Here in Connecticut the kids are off from school for the week, and we thought it would be great to kick things off with a long weekend at Ocean Edge Resort in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I’m always ready to head to the Cape, and with a program for kids on break, we couldn’t wait to go. It so happened that the test car I would have for the trip would be a 2012 Toyota Camry. Yes, I can hear you thinking what a dull car to drive to such a fun place, but let’s save that conversation for my review.
During our three days staying at the family-friendly resort, I was positively struck at the vehicles in the parking lot. A sea of minivans dominated (it was damn scary), crossovers and SUV’s. Sure, hardly unusual given the guests, but what stunned me was the utter lack of the bread and butter, middle-America mid-size sedan, the Most Important Cars all mainstream automakers build. Yes, our family of three may be small, but it was impossible to imagine feeling out of place in a car as common as a Toyota Camry.
And then it hit me. Hanging out at the pool, the restaurant, and people in passing, I was able to size up my fellow guests. Namely, Generation X, well educated, middle-class people with a flair for something a little nicer than a generic chain hotel. And what did our parents drive? A good many of them drove mid-size sedans. I grew up, was taken many places in relative comfort (even with my little sister next to me) and learned how to drive in a Honda Accord. But because my parents owned Accords, I wouldn’t be caught dead owning one myself. The truth is, the current Honda Accord is a fine car, and I even said so in my review. But I will never buy one.
And so I suspect it was with my fellow vacationers. We just don’t want to drive what our parents did. There is nothing cool about it. If you don’t believe me, think back how popular station wagons once were in America a couple generations ago. Flash forward to 2012, and the station wagon is nearly extinct in North America. Once I was back home, I thought about my own neighbors with kids, and what they drove-Honda CR-V’s and a Jeep Liberty. And again who did I know that drives a mid-size sedan? My Dad with his Accord, my father in-law with his Camry, and my wife’s stepfather with his Ford Taurus. In other words, all Baby Boomers in their 60’s and beyond. I honestly cannot think of anyone I know who is my age that drives a mid-size car.
But the sales numbers do not lie. Hundreds of thousands of new mid-size cars are bought every year, and there is no sign of things slowing down. Competition is more intense than ever. Cars already out there like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are shaking things up with unique styling and terrific driving characteristics. The press is falling all over the new VW Passat and sales are up dramatically. Later this year, expect to see an all new Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu on the showroom floor. Even the Nissan Altima, which dates back to 2007 remains Nissan’s best selling car in spite of its age. Make no mistake, the mid-size sedan is, and remains a hotly contested market.
And it certainly will not be fading anytime soon. But for how long? Scanning that parking lot in Cape Cod gave me good reason for pause, as that microcosm of my generation has seemingly given up the notion of the mid-size car as the ride of choice. By all means, our Camry was perfectly suited for our trip, but the reality is our smaller and more fun to drive 2010 VW Jetta, though lacking many of the high-end features of the Camry is really all the car we need. Ask Gary Grant, founder of The Garage and a car nut of the highest level, married father of three who owns a Nissan XTerra to haul his family. I don’t profess to be a fortune teller, but I detect a trend here. We shall see how this plays out.
Editors Note: The Camry seen pictured above is shown in what may seem a familiar site to some of you-Roslyn Cafe that was a fixture on the hit TV Show ‘Northern Exposure’.