Voices

A reader is alarmed by the number of SUV reviews on Practical Motoring

We love to hear from our readers, and every so often we answer them via a blog. This one is concerned by the number of SUV reviews…

Reader P writes:

“I came across your site today and scrolled through the car reviews.  I was alarmed at the number of reviews for SUV vehicles.  Practical motoring it is not.

I have very high contempt for SUV’s and i simply can not understand the attraction to them other than it showing how gullible the buying public is to the sales propaganda from car manufactures and retailers.

SUV’s are a blight on our roads and are a danger to the occupants and more so to the ‘smaller’ vehicles and their passengers they collide with.  As well, they are mobile road blocks and for drivers in following cars, obscure all vision of the road and traffic ahead.

I was hoping the the fascination for SUV’s was temporary but after seeing how many of your car reviews were for SUV’s, it appears the car (or should i say, glorified truck) is here to stay and seems to be escalating.

I drive a VW Gold diesel (yes, a polluting diesel VW has informed me) and i read the 2016 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack review.  I was extremely pleased to read Mr Murrell’s comment:  “offering many of the advantages of an SUV in a practical wagon, and  If only people would look beyond SUVs, they’d see that a vehicle like the Golf Alltrack (or Subaru Outback, Skoda Octavia Scout or Volvo XC60) are often a more considered choice.”

Maybe if the motoring press did more to educate buyers of the, dare i say, stupidity, of buying an SUV when they can achieve most if not all of the wanted benefits (hip- height for older people is the only practical benefit for city bound drivers that i can see) in smaller vehicle such as those mentioned above, large SUV numbers on the road might reduce.

Then again, I have always thought that large vehicles and SUV’s purchased for no apparent reason are a Freudian compensation for inadequacies in self esteem and size of …….

Recently, a person i know aged in his late 60’s, 165cm tall and very slim build purchased a large SUV for basically driving to the shopping centre.  To me, he looks absolutely absurd, being this, relatively, miniscule man, driving this glorified large truck. 

Apparently, it’s all about form before function these days and unfortunately, this is reflective of where society is going or has gone in many things.”

P


 

Dear P,

First of all many thanks for writing. We want Practical Motoring to be as useful as possible to Australia’s car buying population, and we can only do that if we get useful and considered feedback. So thank you!

I’m going to address your points, but before I do I’ll declare my interest to give you fair warning.

I’m a member of three 4WD clubs, a 4WD instructor, I own a modified one, most of my mates drive them offroad too and in general I pretty much live the 4WD lifestyle, driving offroad probably twice a month and bush camping when I can. So you can kind of guess where my response to an SUV-hater is going to go, can’t you?

For example, when I reviewed the Honda Odyessy, I wrote this as the summary:

Most of Australia’s SUV owners probably should have bought an Odyssey, because it’s not only more practical but a better drive than most SUVs in the same price range. And, for those considering a large SUV that won’t ever leave the bitumen, then put aside your preconceived notions about peoplemovers and put the Odyssey on your shopping list.

IMG_5614

I wrote that because that’s what I believe – peoplemovers should sell much more than they do, so I don’t dispute the gist of your views, and I agree with Paul Murrell’s comment about the Alltrack. However, that doesn’t mean to say I entirely agree with you, and you’re guilty of falling for the usual myths.

Firstly, you have no idea what people use the cars for. That shiny new LC200 which has never been offroad might be used for towing a horse trailer, and that Kluger might be there to tow a camper trailer when the family gets the chance. The Outlander parked at the shops might see regular duty down rough dirt roads. The Captiva at the doctors might have been bought because it offers a higher seating position for the elderly, as you note yourself.  Peoplemovers are also pretty ordinary towers – the Honda pictured above can manage just 1000kg, which is at the low end for any SUV. And SUVs offer tall boots, useful for lots of purposes such as larger dogs. A BMW X car might be used for snow runs, like the Santa Fe pictured in the title.

So there is no ‘stupidity’ in buying an SUV – or any other car – unless you are fully aware of the owner’s circumstances, which you can’t tell just by glancing at their vehicle.

