Voices

Why is an SUV considered the default car choice for families?

A friend reached out on Facebook the other day asking what SUV her and hubby should buy to accomodate their one child…

THIS FRIEND DIDN’T ASK what ‘car’ she should buy, she asked what SUV she should buy. As if an SUV is the default choice for families. Sure, more and more people are climbing over one another to get into an SUV, and more and more car makers are climbing over one another to release an SUV, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most practical form of transport for young families.

There’s a lot to this topic, but I’m going to confine the discussion today simply to my friend’s question about boot space. I’ve got two kids, for instance, and I own a station wagon, a type of vehicle that’s been wholly overlooked by Australian car buyers as being inferior to the almighty SUV but in most cases offers much more boot space than an equivalent size SUV.

Sure, I get that some people say they want an SUV because they think it’s more practical when they really might want it because one of their friend’s bought one and they’d like to keep up. Or, because they think it’s stronger and safer. It’s certainly not because they’re keen on all-wheel drive, as the most popular SUVs are actually front-wheel drive versions.

So, back to my argument that a station wagon is actually more ‘practical’ if you’re shopping on space. My friend currently has a Hyundai i30 which she feels is too small to carry around everything you need to carry around when you’ve got a small child. She wants room for a travel cot, pram, bags, etc and says the i30 just doesn’t cut it.

Okay, so sticking in the Hyundai family, the i30 has a boot with 378 litres of storage space which is about par for the course for that size of vehicle. If you then take an SUV from the Hyundai line-up, say, the Tucson it only offers 110 litres more at 488 litres. If it’s purely room you’re basing your purchase on, does 110 litres really justify stepping up to a more expensive vehicle? Probably not.

I doubt that extra 100 litres of space would give my friend thew extra room she think she needs. I have already pointed out to her that when my son was born, my wife and I owned a Ford Fiesta which is much smaller than a Hyundai i30 and we managed just fine.

Obviously part of the more room, more practical argument is the physical size difference between, say, a hatchback and either an SUV or a station wagon. Continuing that theme, let’s look at some hatchback to SUV to station wagon boot size, and size comparisons. This is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Ford Mondeo (wagon) – 520-558 litres; Dimensions – 4871MM (L); 1852MM (W); 1482MM (H)
  • Ford Escape – 406 litres; Dimensions – 4523MM (L); 2077MM (W – WITH MIRRORS); 1684MM (H)
  • Ford Everest – From 450 litres (with the third-row seats up); 1050 litres (third-row seats folded flat)l Dimensions – 4892MM (L); 2180MM (W); 1837MM (H)
  • Kia Rio – 288 litres; Dimensions – 4045MM (L); 1720MM (W); 1445MM(H)
  • Kia Sportage – 491-503 litres; Dimensions – 4480MM (L); 1855MM (W); 1645MM (H)
  • Mazda CX-3 – 264 litres; Dimensions – 4275MM (L); 1550MM (H); 1765MM (W)
  • Mazda CX-5 – 505 litres; Dimensions – 4540MM (L); 1840MM (W); 1710MM (H)
  • Subaru Forester – 505 litres; Dimensions – 4595MM (L); 1795MM (W); 1735MM (H)
  • Subaru Outback – 512 litres; Dimensions – 4820MM (L), 1840MM (W), 1680MM (H)
  • Skoda Octavia (sedan) – 590 litres; Dimensions – 4690MM (L); 1810MM (W); 1450MM (H)
  • Skoda Superb – 625-660 litres; Dimensions – 4861MM (L, SEDAN), 4856 (L, WAGON); 1864MM (W); NOT STATED (H)
  • Skoda Yeti – 321-1665 litres; Dimensions – 4223MM (L); 1793MM (W)

After thinking about my friend’s question, I sought clarification and boot space really was the only prerequisite in this instance. Meaning, she wanted to buy an SUV, and I emphasise SUV rather than a 4×4 wagon like the Ford Everest – I threw it onto the list just for comparison’s sake. But, if you look at above list which, I know, is only a small sample, then it’s the station wagons that offer more boot space and, in some cases the smaller hatchbacks, like the Kia Rio offer more boot space than SUVs like the Mazda CX-3 (which is just a Mazda2 with body cladding).

And if you want something a little bigger then take a look at the Skoda Octavia, even in lift back form it offers more boot space than an equivalent-sized SUV, like Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape.

So, let’s answer this question for my friend… If she wants an SUV with a practical interior that isn’t the size of a monster truck, then she’s absolutely best off looking at the Skoda Yeti. See, the Yeti has a trick that none of the other cars on this small list have and that that its back seats can be removed. This means, my friend could leave one seat in for baby and remove the other two opening up a huge boot. Plus, they’d have the added benefits of increased ride height and all-wheel drive.

So, if its boot space you’re shopping on (and let’s just say, nothing else at this stage) then an SUV absolutely isn’t the best way to go.

Question: What vehicle would you suggest for my friend?

  • Monty

    It’s obvious that logic and reason are not top of the list of motivations to purchase a vehicle.

  • Marc

    VW Passat wagon demo around 30k

  • Andrew Riles

    Subaru Outback, Skoda Octavia/Superb Scout, VW Golf/Passat Alltrack…..best of both worlds really…..

    • Squeaky_1

      I agree Andrew. My wife’s car is a current model Outback and it is wonderful, truly it is. We had a Territory previously and there’s as much room in the back seat (Suby’s actually reclines!) and the load space is close too. The quality is BETTER in a lot of ways than the new Merc C Class – I have directly compared. The Suby drives like a car and rides like one too – nowhere near the body roll of the Terri or other SUV’s. Nothing remotely sporty about these “Sports Utility Vehicles” (Tanks). It is yet another ridiculous Americanism we must suffer. The ignorance of the Australian buying public never ceases to amaze me. The lady wanting a bigger boot is just a ‘lite’ example in the article. The marketing people advertising cars have a hell of a lot to answer for – mis-educating buyers of these inefficient and clumsy (and sometimes dangerously handling)vehicles.

  • trackdaze

    Many cite not having to drop down into a low slung sedan and climb back out.

    In a high riding suv one simply pivots and plonks to get in and swivels and drops (a leg) to meet the ground.

    • Allen

      How old are you?

      • trackdaze

        Some have but care little for it on the way to the shops.

        The fast boats, bikes and low or high riding cars are best left for the weekends. No?

        • Allen

          If you find getting in/out of a low riding car is a chore then . . .
          Anyway, this site is practical motoring.

      • Richard

        Obviously a lot of folks haven’t and I would bet that rollovers and not just texting & driving are increasing accidents in the US. On a more personal note, I simply hate the number of SUVs on the road and the way they block the lanes of the interstate when curves arrive and they all slow down and keep “cars” from passing their overly tall vehicles.

        • Allen

          +1

  • Densor

    Skoda Roomster ! The best and biggest (and unloved) little car around ! So practical and flexible. High seats. Big Windows. But looks only it’s mother could love.

  • Boderick Boddington

    I’m sitting with an aging old-fashioned full-size wagon ‘coz they don’t make them anymore (BA falcon on LPG). Huge cargo bay, rear wheel drive to tow and cheap to run on gas. Just can’t come around to these Urban Assault Vehicles. Hey – I’m old fashioned and the car market is NOT after me!

  • Dan

    Mazda6 wagon. I’ve got three kid seats. Fits a double pram and a couple of bags in the back, and I can use the roof rack (which I carry and fits in neatly next to my full sized spare) because the roof is about shoulder height, not a foot above my head like an SUV.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.