If you’re expecting a rant here on why SUV’s suck, then you may be disappointed.
It’s easy to criticise something, and automotive writers and internet commenters on the whole are quick to hurl insults at SUV’s in general because they don’t fit their idea of their ideal vehicles.
I think that’s lazy. Hate and vitriol is particularly easy when you ignore the big picture.
When something is that popular, there is a reason and a journalists job is to try and understand the perspectives of other people rather than just pound out their own worldview, or even worse play the “Yeah! Me too!” game in a bid to be accepted.
Well, screw that. I may not be a credited journalist but the world isn’t black and white and there are reasons and perspectives worth understanding. If you are interested in cars and fail to understand the importance of SUVs then you can’t expect to understand the car industry and as an extension of that… car culture. At the bottom line, it has to be understood that without the over hated Prius or non-off roading compact SUV’s you wouldn’t have the sports cars. Porsche would most likely have been gone as a company a decade ago, the GT 86 wouldn’t exist and the MX-5 wouldn’t be celebrating decades of production.
But let’s circle back to that after going over why SUV’s are wildly popular, and let’s start that by taking a look at some of the claims, stereotypes and tropes endlessly trotted about by commentators and journalists.
The first one is along the lines of “they are driven by normal people that don’t know about cars.”.
Now, that is true to an extent, but you are using a computer and most people aren’t computer enthusiasts and do just fine knowing how to move a mouse and type inefficiently. They can read reviews and talk to other people like anyone else.
However, unlike computers, cars are in the top two things people spend consequential amounts of money on as well being among the top three places they spend their time. Once you understand that, it shows how remarkably patronising it is to assume that people don’t research before spending $25 - $50,000 on a daily driven vehicle, or that they are not using their experiences and lifestyle as judgment on what works well for them.
When people are spending the second largest amount of money on one thing in their lifetime (next to a house) they don’t tend to do it lightly.
Go down your street and ask people why they purchased a particular car and if it meets their needs, then ask if they like their car. Most people will say yes and yes because they made an informed decision.
In a recent article I read, a writer stated “People want taller cars because they imply size, and size implies prestige. People want prestige.”.
Most people need a vehicle to live their life conveniently, not because they want to drive fast or express their personality or “prestige”. Prestige is mostly associated with a badge, not a car type. Porsche make SUVs because people want an SUV with the prestige and quality associated with a Porsche badge.
They want convenience. You don’t have to get down to get in an SUV, you step inside. You have more room inside an SUV, so you aren’t cramped - plus the kids aren’t digging their elbows into each other in the rear. You don’t have to lean over with heavy bags of shopping to put something in the back like you do with a wagon, or lift anything over a big lip to put it in the trunk.
If it looks cool, that’s just an ingredient to a vehicle people look for.
That’s the first trope. The next one is invariably “SUVs are the reason you won’t be driving cool cars” or according to a recent piece here on CT, why you won’t be driving wagons in years to come.
The reality is that SUV’s are better than wagons.
There. I said it.
They are better than station wagons or estates. A wagon or an estate car is basically not a very good car and not as good as an SUV or as useful as a minivan.
A wagon is basically an automotive equivalent of the sofa bed. It’s not a very good sofa, and not a very good bed. The reason wagons won’t be around in the future is because we finally have the technology and materials to make the SUV good enough in terms of safety and handling to replace them.
The third trope is always about the performance, according to many they are unsafe - which is complete nonsense. In 2016 a bunch of SUV’s got both Five Star Ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS’ Top Safety Pick Plus rating. However there are cars that didn’t.
I remember reading a piece recently by a journo I really usually enjoy and respect where he stated that one reason crossover SUV’s were unsafe because the extra weight affecting braking. I went and looked at the weight of the Honda Accord we traded in on a new CR-V last year. The accord weighed something like 150 pounds more.
That’s basically a passenger.
I’m not really convinced that when I picked up a friend in the Accord we suddenly had a dangerously long braking distance.
But, the big one is how much taller SUV’s are. This has to be a problem right?
Well, let’s ask Consumer Reports:
When seen in terms of rollover-fatalities per million registered vehicles, all vehicle types have improved, and SUVs have improved the most. According to the IIHS, the rollover driver-death rate among newer (1 to 3 year old) passenger vehicles dropped from 27 in the year 2000 to 6 in 2012. The newest SUVs have lower rates than the newest cars.
Yes. In 2012 only six people in 1 to 3 year old cars died in a roll over crash.
Let’s not take that out of context though, a lot of people die in rollover crashes:
Although rollovers occur in only about 3 percent of all serious crashes, they account for about 30 percent of people killed while riding in a passenger vehicle.
If you’re interested in knowing more in depth then here’s the link to the whole report.
