It Was Only 11 Years Ago

  • July 19, 2023

You can get a sense of things by comparing things. It’s a way to objectively quantify whether you have more – or less. Which is a measure of whether things have gotten better – or worse.

In 2011 – only a dozen years ago, though it feels like an epoch – it was possible to not spend more than about $29k on a six-passenger, full-size, rear-wheel-drive family sedan with a standard V8 engine and a 20.6 cubic foot trunk. This was the Ford Crown Victoria – and it was the last full-sized family car with a standard V8 (and body-on-frame construction) that wasn’t a luxury-priced car.

Today, a similar car such as the 2023 BMW 7 Series sedan costs $93,300 – and for that you get a car about the same size as the Crown Victoria – both are 212 inches long – but without a standard V8 engine. The BMW comes standard a much smaller 3.0 liter six cylinder engine vs. the Ford’s standard 4.6 liter V8 engine.

It’s true the BMW’s six makes more power than the Ford’s V8 but that misses the point – which is that it was only a dozen years ago that average Americans could afford a V8-powered full-size family car that seated six in comfort whereas today only a few very affluent people can afford to buy a nearly-six-figure full-sized luxury car that doesn’t come standard with a V8.

People forget that it was common – only a little more than ten years ago – for family-priced cars like the Vic to have them. And it was expected when you spent nearly $100k on a luxury-priced car such as a BMW 7 or similar, such as a Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS or Audi A8.

Some of the latter were available with V12s.

Today, a V8 is optional – in some of these luxury cars.

And no one is selling a six-passenger, rear-wheel-drive family car with a standard V8 today for about $40k – which is what the $29,905 base price of the 2011 Crown Vic works out to, today.

It is true the Vic did not have a massive LCD touchscreen built into its dash, as new six figure full-sized luxury cars do. But it is also true that almost every other new car – including cars that cost a great deal less than the Vic did when it was new – also come standard with LCD touchscreens. And most of the other things that were once considered luxury-car things, such as climate control AC, very good stereos, full-roof sunroofs – and so on.

In other words, such things have become or are becoming common things. The person who pays six figures is paying more to get what others who pay a lot less also get.

But that only goes as far as amenities – and gimmicks.

For example, many of the newest luxury-priced cars can be voice-commanded to do things simply done by hand, such as turn up or down the volume of the stereo, or change the station – which has become harder to do in many of today’s six figure cars because you can’t do it by hand anymore. You are expected to tap/swipe the LCD touchscreen – which isn’t easy to do while driving, at least not without diverting your attention from driving.

There are also “soft close” doors that cinch themselves tight – because it is apparently laborious to close the door by hand. Things like this increasingly differentiate the six figure car from the family-priced car.

But the real point of difference is just that.

There no longer are family-priced, full-sized, six passenger, rear-drive cars such as the Crown Victoria and others like it (they once abounded). The closest you can get to something like it is the current Dodge Charger, which is a very nice car – but also a smaller (mid-sized, five-passenger) car. It is 198.4 inches long (a 2011 Vic is more than a foot longer) and it comes standard with a V6 and only has 16.4 cubic feet of space in its trunk.

The good news is it costs about $7k less to start (in inflation-adjusted/depreciated buying-power U.S. dollars) than the last Vic listed for when it was new. The bad news is that the Charger isn’t a full-sized, six-passenger car with a full-sized car’s trunk – and so is much less viable as a family car than the Vic was.

It is also being shoved off the market – just like the Vic was – and not because the market wasn’t (or isn’t) interested. The V8 Vic had to go because its V8 used too much gas for the government’s tastes.

Or rather, its regulations.

“Compliance costs” would have pushed the price of the Vic into luxury car territory – just as they have pushed V8s out of the engine bays of today’s full-size luxury cars, all of which come standard with sixes, notwithstanding their luxury car prices.

Dodge was able to continue building the Charger (and its siblings, the Challenger and Chrysler 300 ) for many years after the Vic was forced off the market – because their standard sixes were more to the government’s liking. But the government doesn’t like them as much anymore – sixes having become as mass-market compliant-impossible these days as V8s were back in those days (2011) and that is why all three of these are being pushed off the market, too.

This leaves most families looking at a much smaller (and much smaller-engined) front-wheel drive (maybe AWD) crossover, which is about what they can buy today for around $40k.

As contrasted with what $40k used to buy.

. . .

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