If Sedans are Dying Should You Still Buy One?


It can’t have escaped your notice that sedans are nowhere near as popular as they once were as everyone seems to be turning to SUVs and trucks these days, so you might be wondering that if sedans are dying should you still buy one?

Not so very long ago, the sedan was to go-to vehicle choice for an awful lot of buyers and the midsize sedan segment was probably the most fiercely competitive segment of the auto market. That’s quite obviously no longer the case. Even if it seems as though sedans are dying you shouldn’t let the current fashion for trucks and SUVs put you off buying one because there are some sensational models to choose from and some great deals to be had on them.

Why have sedans gone out of fashion?

Sometimes things see their popularity decline because they have been replaced by something better, and it’s probably fair to say that some people will inevitably see pickup trucks and SUVs as better than sedans these days. The thing is though it all depends on how you actually decide to quantify “better.”

If people are really honest with themselves, a lot of them are buying SUVs and crossovers that are little more than taller versions of sedans and wagons. Ok, I’ll concede that full-size SUVs and pickup trucks are completely different to sedans, wagons and hatches, but do you really think a Ford EcoSport has more legroom and cargo capacity than a sedan of a similar price? It’s probably a little taller – I’ll give you that – but how often have you sat in a sedan and hated the ride because you really wanted more space between the top of your head and the roof lining?

No, sedans have gone out of fashion simply because they’ve gone out of fashion, but there are still some absolutely sensational models out there and you really should give them proper consideration if you’re looking for a vehicle to carry up to five people and their stuff.

Sedans vs crossovers – the tale of the tape

Let’s take a popular compact crossover and compare it directly to the kind of sedan you can get for the same money, and one that you may have bought before we became so obsessed with SUVs. In this example, I’m going to use the Ford Escape and the Ford Fusion, and you might be a little surprised at some of the facts I’m going to hit you with here.

For a start, an entry-level 2020 Ford Fusion S has a starting MSRP of $23,170, but the 2020 Ford Escape S equivalent costs more with a starting MSRP of $24,105. But you’re getting more vehicle with the Escape crossover than with the Fusion midsize sedan aren’t you, and that’s why it costs more, right? Well, not really as it turns out. We’ll look at total passenger volume, to begin with, because the taller Escape is obviously going to have more than the lower Fusion sedan, right? In fact, the Fusion offers 102.8 cu.-ft. of passenger volume to just 98.7 cu.-ft. with the Escape.

There is a little more headroom in the front and back of the Escape, but the Fusion has it beat for front and rear legroom. Which is going to matter most to your passengers, headroom or legroom? I don’t think the answer is going to be headroom in too many cases.

Ford Escape crossover SUV

Despite the fact the Fusion is about 10 inches longer than the Escape with a wheelbase that’s also more than 6 inches longer, the Fusion has a smaller turning circle, so it’s more maneuverable than the crossover. I could go on and tell you the Fusion has a more powerful engine, that it drives and handles better, and that it still gets you better highway gas mileage than the Escape, but I think you’re getting the idea by now, aren’t you?

Declining sedan sales figures

Even though I’ve just given you what I would consider an almost watertight case for choosing the Fusion midsize sedan over an Escape crossover that costs a thousand dollars more, the majority of buyers will still opt for the Escape. The numbers just don’t lie, and almost every sedan you can think of saw its sales fall in 2018, especially those really, really great midsize models.

The sales figures for the five best-selling midsize sedans in 2018, compared to the previous year, were:

1. Toyota Camry sold 343,439 units –            DOWN 11.3%

2. Honda Accord sold 291,071 units –            DOWN   9.8%

3. Nissan Altima sold 209,146 units –             DOWN 18.0%

4. Ford Fusion sold 173,600 units –                DOWN 17.2%

5. Chevrolet Malibu sold 144,502 units          DOWN 22.2%

However, when we look at the top 5 compact crossovers the story is the complete opposite:

1. Toyota RAV4 sold 427,170 units –              UP +4.8%

2. Nissan Rogue sold 412,110 units –             UP +2.1%

3. Honda CR-V sold 379,013 units –               UP +0.3%

4. Chevrolet Equinox sold 332,618 units –   UP +14.5%

5. Ford Escape sold 272,228 units –               UP 11.7%

Mazda 6

The opportunity

At this point, I’d like to think that I’ve caught your attention, and at least made you think a little about whether a midsize sedan might be a better buy than an SUV at a similar price. I haven’t finished yet though, and I want to draw your attention back to those prices to make you aware of a fantastic opportunity.