Even if you could, we have no committee in Australia that requires potential owners to submit a request to buy a car, evaluates their need then issues a permit to buy if the need is deemed appropriate. No, it’s a free country here, you want it, you can have it. I’ve never understood why what other people do bothers readers like you.

I see you drive a diesel Golf – I presume you did the maths and worked out it was more cost-effective than the petrol, but if you didn’t and just wanted the car anyway I’m not going critique your choice.

It’s a myth that most people buy SUVs to compensate for the size of their penis (you can say that word, it’s allowed). How do I know? Around 50% of SUV buyers are female.

And do you seriously think that even males buy the likes of Klugers or Tucsons as status symbols?

The fact is that the modern SUV is safe, comfortable, easy to drive and the ideal tool for the likes of a suburban family in many ways. It is a lot easier to put a baby into a childseat in an SUV than a roadcar, and the SUV often offers more bootspace too.

The simple reason we review a lot of SUVs is because Australians buy a lot of them, and they buy a lot of them because they meet what people need. We have to follow market demand.

Let’s talk about size. Many SUVs are smaller and lighter than roadcars. The new Mustang, the Lexus RC F, RC350 are all two-door coupes that weigh at least 1666kg. The Outlander, Forester, Renegade and Grand Vitara are five-door SUVs with some offroad capability and real daily-drive usefulness, yet all weigh less (comparison here). Also, their weight, length and width is comparable to roadcars of the same interior capacity. They are taller, but that’s all. If anyone has a problem with taller vehicles on the road and finds they “obscure all vision” then often dropping back a bit behind the car in front will help, and that’s good safe practice in any case. That’s the sort of tip learned on a good post-license driver training programme which will also cover looking ahead and vehicle positioning.

Another myth that the modern SUV is always based on a truck. Most of them are based on roadcar platforms. While we’re at it, those heavier-duty 4WDs that have ladder-frame chassis are now rating 5-star ANCAP safety, like most of the utes for example. We need to drop the chassis from the discussion about safety.

Yes, cars are very much about form AND function. They are an expensive purchase, so why shouldn’t buyers own something they enjoy and also find practical enough for their needs? You’re right, society does like nice things, it’s what makes life worth living. If you applied the function over form logic to drinks, you’d ditch coffee, beer and wine, saying let’s just drink water. Housing too, I’m sure that you could squeeze into a smaller dwelling than whatever you live in now unless it’s a swag. Pick anything you like, we buy and own more than the absolute neccessity. But you know what?

Life’s too short for boring cars.

RMP_9388

Find the best demonstrator car deals for Practical Motoring readers around Australia on our Live Deals website. 


25 Comments

  1. Ern
    January 24, 2016 at 8:12 am — Reply

    Language is a problem here. The term SUV, adopted from the Yanks – is not helpful. It covers too great a variety of vehicle types and models.

    • January 24, 2016 at 8:27 am — Reply

      That’s true Ern. It is a vague term covering everything from raised AWDs to Jeep Wranglers. However, the gist of the complaint is clear.

      • Ern
        January 24, 2016 at 8:43 am — Reply

        I assume it was coined by US marketing wallahs who felt that ‘truck’ or ‘4WD’ wasn’t going to appeal to the broader market they wanted – including perhaps especially women, who even if they don’t drive the things are cast by their partners in many cases as ‘minister of finance’.
        The gist of the complaint to me is some poorly focussed dyspepsia!

    • Mark Costello
      January 24, 2016 at 12:38 pm — Reply

      This is very true, i would class a XC60 (as mentioned by writer) as a SUV and a Subaru Outback is basically a SUV wagon.

  2. Andrew Riles
    January 25, 2016 at 9:11 am — Reply

    I have read or seen a few comparisons now of an SUV and either a people mover or a conventional wagon, and the conclusion is nearly always similar to the quote above from the Odyssey article….so I’m not convinced journos aren’t doing their bit as the complainant suggests…

    My biggest gripe is that the term is basically meaningless because it covers such a wide range of models….

    I have occasionally thought that maybe regular cars are getting lower and lower, and this is making them too low for most people (whether it be seat height or ground clearance), where some car based SUVs are closer to the older vehicles in this regard…..be interesting to see this put to the test….

