Dearest Jalopnik readers, we are gathered here together today to mourn the loss of the full-size luxury sedan. It was killed by the luxury SUV in an epic battle royale for the hearts, and minds, and wallets of people who shop at Whole Foods.
Yes, folks, that’s right: I believe the time has come to eulogize the luxury sedan. Like an 11-year-old playing recreational soccer, the luxury sedan tried its hardest, and we must commend it for that. But the luxury SUV is like the 13-year-old who just moved to town and apparently went through puberty in the womb. It’s more athletic. It’s better looking. And it certainly gets more girls.
Allow me to explain.
Back in the and 1950s, and 1960s, and 1970s, and 1980s, if you wanted to show people you were wealthy, you bought a luxury sedan. Back then, the luxury sedan was the pride of the auto industry: you’d buy a Cadillac, or a Lincoln, or a Mercedes-Benz, and then you’d drive around by yourself in this enormous five-passenger vehicle with a trunk so large that the Kennedy Space Center considered it an alternate site for rocket launches.
This continued into the 1990s. There was that big, boxy, beautiful S-Class marveled the world over by dictators and diplomats alike for its sturdy construction and elegant materials. There was that handsome “E38” BMW 7 Series that managed to combine opulent wealth and truly impressive driving dynamics. And also I think Audi was trying to sell something.
And then, in 1998, the luxury car segment was turned on its head. That’s because the 1998 model year marked the arrival of two highly important new luxury vehicles: the original Mercedes M-Class, a tremendously impressive, seminal vehicle that forever altered the world of the luxury car. And the original Lincoln Navigator, a tremendously impressive, seminal vehicle that forever altered the world of the airport limo driver.
Ha ha! I am just kidding. The Navigator, of course, forever altered the world of the full-size luxury SUV, which later gave rise to the Range Rover Sport, and the Cadillac Escalade, and the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and that gigantic Infiniti that looks like a bullet train with a thyroid condition.
Now, when luxury SUVs first came out, I distinctly remember that people thought of them as luxury cars for women. “Oh, I drive a 7 Series,” a wealthy businessman might say. “And my wife has an X5.” Or, from a rich attorney: “I drive an S-Class, and my wife has an ML320,” he would announce. “And I bought my mistress a CLK, so she can commute from her grueling job as a restaurant hostess to her challenging arts school, where she is creating a life-size zebra using toothpicks.”
The general feeling at the time was, men would stick to their manly, masculine luxury sedans, while women could cart around the family in this newfangled crop of luxury SUVs. But then, something happened: over the last ten years, things have changed like a once-sleepy Portland neighborhood that added a new farm-to-table restaurant.
It started slowly. A man would buy, for example, a Range Rover Sport. Or a Cadillac Escalade. And he would realize: Wait a second! This thing has just as much luxury as my S-Class! And it has better visibility! And more road presence! And just as much uncontrolled, vomit-inducing body roll around any corner tighter than a highway onramp!
After that, it didn’t take long for luxury SUVs to spread like wildfire. And by now, we’ve reached the point where everyone has them: Men. Women. Young people. Rich people. People with dogs. People who post on wristwatch forums. People who think IKEA is an acceptable weekend activity. People who haggle with hotel desk clerks. People who eat tree sap. People who use varnish. People who know what varnish is. People who believe butterflies are the reincarnation of Satan on earth. People who like Boston. People who would pay big money for a giant toothpick zebra. They’ve all moved on from luxury sedans. And now they’re driving around in luxury SUVs, looking down on the peons below from their leather-lined cocoons, ready to destroy anything in their way, including good taste and stylistic restraint.
So where does this leave luxury sedan? I’ll tell you where: dead. Actually, that isn’t quite accurate: its owners are dead. The people who once bought luxury sedans have gotten old, and the segment’s formerly loyal customers — dark-haired businessmen who weave through traffic while closing deals on Bluetooth — have now moved on to Range Rovers, and X6s, and Cayennes, and Thyroid Bullet Trains.
In a sentence: traditional luxury sedans simply aren’t cool anymore.
Instead, the luxury SUV is cool. The Tesla Model S is cool. But the full-fat, gas-powered, giant luxury sedan has gone the way of the dinosaur: extinct, save for the foolish elderly rich man who spares no expense.
To prove my point, here’s a homework assignment: as you drive around over the next few days, glance behind the wheel of the next dozen new S-Classes and Lexus LS460s and BMW 7 Series you see. My guess is you’ll notice precisely three types of people: young guys with dealer plates. Old guys with limo plates. And really old guys who think “Cayenne” is a city in South America where the cleaning lady is from.
And so I say: goodbye, dear luxury sedan. Rest in peace. And be ready to take that call from the Kennedy Space Center if there’s ever too much wind on Cape Canaveral. It will come through your corded car phone.
Top Image: Jason Torchinsky
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.