The Rise of the Fastback Sedan

I wonder why it took so long for sedan’s rooflines to stretch all the way back to the end of the car. Well, I guess it didn’t really take that long. You could consider something like the Hudson Hornet one of the first fastback sedans and that was made in the early fifties.

Wait a minute – Wikipedia has a list of fastback automobiles? Who writes this shit and how do I get a job writing this shit for them? Seems like the first fastback sedan (according to Wiki) was the 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow.

Look at the people in the rendering. You can just hear them all saying “Swell!” “That’s Swell!” “What a swell automobile!” “Isn’t cocaine in soda swell?”

Let’s talk about some more modern cars, though…

You see that new Genesis G80 yet? It got revealed online the other night. Take a look:

That roofline stretches all the way back to the trunk lid. This car is a real looker so I’m gonna show you guys another picture of it.

Man, that’s something!

Genesis isn’t alone in following this new trend, of course. BMW makes a confusing array of fastback sedans (and SUVs), as does Mercedes-Benz and Audi. All of Tesla’s sedans are fastbacks. Some of these cars are straight-up hatchbacks, too. Kia’s Stinger has a huge rear hatch, as does the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe.

Why go fastback?

There’s a lot of good reasons to go for a fastback design for your new sedan, and I think we just covered the first one – space. By going with a fastback design you have the potential to pick up interior space, storage space, and if done right, headroom. If this is done wrong, i.e. purely for aesthetics, sometimes you lose the headroom. That’s bad.

That brings us to another reason though, and that’s fastback sedans look sharp. The Audi RS7 looks great, as does Tesla’s Model S. Sometimes Tesla gets a little awkward with this, though. The Cybertruck aside, the Model 3 roofline has a few funny angles. It’s more “eggy” than fastback.

There’s also an aerodynamic benefit to going with a fastback roofline. However small or large that may be, I don’t know, but it definitely helps.

More than anything though, I think it’s a result of changing attitudes towards the various categories into which cars fit. A number of automakers simply take regular hatchbacks, lift them, add some plastic cladding, and bam, you have a brand new model. I guess people have come to believe that regular cars are, well, just that. Normal sedans are nothing special, but what about a big sporty “coupe”?

You can hear the salesmen give the pitch on the lot:

“Oh, it’s not a sedan, it’s a Sportback!

“It’s a Gran Coupe!

“It’s a CL!

Just as Mercedes-Benz says the GLA isn’t a hatchback, it’s a utility vehicle. It’s not some kid’s GTI, it’s for getting work done. It can be driven through puddles. You may fear the rain no longer.

All marketing, then?

Usually, I’m all fired up to go on an anti-marketing rant. In fact, I am right now. I can’t bring myself to do it, though. I like these cars. They look great, they’re practical, there’s nothing wrong with them. Why not buy a fastback sedan over a regular one? The Porsche Taycan is a fastback, and as far I’m concerned that’s the most futuristic-looking car on sale today.

What do you guys think? Is this a good direction for car design?

15 Comments

  1. Love, love, love it. If I don’t end up with some sort of coupe next, I’ll try and get some sort of fast German sedancoupe. I’d love an RS5 sportback, but even an S5 would be fun.

  2. Back in the 80s, most fastbacks had hatchback rears, the term was synonymous with a large hatchback in Europe at least and generally applied to large execs to differentiate them from smaller Golf sized and below cars with more upright rear ends, but were not wagons that would have been referred to as “hatchbacks”. e.g. The Rover SD1, Rover 800/Sterling (hell, there’s even an amusing ad on youtube with some Germans saying “in England, they call it the FASTback”), Lancia Gamma, 3rd generation Ford Granada (european, not the US tragedy), Citroen CX etc. along with most “repmobile” cars being offered in similar styles – Ford Sierra/Mondeo, Opel Ascona/Vectra etc.

    You got much of the versatility and practicality of a wagon but in a more slippery and elegant shape, hence they were quite popular.

    What’s weird is the trend to make a fastback, but not with a hatcback rear. In Teslas case, it seems to be driven by the desire to offer a full length panoramic roof, and I suspect, this is the case with many of the other two box, but is actuall a sedan type cars, which seems kinda daft to me and depends on how much you like panoramic roofs or whether you think putting weight high up in the car is a good idea, because you can be damn sure as soon as they do a super sporty version of anything, they’ll bang on about having a carbon roof, even if the rest of the car ate all the pies.

