Cohort Capsule: Compacts, Now and Then and Then


As they say, a picture says a thousand words, and this great shot by AGuyInVancouver maybe be worth three times that much.  It’s much more than a mere twofer; it’s really a triptych which illustrates the story of the average American large compact through three examples built and/or conceived roughly two decades apart.  While that eighth-gen Acura CSX (Civic) is far from being a classic, it’s an appropriate marker in the ongoing story of the compact American sedan across several generations.

And let’s not kid ourselves, that Acura is most certainly an American counterpart to the Chevy II and Aries.  It’s based on the final Civic sedan ever sold in Japan, and today, only the Hybrid carries the famous nameplate in Honda home country.  To no one’s surprise, it is bigger than that Aries, a car initially considered to be on the small side of the American compact class (and at the time, a “new normal”) and is also about as heavy as that Chevrolet.


Imagine if  Americans knew that three decades later, the “new normal” as embodied by the Aries would be expressed through very large, heavy versions of the same architecture.  There was nothing “new normal” about this Chevy II, on the other hand.  While that term could’ve been momentarily applied to life during the Eisenhower recession, customers slowly but surely found themselves overwhelmed by the ubiquitous oversized standard sized offerings of the day, creating an organic demand for more sensible transportation.  Compacts like this offered that reprieve and while its stark three-box shape makes it appear large for a compact to modern eyes, it’s an optical illusion.  The pseudo-monospace cars sold in its place today are even more hefty, with the Cruze weighing about three hundred pounds more, taking up the same amount of space and looking more compact all the while.


When comparing today’s Camcords with the late ’70s A-bodies from GM, we concluded that for a midsize sedan, the covergence of the dimensions for each of those respective cars indicates a certain rightness of size and proportion.  So it is the case with these larger compacts of the ’60s, ’80s and the past decade; a length of about 180-185 inches, paired with a width between 68 and 70 inches creates the template for the sensibly sized large compact.  Here’s hoping the ever expanding compacts of ensuing generations rediscover this lesson.

Related reading:

Curbside Outtake: 1st Gen and Current Generation Accords- A Growth Industry

Curbside Classic: 1967 Chevelle Malibu Sedan – The American Big Opel