driving a Mazda MX5 sized car every day. I don’t equate size with comfort. I want my vehicle to fit me. If it’s a cozy fit, I feel comfortable and secure. I don’t want an apartment on wheels. I’m actually disappointed that my new Mazda 3 has so much room. It’s all just waste to me; that’s all these big ass vehicles are to me. Wasted materials, wasted potential. People justify the size increase because the economy stays the same? If they had kept the size the same, the economy, power, and handling would have been even better! I think some of the small car dislike is because of the cheapness and lack of optional features. Generally, you can’t get a small car with a nice interior, or a powerful naturally aspirated engine, or good seats with high quality fabric, or other features. They save that stuff for the larger vehicles. I had hoped that would change, but with fuel prices plummeting, Americans will probably drag their fat asses into huge vehicles again.

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