Space Invaders:How the nation’s most popular cars have bulked out over the years
If you’ve ever struggled to squeeze your car into a parking space at the supermarket, or getting it into the garage is like threading the eye of a needle, you’ve probably wondered: “are cars bigger than they used to be?”.
The answer is a definite yes, with almost all cars getting bigger and bulkier with each new generation.
The reason for this is largely down to safety, giving the vehicle more crushable bodywork, but what does this actually look like, and which cars have grown the most?
45 years after launching, the Ford Fiesta is still the UK’s favourite car, with over 1.5 million registered in the UK today. In that time, the Fiesta has gone through seven generations, in which time it has become almost half a metre longer, as well as 167mm wider and 123mm higher.
While it hasn’t been with us quite as long as its close cousin the Fiesta, the Ford Focus has been one of the nation’s favourite cars for almost a quarter of a century now. Between its first and second generations, the Focus got 140mm wider, although later versions narrowed back down slightly.
The Vauxhall Corsa was originally known as the Nova when it arrived in the UK in 1982 before later versions tried to cater to a wider audience. As the focus shifted toward making the Corsa a more family-friendly vehicle, the size obviously grew, with today’s Corsa measuring 233mm wider than the original version from 1982.
As is the case with many of these cars, the Volkswagen Golf saw its most radical changes in its first couple of generations, with later versions favouring an approach of evolution rather than revolution in later years.
While it’s been around for over 40 years now, the Vauxhall Astra is one of the nation’s most popular vehicles that has grown the least, seeing its length, width and height increase by just 372, 173 and 85mm respectively.
The VW Polo is now in its sixth generation and interestingly, was one of the few cars we looked at which is no longer available in its original body style. The first two versions of the Polo were available as three-door hatchbacks, but these days, the vehicle is much bigger, with just five and four-door variants available.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series is another vehicle that has changed quite a bit since it launched in 1975. Originally released as a two-door sedan, the 3 Series actually got smaller when the four-door version which we know today was first launched in 1982, but like all cars on the market, it has steadily grown since then.
A relative newcomer, the Nissan Qashqai will soon be launching its third generation, and while it’s certainly one of the bulkier cars that we looked at, it actually hasn’t grown that much since its launch in 2006.
The Toyota Yaris is fairly unique on our list in that its current version is actually smaller than its first generation (well, when it comes to one dimension anyway). That’s because the original 1999 Yaris stood at 1,500mm tall, while today’s version is ever so slightly shorter, at 1,470mm.
One of the most iconic vehicles of all time, the Mini Cooper (also known as the Mini Hatch or just the Mini), has existed in one form or another since 1959, but the modern-day version launched in late 2000 after the marque was acquired by BMW. Like the Yaris, the Mini Cooper has actually got smaller in terms of height, but bigger in every other regard.
When the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was launched 1993, it was the smallest model in the company’s line-up, but it’s gradually got bigger over the years, growing by 246mm in terms of length and 100mm in width since that initial launch almost 30 years ago.
Audi’s most popular car is the A3 small family car, which has been around since 1996. Initially based on the same platform as the Audi TT, Volkswagen Golf and Touran and others, the A3 has grown by 185mm in length and 81mm in width since then.
From one extreme to another, the Land Rover’s Range Rover is another iconic vehicle, but a much bigger one! The Range Rover was initially only available as a three-door, with a five-door version of the Classic model seeing the dimensions increase considerably. Since then, the increase in size for the five-door model has been much more gradual.
How the nation's favourite cars fit into a standard parking space
So, how easy would it be to try and fit the vehicles above into a standard car parking space today?
The standard dimensions for a parking bay are 4,800mm x 2,400mm, so we’ve visualised how the most popular cars fit below and some are a much tighter squeeze than others!
We looked at the most commonly registered cars in the UK according to the Department for Transport and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s licensed vehicles by make and generic model name data (VEH0128) as of Q4 2020 (October to December).
For each vehicle, we compared the wheelbase, length, width and height for each generation since their launch.
To try to keep things consistent, we looked at the same body style throughout where possible, or the closest body style available if not. For example if a car started out as just a 3-door hatchback but these days offers other options such as a sedan, we stuck with the hatchback model.
Standard parking bay size: https://www.britishparking.co.uk/write/Documents/Library%202016/Bay_Sizes_-_Jul_2016.pdf - Off-street bay’s page 2.