Big guy, little car
Bet he wouldn't be smiling were he wedged into a subcompact car.
What happens when the downsizing trend meets an increasingly bigger population
Graze your head on the doorframe of a historic 18th century home and it may dawn on you that people used to be shorter. It's true: the average height of people living in industrialized nations has increased approximately 10 cm, or four inches, in the past 150 years.
Scientists believe the sudden growth spurt — unearthed skeletons reveal no significant differences in height from the Stone Age through the early 1800s — came about when malnutrition, especially in children, began to get addressed. As better food became available, children started growing straight and tall through adulthood. Add to that today's roly-poly obesity epidemic and it's easy to see that we humans have starring roles in our own Land of the Giants.
At the same time, automobile manufacturers are compelled to make ever smaller and more fuel-efficient cars, partly to meet tightening fleet fuel-consumption targets and partly because clogged cities, particularly in Europe, simply can't handle many more vehicles that aren't space-efficient.
So how do you fit a clientele that's literally growing in size and weight into transportation modules that, by government decree and market forces, have to get smaller?
Canada's burgeoning class of subcompact cars has seen numerous new products burst onto the scene in the past two years. Fresh nameplates like the Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Chevrolet Sonic and Fiat 500 have joined the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio in a "B-car" segment that promises both fun-to-drive frugality, as well as technology and luxury furnishings that wouldn't look out of place in a Jaguar. Penalty boxes these are not. But do they fit?
Charles Mott, product manager of the Chevrolet Sonic at General Motors in Detroit, says the Sonic four-door sedan and five-door hatchback were designed to fit a large proportion of people all over the world, where the Sonic flies the Chevrolet flag in 130 countries.
"It's a tall car for tall people," Mott says, noting that both Europe and North America are home to plenty of tall customers, so a singular product has to appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers, typically up to the 95 to 99 percentile of adults who are well over six feet tall.
"The front seats will fit enormously tall persons, while a 5-foot-10 individual can sit behind a 5-foot-10 driver easily," he notes, explaining that the Sonic's back seat also got a lot of attention from designers. With 41 cubic feet of space in the back seat, the Sonic is a B-segment overachiever, offering more real estate than even compacts like the Toyota Corolla.
In addition to accommodating all shapes and sizes of people in everyday situations, subcompacts also have to maintain some buffer space between flesh and metal in the event of a collision. Explains Mott: "Safety is still paramount, despite the size of the vehicle. The Sonic's roof and A-pillars have good clearances after impact."
A 1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake sold for $1.3 million. Do you think classic cars were made better than modern rides?
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- Yes, the quality of cars from the 1960s and '70s is the best
- No, modern technology makes cars better today
- Maybe, it's hard to say since most Canadians get a new car every 10 years