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All about large cars

Please explain what a large car is.

A large car is an E-segment vehicle, or big car class, of around five metres in length, and over 1.8 metres in width.

A large car comes in what shapes?

Most large cars are sedan – or three-box – in shape or silhouette – that is, with a bonnet or hood, followed by the centre section, and then a boot or trunk for carrying cargo on.

These large cars are generally four-door (4DR) in configuration.

There are also wagons in four-door guises. These can also be known as Estates or Station Wagons, although more recently Sportwagon, Sportswagon, Sports Estate or Sportestate have also been utilised to denote the humble large-car wagon.

In the 1960s and 1970s, two-door large cars were relatively popular. These large cars were often individually referred to as a two-door (or 2DR) sedan, coupe, or hard top (or Hardtop). Three-door (3DR) large car models are extremely rear, but they did exist (Leyland Force 7V anybody?).

What are the different categories of large cars?

In Australia the large car segment – as defined by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (or FCAI) – is divided into the Large Cars under $70,000 class, or the Large Car over $70,000.

The sub-$70,000 Large Car segment is defined by its three biggest selling models – as the Holden Commodore class or Ford Falcon class.

Conversely, the over-$70,000 Large Car segment is usually more associated with prestige or luxury vehicles, such as the BMW 5 Series, so these will be covered under ‘Luxury’ or ‘Prestige’ vehicles.

Large cars have what engine choices available?

The overwhelming majority of large cars sold in Australia have six-cylinder petrol engines – in either V6 or I6 in-line six-cylinder (or 6-cylinder) configurations.

They range from about 3000cc to 4000cc in size, although engines are getting smaller now and so these sizing parameters are likely to drop to about 2500cc to 4000cc.

Measuring in litres, these have been known to include 2.8-litre, 2.9-litre, 3.0-litre, 3.1-litre, 3.2-litre, 3.3-litre, 3.5-litre, 3.6-litre, 3.8-litre, 3.9-litre, 4.0-litre, 4.1-litre, 4.2-litre, and 4.3-litre six-cylinder or V6 engines.

These large car engines have come in OHV overhead valve, OHC overhead cam, DOHC double overhead cam, and 4OHC quad overhead cam configurations.

Then there are the V8 petrol engines, ranging from about 4000cc 4.0-litre to over 7.0-litre sized V8s. Famous V8 badges included the 4.2 V8, 4.4 V8, 4.7 V8, 4.9 V8, 5.0 V8, 5.2 V8, 5.4 V8, 5.7 V8, 5.8 V8, and 6.0 V8.

In pre-metric days, V8 large cars had evocative titles like 289ci (for cubic inches), 302ci, 308ci, 327ci, 350ci, 351ci and 427ci.

On the other hand, we have had four-cylinder (4-cylinder) petrol engine large cars – namely Holden’s infamous VC-VH Commodore 4 from the early 1980s.

Yet some large cars such as the Honda Accord not only offer four-cylinder engine power, they can even come with V6 engines that ‘shut down’ two or three cylinders in order to create a three-cylinder or four-cylinder engine when cruising along – all to conserve fuel.

In the future, we can expect more of these cylinder cut-off engines in large cars to spread to other models.

Diesel-powered V6 and/or six-cylinder engines are also available in large cars offered in some other countries while four-cylinder diesel engines in turbo-diesel guises have already started to filter through to Australia.

Do large cars come in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive as well as rear-wheel drive?

Large cars used to be exclusively rear-wheel drive (RWD), until the 1985 Mitsubishi Magna – with its extra width in the body – gate-crashed the large-car class and introduced front-wheel drive (FWD) to the segment.

Since then we have seen more front-wheel drive large cars from Mitsubishi – such as the Verada and ill-fated 380 – as well as the growth in size and popularity of the FWD Honda Accord. The Hyundai Grandeur is another front-drive large car.

All-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) large cars have been limited to the slow-selling Holden Adventra of 2003 to 2006, as well as the Magna and Verada AWD sedans from a similar time frame.

Could you name me some green or environmental large cars please?

The diesel-powered Hyundai Grandeur is classed as Australia’s first modern diesel large car. But while this large car has reduced carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions, it has high NOX nitrogen oxide levels, which is also harmful.

Honda’s Accord V6 large car with active cylinder management cylinder cut-off technology is perhaps one of the greener large cars, since it requires less petrol when the technology is in operation, during cruising times, for instance.

We expect petrol-electric or even diesel-electric hybrid large cars to come on stream sometime after 2011 in Australia, although exactly who will provide hybrid large cars remains to be seen.

