Why are new cars so heavy?
August 31, 2006 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Why are new cars generally heavier than older (not classic!) cars?

I noticed this when looking for a used car. I have a new car right now and it's much heavier than the older cars near its size. I can't imagine that the airbags in new cars would weigh so much as to cause such a drastic difference :P

'91 Honda Civic DX (hatch) = 2127 lbs
pre-2000 Mini Cooper = 1500 lbs
'00 VW GTI = 2700 lbs

'02 Honda Civic SI (hatch) = 2877 lbs
new BMW Mini = 2314 lbs
'05 VW GTI = 2934 lbs

Granted, they are different body-styles to a certain extent, but the size difference isn't all that drastic.

So what's so friggin heavy now that wasn't 15+ years ago?
posted by fr0zen to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, the difference *IS* pretty drastic. The '91 Civic used wishbones instead of struts for it's suspension and didn't have to meet anywhere near the accident protection guidelines that the current civic meets & exceeds. The frame in the new Civic is most of it's weight.
posted by SpecialK at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2006

The only apples-to-apples comparison you are making looks like the GTI at what, 1%?
posted by fixedgear at 10:46 AM on August 31, 2006

It could be as a result of newer car safety regulations or just the manufacturer responding to consumer's desire for greater safety.
posted by JJ86 at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2006

Stronger, heavier spaceframes and bracing is probably most of it. Cars are a lot safer and more rigid in accidents than they used to be.

Also, all the amenities and systems that most cars have now (air bags, anti-lock brakes, additional sound dampening, etc.) and the systems that some cars have (traction control, stability control, additional audio and video equipment, etc.) add up to greater weight.
posted by jcwagner at 10:53 AM on August 31, 2006

And by pre-2000 mini cooper, do you mean the *ORIGINAL* Mini, which is a classic car? Compare the other specs, I think you'll find that the new mini is MUCH larger!

Oh, and I forgot to point out that the new Civic puts out close to double the horsepower of the original.
posted by SpecialK at 10:55 AM on August 31, 2006

Along with what others have said, it also seems like cars are going back to a "box with wheels" look (especially SUVs).
posted by triolus at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2006

Best answer: A lot of older sportier (read: faster) cars were lighter so they could go faster with a smaller engine -- a great example of this is the earliest Corvettes -- they were small, they had large engine, but they were especially fast because their bodies were made of fiberglass...

As the government stepped up with greater safety regulations, cars had to be better reinforced to protect their occupants in a major accident. This made the car heavier, as more reinforcement = more steel + more engine (heavier) to pull the heavier weight and so on and so forth. We also have 5-6 airbags, reinforced doors and roofs to survive side impact and rollover, etc. A good "high level" article is here with this quote being especially interesting --"No matter what you do, you cannot repeal the laws of physics," institute spokesman Russ Rader said. "A larger, heavier vehicle is always going to be safer than a smaller, lighter vehicle. If you're looking at small cars vs. larger cars, small cars have twice as many occupant deaths as large cars."

Cars have grown bigger in the US Market because "we" LOVE our big cars, "we" hate to be cramped. (Well, I'm 6'1" and I drive a 2000 Civic, so it depends on the person) So cars have grown some, which leads to bigger engines, bigger shocks, bigger everything under the metal, to support the bigger car. Today's Civic 4-door is roughly the same size as a early 94 Honda Accord I had, while the '94 Accord was way bigger than the 4-door '87 Toyota Camry. So, there ya go, a take from a Japanese car nut.
posted by wonderwisdom at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2006

1. Safety regs. 2. Extra goodies 3. Market demand.
posted by bonaldi at 11:03 AM on August 31, 2006

As Hondas became more mainstream they adapted to the market. The Civic is now about the same size as the old Accord and the Accord is now about the same size as US sedans. Similar occurences with Toyota and others.
posted by caddis at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2006

Best answer: Basically, all cars today have:
- multiple air bags
- air conditioning
- bigger engines (bigger radiators, more fluids)
- side impact beams
- lots of heavy sound deadening insulation
- more glass from sleeker contours

Honestly, I share your concern about the overweight cars. It's frustrating to me. For example, when the new 350Z came out, they talked up its carbon fiber drive shaft, lightweight wheels, lightweight exhaust, etc. etc. And I'm thinking this thing's gonna be damn light! But no, it's 3200lb! That's not light at all!

