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?

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.