The death of the sedan

The death of the sedan, the rise of the crossover. Co-written by Martin Wenglinsky

Every enthusiast can speak sadly on the death of the sedan. We seem to live in a world increasingly dominated by SUVs and Crossovers, where, as we sit on a turning point in automotive history, sedans are being dropped in favor of vastly more profitable SUVs, crossovers, and luxury vehicles.

But why should you buy an SUV? Most people would tell you that they bought an SUV because it's safer and more practical than anything else on the road.

However, that doesn't make much sense because while an SUV might be more expensive, it doesn't have a single redeemable quality that I can think of. They're noisier, stupider, and more expensive than any of their sedan counterparts.

Yet, 70% of the cars sold in America are SUVs, because, for some reason, soccer moms and hip-hop artists all over the world have decided that they want a truly terrible car. Yet, manufacturers don't even seem to give a damn that they have now been relegated to making seemingly nothing more than iterative SUVs. What happened?

Let's look at BMW as an example. They currently make seven SUVs. Seven!

Now I'm sure that the focus groups have spoken, and I'm sure that there are seven different types of consumers who all need a slightly different SUV. But if you think about it, BMW's entire lineup works on a trickle-down sales model. The X5, for example, is a perfectly competent family vehicle that is comfortable, relatively good-looking, and can operate as a fairly decent off-roader should the circumstances require. However, not everyone can afford an X5. So… how about an X3?

Or, if that isn't sporty enough, we have an X4, or if you don't know what the hell you want, there's always the X6. The way I see it, BMW makes one SUV (the X5), which makes sense, and then six others for those who are either too poor or feel that they are above the X5.

The thing is, this hierarchy of the BMW lineup is a relatively new thing. Not too long ago, BMW truly built the ultimate driving machine, three of them, in fact. The 3 Series, the 5 Series, and the 7 Series.

All of which made sense; you knew where you stood. Want a fun, comfortable little sedan? Buy a 3 Series. Want a cushy, long-legged executive express? Buy a 7 Series. Want something in the middle? Just get a 5 series.

For almost 30 years, that's the way it worked, no tricks, no re-badged Minis, and definitely no X6s.

But see, the X6 brings me neatly onto my next point, as the BMW lineup expanded it became harder and harder to re-use cars. But with SUVs you can develop one platform, for example, the 3 Series, and turn it into the X3, the X3M, the X3M Competition, the X4, the X4M, the X4M Competition, the 4 Series, the 4 Series 'Gran Coupe,' the M3, the M3 Competition, the M4, and finally, the M4 Competition.

That's 12 different vehicles!

All of which can be re-badged and sold to 12 people who don't know what the hell they actually want.

But to be fair, the reason behind the death of the sedan isn't really the SUV, as I, and just about every automotive journalist has previously stated. It's the crossover.

A crossover is essentially the opposite of a minivan. While a minivan is a sedan or wagon stretched out to be longer, a crossover is a sedan stretched up, making it taller. Both minivans and crossovers have fantastic fuel economy for vehicles their size, are cheaper than a comparable SUV, which is basically a unibody truck, to engineer and build, has tons of space and comfort. However, while a minivan is seen as an uncool ride for soccer moms, a crossover is seen as a car for the adventurous. Sure, many people would prefer a sedan, but those people are usually perfectly happy to accept a crossover in its stead.

Now, this article opened talking about car enthusiasts, and many of you are probably now wondering why we haven't mentioned them since. Enthusiasts HATE the SUV and have been some of their most vocal opponents. Why aren't manufacturers listening to their customers? The answer is simple: enthusiasts aren't their customers.

That might seem ridiculous, but it's true. Enthusiasts generally purchase cars used, which doesn't make any money for car companies. The only enthusiasts with the money to buy fun sedans new usually choose to spend it on the used market. For the cost of a new corolla, you could get two or three used Porsche Boxsters! The only people buying new expensive sedans are usually older and are more likely to buy a more comfortable luxury sedan.

Co-Written by:

Special thanks to Martin for co-writing this article with me, please go check him out for some truly excellent Toyota and occasionally non-Toyota related content.



Join In

Comments (12)

  • I think the X5 and X3 make perfect sense. The X5 is a competent 3-row luxury family hauler. The X3 might fight the needs of a slightly smaller family. Where it gets out of control, is the X4 and X6, The coupe versions that have similar luggage capacity as a better handling 3 or 5 series wagon.

