These 16 Cars Are Bucking America's Anti-Car Trend in 2017

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Through the first eight months of 2017, consumers across America have acquired 12 percent fewer new passenger cars than during the first eight months of 2016.

That’s a drop of 565,000 sales, a rate of decline that stands in stark contrast to the U.S. auto industry’s 4-percent year-over-year light truck improvement. Cars now account for just 37 percent of all auto sales, down from more than 50 percent as recently as 2012. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some auto brands are selling more cars this year than last, and a wide variety of cars are accelerating their sales pace. Subaru, for example, has already sold 17,981 more Imprezas in 2017 than in the same period of 2016.

So we’ve compiled a list of every passenger car that’s making meaningful headway in America’s anti-car market — the cars that are selling more and more often even as many of their competitors suffer under the weight of a pro-F150, pro-RAV4, pro-Escalade ESV wave.

The list is not very long.

For the Subaru Impreza, or any newly launched model, year-over-year tallies are often aided by the fact that sales had tapered off in the prior year as customers waited for the launch of a new model. Indeed, Impreza sales slowed 17 percent in 2016 in advance of the current model’s arrival. Nevertheless, Subaru is on track to more than meet historic Impreza demand levels. Not including the WRX/STI offshoots, the Impreza sedan and hatch are on track for nearly 85,000 sales in 2017, well ahead of historic rates.

The Volkswagen Golf, meanwhile, is reaping the benefits of a fast-growing SportWagen/Alltrack variant. Golf hatchback sales are up, but only by 2 percent. Yet with the Alltrack bolstering the SportWagen, wagons now account for 41 percent of U.S. Golf sales, up from 21 percent a year ago.

Premium nameplates account for more than one-quarter of the cars on the list. In the case of the Audi A4, sales of Audi’s 3 Series challenger are on track for to rise to a post-recession high. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class, on the other hand, is simply recovering from a particularly low stretch — E-Class sales in 2017 are still on track to be 30 percent lower than they were three years ago.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mitsubishi Mirage is up 5 percent, helped by the launch of a blisteringly hot and spicy Mirage G4 sedan. 2017 is set to be the fourth consecutive year of Mirage sales growth.

But it’s at the top of the heap where a 96-percent year-over-year improvement allows Audi’s expanded, second-generation A5 lineup to earn Most Improved credentials. After falling to an eight-year low at the end of the first-gen A5’s tenure in 2016, Audi has already reported more A5 sales in 2017’s first eight months than in all of 2016. Over the last four months, May through August, A5 Coupe/Cabriolet/Sportback sales have nearly tripled. If that rate of growth continues in the final third of 2017, this year will match 2013 as the A5 lineup’s best year ever.

That doesn’t sound like doom and gloom, at least not for this small group of cars flying directly into blustery headwinds.

Car2017 8 Months2016 8 Months% ChangeReal Volume AddedAudi A511,5975,92695.7%+5,671Subaru Impreza58,26540,28444.6%+17,981Volkswagen Golf49,79136,51336.4%+13,278Mazda MX-5 Miata8,8717,08825.2%+1,783Nissan Leaf9,6857,92222.3%+1,763Toyota Corolla iM/Scion iM14,31312,07918.5%+2,234Volkswagen Beetle11,4049,82016.1%+1,584Toyota Yaris iA/Scion iA25,47221,94916.1%+3,523Kia Forte81,46171,35214.2%+10,109BMW 4 Series26,62923,74712.1%+2,882Audi A422,66720,49610.6%+2,171Chevrolet Cruze133,966122,7969.1%+11,170Mercedes-Benz C-Class52,75549,7346.1%+3,021Mercedes-Benz E-Class31,06829,3265.9%+1,742Mitsubishi Mirage16,80415,9945.1%+810Dodge Challenger47,49645,4434.5%+2,053

For the purposes of this list, with sales info sourced from automakers and more detailed figures from the Automotive News Data Center, we sought out cars with meaningful volume of at least 1,000 U.S. sales per month (thereby excluding low-volume models more prone to sharp year-over-year percentage swings). We also excluded any models that weren’t on sale throughout the first eight months of 2016, vehicles that would obviously report much higher sales this year than last. 16 cars remained.

[Images: Subaru, Audi, Volkswagen]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

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  • APaGttH APaGttH on Sep 20, 2017

    How much of Corolla/Yaris growth is due to the death of Scion and the combining of Yaris/iA and Corolla/iM numbers in this model year.

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    • VW4motion VW4motion on Sep 20, 2017

      @stuntmonkey I'm not a Corolla driver and probably never will be. But , it is a nice looking sedan and they hold there value. In my area 5 yo ones with 100k are still going for $9-10k

  • Freddie Freddie on Sep 20, 2017

    At some point we need to update the vocabulary. I usually say "There's Bob's car", not "There's Bob's SUV" or "There's Bob's crossover". Maybe the what we now call a CUV is the new "sedan", while the traditional sedan is a lower, sportier sedan, a "sport sedan".

    • See 1 previous
    • DweezilSFV DweezilSFV on Sep 21, 2017

      @Lorenzo + 1000, Lorenzo. Add in stupidly wide and tall consoles and the ever growing A & B pillars, lack of outward visibility and it's no wonder "sedans are dying off".

  • Scott What people want is the Jetson Car sound.This has come up before.
  • Joerg I just bought a Corolla Cross Hybrid SE a few weeks ago, and I regret it. But not for any of the reasons stated so far. It drives well enough for me, gas mileage is great for a car like that, the interior is fine, nothing to complain about for normal daily use. I bought this relatively small SUV thinking it is basically just a smaller version of the RAV4 (the RAV4 felt too big for me, drives like a tank, so I never really considered it). I also considered the AWD Prius, but storage capacity is just too small (my dog would not fit in the small and low cargo space).But there are a few things that I consider critical for me, and that I thought would be a given for any SUV (and therefore did not do my due diligence before the purchase): It can’t use snow chains per the manual, nor any other snow traction devices. Even with AWD, snow chains are sometimes required where I go, or just needed to get out of a stuck situation.The roof rack capacity is only a miniscule 75 lbs, so I can’t really load my roof top box with stuff for bigger trips.Ironically, the European version allows snow chains and roof rack capacity is 165 lbs. Same for the US Prius version. What was Toyota thinking?Lastly, I don’t like that there is no spare tire, but I knew that before the purchase. But it is ridiculous that this space is just filled up with a block of foam. At least it should be made available for additional storage. In hindsight, I should have bought a RAV4. The basic LE Hybrid version would have been just about 1k more.
  • MaintenanceCosts Looks like the best combination of capability, interior comfort, and subtle appearance can be achieved by taking a Laramie (crew cab, short bed, 4x4 of course) and equipping it with the Sport Appearance, Towing Technology, and Level 2 packages as well as a few standalone options. That's my pick.Rebel is too CRUSH THAT CAN BRO and Limited and up are too cowboy Cadillac.
  • Xidex easier to buy a mustang that already sounds like that. love the coyote growl
  • Oberkanone Shaker motor on an EV. No thanks.