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Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?

Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?

Cars tend to get bigger with every generation. It's kind of the evolution process playing out as focus groups and customer surveys want more power, quieter interiors and more space. But how out of control has this gotten? Well, for some companies, it's way out of control.

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Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?

Let's take Audi as an example. The 2015 Audi S3 shown in New York recently will be available as a sedan for the first time. Lots of people realized the size was very similar to the first Audi A4's, launched in 1995. The A4 has done three significant revisions since then and it's now a considerably larger vehicle, leaving room in the lineup for something that's sized like the old old old A4.

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In fact, the A3 sedan isn't really larger than the B5 A4, coming in about an inch shorter in length and very slightly shorter in height, although it's about 2 inches wider than the A4. Otherwise, it's a dead ringer for the old car that was the step-up model from the original A3 (at least in Europe).

This obsession over numbers gets me thinking: how do certain dimensions of current "compact" cars compare with vehicles that were considered midsize-ish a couple of decades ago? Here are a few examples I found in my research.

Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
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Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?

Ford Focus vs. Ford Tempo

The Focus sedan is 1.5 inches longer than a 1993 Ford Tempo sedan, which would’ve been intended to compete in the class above the Focus’ predecessor, the Escort. The second-generation Tempo never struck me as a particularly short car, and it wasn't, at more than 15-feet long. The Focus sedan, while looking totally compact by today's standards, is actually 1.5 inches longer than the old Tempo. It's also 3.5 inches wider and almost half a foot taller. By the numbers, the new Focus is massive for a small car.

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Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
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Mercedes-Benz CLA vs. Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W202)

Especially in comparison to the upright looking C-Class of the 1990s, the CLA looks svelte and athletic. Mercedes was still doing cars in rectilinear formats and crazy curves wouldn't enter their design language for another several years. So it surprised me a bit to find out that the swoopy-but-compact CLA is 5 inches longer than the old C. The 2 inches it has on the old car in width isn't surprising, but the CLA "four-door coupe" being half an inch taller than the boxy car is odd. Now I want to put every old Merc in a lineup against the modern coupes.

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Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
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Dodge Dart vs. Dodge Stratus

It took Will Ferrel to cement the Dodge Stratus into the minds of the people because it was ultimately a forgettable car. But it had one interesting design detail in that the hood was actually wider than it was long, thanks to the ever-so-’90s Cab Forward design. In fact, it was a pretty wide car for its time. But the heir to its baby brother Neon, the modern-day Dart, actually has the Stratus beat on width by a smidge. While the Dart is still 2 inches shorter than the Stratus, it dwarfs the old Camry rival by about 4 inches in height.

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Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
Illustration for article titled Just How Massive Are New Cars Compared To 20-Year-Old Ones?
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BMW 1-series coupe vs. BMW 3-series coupe (E36)

The 1-series coupe is my favorite BMW model line right now because its perhaps the most vivid reminder of how all of the company's products felt to drive. It's also the smallest car and that's a good thing, because BMWs look positively huge these days, even the 3-series. So how does it stack up against the E36? The old car is still longer by more than 2 inches and the 1 Coupe is 2 inches taller and wider.

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OK, so the entry level BMW hasn't become a massive car (yet) like the Ford and Dodge sedans that used to be compacts. But what other cars are out there that you've walked up to and said, "When did this turn into such a huge beast?" At least that's what I say sometimes.

Your turn. How do your favorite new cars stack up against their older counterparts?

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Photos: Audi, Flickr/asgw; Ford, Flickr/order_242; Mercedes-Benz; Chrysler Group, Flickr/aharden; BMW

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DISCUSSION

DarthDuster
DarthDuster

Complaining about model bloat is like complaining about the weather - there's nothing you can do about it and everybody has an opinion.

Two main factors drive car design: Legislation and increased features (the latter true of almost any product design).

Legislation determines how strong, safe, economical and environmentally friendly your vehicle is. This is probably the single biggest factor in determining the shape and size of cars on our roads today. You cannot have small, light delicate cars with slim pillars and pass today's crash tests. No free lunches people.

Feature creep happens because it's easier to increase the equipment and systems on a car and convince you you need them rather than leave them out and convince you you don't. Like I said, this is a truism of almost all consumer product design. This happens because no manufacturer wants to start a race to the bottom, which will ultimately end up consuming them all as they seek to undercut each other. With car manufacturers particularly, a lot of the sub systems are the products of tier one component suppliers - so if one has a particular feature they all end up having it.