SUV sales are booming, so, are they a better buy than either a 4×4 or road-based wagon?

THE TITLE PHOTO is of a Subaru Outback. It’s basically a Liberty roadcar with a suspension lift, slightly taller tyres and some extra offroad features such as revised engine mapping and traction control.

Some would say it’s a better choice than a 4X4 wagon like a Fortuner, Pajero Sport or MU-X, and better again than a wagon like the Skoda Octavia or BMW 3 Series, discounting price differences; just looking at the basic concept of the car. But is this true? Here’s our latest top 5:

5 reasons why an SUV is better than a 4X4

  1. Cheaper – all else being equal, the SUV is cheaper
  2. Better on-road handling – while modern 4X4s don’t hold up traffic, and SUVs are not the last word in handling, the 4X4 doesn’t quite match the SUV.
  3. Better dirt-road handling (provided it’s smoothish dirt) – especially with cars like the Outback the dirt-road handling is just better. Once the road starts to get rough, say speeds required below 40km/h, then the 4X4 takes over.
  4. Shorter – not as tall
  5. Less hate – fractionally less nasty comments!

7 reasons why an SUV is better than a wagon

  1. Handles dirt roads better – modern wagons just aren’t designed for dirt
  2. No worries – about scrapes around town
  3. More likely – to have a full-sized spare
  4. Better visibility – slightly higher seating position
  5. More choice – there’s many, many more SUVs than wagons to choose from
  6. May offer 7 seats – no wagons offer seven seats any more
  7. Easier access – tigher seating position means easier access for the aged and those with child seats

So is the SUV really the best of both worlds? No it’s not, despite the marketing, it really is a compromise between a 4X4 and a roadcar wagon. It won’t tow like the 4X4, probably not much more than its wagon equivalent, if that. As an example, the Outback tows 1700kg braked, the Liberty sedan betters that with 1800kg. The Outback is good for what it is offroad, but compared to a 4X4 it does struggle and scrape. It is however cheaper to buy and operate than a 4X4.

Compared to a roadcar wagon the SUV comes off much better. It may well offer 7 seats, handling will be close, and it’ll do country roads, remote travel and a little rough-road work much better, and even handle deep driveaways around town without a scrape. The wagon is ahead on purchase cost, running cost and handling but not by huge margins.

Final words – towing and offroad capability remain two areas to choose a 4X4 over anything else.  If you want a seven-seater only consider a SUV or maybe better yet, a peoplemover. The wagon is the cheapest choice and probably the best drive, but the least capable.

Further reading


Skoda Octavia RS 230 on-sale in Australia from $41,490+ORC


2017 Holden Astra review


  1. I bought an SUV after years of large sedans. Getting in and out is easier for my 65 yo bod and I no longer scrape the bumper on kerbs. It is a good deal shorter than the FG Falcon I traded in and visibility is better. Fuel economy is surprisingly good but I put 98 in so I’m probably no better off. Loading and unloading is a breeze without the high boot lip to overcome. I am not surprised that SUV’s are popular. I do think that an SUV without AWD is pointless.

  2. It’s sort of funny … there are a gazillion different SUV models out there but I’m struggling to find my next one. I’d like to have a medium-sized SUV, semi off-road worthy with a 12 month/15k service interval. That leaves me with a single option maybe – the Land Rover Discovery Sport … which is a bit pricey in my book. So I reckon I have to settle with one of the monster trucks (probably Mitsubishi Pajero Sport) wasting around 2L of diesel for moving empty space and superfluous weight around. I reckon my requirements are very weird …

      1. It would really be nice if you folks could find out why some manufacturers have so short service intervals in this country. e.g. In the US the Jeep GC has a 12 months/16k interval. Locally it’s 6 months/10k. And the (off-)road situation isn’t really any different.

        In Europe – e.g. Subaru Forrester: 24 months/30k! Locally 6 months/12.5k …
        And driving on the autobahn and during snowy winters also qualifies as harsh condition.

        I understand a kilometer limit to a certain degree but a short time limit – especially 6 months – nothing short is ridiculous in the year 2016.

  3. Each to their own. Until my last 2 cars I had Holden and Ford V8 sedans and then wagons once the kids came along. I’ve just bought a new Prado after owning a Hyundai Santa Fe for 3 years. Only an idiot would choose the Prado over the Hyundai for every day driving, but towing larger loads and off road the Prado has it hands down. Day to day it’s a slug on the road, hard to park and has road manners worse than my first car, a 3.3l XE falcon (beige).

  4. After 12 months of researching, SUV’s, 4WD’s, Wagons, narrowed down to Santa Fe vs Pajero Sport.
    Last week we bought the Pajero Sport 5sts 5 drs GLS for $48,000.00 from Victoria with free transport to Nth Coast NSW. You really need to do this over 12 months, so many reviews, so many videos, 4WD Forums, SUV Forums, research research
    Some manufacturers just take ppl for a ride, take their monies and leave them stranded, others tell porkies, change the classification on their vehicles without telling the public, cheat at engine emission testing, leave a sour taste when servicing their own vehicles, makes one wonder how they stay in business, instead of a spare tyre give out puncture repair kits, last time I used them was on my bicycle, 50 yrs ago

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