    • January 25, 2016 at 9:18 am — Reply

      Good points Andrew. Older roadcars had really good ground clearance (better than today’s softroaders in some cases) because there were many, many dirt and rough roads.

      Today there’s so much bitumen it’s not necessary for roadcars to have good clearance or any rough-terrain capability. Some SUVs are really just all-wheel-drive cars which is fine, they have a place for driving dirt or snow/ice/wet roads. You’re right is is a very broad term though.

      Humans do not typically buy cars (or anything else) based purely on logic which is why the art and science of marketing exists.

  3. dot
    January 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm — Reply

    Well answered Robert. A cohesive and suitable response to a rather poorly thought out complaint….you restrained yourself admirably…..

    • FreestyleCab
      January 31, 2016 at 9:12 am — Reply

      I don’t have that restraint….. Most people will chose a vehicle based on meeting certain criteria. I own 2 vehicles, a 4WD double cab ute and a large 7 seat SUV. Both these vehicles were selected to meet certain needs and neither is perfect. The 4wd ute is modified and due to its height and heavy duty suspension is not as comfortable as the SUV and it will not fit in any undercover parking garage as it requires 2.2 metres of clearance, but it serves it’s purpose as a work vehicle and when I regularly take it off-road. The 7 seat SUV is huge and heavy on unleaded in the city, but we regularly carry 6+ people on the weekends so it does the the most kilometres of all.

      Now, how does ReaderP or JohnGC justify their belief that we should not drive our vehicles or indeed have purchased them in the first place, as it makes no sense to “them”? Most of the time my wife is doing the school and work run with only her and our child in the SUV, so I guess they would be fuming driving behind this SUV with only 2 people in it….but they can take a flying fxxx if they want to deny me the practicality of carrying 7 people just because they drive so close they can’t see around me or are worried about hypothetical accidents.

      People buy large SUV vehicles to suit their needs and it is extremely arrogant for others to say that we don’t need to be driving them.

      BUT I would like to thank Reader P for not driving his polluting VW diesel any more until VW remove as many kilowatts and torques as required to get it meeting its promised emissions…….. From his letter he seems to be considerate person and always thinking of other motorists so I’m sure he has parked up his Golf until VW can get to it.

      • January 31, 2016 at 9:19 am — Reply

        “Most of the time my wife is doing the school and work run with only her
        and our child in the SUV, so I guess they would be fuming driving behind
        this SUV with only 2 people in it.”

        Exactly! You can’t judge at a glance. Even if you knew the full facts, who makes you the arbiter of what other people can, and cannot drive?

        • Ern
          January 31, 2016 at 12:04 pm — Reply

          There’s quite a lot of laws and regulations about what you can and can’t drive, mostly driven by public heath concerns. We are often protected against ourselves (eg. seat belts, helmets), or forbidden to make choices that put others at risk (eg. 5 bar bullbars; smoke-belching wrecks and so on). But improving the road view for others? Nah.

      • JohnGC
        February 2, 2016 at 11:32 am — Reply

        FreestyleCab, the mistake you make here is the sentence about people buying SUVs on a needs basis. Simply not true. Car makers know this which is why they make them so much more like a regular car, just with a different image. Think about it, has the Australian lifestyle changed that much over the past 20 years that warranted the increase in SUVs. Are families getting bigger. Are more people going off-road. No, a lot of them like SUVs because they like the height, and it makes them look like they have an active lifestyle. That’s all it is. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have bought the car your bought. I’m saying, people need to consider thing more than just the image of the car and maybe car journalists could do more in highlighting the negatives of the SUVS to sway these people into buying more practical cars. That’s all, it’s a discussion and the negative tone of your reply doesn’t really do much to change the image some people have of SUV drivers.
        Below are a couple of quotes from research. This is not my research so don’t shoot the messenger. I drove a Subaru Forester for 7 years so I’ve made the mistake of buying a car that really wasn’t the most practical for me.

        Wikipedia:
        “According to G. C. Rapaille, a psychological consultant to automakers, many consumers feel safer in SUVs simply because their ride height makes “[their passengers] higher and dominate and look down [sic]. That you can look down [on other people] is psychologically a very powerful notion.”

