Ah, saloons… Remember those? Back in the 1970s saloons were the body style of choice, with the king of the hill being the Ford Cortina. Three-box cars were everywhere, with many people in the UK considering hatchbacks to be little more than utility vehicles that lacked prestige. Perhaps that’s why the Princess didn’t get the hatchback it deserved.
That perception was, of course, changing rapidly – especially across la manche in mainland Europe, where cars like the Renault 5 and Volkswagen Golf were proving classless and desirable, and sweeping all rivals aside. Hatchbacks were becoming the norm, and growing to meet the increasingly affluent market – so much so that, by the mid-1970s, Renault’s new flagship 30 was proudly a five-door.
We Brits were on the whole more conservative. Our favourite small family car was the Ford Escort and the biggest seller was the Ford Cortina. Take for instance the UK Top 20 sales chart for 1980 – it looked like this… a Smörgåsbord of saloon car loveliness.
- Ford Cortina (190,261)
- Ford Escort (122,257)
- Ford Fiesta (91,661)
- Austin-Morris Mini (61,129)
- Morris Marina and Ital (58,906)
- Vauxhall Chevette (46,059)
- Vauxhall Cavalier (41,119)
- Austin Allegro (39,612)
- Ford Capri (31,187)
- Renault 18 (30,958)
- Datsun Sunny (30,954)
- Datsun Cherry (30,929)
- Ford Granada (29,033)
- Renault 5 (27,023)
- Rover SD1 (24,240)
- Talbot Horizon (22,508)
- Austin Maxi (22,229)
- Talbot Sunbeam (21,619)
- Austin-Morris Princess (21,530)
- Talbot Alpine (19,374)
As you can see, the 11 highlighted cars in the Top 20 were available in saloon form. But, even back then, you could see that times were changing and the market was beginning to shift towards hatchbacks. The most ‘European’ of British cars, the Rover SD1 was doing okay, but the saloon-bodied Ford Granada was slightly ahead – if nothing else, it showed that executive cars buyers were still the most ingrained saloon car buyers of them all.
Fast forward 40 years and, boy, are things different. Today’s news that the Volkswagen Passat is being phased out in saloon form tells you all you need to know about buying habits in 2022. Buyers simply don’t want three-box saloons these days, unless they’re of the luxury variety – and, even then, cars like the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series are now being comfortably outsold by their SUV cousins, the Q5 and X5.
As for the Passat, yes, you can still buy it in Estate form – but Volkswagen’s statement that its removal from the price lists clears the way for the fastback-coupe Arteon to be a more stylish alternative doesn’t really tell the full story – because, in reality, Passat buyers are probably shifting to the Tiguan SUV, which Volkswagen confirmed was its biggest global seller in 2020, ahead of the once-dominant Golf.
So, the SUV is now the dominant bodystyle, occupying the slot once taken proudly by saloons? It would appear that way, as SUVs, crossovers, call them what you will, are now the default family car. Put that down to more practicality and all-round appeal, and the fact that so few business drivers have their car chosen for them by a cost-conscious fleet manager – user-choosing is all the rage.
A quick look at the UK Top 10 sales chart shows you just how different things are now…
- Vauxhall Corsa (40,914)
- Tesla Model 3 (34,783)
- MINI (31,792)
- Mercedes-Benz A-Class (30,710)
- Volkswagen Polo (30,634)
- Volkswagen Golf (30,240)
- Nissan Qashqai (29,922)
- Ford Puma (28,697)
- Kia Sportage (27,611)
- Toyota Yaris (27,415)
Of the Top 10 cars, only two are available as saloons – and, although the Tesla Model 3 is saloon-only, I’d suspect it’s bought on the strength of its EV package, and not because it’s a saloon. As for the Mercedes-Benz A-Class – when did you last see the three-box version on the road? Exactly…
For those who tell us that SUVs are everywhere, the Top 10 sellers makes interesting reading – only the Qashqai, Puma and Sportage tick that box, with the rest of the bunch being hatchbacks. Again, us conservative Brits are behind our European cousins on that score. And look! It’s first time since the 1970s that Ford hasn’t given us the best-selling car – what a good news story for Vauxhall!
Why I’ll miss saloons
But going back to the point of this piece – I for one will miss the saloon. Although there are still plenty of saloons on the market, most notably from the premium manufacturers, they are being squeezed – so, for me, it’s game over over for the mass market.
I love the concept that there are three boxes – one for the engine, one for the passengers and one for the luggage. Simple, safe and straightforward. Practicality obviously takes a hit compared with a hatch or an estate, but you know what you’re getting with a saloon.
Perhaps that’s me just hankering for a simpler time, but if we lose saloons from the market, we lose choice. Then again, though, like the humble MPV, it would appear their time is up. That’s a shame as I’ll miss the separate boot!