By this point in the calendar year, we know which models the manufacturers will kill off by the end of 2020. Like a dead man walking, these are dead cars rolling toward their inevitable demise.
Car and Driver recently published their dead cars list. In my last post, I wrote about the three models that were the most past their prime. For each of those, it was about time that they were cancelled.
But in this post, I’ll name the three models that I’m saddest to see fade away after 2020. For some music to set the mood as you read, I’ve got you covered.
The Chevrolet Impala has been in production, with a few gaps, since the 1958 model year. It is an icon of the Chevrolet brand. And while the Impala is dead after 2020, I can’t imagine that the nameplate will die off completely. There’s too much equity in the Impala name for General Motors to not dust it off again at some point in the future.
Today’s Impala is an excellent car. It uses a powerful and refined V-6 engine, has a compliant ride, and responsive handling for such a large sedan. The interior design feels upscale and well constructed, there’s a ton of space in the front and rear seats, and the trunk is enormous. It’s even had consistently good reliability and owner satisfaction ratings. And it’s a stunner, too. The Impala’s chiseled, broad-shouldered styling still looks fresh even after receiving minimal updates since the last redesign back in 2014.
But cars like the Impala are dying. If large family sedans are the dinosaurs, then SUVs and crossovers are the asteroid that will probably annihilate them all. The graph above reflects the Impala’s sales figures since its most recent resurrection for the 2000 model year, according to CarSalesBase.com. After peaking in 2007, the Impala’s sales never recovered after the great recession. Even the excellent and handsome version available since 2014 couldn’t stem the tide of evolving consumer tastes. The family car of choice is no longer a big sedan, or station wagon, or even a minivan. Today’s families want SUVs and crossovers, and as those vehicles continue to dominate sales charts, the Chevy Impala is their latest victim.
The Honda Fit and the next car in this list are my two favorite subcompact cars. So the fact that they’re both leaving us at the same time is a real bummer.
The Fit came to the United States for the 2007 model year. Across three generations, the Fit has always been cheap and cheerful. It won’t win any drag races, but it’s peppy, fun to drive, and thanks to some brilliant packaging by Honda, has a mind-bogglingly cavernous interior for such a tiny car. You can practically turn a Fit into a tiny cargo van, thanks to the innovative way the rear seats fold down into the floor. It’s not perfect, though. The ride isn’t the best, and it can be noisy inside. Front seat legroom is very tight for tall drivers – so no, I don’t fit in a Fit. But it’s all-around likability makes up for these minor shortcomings.
The Fit leaves our market after 2020, but other countries already have a fully redesigned 2020 version. But since we can’t have nice things, it won’t be coming to North America. And the Fit’s sales only tell half of the story. While sales dropped sharply for 2018 and 2019, they’ve otherwise held fairly steady. But Honda clearly sees the writing on the wall. In 2019, the Fit made up only 2.4% of Honda’s 1,450,785 vehicles sold in the United States. It would cost a lot of money to prepare the new Fit for American regulatory compliance, plus the cost to market and promote it, when Honda knows the sales prospects just aren’t there. And thanks to that cost-benefit analysis, the Honda Fit will drive off to live on a farm upstate.
Man! 2020 really is the worst. First the Honda Fit, and now this little Toyota. I’ve recommended the Yaris to many prospective small car buyers, but with an important caveat: only the version built by Mazda. To clarify, from 2007 until 2018, there was a version of the Yaris that was made by Toyota, and it was a miserable little car. But the version that I’m talking about, shown above, is actually a rebadged Mazda. It was first known as the Scion iA for 2016, but when Toyota scrapped the Scion brand, it became the Yaris iA for the next two years. Once Toyota dumped their own crappy Yaris after 2018, it was just the Yaris.
A Yaris iA was my rental car when I visited Detroit for the first time in January of 2019. I explored the city, geeked out hard over automotive history, and attended the North American International Auto Show. So, I do have a positive association with this little car. But that aside, the Mazda DNA means that it’s nimble and fun to toss around. Like the Fit, it’s far from fast. But it has such a peppy and playful attitude, it’s really hard to not like this little car. Plus, I had plenty of space up front to sit comfortably. And I can attest that it was brilliant driving through a blizzard that made flying home to Rhode Island nearly impossible.
While the Scion and Yaris iA did have a short-lived boost in sales for 2016 and 2017, the sales trajectory of Toyota’s smallest car is moving in a clear direction. Even though Toyota just introduced a new Yaris hatchback for 2020, now a hatchback version of the Mazda-based sedan, they’ve decided that this year is the last for Toyota’s littlest car.
So, who’s guilty for the murder of these dead cars? For the Impala, I’ve already blamed SUVs and crossovers for the death of the large family sedan. With subcompacts like the Fit and Yaris, I think SUVs are to blame as well, but to a lesser extent. Each automaker is cramming their lineup full of smaller and smaller crossovers. These baby SUVs are more expensive than a conventional small car, but they’re also exponentially more desirable to the majority of consumers. Perhaps shoppers are willing to take out an 84-month loan term to make a tiny SUV fit into their budget. Not a brilliant financial decision, but maybe they’ve decided it’s worth it to sit a few inches higher in a crossover than in a car.
But I think the real death of subcompact cars is the appeal and value of many compact cars. While the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit are good cars in their own right, they are sharing showroom space with the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, respectively. Those cars are more spacious, more refined, and just as fuel efficient as their subcompact siblings. Plus, each manufacturer often has more attractive lease offers on their compact sedans than the subcompacts, probably due to the latter’s typically razor thin profit margins. For many shoppers at this end of the price spectrum, they’re chasing the lowest monthly payment. Their options in a compact sedan are too strong of a value proposition to ignore.
Regardless of the reasons behind their death, it doesn’t make it any easier to see cars you respect and admire vanish. But, they’ll always live on… in our hearts.