Chevy recently pulled the wraps off its new Malibu sedan at the Shanghai Motor Show (see photo below). As BNET's Jim Motavalli recently noted, this is General Motors' (GM) new "world car," a vehicle that meant to appeal to... well, everybody, whether they inhabit Manhattan or Mumbai. Trouble is, this family sedan may not appeal to families.
We may still call them "family cars," but as I noted a few years ago, families these days have little use for the classic four-door sedan of American lore. The Malibu certainly has its place -- GM design guru Bryan Nesbitt says it's about "style and sportiness" -- but the typical family garage isn't it. In fact, there really are no classic "family cars" that makes much sense for the modern American brood. Here's why::
- They don't have enough room for seven people. Seven is the new four. Birthrates per family may be dropping throughout the developed world, but the U.S. is still holding up its end of the evolutionary bargain. This mean more than two kids per family. Now, you might say that those two kid could easily fit into a four-door sedan, but you'd be overlooking the fact that those kids rarely roll alone: their patents routinely transport somebody else's 2.5 children. Do the math. Most family sedans don't have a third row of seating.
- They don't have enough cupholders. America is obsessed with hydration. And Slurpees. Therefore, any vehicle that purports to be for the family needs to have, at a minimum, four cupholders per person. My Honda Odyssey has seven in the front seat alone. You need minivan/crossover/SUV architecture to accommodate that much carriage for liquids.
- They have become far too organized around the "driving experience." Ever since BMW and its sports sedans showed up in the USA, our ideas of how four-doored conveyances should accelerate and handle has been under radical revision. All mid-size sedans, it now seems, aspire to the condition of the BMW 5-series. Obviously, a family with the usual number of kids, cupholders, booster seats, bikes, and pets isn't going to be taking to the weekend byways of our fair land as if they were headed for a few laps at the Nurburgring.
- They have trunks. A cavernous trunk was once a very appealing feature on a decent-sized sedan. Not anymore. The modern family vehicle doesn't have a trunk -- it has a hatch that might remind some of a small airplane hanger. Or a trucklike tailgate that can easily accommodate lumber, cement, and gardening supplies gathered at Saturday morning Home Depot runs.
- They look too darn good. The family car used to be designed to absorb a certain amount of punishment. Vinyl seats were not out of the question. Sedans nowadays, by contrast, are sleek and glittering showplaces inside and out. With their tightly integrated interiors, they can't handle years of spilled Go-Gurt, refugee raisins, and mud-slathered lacrosse cleats.
- They aren't self-sufficient. Families may eventually have to drive their kids to college. This used to mean strapping luggage, supplies, etc. to the roof of the sedan, pioneer-style. The modern family van or SUV, however, can inhale what the average kid would need for freshman year without requiring a roof rack and a U-Haul.
- They lack towing capacity. See above. The sheer cargo space of an SUV obviates the need to tow stuff -- but when you do tow, you want to be able to tow a lot. Four-door sedans aren't optimized to tow fishing boats or trailers bedecked with dirt bikes or Jet Skis.