        Washington Post:
        “According to market research conducted by the country’s leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be “insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.”

        John
        John

        • Ern
          February 2, 2016 at 1:41 pm — Reply

          Not very helpful given the variety of vehicles labelled as an SUV – from a small family car to a 3 tonne monster.
          As for market research, if it was solid there wouldn’t be marketing mistakes.

          • JohnGC
            February 2, 2016 at 2:05 pm

            And the anecdotal evidence provided by Freestyle Cab and Robert is helpful and free of error? You were strangely silent on critiquing their findings. Try to entertain both sides of the argument.

        • February 3, 2016 at 7:11 am — Reply

          Hi JohnGC. Most people would rate the Forester very highly as a practical vehicle, but an exception doesn’t prove the rule and if it wasn’t for you that’s fine. Yes, many people buy larger cars or avoid smaller ones because they feel safer in larger vehicles, that’s a well-known fact. It is rooted in truth as well, because all else being equal you’re better off in a larger car than a smaller one when crashing.

          Needs. What is a need? In Australia most of our needs are wants. Someone might say then need a Forester to get out into the bush for walking. You could argue a roadcar would be all they need, and I could argue they don’t need to drive into the bush for a walk but could just meander around their house.

          The Bradsher quote; that was from a well-known anti-SUV book by an American journalist dealing with American SUVs, which tend to be huge relative to other cars – much larger than our largest which are LC200s, Discoverys and the like – and it was quite a few years ago now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen sources for the data behind the quote either. As Ern says, the term “SUV” encompasses the likes of the Suzuki Jimny and Vitara all the way to the Q7 and Range Rover. It’s like the term ‘dog’ which covers everything from a poodle to a Great Dane or a pitbull.

          The Bradsher quote doesn’t translate as well to Australia and modern cars, as our most of our SUVs are much smaller and closer in size to the average roadcar. In Australia, SUVs are often bought by new families so I don’t think the marriage/parent thing fits, and also remember also the large percentage of female buyers.

          The SUVs Bradsher referred to are also quite old-school design,
          basically the Americans bought converted small trucks with a wagon body.
          Not what we have here.

          That survey is also very clearly biased – the statement about preferring fine restaurants to offroad driving may or may not be true, but could easily be skewed if you ask the question the way you want to get the answer you want. It is interesting that all of the comparisons turned out to be negative for the SUV owners too, surely they had some redeeming features?

          There is no recent Australian data on SUV owner characteristics that I’m aware of, but the example I cited about the high percentage of female buyers has been repeated to me on multiple occasions by car company staff who do know their market. I suspect any survey would reveal a cross-section of Australian society with no real common attribute – the people who buy BMW X cars are going to be different from Honda CR-V buyers, and different again to Jeep Wrangler/Land Rover Defender buyers, and I suspect Subaru owners are another set.

          Finally, let’s assume that SUV owners are indeed vain, self-centred types. Surely it is their nature be to that way, they didn’t form that personality because of the car? So why the focus on the car? And if someone who is not vain and self-centred wants the same car, why assume they fit the average?

          • JohnGC
            February 3, 2016 at 2:53 pm

            Hi Robert, some good points here. Look overall, I think we’re in general agreement with each other. I re-read your reply to the original letter by P and think the only sticking point I have is the advice you gave that some people should consider the Odyssey over a large SUV as it is the better and more practical choice. I agree with the sentiment and am very happy to see it, but car reviewers could also make the same comment for the Impreza over the Forester, the Mazda2 or 3 over CX3 or any other hatch/SUV combination. However, I haven’t noticed car reviewers doing that. Whether it would make a difference or not to the buying public, I don’t know but I do know we get people buying cars that don’t best meet their requirements and the drivers of more practical cars are being hindered by other people’s poor choices. An example, the bloke in the office next to me has a CX3. I asked why he bought that over the Mazda2 or 3. He said “It sits higher. It gives me good visibility”. I then asked, but what about the people behind you driving a Mazda2 who now have their visibility reduced? His response was …“stuff them, not my problem”. Not an ideal road user I’d say, and you can imagine the snowball effect with everyone trying to get better visibility. This doesn’t mean you should stop reviewing SUVs, but maybe keep up the good work with questioning their benefit over a comparable non-SUV.

