It has been said that sedans are dying, that the masses are hankering for oval-shaped raised hatches called “crossovers” and that the three-box shape isn’t long for this world. That would be a damn shame, though, because carmakers like Acura are just now getting the proportions right, at least when it comes to the front-wheel-drive sedans.
Now, a cab-back layout is not necessarily an unusual design for a sedan. In fact, most rear-wheel-drive sedans are configured this way, with an expansive hood shooting out from the windshield and a shorter overhang between the front axle and the bumper. With a RWD drivetrain and a longitudinal engine, this configuration helps keep the more of the weight of the motor between the axles, improving handling but sacrificing some interior space to the mechanical bits that make up the rear of the engine and the transmission.
Acura’s Type S concept car, which debuted earlier this week, is not a production model just yet but Acura says that the design will have a substantial influence on the forthcoming TLX. This is a good thing because Acura’s designers have managed to get something fundamental incredibly right about this design. They managed to push the greenhouse back far behind the front wheels to give the car a “cab-back” design.
Volvo has also taken this approach with its S90. We were all incredibly impressed a few years ago when Volvo’s big sedan came out. It was hard to believe the car was front-drive with its long hood and pulled-back windshield and it continues to turn my head every time I see one. Volvo has said that its want its FWD cars to feel more like the rear-wheels are driven from a driver’s perspective, but it seems like its looking to bring that impression to styling as well.
One concern that can worrisome about these cab-back designs is interior space. In RWD sedans, the encroachment of the transmission tunnel into the interior of the car means space is limited, particularly for the occupants of the front seats. In the rear seats, space also gets limited by the driveline components stretching from the gearbox to the rear differential.
A front-wheel drive sedan typically doesn’t have those problems (and when I drove an S90 it seemed like all 6'3" of me fits just fine) but it is worth considering.
The Type S Concept and the S90 represent a real change from the heyday of the large front-wheel-drive sedans of the ’90s when Chrysler had then-subsidiary Lamborghini help dream up a new direction for its big cars. The result was the LH platform, a cab-forward design that maximized interior space by pushing the windshield up as close to the front axle as possible.
And don’t get me wrong, these cars are cool and they’re even pretty attractive, but I know I, like Acura and Volvo’s designers, am much more drawn to a shape that elongates the car and gives a much better impression of what’s under the hood than what’s in the cabin. So, here’s hoping the look of the Type S concept comes to life.