Saturday, August 25, 2018

Can we talk about size for a moment? Car size, that is?

2nd-generation Toyota Yaris and 6th-generation Toyota Corolla
From top: 2nd-generation Toyota Yaris and
6th-generation Toyota Corolla.
Photos: Toyota USA Newsroom.
Size perception can be very, very relative and subjective. And if there is one thing that can demonstrate that for us, it’s the fluctuations that have taken place in car sizes over the years.

By car size, I’m referring to every dimension: overall and curb weight, overall height, overall width, wheelbase, you name it. And the relative nature of how we perceive car size can apply to all of these dimensions. Just how deceptive and relative our perceptions of car size can be was driven home for me recently, when I realized something about two vehicles my next-door neighbor owns.

His daily driver is a Toyota Yaris—a 2nd-generation “Belta” Yaris 4-door sedan. During the four or so years that said neighbor has been living next door to me, I have been driving relatively large vehicles. My daily for the past three years has been an 8th-generation Buick Riviera, a full-size coupe. For a few years before that, I was very much in dad-mobile mode, daily-driving a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan.

So I’ve grown pretty accustomed to having a lot of sheet metal surrounding me. In that context, it will probably easy to understand how the Toyota Yaris could look diminutive to me. And it has, ever since my neighbor and his wife first bought the house next to ours. For a long time, I would look at that Yaris and think to myself, “Wow. I don’t see how he can be comfortable driving something that small as his daily commuter. I sure wouldn’t.”

My neighbor has a daily commute of at least 60 miles each way, and my assumption in the beginning was that owning the Yaris was a compromise of economy for him.

But then something odd happened. About a year or so ago, he picked up a 6th-generation (1987-1992) E90 Toyota Corolla, buying it from an acquaintance for a song. It had over 200,000 miles on the clock, but it was in excellent condition, and he bought it with the intent of eventually giving it to to his son, who would soon be old enough to get his driver’s license.

At first, the old Corolla was parked on the street, not in the driveway near the Yaris, so nothing odd crossed my mind. I simply thought my neighbor had been fortunate to get a really good deal on a decent-looking car that was likely to still be very reliable in spite of its age and high mileage.

Seeing that old Corolla on the street also made me recall that, although I’ve never owned one, I have always thought, maybe since the 80s, of Toyota Corollas as good compact cars that I would be entirely comfortable driving. I could not say the same about Toyota Tercels, Toyota’s entry-level subcompact of the era, which always struck me as too small for my taste.

Compared to Corollas, Tercels always struck me as looking cheap and flimsy. In fact, since first becoming acquainted with my neighbor’s Yaris, I had mentally plugged the Yaris into the Tercel box—which, from a market segment perspective, is quite possibly the box where Toyota puts it.

But one day I came home and saw something that made my jaw drop. The Corolla was parked next to the Yaris, in my neighbor’s driveway.

Wait, what?

The Yaris actually looked bigger. Substantially bigger. And by some measures, it is bigger. The E90 Corolla’s wheelbase is 95.7 inches, compared to the 100.4 inches of the Belta Yaris. In height, the Yaris is taller, measuring 57.5 inches to the Corolla’s 52.2. The Belta Yaris also beats the E90 Corolla in width—66.7 inches to 65.2. In curb weight, however, the E90 Corolla is heavier, at 2,390 pounds to 2,315, although the weight of both can vary depending on factors such as powertrain options.

Although these dimension differences—height being the most significant—seem relatively small from a numerical standpoint, visually the difference appears pronounced. The perception that the Yaris looks a lot bigger than the older Corolla when you see them side by side must really come down to elements of design.

All that said, there has been a well documented trend of upward “size creep” within most automotive lineups, with any given model tending to become larger, especially in terms of weight, as the years march on.

The Belta Yaris was in fact expressly designed to have more interior room than the preceding-generation Corolla. And the 2018 Corolla is substantially heavier than the 6th-generation example we’ve looked at here, with a curb weight ranging from 2,840 to 2,885 pounds depending on factors such as trim level, configuration, and powertrain options.

In a 2016 article, Autoweek illustrated the automotive weight-inflation phenomenon by making weight comparisons between 1967 and 2017 models that were far apart not only in terms of model year but also in terms of place on the model-level food chain from subcompact to full-size.

For example, the 1967 Chevelle 4-door sedan, which was mid-size by 1967 standards but looks like a veritable land-yacht by today’s, weighed only 19-pounds more than the compact 2017 Ford Focus SE. Today’s cars are more densely constructed and carry more weight around  in such forms as more complex—and better—suspension systems, along with more elaborate emission control devices, more acoustic dampening material, and more accessories. It can all drive weight up pretty quickly.

Yet due to advances in engineering and technology, today’s cars move all this weight with much more efficiency, squeezing more miles and horsepower out of a gallon of gas. So although the average car from the 1960s or 1970s might have looked a lot bigger than what you’ll find on a new-car lot today, as the Autoweek article points out, the size difference is “mostly air.”

Think of that bag of chips that looks huge on the shelf but disappoints when you open it up, feel the air rush out, and see the all the chips way down at the bottom, below a vast expanse of empty plastic. That, really, is what the size difference between a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere Wagon and a 2018 Dodge Charger sedan is all about.

Although this may be sad for an old-car enthusiast to admit, the illusory nature of vehicle-size perception is yet another reason why, when we have “those were the days” feelings about cars we remember fondly from past decades, the differences are often more sentimental than reality based.

No comments:

Post a Comment