Bigger, more powerful and safer. Today’s cars have grown in almost everything compared to those that were marketed, for example, in the late nineties. This is seen in the evolution of long-life models, both in their measurements and in their equipment. The progression of the automobile has been dizzying in recent decades.
The changes have been similar in any type of tourism, from utilities to saloons or SUVs. All of them have followed parallel paths, repeating common patterns : greater length and width, more power, more efficient engines, lower consumption, more complete safety equipment and increasingly advanced technological endowments.
These changes can be easily seen in the photo gallery that closes these lines, which shows the changes of three representative models: the Seat Ibiza, the most popular of the utility vehicles in Spain for decades; the Volkswagen Passat, a mid-size saloon, and the BMW X5, the pioneer of SUVs.
Size and safety have gone hand in hand. Over the years, all segments have grown steadily, to the point that today’s B-segment utilities are like the compacts of almost three decades ago.
Take as an example the Ibiza, which has grown 25 centimeters since 1993: the second generation of the model measured 3.81 meters, compared to 4.06 today. And the current Volkswagen Polo is somewhat larger than the third generation Golf, from 1992: 4,053 millimeters versus 4,020).
This has been due to the fact that the structures have become increasingly complex. Cars have gone from the mere sheet metal of their predecessors to incorporate passive safety elements to better resist impacts in the event of an accident, which have increased the volume and weight of passenger cars.
The larger size also makes the models more spacious, but not as spacious as you might expect. Its gain in habitability is not equivalent to the exterior growth, since the thickness of some components – such as the doors – reduces space to the interior.
With the increase in size and weight, it was necessary to incorporate motors of increasing power. Growth has been evident in all segments, but where it has been most noticed is in the lower ones. The urbanites have gone from blocks of 30 or 40 HP to propellants that reach up to 90, while the compact ones usually exceed 100 HP; in its sportier versions they are around 200.
However, this increase in power, on many occasions doubling the figures of its predecessors, has not led to higher fuel costs, but rather the figures have been maintained and even lowered. This has been achieved thanks to the use of smaller displacement blocks aided by the turbo and, in recent years, by the support of electric motors in the case of hybrid vehicles.
The same has happened with emissions: engines have evolved to be much cleaner thanks to particle filters, additives and the aforementioned hybrid technology. Current models homologate polluting emissions lower than those of 10 or 20 years ago.
The technological improvement of automobiles has been reflected in the evolution of engines, but also in two other areas: comfort and safety.
Just take a look at the dashboards of 1990s, 2000s and 2010s to see the change in infotainment systems. These have gone from being mere radio cassettes to multimedia centers with touch screen, Internet connection and increasingly precise voice commands … To this are added details that improve comfort such as heated seats or even with a massage function, as well as a better soundproofing of the cabin.
Safety is the other key area in which it shows over the years. Along with structural improvements (driven, among other reasons, by the requirements of the Euro NCAP crash tests), the cars have been incorporating highly evolved driving assistance systems : cruise control, blind spot warning, emergency braking, pedestrian detection or lane keeping are common in more and more models.
30 years ago the use of the seat belt in the rear seats was not even compulsory in Spain (it was from 1992 onwards), while the ABS and the airbag are included in all cars since 2004 and 2006, respectively.