The if, when, and how of buying a sedan in an SUV world
American sedans are dead. Nameplates such as the Chevrolet Impala, Chrylser 200, Dodge Dart, and Ford Fusion sedan were discontinued by their respective automakers in recent years. The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger still soldier on gamely, but they’re old hats now and appeal more for their nostalgic muscle-car vibes than anything else. But sedans in general aren’t totally dead quite yet. Toyota and Honda sold nearly a million sedans in the USA in 2020 and the Japanese now rule the shrinking sedan segment in America.
There are two main reasons why automakers such as GM and Ford have given up on the American sedan. In a shrinking market, only the best will do and to this end, Japanese and Korean automakers have refined their mid-size and compact sedans to a point where they offer suburb value, quality, and reliability that go unchallenged by local brands. Secondly, the three-box sedan format still appeals to an aging demographic that grew up with such cars and isn’t willing to change its buying habits now. Do brand-new sedan models still make sense in 2021?
Let’s Talk About Money
It’s not just about what you pay for a new car. The purchase makes out only a part of the money equation and a sedan tends to falter in terms of value for money because this takes into account how much value you actually get out of your purchase. In terms of cargo space, drivetrain configurations, rough-road ability, and sheer utility value, crossover and SUV vehicles offer a lot more value, because you can do many more things with them. They can do the job of a sedan, but they can also tackle the dirt track to the campsite.
SUVs and trucks also hold onto their used values better, so you get even more for your dollar when you sell again because you can demand a higher price. This is yet another argument for SUVs and the fact that they are more versatile and fetch better resale values often negates the fact that they are more expensive to buy. They recoup that extra investment in the utility value and value retention.
Consider the vehicles with the highest resale value in the US in 2021:
- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with an average depreciation of 30.9 percent over five years
- Toyota Tacoma with 32.4 percent
- Jeep Wrangler with 32.8 percent
- Porsche 911 with 36 percent
- Toyota Tundra with 37 percent
- Toyota 4Runner with 38.5 percent
- Subaru WRX with 39.8 percent
- Dodge Challenger with 40.6 percent
- GMC Canyon with 41.2 percent
- Nissan Frontier with 43.5 percent
As you can see, this list is made up of trucks, SUVs, and sought-after performance vehicles, with not a single sedan to be seen anywhere. In terms of an investment, then, sedans make for a poor one, because it doesn’t cost much less than a more versatile crossover, yet isn’t as practical, and lose its value more quickly. It doesn’t really make sound economic sense to buy a new sedan unless you are perfectly happy with these compromises and don’t mind driving it for years to get the proper value out of it.
The Sedan Compromises
If you want to go ahead and buy a sedan, be sure you can live with these compromises:
- Seating: Even the most spacious sedan can only realistically seat four people in comfort, so regard that as the maximum.
- Cargo: The trunk capacity of a sedan typically max out at less than 20 cubic feet and even if you can fold down the seats, the space is impractical and hindered by the three-box design of the body.
- Towing: Not all sedans are even rated to tow, or might not be able to tow as much in comparison with even an average crossover SUV.
- Height: A sedan does not give you a great view out, because you sit low to the ground. It doesn’t have much ground clearance either and isn’t meant for bad roads.
How to Buy A Sedan
Our advice is to buy a used sedan. Because they don’t retain their value well, you can buy great value this way and will have access to a better model in the range with a bigger engine and more performance and luxury features than if you were to buy new – at a lower price. Make a shortlist of the necessary luxury and safety features you require in your sedan and go shopping. With even the base model of most popular mid-size sedans costing well over $20,000 new, you can get a lot more car for your money used, but don’t skimp on the safety features.
With a focus on family safety, here are a few great used ideas for under $20,000 in the different size classes:
- Small sedans: If you can live with their size, lots of compact sedans offer you something very recent, from say 2017 and newer, with great tech and safety features, such as the Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, and Subaru Impreza.
- Compact sedans: Thanks to their steeper depreciation, premium compact sedans such as the BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, and Volkswagen Jetta are commonplace and most of them are five years old at the most.
- Mid-size sedans: The mid-sizers are ten a penny and therefore often even cheaper than some compact sedans. Modern, safe choices include the Volkswagen Passat, Mazda 6, and Honda Accord.
- Large sedans: Even some large sedans such as a used Ford Taurus or Hyundai Genesis from the mid-2010s can be of great value at this price level.
We live in an SUV-crazy world, but if you need nothing more than a normal sedan for highway and town driving – or perhaps as a more efficient extra car for the daily commute – there are still great options out there. We would recommend buying new ones unless you are going to keep them for a long time and can justify the new MSRP. With so many options out there, a recent model used sedan is superb value and makes more economic sense than a new one.
- Next read this: 5 Surprising Affordable Cars for Women