Supersize me? No thanks

| 22 Aug 2013

It's easy to criticise modern car design, everything being oversized and bloated as shark-shapes have become whales.

In fact, there's a brilliant thread on C&SC's sister site Pistonheads called Classics dwarfed by moderns in which people take snapshots of perfectly reasonably sized old cars looking like Dinky toys next to their modern counterparts.

I have contributed to this a few times and recently took the opportunity to snap a 1960s take on a roomy, high-performance four-door, four-seater executive saloon next to its modern equivalent (ironically being run by PH's Paul Garlick) in the Haymarket car park to illustrate the point.

Admittedly this is like shooting fish in a barrel because the mantra we hear over and again is that we should consider the plight of the stylists and designers and the strictures they are having to adhere to.

Thanks to safety regulations, they say, you simply can't build a modern car on the same scale. 

Or can you?

MX-5s may have long-since passed through middle-aged spread and on to morbid obesity compared to their lithesome youthfulness, but what about that 1990s rash of zippy little Kei cars: the Beat, the Cappucino et al? These things were as small as a Lotus Elan. Or, even more recently the Smart Roadster. Small cars can still be built, so why aren't they?

Consider something like the evolution of the 911, it's bulking up (and bursting the banks) has been repeatedly brought to our attention this year thanks to the model celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

Some vital statistics: original 911s were 1600mm wide, 4135 long and weighed 1070kg, current cars are 20cm wider, 35cm longer and 400 kilos heavier (yup, nearly half the weight again).

Even if I concede that the apparent size of modern cars is (hideously) distorted aesthetically by roof height and rear light placement, there is no question that the footprint is demonstrably bigger.

And that it is actually a much more recent phenomenon than you would think.

There's a great picture on the PH Thread of a MINI dwarfing a Volvo estate, traditionally one of the biggest cars on the road. But this is no Amazon, or 240, it is 2006 Volvo against a 2011 MINI.

I've asked around and, while everyone agrees that the creeping legislation of the past 50 years has led to the gradual fattening of cars, no one can think of a specific legal reason why this process has accelerated so dramatically in such a short time over the past few years.

And, there must more to it than that anyway. My Triumph is narrower and lower and barely any longer than a Nissan Micra, but I bet you could add every modern safety requirement and still have more room inside.

So what is the cause specifically of the mega-supersizing of the past few years, is it simply because all cars are now built with the American market it mind, and, most importantly, when will it stop?