          • February 3, 2016 at 5:30 pm

            Hi JohnGC. Thanks again for another well-considered post.

            When reviewing cars we often make people aware of alternative types. For example I’m just writing a piece on MX-5 vs Mustang vs 86, and I’m saying also consider a hot hatch. As peoplemovers are somewhat of the forgotten alternative I do like to remind people they exist, but I don’t tend to do this if the alternatives are well known. Similarly, I now remind 4WD wagon buyer that the 4WD ute is a real alternative.

            Yes, higher visibility is absolutely an oft-cited reason for buying a SUV. However, the higher visibility is not just about relative to other vehicles. It is everywhere and anywhere, from shopping mall carparks to open rural roads. If we all drove SUVs then the relative car-to-car visibility would be equal, but everyone could better see over hedges, down footpaths, over dips and the like. That would have to be a safety win.

            I once drove a Lotus Elise back to back with a Range Rover Sport, and the latter was much the quicker and safer drive simply because I could see far more at any given moment. That said, I don’t see what this visibility fuss is all about anyway as it’s perfectly possible to drive a low car as well as a high car. My two vehicles are a Ford Ranger (lifted about 60mm over standard) and a Toyota 86, lowered around 10mm from standard, so I experience both sides on a weekly basis and while I appreciate the Ranger’s visibility, the 86 doesn’t cause me any issues. As I said to Reader P, I think driver training would solve the concerns about visibility.

            Even if some people do buy SUVs just for better visibility (which improves road safety) then not all do, and it is unfair to assume anyone knows the rationale behind any given purchase. If the same logic was applied to humans we’d call that racism – drawing conclusions purely on outward appearances.

        • P
          August 11, 2016 at 4:31 pm — Reply

          JohnGC

          The quote from the Washington Post says it all.

          IF a person has a genuine need for a SUV type vehicle to be used for what it can do then so be it. Judging by the amount of SUV’s driving around with no tow bars and/or 2 elderly occupants (mobile road blocks) it simply smacks of owning a SUV for the sake of being part of the ‘in-crowd’. Bit like the Toorack Tractor syndrome from years past but now it’s spread to the masses. If the marketing gurus went on about having a turd on a stick as a life style necessity the gullible masses would get this too.

  4. 458 italia
    January 26, 2016 at 1:32 am — Reply

    I own an ordinary car. It is not an SUV.
    Like so many modern cars it came standard with big wheels and low profile tyres.
    They look good, but are actually quite useless on the surfaces called roads in Australia.
    Anything more than a small pothole results in either a blown tyre and/or damaged wheel.
    Dodging potholes is now part of my driving but this is not easy in rain nor at night.

    So, I can fully understand why so many people buy SUV’s with more sensible 60-65 profile tyres, which can absorb a lot more of the impact of bad road surfaces without suffering damage or crushing occupant’s spines.

    With SUV’s so popular, Practical Motoring can’t ignore them.

    My next vehicle will probably be a 4WD.

    • Andrew Riles
      January 27, 2016 at 2:18 pm — Reply

      I agree….a lot of lower spec family cars used to come with smaller diameter rims and higher profile tyres it seems, and I’m only thinking back 15 yrs or so when base model commodores still had 15in rims from the factory…they also had better ground clearance as I noted in my other post, so were better suited to rough gravel roads than they are now….

  5. JohnGC
    January 29, 2016 at 10:12 am — Reply

    I agree with Reader P on some points, especially SUV’s blocking vision for driver’s in regular sized cars. We need to raise awareness in people of the effect their choice of car has on other people. Car reviewers rate cars in terms of visibility so why not rate cars in terms of blocking other drivers visibility? Pedestrian safety is a rating for cars, so why not rate cars on how safe they are to the people driving smaller cars if in an accident? And we talk about cars and the environmental consequences, which is really raising awareness in drivers about the effects that their choice of car has on others. If you look at Reader P’s comments in this context, then I think he/she has some points and perhaps what they are saying is that car reviewers could play a great role in getting people to make less selfish choices when purchasing a car by highlighting the possible impact these choices have on other drivers. Just an idea.

