With all of this heated talk about the death of the sedan, I’d like to reiterate a point I’ve been making for as long as I’ve been blogging: The modern, low-to-the-ground sedan originated from a stylistic pursuit of something novel for its own sake in the 1957-1958 era, to achieve lowness for the sake of lowness, and certainly not for the sake of better packaging, comfort and ease of entry/egress.
And of course, in that time period, lower meant…more modern, which meant…more prestige. Who wanted to be seen in an old fashioned tall, boxy sedan from the 1940s when Chrysler offered “The Forward Look”, along with the fins to back it up?
It took a long time, but buyers have finally awoken to the intrinsic disadvantages of low sedans, and of course now the lack of prestige (for those that care), due to them now being utterly out of fashion. Yet not everyone wants a trucklet, so Mercedes is showing an alternative: the SUV sedan, in this Maybach concept shown at the Beijing Auto Show a couple of days ago. Is this a glimpse of the sedan of the future?
I’ve been shooting my xB with other cars for years to make the point. Here it is with a ’32 Ford. of course the xB has about twice the interior room (seriously), but there are obvious parallels. The advantages of modern construction, with FWD, short hood and a low floor are huge, in terms of interior space. But one does sit upright on tall seats in either case.
Here’s the other end of the spectrum. The single most surprising thing about the 1959 Cadillac is just how modest the interior space is, considering how long and wide it is. People think of these as large cars; they are, on the outside, but any new modern sedan has significantly more room on the inside, except possibly width, never mind the huge disparity with the xB, which makes the Caddy feel downright cramped in comparison.
Increased height started to make inroads in the 1980s. The Mercedes w124 was taller than the w123. And the big S Class W140 was significantly taller than anything other than the traditionally tall Rolls-Royce and Bentleys. There was great ad for the introduction of the W140 in Germany that I cant find on the internet. It showed a very short man from about 1920 in front of a very tall sedan of that era, and a very tall modern man in front of a very low sedan, pointing out that the evolution of cars and man had been going in inverse directions.
Ford decided that this approach meant lots of sense in a smaller car, and the 1998 Focus’ height was a big deal at the time. The resultant improvement in interior seating and space was a significant improvement over its predecessor and the competition.
And of course Rolls Royce really showed that the way forward was upwards with the 2003 Phantom and its successors.
And this Mercedes Maybach is clearly in that vein, but even more so. The split rear window is an homage to the time when these were almost universal. For a frame of reference, this sedan is 69″ tall, or 4″ taller than a Phantom VII, and 5″ less tall than an Escalade.
Like on this 1938 LaSalle, which shares more than a passing similarity to the Maybach concept. I wonder which one is taller? The maybach concept, as it turns out, by several inches.
Here’s the interior of the Maybach, oriented to the Chinese top end of the market. And of course it’s all-electric.
My prediction is that there will be taller sedans in our future. And SUVs/CUVs with lower floors, for easier entry and exit. or there should be, as the whole notion of off-road capability has become a total non-issue with these vehicles. There’s still a few genuine off-roaders for that little slice of the market.
The advantages of tall sedans and wagons are very real, but they need to have lower floors to fully maximize their potential. Of course I’m biased, and I drive an xB, which has the best entry and exit and seating position of any car made in the last half century. It’s a big pickup cab without the added size and weight and excessive height of the real thing.
What Chrysler started in 1957 has long run its natural course.
K.T. Keller was right: “cars are meant to be sat in, not peed over”.
It just took a while for everyone to figure that out.
The 1949 Plymouth wagon and the Toyota RAV4 share a lot in common, in terms of dimensions.
So yes, let the low sedan die, and bring on some proper tall sedans and wagons, but keep the floor reasonably low, otherwise the advantages are not going to be fully utilized.