At this point I would suggest that some rational thinking is applied. First, if you don’t want to die in a rollover crash then don’t drive an old truck. Secondly, the things that actually cause crashes are distracted driving, aggressive driving, drunk driving, drug driving and so on.
Let’s face it, blaming a cars performance in the 21st century for road deaths is a complete nonsense. The rules and regulations have seen to that along with massive R&D from car companies in both that don’t want people to die in their cars.
Road deaths are caused by the drivers of cars, not the cars themselves. If people want to talk about and take action on driver education then I’m all for that. All this is based on the U.S and the driving test here is a joke, it’s no wonder that there are so many crashes with the general incompetence on display from people that passed their test by answering a few multiple answer questions and driving around the block.
Anyway, we are wandering off topic.
The reason SUVs are more popular is because people like them. The reason estates and wagons are becoming rarer is because people like SUVs more. If you actually like wagons, and that’s cool with me, then you should go out and buy a new one because money talks.
The reality though… is the people banging on about wagons simply aren’t buying them. If they were really that passionate they would. Enough people are passionate enough to go out and buy a brand new SUV after all, and according to the internet those aren’t people that even care about cars.
Hell, people are passionate enough to keep the MX-5 in production - only 9465 were sold in the U.S last year. If wagons are so great you would have thought more than 10,000 people in a country of 320,000,000 would buy them, right?
I’m not done ranting, we need to circle back to Porsche and how cool cars exist because normal people buy normal, practical cars.
Porsche demonstrated this by gambling on an SUV to keep them in business, and it did. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy back in the early 1990s. In fact, annual sales had fallen from over 50,000 units in 1986 to 14,000 in 1993, and only 3000 of those sales were in the U.S market.
Both Toyota helping Porsche streamline their horribly bloated manufacturing process and the Boxter saved them the first time, but the Boxter was becoming outdated towards the end of the decade and Porsche desperately needed an instant injection of profitability to take them into the new millennium.
Thus the Porsche SUV was born and the Porsche hardcore fans had a meltdown. However, without the Porsche SUV you wouldn’t have this to lust after:
I look forward to your comments…
This content was originally posted by a Car Throttle user on our Community platform and was not commissioned or created by the CT editorial team.
Fantastic article, I agree with pretty much everything you said. SUV’s are underrated in the car community
my thoughts exactly. SUVs are great all rounder and I like the higher view you get from an SUV.
How can you say “SUVs are better than wagons?” No, they’re not. They can fullfill some people’s needs or priorities better than wagons but for people like me the statement is wrong. All I want from my car is great hangling and effectivity. And SUV will never handle as well as a good wagon. I absolutely do not care how I get in my car or how much room for elbows is there (SUVs are less spacious than minivan anyway) so why is it supposed to be better for me???
New Range Rover SVR ran an 8:14 on the Nurburgring, you were saying?
If all you wanted from a car is great handling and effectively you would drive a normal car.
Wagons are heavier and longer with no weight at the back.
SUV vs a Wagon, realistically the SUV sacrifices a bit of space (boot/truck space) for comfort and ride quality, and a Wagon sacrifices a bit of comfort for more space. The middle ground is pretty much the likes of an Audi allroad , BMW Sports wagon.
In regard to ‘prestige’ of height of a car, the author of that is an idiot.
The middle ground also takes away from handling.
The prestige thing… yeah.
I am using a computer and am a computer enthusiast. Anyway, nice post. Very enlightening.
I do like a good SUV. However I hate crossovers, cars like the Nissan Juke. It’s got the same interior space as a Ford Focus, costs about the same when new and has a similar engine. The Juke is also heavier so it’ll be slower than a Focus, handle way worse as its COG is so much higher and the boot is quite tiny.
You pulled out the … wait. The Juke weighs 2,900 lbs and the Focus 2,800.
That’s the weight of a teenage kid difference.
You used the worst example of a thing to suit your world view, that’s known as confirmation bias.
Very good post. I do like a SUV. My parents actually bought one recently, the VW Tiguan. We used to have a Golf estate which was absolutely brilliant, but the Tiguan is built on a Golf platform and it is much more spacious and comfortable than the Golf. Also, the the high seating position is absolutely great. I wouldnt buy an SUV myself, but they are good cars and shouldnt be hated on so massively
My dad wants both of those things. An allroad or an E-Class All Terrain. But i agree with you especially on the Porsche part.
Good read but Im not sure about the point that SUVs have more space than wagons. Yes SUVs have more height but the width is the same more or less. Or is there also a big difference.
And wagons have a lower beginning of the boot due to the bumper being lower. So that should make it easier to put stuff in the back.
If two things have the same width, but one is higher than the other then one has more space than the other.