The car market is pretty fascinating in many ways. Going out actually buying a car quite recently, I was given cause to reflect on prize vs actual size. The non-linear prize increase you have to pay to get to a slightly bigger car from whatever point you are at is interesting. And the fact that a “very small” car is just above four meters long, while a “pretty large” car is at around five meters. How can a few centimeters actually matter that much?
Because extra centimeters DO matter. It is clear that an additional five to ten centimeters gives you a significantly improved experience of the interior of a car. That is usually what you see when a certain model grows from one generation to the next (happens to almost all models with a long run, giving room to new lower-end models all the time). I guess it is like airline seats
The Volvo lineup is quite instructive:
- The small, compact, C30 is 4250mm long.
- The four-door standard sedan S40 is 4480mm.
- The standard V50 estate is 4520 mm.
- The large V70 estate is 4820 mm, and is considered a large car.
- The Volvo top-of-the-line S80 is 4850 mm.
- The Audi A6 large estate is 4930 mm.
- The Audi A8 luxury car is 5030 mm.
So what you have here is both fairly small differences between cars that are designed to go into very different categories. And also a huge increase in perceived size and status for just a few extra centimeters. The A8 is very expensive car, but it is still only actually a few percent larger than its next-smaller sibling. And only some 25% longer than the perceptionally much small Volvo C30.
The expectations of how big a car should be to be considered “large” is also interesting and very variable over time and geographies.
- The 4500 mm car class that contains the Volvo V50 is considered a large car in much of continental Europe. Bigger cars than that are comparatively rare in countries like France or the UK. While in Sweden, it definitely feels smaller than “middle class mainstream”. Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up on this.
- The old Swedish benchmark, the Volvo 240 series that got Swedes used to large cars as being the standard car, was actually around 4900 mm long in its Estate version– i.e., actually bigger than its current logical heir, the V70.
- Back in the 1960’s, cars were much smaller. The original Mini was only slightly more than 3 meters long, and seated four people. You could not sell that proposition today, at least not in first-world countries.
- The US is fairly unique in having a market where you can actually sell cars that are very large from their external measurements — but much small inside than typical European cars. The length just gets wasted accomplishing nothing but a long hood it seems.
So what did we get? We felt that a 4515 mm long 2006 Opel Astra Combi was the best for us right now. Good price for the size, with a trunk larger than what we had before. Compared to our previous 1995 Opel Astra Caravan, it has grown some 10 cm in two generations of cars. Still small enough to be easy to maneuver and to not draw too much gasoline. And why pay for the extra status (and actual extra comfort) of a higher-end brand like a Volvo when we don’t use the car that much? Actually, we might get a trailer for the bikes as well so that we can stop using the car for the weekly shopping.