Why sedans are still the most popular car bodystyle

8 August 2015
, CarsGuide

If we asked you to draw a car, right now, in 10 seconds, you'd draw a sedan - unless you are aged nine or under. 

And why not? It's the most recognisable shape for a car, and still the most popular, even though it's under assault from a phalanx of hatchbacks and SUVs, and that doesn't mean sedans can't still be a good choice.

Plus, it's a rich Aussie tradition - think Commodore and Falcon - and in many cases the best single vehicle that some companies make is a sedan; BMW with the M3, Subaru with its WRX, Mitsubishi's Lancer EVO, and the list goes on.

What's so great about them?

There are quite a few reasons to go with a more traditional shape over the newly beloved SUVs. If you're interested in economy and performance, sedans make some pretty compelling arguments, and there's also the distinct advantage of the safety and security of having a proper, lockable boot.

The biggest argument of all, though, would be safety.

As much as SUVs and crossovers are catching up, sedans – as well as their coupé and wagon stablemates – set the bar for stability and safety. The relatively low ride height keeps the weight closer to the ground and this low centre of gravity means that cornering, swerving and changing direction don't upset a sedan's balance as badly as they do an SUV.

That vague, unsettling feeling of a big truck rolling through corner is completely avoidable if you buy a sedan. Yes, some sedans still rock and roll to an extent, but it's like comparing Chuck Berry to Iron Maiden.

And generally, when it comes to driving pleasure, sedans simply offer more of it - more connection with the road - than off-roaders, or even most small cars (in that case the wider track helps, too).

Perhaps your daily drive doesn't take you along exciting mountain passes, so the manoeuvrability of a sedan isn't as important as the load space of an SUV. But even if you never leave freeways and residential areas, the way sedans are made could just save your life.

Sedans are also less prone to tip over and roll than SUVs

Sedans are generally lighter than SUVs and even if they aren't, the low centre of gravity means the weight isn't as much of a penalty when it comes time to move it quickly. Sedans will be able to swerve and recover in ways that will embarrass all but the most road-focused sporty Euro SUVs.

Sedans are also less prone to tip over and roll than SUVs but, with the advent of advanced stability-control systems such as active rollover prevention, the gap is closing. 

The fact remains, however, that these systems are designed to counteract an inherent danger in how high-riding vehicles behave under duress.

Sedans also have it better in terms of acceleration, braking, speed and fuel economy. Lower weight means better acceleration and stopping; with less mass to move, it's easier to move it. This also helps with economy, as the engine doesn't have to overcome as much inertia every time you plant your foot.

Lower, sleeker sedans also slip through the air more easily than high-riding, bluff-fronted SUVs, and a lower coefficient of drag equals better fuel economy, and better performance.

Burning less fuel means less pollution, too. While SUVs have come along in leaps and bounds, the lower, lither and lighter a car is, the better it is for the environment. 

And, depending on how keen you are to save the world or blast through it at a rate of knots, there's usually a range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines in high-volume sedans.

Hot hatches and wagons aside, there's no other way to combine the space and practicality needed for family life with economy, performance and a little joie de vivre for those among us who still enjoy driving.

Any reasons not to buy a sedan?

There's precious little to prevent you from choosing a sedan over a hatch or soccer mom soft roader.

What little there is can be summed up by four words: price, looks, height and space.

Before there were more models of SUV than there are days in a year, sedans used to be a cheap and plentiful alternative. 

Now, the inverse almost applies with a rash of affordable soft-roaders and a fast-dwindling supply of sedans that fit the same bill.

Sedans have fallen victim to the vagaries of public perception, too; decades of use by sales reps have tarnished their image somewhat.

Ground clearance can be an issue on more performance-focused sedans, and will almost always be worse than SUVs. With Australian roads as they are, it can be a tense endeavour to take your shiny new wheels on a stretch of Woop-Woop Council's finest bitumen.

The biggest reason to steer clear of a sedan comes down to space. Instead of a cavernous storage area out the back, there's a comparatively tiny nook, tucked between suspension struts. It'll hold half as much as a wagon-shaped rear end and, because the body sits lower down the suspension struts, the load space will be more awkwardly shaped.

The smaller cargo space is compounded by the inflexibility of a sedan's layout, with tumble-down rear seats a rarity.

Head and leg room can also be an issue, due to the tendency for sedans to have low, sleek roofs. 

But let's not forget, low sleek roofs look cool, which is why you'd feel compelled to draw your car with one.

Related articles:

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Why a wagon is worth considering over an SUV

Why a hatchback is the smartest car you can buy

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Why people buy coupes even though they're not perfect

Why should I buy a convertible?

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