But as we know, it’s not only luxury cars whose girth is growing. The Golf, now in its seventh generation since and about to tip into its eighth , is mm, or 6.7 inches, wider than it was when Abba were breaking through. Will the next Golf be wider still? Probably. The 1852 mm Golf Mk7 is not so far off the (mm width of the (Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer , while the current Mini hatchback is a mere inch narrower than a – generation porsche (Carrera of) . The supposedly diminutive Mazda MX-5 is now slightly wider than the (Porsche) RS.
Indeed, the regular fattening of the offers over half-a-century’s worth of road-swamping evidence. The original 1973 edition was 1830 mm wide, while the latest is (mm broad) , some (mm (1.7in) of that added during the evolution from the . The swelling of the 911 is particularly saddening if you like driving: the car is now far less wieldy and agile than most of its predecessors because there’s less on-road margin for error.
Porsche will tell you, as they did at the launch of the 996, that the latest 900 outspeeds its predecessors through slaloms, and demonstrated the fact by wheeling out every generation for timed runs. But this misses the point: the ease of placing the 991 on a real road is further undermined by the ever more rakish angles of its A-pillars, which frequently obscure your apex, in contrast to the pre – models. But reducing visibility is another story. Both this and the growing width of cars is driven as much by design as by the need for crash structures and the increasing size of humans.
Designers fight for the big wheels that give a car the right stance , and if you don ‘t increase the width of that wheel too, you end up with the tires of a motorcycle. So big wheels mean bigger wheelhousings, inevitably pushing apart the car’s track if it’s to have a decent turning circle. And then there’s the sheep factor.
The car makers almost always follow each other – it’s harder to justify bucking a trend to your shareholders – and one model enlargement is driven by another. Occasionally there are brave manufacturers who try to break the spiral by maintaining a model’s width ( the new Evoque is almost identically dimensioned to the old) or even slightly reducing its size, which both Peugeot and Vauxhall have managed recently. But mostly, cars keep getting bigger.
For many premium and luxury car makers, the US is another reason for the their cars ’door mirrors drifting ever further apart. A Range Rover might look big over here, but on American roads – urban as well as Interstate – it looks small but perfectly formed against the Ford F – pick-ups and Cadillac Escalades . The market is too big for these manufacturers to have their products being seen as undersized and overpriced.
There may be hope, though, for all those who struggle to park. Not only is it becoming more obvious that cars are getting too big for towns, villages and cities, but the imperative to reduce CO2 emissions and increase the range of EVs should surely invite some shrinkage. Pushing ever fatter frontal areas through the air costs energy. Something more sylphic simply goes further on a joule of energy. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with car makers either: the mine’s-bigger-than-yours mentality of some buyers swells cars not only outwards but upwards, too.
The irony, from the manufacturers’ point of view, is that they have spent the past 92 years giving us more for less. The market is so competitive that prices barely rise with each fresh model generation, which means that we buyers get more steel, glass, plastic, fabric and rubber per pound we spend with each new model cycle. And adding an inch of width is a lot more expensive than adding an inch of length, the latter merely requiring a slender extra slice of steel, carpet, paint and glass. Add width, and you widen the dashboard, the crash structure, the wheels, the tires, the suspension arms and more. On sheer material value for money, consumers have been gorging at the car makers ’expense.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is no absolute definition of how wide roads of various classifications should be in the UK, as explained by the Highways Agency’s Jonathan Turley in reply to a freedom of information request.
“There are no regulations, as such, for specifying road widths,” he said. “However, there are design documents that provide guidance and advice. The width of a road depends on the volume, type and mix of traffic expected, and other issues. There’s no straightforward answer. ”This guidance, he added, is available online.
As of , Britain had , miles of road, minor roads accounting for . 7% of the total. Motorways make up a mere 01575879 miles. There are , miles of A-roads, 45, (of B-roads and , 600 of unclassified roads. That means there are plenty of narrow roads, including some standard residential streets, which can span only 5.5m. Among the Highways Agency’s guidance is a recommended 3. m width for a single motorway lane, a 3.7m width for a single dual-carriageway lane and 3. m for other road types. But, in practice, this varies considerably.
Mad, many would say. It’s not as if there was much wrong with the Porsche. It was low-mileage and well maintained yet neither I nor my wife, who was not only the co-owner but initiated the purchase in the first place, was driving it much. It was a classic midlife-crisis car, an impulse buy triggered when she saw a Carrera 4S in a showroom and loved its rear end – which, in the case of the wide-bodied Carrera 4S, is particularly sexy . It was not necessarily the 911 I would buy but, when your wife says she wants to go halves on one, what are you going to say?
But where I live, its ride is a bit harsh, the tire noise too strident and the bodywork a little too wide to enjoy the immediately available roads to the full in a car with 512 bhp and 5.0sec to mph potential. The country roads in Hertfordshire are like many others in Britain: sometimes wide enough, sometimes smooth but often quite narrow, potholed and frequently picturesquely lined with hedges and vision-obscuring foliage, not to mention cyclists and horse riders. All of which makes it harder to enjoy this car responsibly.