A mid-size car, frequently referred to as an intermediate, is an automobile with a size between that of a compact and a full-size or standard-size car.
The mid-size class grew out of the compacts of the early 60s. One of the first, the Ford Fairlane, was referred to at its introduction in 1962 as a compact intermediate. This was true, as it was barely bigger than its close relative the Falcon. General Motors' first entries in the class, such as the Oldsmobile F-85 and Pontiac Tempest were not mechanically related to its compact Corvair, but were similar in size. The class began to grow almost immediately, however, and for the next 15 years each expansion in size in the full-size field was followed relentlessly by a proportionate growth in the mid-sizers. By the mid-60s, they were as big as full-size cars of the mid-50s. By the mid-70s, they were as big as the full-sizers of the mid-60s.
1976 Buick Century. This generation represented the largest size the intermediate class would reach.
A turning point occurred in the late 70s, when rising fuel costs and government fuel economy regulations caused all car classes to shrink, and in many cases to blur. The situation was complicated by the fact that General Motors began to downsize about two years before everybody else. Consequently, by 1978, there was little difference in between the new mid-size Chevrolet Malibu and the equally new compact Ford Fairmont. From that point on, mid-sizers shrank steadily for the next ten years. Import models, which had often been growing as the domestics shrank, began to be more competitive, and the two essentially came together in the compact and intermediate classes.
Mid-size vehicles today usually have wheelbases between 2.68 metres (105 inches) and 2.79 metres (110 inches). Another definition specifies between 110 ft³ (3000 L) and 119 ft³ (3300 L) of interior volume. This is the most popular size car sold in the United States of America. Well-known examples include the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. There is still a tendency for domestic entries to be larger than the imports, however, as witness the Ford Taurus, which has competed well with these models despite (or perhaps because of) its larger size in every dimension.
Europe, Australia and New Zealand
Mid-size vehicles in these areas are usually a little smaller than the North American norm, even from the same manufacturer. For comparison, the 1998 Ford Taurus weighed around 1500 kg, had a 2757 mm wheelbase, and was powered by a 3.0 litre V6 engine, whereas a 1998 Ford Mondeo weighed around 1300 kg, had a 2704 mm wheelbase, and was often powered by a 2.0 litre inline 4.
Body styles also differed. Mid-size vehicles from Europe are usually offered in sedan and hatchback form.
As elsewhere, upsizing has blurred the distinction between types, with models such as the Ford Focus and Opel Astra growing larger and fitting more powerful engines with every iteration.
Sometimes the definition of a mid-size car is manipulated to serve marketing ends. In Australia, Toyota had categorised the V6 equipped Camry as a large car and the 4 cylinder Camry as a medium or mid-size car in order to dominate more segments, despite the physical size of the cars being identical.
In Japan, the term mid-size car probably does not have the intermediate sense that it does in other markets. Due to space restrictions the range of cars available in this market starts from a much smaller size, with fierce competition in the "Keicar" and small car segments.
As such, the models that Japan exports to other markets to compete in mid-size market segments such as the Mazda6 and Subaru Legacy occupy a more exclusive segment in the Japanese marketplace.
An interesting quirk of Japanese automotive tax codes is that width is one of factors determining which category a car is taxed under. Therefore even mid-sized cars destined for export markets from Japan had widths of less than 1700 mm, as manufacturers had to look to domestic consumption as well as export. However, as export markets have become progressively more significant for Japanese car manufacturers, more models have been produced that break this 1700 mm wide limit.
- Official US government car size class definitions (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/info.shtml#sizeclasses)