    1. I am all for panoramic roofs, definitively a good enough reason to make a fastback.

      You forgot one of my all time favourite fastbacks, the Renault Safrane:
      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Safrane_ar.jpg
      Really liked them as a teenager, even though I have not once been in one. Well, apart from car shows.

      A big qualifier here is though that the “legacy” carmakers, or however you define classic luxury aka BMW, Mercedes and maybe a handful of aspiring others, avoided this shape like the plague for decades. There was a clear difference: Comfy and big could be fastback, expensive luxury definitely not.

      I lost with BMW ten years ago, dunno what they are doing, but that qualifier is certainly gone now.

    2. I am all for panoramic roofs, definitively a good enough reason to make a fastback.

      You forgot one of my all time favourite fastbacks, the Renault Safrane:
      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/Safrane_ar.jpg
      Really liked them as a teenager, even though I have not once been in one. Well, apart from car shows.

      A big qualifier here is though that the “legacy” carmakers, or however you define classic luxury aka BMW, Mercedes and maybe a handful of aspiring others, avoided this shape like the plague for decades. There was a clear difference: Comfy and big could be fastback, expensive luxury definitely not.

      I lost with BMW ten years ago, dunno what they are doing, but that qualifier is certainly gone now.

      1. There’s loads I missed come to think of it – Renault 21, 25, 20, 16, Saab 900/9000, Lancia Gamma, Audi 100 Avant (before that designation meant wagon) etc. The demise of the fastback seems to parallel the demise of the non German executive car, while ironically being ressurected by the Germans and copied by the Korean upstarts looking for their crown.

        I was thinking, perhaps a more cynical reason for going the Sedan fastback route rather than hatch – the cost of engineering good hydraulic struts.

        1. The Audi ‘Avant’ is an example of convergence to the ‘fastback’ form from the other end: The Avant was the estate/wagon competitor in their range; obviously compromised on load lugging vs. the boxier Volvo or Mercedes, but stylish with a ‘lifestyle’ image. Typically estate cars – the few that are left — have become less about loadspace and more about image so that has led to them becoming closer and closer to a fastback shape themselves.

          It’s what we all know: In the future, everything will be Prius-shaped.

  3. I can think of a few fastbacks with fixed rear windows (the aforementioned Model 3 and Hornet along with those ’79 Cutlasses and Centuries), but going the other way (hatchbacks that look like sedans), I can’t think of much except the Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance.

    And I’ve said it before, but as sedans are getting more like fastbacks anyhow due to aerodynamics, it makes sense just to go hatchback.

    1. The later (’93-up) Saab 9000s had the sedanish-looking fastback thing down pat, with plenty of practice on the 99/900/9000 hatches. Super handy form factor on an entertaining car (especially in Aero flavor).

    2. Daihatsu Applause, Skoda Octavia and Superb can be added to the list.

      On the other hand lots of early 70s fastback shapes from Europe didn’t have hatchbacks, eg Lancia Beta or early versions of the Citroen GS or Alfasud.

      That Genesis G80 has very strong Audi A7 vibes at the rear.

    3. My dad has an unrestored 1947 Mercury 4-door sedan that looks almost exactly like the Canadian-market one shown below. Given that the rear glass is fixed in the roof, I would call the rear opening a trunk rather than a hatch. Aesthetically, it’s more of a hunchback than a fastback, but it isn’t a three-box and it isn’t a wagon, so I thought it fit the discussion.

      Regardless, I love it, and I keep trying to buy the damned thing, but my dad won’t let go of it, despite claiming countless times he has no intentions of restoring it.

      https://barnfinds.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/061816-Barn-Finds-1947-Mercury-Monarch-2.jpg

  4. I’m late to the discussion as usual, but I’m amazed that a post about four door fastbacks has been up for two days and no one has yet brought up the 1949 Nash Airflyte. Nash’s first post-war redesign was groundbreaking in its aerodynamic design.

  5. I hate fastbacks. They may look cool, but most of them completely kill the back seat headroom. It forces people with teenage kids into SUV’s. The last time I was car shopping, the only two mid sized sedans with a usable back seat were the VW Passat and the Toyota Camry. Mid sized sedans should hold 4-5 adults, not 2 adults and 2-3 kids under 12.

    I’d rather have a K-Car.

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