The prices I quoted for the Escape and Fusion were the full retail prices, which can be very different from what you’ll actually pay at a dealership. The dealers will want to move slow-selling sedans from their stock to free up capital to buy more quick-selling and profitable SUVs, and that means they’ll be keen to do and deal and you’ll get far bigger discounts on a sedan than a crossover in the same price bracket.

It’s not just the dealers cutting their modest margins though. The manufacturers themselves are offering all sorts of incentives to buyers to move sedans because they can’t just stop producing them overnight. As well as price reductions and promotions, you’ll also be able to find low rate finance, deposit contributions, and free upgrades on trim levels and options.

If you want a new vehicle and you don’t need more than five seats, you’re not going to get a better deal than the ones currently available with sedans of all sizes, brands and in all price brackets.

Forget great deals on top-selling SUVs

A lot of buyers seem to think it’s their right to get a discount when they go to buy a brand new vehicle, regardless of what it is. This simply isn’t true, and let me tell you why. A dealer is only going to give you a big discount to snag a sale when things are difficult, or if there is an over-supply of a certain vehicle and everyone is trying to move them. If they have a sought-after model that everyone wants and if you don’t buy it the next customer will, why would they cut their margin to give you a discount?

Let’s take the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, which sold 39,153 units in 2018. That was an increase of 18.1 percent on the previous year, so do you think Mitsubishi dealers will be falling over themselves to slash the price anytime soon?

How about something much more expensive and luxurious? The Range Rover Sport saw sales rise in 2018 by 27 percent and the related Jaguar F-Pace saw its sales rise by 22 percent in the same period. Sales of the Audi Q5 were up by 21 percent, Mazda CX-5 sales rose by 18.1 percent, and I could go on and on with examples of why you’re unlikely to get a stellar deal on that fashionable SUV you have your eye on.

Honda Accord

All that glitters might not be gold though

I’ve shown you how an SUV crossover isn’t bigger or more practical than a sedan costing the same or less and I’ve explained why you can get a fantastic deal on a sedan but you’re unlikely to get much out of a dealer on a new SUV. However, a fantastic deal on a new sedan might still have its drawbacks, and it’s only right that I point them out too.

Finance – Although there might be some special finance deals with deposit contributions or low rates available for sedans, the monthly payments could still seem relatively high with some agreements. If you want to finance with a balloon payment to keep the monthly payments low, the balloon won’t be as high as it would be with an SUV of a similar price because the sedan won’t be worth as much in the future as the SUV.

Residuals – Even if you don’t use finance and you buy outright with cash instead, there’s still the problem of that residual value. By that I mean the amount you’re going to get when you eventually decide to sell or trade your sedan. If you pay $30,000 today for a sedan or an SUV, it’s a pretty safe bet that the SUV will be worth a bigger proportion of that $30,000 than the sedan will be after the same amount of time and the same amount of miles.

So should you still buy a sedan?

I’ve driven SUVs for many years and since long before they were fashionable. Then again, I did sell them for about seven years so I did have a lot as company vehicles. Even so, the last but one vehicle I bought was a top-spec Kia Sportage, and it was very good. However, when I looked at the market a year ago and saw what I could get for my money, I decided to go for a four-seat luxury convertible instead.

Did I miss the extra headroom and the fashionable SUV styling? No, I certainly didn’t, and I didn’t even miss the rear doors as I soon got my dog used to squeezing past the front seat when it was pulled forward.

If you have to have the latest fashionable thing and that means you have to have an SUV, then fair enough. At least I’ve burst that balloon where you pretend it’s because the SUV is more practical. All I would urge is that before you join the masses and sign up for that new crossover, please go and take a look at how much car you can get for your money with a sensational deal on a fantastic sedan.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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