    My cousin just bought her first car, a subaru Crosstrek. My dad asked her why she didn't just by a Subaru Impreza hatch (a lowered hatchback version). She said that the reason was because she liked being able to see over the hood, and that the higher riding stance gives her a more commanding view over the road. I think this is the ideology that persuades most people to go for a vehicle like the X1 over a vehicle like the 3-series wagon. No one needs the utility. What they want is the commanding ride height.

      5 days ago
    • My mom was different as she bought a 2018 ford explorer platinum which isnt a terrible vehicle by any means (except for the quality which is mediocre) after I had repeatedly told her to get a ford flex which I think is built on the same platform,...

      Read more
        5 days ago
  • Not a fan of SUV’s or Crossovers even though my wife demands we own one (At least it’s an X3). No matter how much I tried to convince her that a 3-series wagon would have the same utility, and be far more rewarding to drive, she wasn’t having it. Like everyone else on the planet, she likes the vantage point it provides. Ugh. Now that so many people drive trucks, SUV’s, or Crossovers, the ride height “advantage” is not what it once was. Nevertheless, people will say, “but, I just feel safer in my (insert your favorite behemoth here).” Maybe so, but, crash safety data may not always support your feelings (depending on your choice).

    When Chrysler first came out with minivans they were all the rage. They were roomier, with easier access, than cars. They were comfortable and handled better than some cars (think American luxury sedans of the 70’s and 80’s). However, when they became too popular, the soccer mom stigma developed. Suddenly they were the like the station wagons of the 60’s and 70’s. They were handy but nobody wanted to admit they needed one. 😉

    Crossovers are, essentially, a modern minivan. Just like minivans they are car based, roomy, comfortable, handle better than SUV’s, and (most importantly) they’re NOT a minivan. 😉

    I can only hope they will develop the same “soccer mom” stigma (as the minivans did before them) so we can forget these nonsensical vehicles and get back to driving cars. Cheers!

      4 days ago
  • Ok DB ... you’ve posted a couple pieces on the evil’s of SUV’s and to some degree their owners.

    Your most current offering makes the most sense to me as I also believe BMW has run amok. It’s insane how many iterations they force upon the consumer.

    I’ve owned four ... a 1980 320i bought in ‘84 when I was 24 ... a ‘96 740il ... a ‘08 X5 4.4 and the ‘17 328i sitting in my driveway now. I’m not sure what year BMW lost their mind and departed from the simple 3,5 and 7 series approach but I’ve definitely lost interest in BMW. If was shopping for a new sedan, I wouldn’t even bother trying to sift through their current lineup.

    Having said all that ... I happen to be one of those who actually used the payload, ride height and tow capacity of my Grand Cherokee. I own a construction company and that Jeep served a dual purpose role. It was my estimator / hauling vehicle. I’ve since replaced it with an F150 but it served its purpose well.

    However ... my lack of interest in sedans is driven by more practical considerations these days.

    1) it’s difficult lowering my beat up old bones into a sedan. I’ll bet that I’m in and out of my car 50 times a day ... hooking and unhooking trailers, dropping material, job site stops etc etc etc

    2) this is the really sad reality ... I’m no longer an enthusiast. Unless you live close to open and empty roads, driving in today’s traffic is a pain in the ass and it has sucked the fun out of driving. These days, if I want driving excitement, I hop on my Aprillia and go for a ride.

    I lived on the west coast for 16 years and would often head to the Santa Cruz mountains and get after it but these days ... living in Florida ... those don’t exist.

    So now ... it’s motorcycles for me and four wheel transport has become nothing more than a tool.

      4 days ago
    • Here’s my problem with SUVs, sure there are a select few who would benefit from their unique combination of attributes. But that doesn’t justify the insane amount of them that are sold, most of those people (families) would be better off...

      Read more
        4 days ago
    • Agreed ... 100%

        4 days ago
  • “However, that doesn’t make much sense because while an SUV might be more expensive, it doesn’t have a single redeemable quality that I can think of. They’re noisier, stupider, and more expensive than their sedan counterparts.”

    This paragraph makes no sense. The idea that an SUV has no redeemable qualities is a lie, as you wouldn’t want tale your Camry off-road. Also, you cannot say that something isn’t good simply because it is “stupider”. And I really can’t see how SUVs are noisier than sedans. Exhaust noisy? Wind noisy? As far as I can tell, both have been fixed a long time ago (depending on the car).

      4 days ago
  • SUV’s are better than the van, but a crossover is not superior to a wagon or a sedan with folding seats and ample trunk space. You get 5 seats, same as a wagon or a sedan, with an uglier, oversized hatchback look. You get the drive of a wagon or a sedan, and you get the trunk space of one. A proper SUV is for 7 seats and the extra space you want for practicality and easy living on road trips.

      5 days ago