Full-size cars are usually denoted for their length, nearing 5,000 mm (197 in) in basic sedans, with luxury models often tending to reach 5,250 mm (207 in). Previously, a wheelbase greater than 2,790 mm (110 in) was the criterion. The term first appeared in the early 1960s to define what also became known as "standard" size cars from the new compact and intermediate models then being introduced. Full-size is also defined in space measurement as greater than 3,300 L (120 ft³) of combined passenger and cargo interior volume.
Use of the term in North America became popular (and necessary) after the introduction of compacts by the US "Big Three" for the 1960 model year, and then a few years later the introduction of what became known as mid sized cars. While length and wheelbase varied (increasing over time) being considered full sized required a width as close as practical to the 80 inch width limit over which the federal government required vehicles to have clearance lights. The term was most correctly applied to cars close to the width limit carrying nameplates of "The Low Priced Three", Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth.
Manufacturers hoped their slightly more expensive brands such as Pontiac, Mercury, and Dodge, would be perceived by the public as more desirable than a full sized car even in situations where they weren't any larger. But while the difference between a full sized car, a basic large Chevrolet, Ford, or Plymouth, and a luxury car such as Cadillac, Lincoln, or Imperial, was clear, both manufacturers and consumers had difficulty classifying those in between, such as large Pontiacs, Mercurys, or Dodges. Manufacturers contributed to the lack of distinction by reaching into the lower price ranges with what had previously been considered medium priced brands.
For 1977, General Motors downsized its full-sized (and higher priced) cars, with overall width cut from approximately 80 inches to the mid-70 inch range. Chevrolet, Pontiac, and the less expensive Oldsmobile and Buick models had a 116-inch wheelbase. More expensive Oldsmobile and Buick models, plus the Cadillac had a 119 inch wheelbase but no more width. The cars sold less well than the 1976 models. GM and Chrysler downsized for 1979, Chrysler even building its downsized car on a modified version of its long running mid size platform, which was comparable in size to the new platforms designed by GM and Ford. By this time, a huge increase in gasoline prices had made it difficult to sell any large cars, downsized or not. Chrysler had the huge misfortune of introducing two consecutive new designs of its largest cars, in 1974 and 1979, during times when gasoline prices suddenly increased.
EPA interior and trunk volume categories for the most part resulted in mid size, full size, and luxury cars common in the mid 70s all being classified as large cars. The 80s Plymouth Gran Fury, Dodge Diplomat, and Chrysler Fifth Avenue, classified as large cars at the time, were derived from the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare, originally marketed as compacts.
While many modern cars are referred to as full size, they don't qualify for the term as used in the 60s and 70s. Consumer acceptance of large SUVs approaching 80 inches in width shows interest remains in vehicles capable of three across seating with reasonable comfort, a strong point of a true full size car. A true full sized car produced with today's technology, would provide this functionality with the additional advantages of better handling and fuel economy due to being lower than a large wide SUV.
Decline and renaissance
The sales of full-size vehicles in the United States declined after the early 1970s fuel crisis. By that time, full-size cars had grown to wheelbases of 121–127 inches (3.1–3.2 m) and overall lengths of around 225 in (5715 mm). In the 1970s due to the fuel crisis and the resulting rise in fuel costs, many people traded in their full-size cars for smaller models such as the Chevrolet Nova, Ford Maverick, and Plymouth Valiant, also it was during this time Japanese cars such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic gained popularity. American Motors discontinued its full-size AMC Ambassador in 1974; starting in the late 1970s, the other American automakers began selling full-size cars with smaller exterior dimensions and smaller, more fuel efficient engines. That, combined with gas being cheap once again in the 1980s, full-size cars regained popularity.
Chrysler discontinued its full size cars (Dodge Diplomat, Chrysler Fifth Avenue, and Plymouth Gran Fury) in 1989. General Motors discontinued its full size cars (Chevrolet Impala SS/Caprice, Buick Roadmaster, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and Cadillac Fleetwood) in 1996. The 2011 model year marks the final year of production of the Ford Panther platform (the Ford Crown Victoria/Police Interceptor, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car).
During the 1980s and 1990s, full-size cars lost ground to other vehicle types as family vehicles. Initially, full-size sedans and station wagons lost ground to minivans, which offered additional seating and cargo capacity with lower fuel consumption. During the 1990s, full-size sedans and wagons lost further ground to mid-size and full-size SUVs, as they had similar towing capacity and a V8 engine started becoming an option in mid-size versions. In North America, full-size station wagons would vanish during the1990s; Ford was the first to discontinue theirs after the 1991 model year, with GM following suit after 1996.
Now that fuel costs are high once again, people are looking towards today's more efficient vehicles. These include automobiles such as compact and mid-size vehicles powered by smaller, more efficient engines. American-brand full size sedans such as Buicks, and luxury full-size Deville DTS are still best-selling in the full-size segment. However, there is a serious attack on full size from promoting agencies, trying to replace the size with price range. Thus, for instance, a review like the one from USA News, named "Best luxury large cars of 2008" (see a link below) has included only one large car (Cadillac DTS) and all others are really mid-size cars. This is mostly because, in Europe, full-size cars have only recently gained in popularity. During the 1980s, full-size cars were rare in Europe, but now they have become a common sight. In Germany, full-size cars make up 15% of the total number of cars (VDA annual report), however, this number includes likely mid-size cars as well.
Outside North America
A "large family car," the equivalent of a full-size car class in Australian terms, often denoted by width. Therefore, the Ford Falcon, Toyota Aurion and Holden Commodore are considered large cars in the Australian and New Zealand markets. These cars are sometimes referred to as "family cars" in Australia, and are typically 4,800 mm (189 in) or more in length.
List of full-size cars
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Note: This list is current as of the 2011 model year.
Current full-size cars
An asterisk denotes a car available with 6-passenger seating
Recent full-size cars
- Car classification
- Vehicle size class
- "How are vehicle size classes defined?". fueleconomy.gov. Retrieved on 2007-08-22.
- Official US government car size class definitions
- use of "large cars" in "Best Luxury Large Cars 2008 from USA News