Advantages – large cars:

Large cars are generally ideal for towing boats and caravans and trailers because they have lots of power and are often rear-wheel drive (RWD) for better traction and weight distribution purposes.

Many people also believe that large cars are better suited for traversing large quantities of road by virtue of their anticipated greater refinement levels.

Large cars are often roomier than smaller cars, but not necessarily so – particularly if it is a large car with rear-wheel drive that you are comparing against a smaller or medium car with front-wheel drive. The centre differential that drives the rear wheels in a RWD large car creates a large space-wasting hump that dissects the cabin of a large car.

Since all of Australia’s local manufacturers produce large cars tailored for Australia, the common assumption is that large cars are stronger and better-suited for Australia’s local conditions, varying road surfaces, harsh climate and vast distances.

Further to this point, many people believe large cars have more powerful air-conditioning units to deal with our harsher environment, as well as greater dust-sealing properties, stronger and tougher suspension and more durable steering systems.

Finally, large cars often have large boots or cargo areas, to better handle bigger loads.

Disadvantages – large cars

Large cars have a number of disadvantages or drawbacks.

Large cars can use more fuel or petrol. Large cars pollute more than smaller cars usually do. Large cars often weigh more than smaller models and so need more resources to get them going. Large cars are less popular in the used car market, often resulting in lower resale values. Large cars take up more space, more room and more area. Large cars be harder to park, and unwieldy through corners.

Large cars do not have a green or environmental reputation, and this can rub off on the owner or operator.

Large cars are popular with fleet buyers, and so are often regarded as mere fleet cars rather than aspirational vehicles of choice.

Best large cars

The Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore (including its Holden Berlina and Holden Calais siblings) are often regarded as the best value new car buys on the planet.

Owing to their sporty rear-wheel drive chassis set-up and strong six-cylinder or V8 performance, they are also regarded as among the most enjoyable family cars to drive.

Popular large cars

Large car sales are not anywhere near the levels they were in the early 2000s, but the Holden Commodore still vies for the title of Australia’s best-selling car. This is because this large car is still a favourite with fleet buyers.

The Ford Falcon is also a popular large car, as is the Honda Accord.

Large car history – a peculiarly australian automobile

The large car in six-cylinder format was adopted by General Motors (using an early 1940s US Chevrolet design) to form the template of the great Australian family car from the late 1940s with the Holden 48-215 (or Holden FX).

Flying was still prohibitively expensive for many Australians, so a rugged, durable rear-wheel drive five or six-seater large car was regarded as the ideal family car, and the Holden went on to dominate the new-car market in Australia with models such as the FJ, FE and FC in the 1950s, FB, EK, EJ and EH in the early 1960s, and the HD and HR after that. The Kingswood replaced the Holden Special from 1968’s HK, until the smaller and lighter Holden VB Commodore proved to be a variation on a similar theme from November 1978.

Ford followed in Holden’s footsteps with the first Falcon in 1960 – the XK – while Chrysler tried from 1962 to 1981 with the Valiant, BMC/Leyland Australia with the Austin 1800-based Tasman and Kimberly (1970 to 1973), Nissan Skyline (1986 to 1990) and - most celebrated of all for its spectacular fall from grace after winning key awards – the Leyland P76 in 1973 and 1974.

Mitsubishi had the most success between 1985 and 2005 with the front-wheel drive Magna, but its 380 replacement that followed from 2005 suffered from being the wrong car at the wrong time, since fuel prices soared in the year it was launched.

Large cars - where do they come from?

Large cars sold in Australia are built in Australia (Ford Falcon in Melbourne and Holden Commodore in Adelaide), Thailand (Honda Accord) or in South Korea (Hyundai Grandeur).

Previous cars also came from Japan and North America.

What are some of the long-gone large car brands?

Large car brands that are now gone from Australia include the Mitsubishi 380, Mitsubishi Magna, Mitsubishi Verada, Toyota Vienta, Toyota Cressida, Toyota Crown, Nissan Skyline, Nissan 300C, Datsun 240K, Datsun Skyline, Datsun 240C, Datsun 260C, Datsun 280C, Datsun 300C, Datsun Cedric, Austin Kimberley, Austin Tasman, Austin 1800, Morris Major, Morris Elite, Austin Lancer, Leyland P76, Chrysler Valiant, Chrysler Regal, Chrysler Royal, Chrysler by Chrysler, Chrysler Charger, Ford Fairmont, Holden Kingswood, Holden Premier, Holden Belmont, Holden Special, Holden Standard, Holden Monaro and Rambler Matador.

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