    • January 29, 2016 at 9:42 pm — Reply

      Hi JohnGC. There’s no real need for journalists to rate cars by blocking driver visibility because it’s easy to see, it’s all about size and height. Low sportscars are great, peoplemovers are probably the worst.

      The larger/smaller car rating is the same. Simply, a lighter/smaller vehicle will be worse off in a collision with a larger one. ANCAP’s ratings do not reflect this however. I do make this point whenever I write about safety.

      Nevertheless, I agree with the point that for some people the effect of their car choice on others is a criteria.

      But the fact is, for most people it is not. You can argue it should be, but it isn’t.

      One reason is that it’s not so much the car, it’s what you do with it. In my case I have a 4WD ute that uses more fuel than average, so one could argue I’m using more of the world’s resources than necessary compared to say a sedan, one might even throw around the term “gas guzzler”. But that ignores the fact that the 4WD only really gets used when I need a 4WD because I own another car for daily driving. And I own a bicycle, plus I often walk to the local shops. So then is it “ok” for me to own the 4WD, as it’s a bit different from driving everywhere in it? Maybe also I’m “allowed” to own a 4WD because I do drive offroad, as distinct from never doing anything with the 4WD that I couldn’t use a Yaris for.

      All this starts us on the slippery slope I referred to in the article of some committee deciding what an appropriate use for a vehicle is, and who can own what.

      Instead, we have a set of road regulations which mandate minimum standards for all sorts of safety, fuel efficiency and so on. If a vehicle meets those criteria it’s all good. I think any argument of this nature needs to propose what changes would be made to the regulations, and so far I’ve not seen anyone suggest any changes.

      • JohnGC
        February 1, 2016 at 8:14 am — Reply

        Thanks Robert, you’re probably right. I thought maybe with pedestrian safety a feature of some cars and the Samsung ‘transparent’ truck feature there might be more motorist thinking carefully about their choices and the impact on others when buying a car. But after going away last weekend, we’re flat out getting people to use their blinkers and ‘keep left unless overtaking’ so thinking about other drivers isn’t a priority for most.

        • February 1, 2016 at 8:27 am — Reply

          JohnGC: drivers aren’t even overly concerned about their own safety. Hence adverts like the one attached, and the fact that the government had to mandate ESC because consumers weren’t really demanding it.

          Safety is a factor for car sales, but it’s not as big as may be thought, and it is really more safety of the car occupants. This is the first time, ever, anyone has even brought up the subject of how their car’s safety might affect others. I’ve posted before about pedestrian-friendly airbags and nobody cared.

          Like I said, people can think that is wrong or right, but it is the way it is.

          There are studies showing how driving a car de-personalises other people so you don’t mind the fact they get hurt.

  6. Gav Danyel
    February 11, 2016 at 4:55 pm — Reply

    People will buy what they want if Mr Golf diesel doesn’t like it – so what, each to their own. I think the SUV market is pushed on consumers – look at the advertising – buy an SUV (an American based term I hate, but it’s a convenient standard for use in a discussion) and you’ll have this freedom loving lifestyle by a lake, flying a kite with the family whilst unloading your kayak and fishing rods with your 9.5/10 wife and genetically perfect two children smiling from their picnic rug next to your (insert Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, Renault etc).
    Given that SO MANY of these SUVs are based on an existing car platform – where the R&D has been done (presumably) – and they are effectively a tweaked donor car with bigger panels on stilts, the manufacturers are making good profits on these cars. Eg, a base model Subuaru Impreza is $24K, whilst the Impreza XV is just shy of $30K and has a smaller boot – that’s a fair amount of cash for taller suspension and bigger body panels. Same applies to a Toyota Aurion & a Kluger – very low $30’s to pretty much $45 to $50K!
    You can see why we’re being sold SUVs because we ‘need’ them.

  7. Dancar
    April 8, 2016 at 6:34 pm — Reply

    Excellent reply to the SUV critic, as sales figures of SUV’s are almost that of normal cars now you will legally be able to have 50/50 stories on each type soon and when SUV sales finally pass that of cars we can have more SUV articles because the “People” have spoken.
    Thank you for your very well written SUV response to a person who drives around polluting our land with deadly NOX.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper