You’ve … Changed
Technological progress in the automobile has come with certain tradeoffs, one being an increase in size. Perhaps cars have inflated in size to better fit their occupants. Anyone who’s ridden three across in the back seat of a 1990s compact knows what we’re talking about. Safety standards and packaging even more airbags into each car have also contributed to the growth of the modern automobile.
The EPA places cars into specific size classes from minicompact (less than 85 cubic feet) to large (120 or more cubic feet) based on the combination of passenger and cargo volume. In the interest of consistency, all volume figures quoted are from the EPA.
How much have things changed? More than we realized. A few of our beloved “compacts” are anything but. Here are 10 models that have increased in size.
The 1992 Honda Civic sedan is one of the more recognizable economy cars from the 1990s. With 85 cubic feet of passenger space and 12 cubic feet of cargo capacity, the diminutive Civic had a total of 97 cubic feet of interior space, putting it squarely in the subcompact class.
The recently introduced 10th-generation Honda Civic has 98 cubic feet of passenger volume with 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity, so the new Civic now inhabits the midsize size class.
The resurrection of the Taurus name and its attachment to Ford‘s biggest sedan belies its heritage: the 1992 Ford Taurus was a midsize car: 100 cubic feet for passengers, and 18 for luggage. What’s surprising, however, is that the current-generation 2016 Ford Taurus only has 4 more cubic feet of room, 2 feet each for passengers and cargo. It’s just enough to push it into the large car class.
Now, we’re not going to compare the modern Mini Hardtop to the absolutely tiny original, but we’ll compare the current model with the one that BMW brought to the market in the early 2000s. The 2002 Mini Hardtop had 77 cubic feet for the passengers and 7 cubic feet for their stuff, making it a minicompact. For 2016 a Mini Hardtop two-door has grown to 80 cubic feet for passengers and 9 cubic feet for their things, putting it in subcompact territory.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series has long been one of the best compact luxury cars on the market. Look back to the E36 3 Series, which was one of the greatest 3 Series generations to date: a 1995 BMW 325i sedan had 85 cubic feet for its passengers and 10 cubic feet for their cargo, which made it a subcompact in the EPA’s book. The 2016 BMW 320i, however, has 10 more cubic feet for the passengers and 3 more cubic feet for their things. It’s now a compact.
Times have changed, and the 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300E (the W124 generation) came from a time when “midsize” looked a lot more “compact” to our modern sensibilities. The ’89 300E’s 93 cubic feet for people and 15 cubic feet for their things put it squarely in the compact size class. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, a true midsize car, ups the passenger room to 98 cubic feet but gives up a little cargo room to its great-grandfather, which had only 13 cubic feet of volume in the trunk (the 2017 model is shown).
Hyundai has come a long way as a company, and the same can be said about its offerings. The 1995 Hyundai Elantra came with 90 cubic feet for passengers and 12 for luggage, putting it solidly into the compact class. It was a bit larger than the period Civics and Corollas. The 2017 Hyundai Elantra, which has improved significantly in styling and price since the mid-1990s model, has moved into the midsize class, and despite being billed as a compact sedan, the 96 cubic feet of passenger volume and 14 cubic feet of cargo volume don’t lie.
The Toyota Corolla is one of the most popular compacts on the road. Back in 1992, however, the Corolla’s 84 cubic feet of passenger volume and 13 cubic feet of trunk space put it in the subcompact size class. As cars are wont to do, the Corolla increased in size and stature over the years. The current 2016 model has 98 cubic feet for the passengers but an identical 13 cubic feet for their things.
Truth be told, we’re not usually thinking about the size of a muscle car’s interior. That being said, the super-cool third generation had 82 cubic feet for all four mullet-sporting passengers and 5 cubic feet for their luggage, which made it a subcompact in the EPA’s book. The fifth-generation Camaro (sadly, sixth-gen specs are not yet available) had 11 more cubic feet of passenger space and a respectable 11 cubic feet of cargo volume, which puts it into the compact car size class (the 2017 Camaro 1LE is shown).
Maybe it’s the name, but we like to point fingers when their cars start looking a whole lot less “mini” than they used to. Take the Clubman, for example, which started life as a subcompact with its tiny half-doors and split rear doors (80 cubic feet for the people and 17 cubic feet for their stuff). The redesigned 2016 Mini Clubman has grown a full set of rear doors and with it has skipped over the compact size class and gone straight to midsize with 92 cubic feet of passenger space and 18 cubic feet of cargo volume.
Audi Cabriolet to Audi A5 Cabriolet
Four-seater convertibles aren’t exactly known for their generous back-seat accommodations, so the 1995 Audi Cabriolet’s minicompact rating might not be a surprise to you. With 71 cubic feet of passenger space and only 7 cubic feet for their cargo, room was at a premium in the ’90s. Fast-forward to 2016, and things have gotten better for the third and fourth passenger in Audi drop-tops. The A5 Cabriolet has gained 10 cubic feet on the older car’s interior and 3 in the trunk, not to mention far better styling.
Mercedes-Benz 190E to CLA-Class
The smallest car Mercedes-Benz sold in 1990 was the 190E, which had 85 cubic feet of passenger volume and 12 cubic feet of luggage volume, which made it a subcompact. Today the smallest Mercedes-Benz you can buy is the CLA-Class, which only has 4 cubic feet on the old 190E (3 more cubes for the passengers and 1 more for their golf bags). That’s enough to push it into the compact size class.