Cars that are good examples of what modern technology can do to provide a lightweight sports car are the Toyota MR-S (MR2 Spyder), the Mazda Miata, and the Lotus Elise.
posted by knave at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, fixedgear, check your math.
posted by knave at 11:12 AM on August 31, 2006

Note that the very article wonderwisdom links to to support the assertion that heavier cars = safer cars shows that the assertion is not necessarily true. Build quality is a far better indicator of safety than size, according to the researchers quoted in the story, and they refute Rader's quote on the basis of how cars are categorized.

However, as a general trend, cars have indeed gotten bigger because of more stringent safety requirements. Larger engines, more gadgets and more complex systems are other reasons.

And yes, market demand is a big part. Not just the tendency until recently for Americans to buy giant trucks and SUVs, but also general marketing: when was the last time you saw a family sedan advertised as being less spacious or having reduced cargo capacity? The only cars where you often see weight reductions? Sports cars.
posted by chrominance at 11:17 AM on August 31, 2006

A lot of it is extra goodies. Stuff like indash cd players, navigation systems, OnStar, extra sound deadening, power mirrors/windows/locks, alarm systems plus the larger battery and charging system to handle that stuff. More comfortable seats (especially in the rear), 3 point rear seat belts, child anchors and LATCH anchors, more powerful A/C systems that cool the car quicker etc. etc. all add a pound or two each. Next thing you know you've increased the mass by 10-15%.

An example I'm familiar with: the 93 Dodge Caravan was available as both a sub luxury T&C model and as a trademan model. The tradesman model can carry an extra 600lb despite identical mechanicals because it doesn't have all the creature comforts of the Town and Country.

This happens over the life of a particular model too. Take the Pontiac Fiero: in '84 a bare stripper with economy gearing was less than 2500lbs, by 87 the same car had so many "upgrades" it tipped in at 2650.

On the Civic is A/C standard? Was it in 91?

The new mini is two sizes larger than the old.

knave writes "It's frustrating to me. "
I share this frustration. You shouldn't be able to advertise a "sports car" unless the thing is at least available under 2800lbs. One of the reasons the Miata is so popular is you can buy the most powerful model without having to buy a bunch of other crap. Most other manufacturers make you buy a heavily optioned package to get the best engine/transmission. In 67 you could buy GTX with "425" horse power that weighed less than 3000lb, that is the car Chrysler should be selling now. Not a 3900lb monster like the new Charger.
posted by Mitheral at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Why are new cars generally heavier than older (not classic!) cars?

Because people age and brands grow with them to retain their loyalty. Once lighter, cheaper (and less safe?) brands establish themselves with a younger, less affluent demographic they're both able and required to grow in size and features to keep up with growing requirements and ability to pay. There must be about a billion drivers who had Civic's when young and unattached who are now fitting two kids in the back seat.
posted by scheptech at 12:26 PM on August 31, 2006

As others have said, it's the safety gear. See the difference between old Mini Coopers and the new cool Mini Cooper models for an even more disparate curb weight.
posted by frogan at 1:02 PM on August 31, 2006

Knave nailed it, but I feel like chiming in anyway: Safety features; heftier motors and drivetrains; more accessories; overall biggerness.

Of course, this only applies to North American autos. Cars are still pretty svelte in Europe & Asia.

Oh. I'd add the Honda S2000 to Knave's list of lightweight sporties (at "just" 2855 pounds).
posted by notyou at 1:41 PM on August 31, 2006

I thought I heard somewhere that the measurement is different these days. Something about curb weight?
posted by GregX3 at 6:20 PM on September 7, 2006

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