The family saloon is about to die | Axon’s Automotive Anorak

20th May 2022
Gary Axon

Recently I helped out some friends by dog sitting for a few days, taking up residence in their perfectly pleasant house. It was a new-build ‘executive’ home (whatever that is), located on a large estate consisting mainly of lively children, bicycles strewn on immaculate lawns and a sea of faceless shiny new crossovers and SUVs that all look the same to me.


This was an environment totally alien to an old property country dweller such as me, where wellies, older mud-splattered cars and working Land Rovers are the norm. Walking the friends’ dog around this modern housing estate development was an education, and revelation, in current new car tastes.

Rather than the familiar mid-size British family saloons of my childhood when I used to cycle around my parents’ area (Ford Cortinas, Vauxhall Cavaliers, et al), gracing the driveways of today were a collection of mostly German-branded SUV boxes.

As if to reinforce the rapidly changing tastes of modern family car buyers or company car-driving reps, this week saw the end of an era. The announcement of the final nail being bashed firmly into the coffin of the reps delight – the mid-size family car – came on Monday. Vauxhall, via its German Opel cousin, declared that it is ending production of its mid-market Insignia family saloon range with immediate effect, just as Volkswagen has also pulled the plug on its three-box booted Passat saloon recently.


The demise of the mid-size Insignia (the Vauxhall Cavalier’s natural generational successor) comes after Ford stopped production of the Mondeo earlier this year, without offering a replacement (although the name and model will live on with an all-new version in China, where saloon cars remain in demand). 

Sixty years ago, it was a very different story when Ford first introduced the Cortina (or Consul Cortina, to give it its correct early nomenclature). That model quickly became Britain’s best-selling mid-sized family saloon by some margin, going on to dominate its huge market sector for 20 years, until replaced by the controversial Sierra in 1992. Though eventually a strong-seller, the Ford Sierra never quite burrowed its way into our affections in the same way that the Cortina did, despite arguably being a better car overall (and not helped by facing fierce competition from the front-wheel-drive second-generation Vauxhall Cavalier; the darling of its day for every photo copier sales representative). The Mondeo that replaced the Sierra really was a vast improvement over its Ford family saloon predecessors. It became so commonplace by the mid-1990s that ‘Mondeo Man’ became a generic term for Tony Blair’s so-called ‘New Labour’ era.


From dominating the British new car market for decades, the three-box mainstream medium-sector family saloon is now really at risk of becoming extinct. With the Insignia and Passat now gone, the only remaining family saloons currently available from mainstream car makers are the Mazda 6 (soon to be pensioned off without a successor waiting in the wings), Peugeot 508 (which deserves to sell) and the Renault Talisman, which the French maker elected not to offer British buyers because it couldn’t justify the expense of developing the model in RHD form. Family saloon offerings from other ‘regular’ manufacturers, such as the Toyota Avensis, Nissan Primera and Honda Accord, for example, are now all distant memories. Their demise has left the field open to the more expensive (but no longer exclusive) premium brand saloon offerings with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, plus the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE for a few braver soles with more imagination seeking originality.


For a Generation X child that grew-up with ‘normal’ family saloons, the appeal of a crossover or SUV remains rather lost on me. Okay, I get the practically and versatility an SUV offers, but the bland, all-looking-the-same slab-sided styling mixed with inferior aerodynamics and on-road dynamics (a high centre of gravity is always going to lose out in handling terms to a lower ride height) are too high a price to pay for me to even consider such a compromise. These are arguably sad times for ‘real’ car enthusiasts, struggling to come to terms with a high-riding SUV, particularly when it wears a thoroughbred sporting badge with an enviable heritage built on creating true drivers’ cars, such as Lotus, Lamborghini or Ferrari.

  • Saloon

  • Vauxhall

  • Insignia

  • Cavalier

  • Ford

  • Mondeo

  • Cortina

  • Sierra

  • Volkswagen

  • Passat

  • BMW

  • 3 Series

  • Mercedes

  • C-Class

  • Audi

  • A4

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