Case for the cross­over

Grocott's Mail - - MOTORING -

Many of you dear read­ers may not re­call this, but in my re­view of the Hyundai Creta a few months back, I took a few shots at how the pre­ferred type of car for the com­mut­ing city soc­cer mom was ei­ther a mini- or reg­u­lar-sized SUV, even though most favoured by this de­mo­graphic have no busi­ness be­ing in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.

How­ever, this as­ser­tion merely served as an af­ter­thought to the re­view, and it did not stop me from con­clud­ing that the Creta is a fairly de­cent run-around fam­ily car (though I still have prob­lems with that gear­box).

Fast for­ward to last week when I was con­tacted by my mother for a quick chat. Be­ing a well-versed petrol­head her­self, she told me about how a friend of hers had re­cently ac­quired a new car. The car in ques­tion was a Suzuki Ig­nis, a new and re­cent ad­di­tion to the com­pany’s lineup of small, fam­ily hatch­backs. The con­ver­sa­tion reached a cli­max when my mother in­formed me that, when re­fer­ring to her new set of wheels, her friend in­sisted that it was in­deed, an SUV. …No. No, it is not. The Suzuki Ig­nis is a cross­over, not an SUV. The ad­di­tion of a pair of roof rails, black plas­tic wheel arches, and an in­creased ride height on a small fam­ily hatch­back does not make it a Ranger Rover or BMW X5. The cross­over is its very own seg­ment with the likes of the VW Polo Vivo Cross and Re­nault San­dero Step­way cham­pi­oning the idea that ev­ery­one can be sporty and out­go­ing, pro­vided they have an ac­tive word in the name of their car (and noth­ing to say about th­ese cars ac­tu­ally liv­ing up to them). Now that’s not to say that one has to spend ridicu­lous amounts of money on wheels that han­dle both tar­mac and dirt. For that, one can turn to the Re­nault Duster, the Mahin­dra Bolero, and even the Ig­nis’s hip­ster cousin, the Suzuki Jimny.

But while we may even reach a con­sen­sus on this, the South African pref­er­ence for the SUV has evolved into some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what it orig­i­nally was. So, be­fore we go any fur­ther, let’s just quickly de­fine what I mean by SUV.

A Sport Util­ity Ve­hi­cle, or SUV, usu­ally refers to a pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle, com­bined with the found­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of a pickup truck (this is due to the des­ig­na­tion it­self be­ing traced back to early com­mer­cial and com­bat ve­hi­cles, such as the Willis Jeep and the Land Rover).

Th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics in­clude an in­creased ride height, seat­ing for up to nine peo­ple (maybe not seen round lo­cally, but those mon­sters do ex­ist), and the four-wheel drive ca­pa­bil­ity.

One is able to draw pretty solid con­clu­sions from this def­i­ni­tion, but there are some ve­hi­cles which blur th­ese lines and get away with it. In some ways, this is the prob­lem with cross­over hatch­backs, and even more so with high-end ve­hi­cles which pur­port to be mas­ters of the dirt track, but end up not only be­ing use­less off-road, but also scar­ing own­ers into never dar­ing to take them there in the first place.

Think of the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLA which are par­tic­u­larly aimed at city dwellers. A week­end get­away to the Ka­roo every three months is not jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to own a seven-seater Chevrolet Trail­blazer that takes up three park­ing spa­ces and drinks more than my stu­dent col­leagues.

Now, peo­ple could ar­gue that they buy th­ese cars for their util­ity. Every fam­ily cir­cum­stance is unique, and some­thing like a Hyundai Santa Fe is a great way to ferry four kids, the Labrador and your Wool­worths shop­ping. Also, driv­ing cir­cum­stances are unique and a Multi-Pur­pose Ve­hi­cle, or MPV, is just a good and log­i­cal thing to have.

So, why not get a Jaguar Shoot­ing Brake?

I have touched on this un­founded un­pop­u­lar­ity in some of my pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles. South Africans just do not like the sta­tion wagon, and it is im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand why. Sure, the ride height of SUVs is es­sen­tial on bad roads(and I will con­cede this is a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence), but th­ese bulgier Sta­tion Wagon sedans are cheaper, of­fer just as much in­te­rior space, and are usu­ally more fuel ef­fi­cient than the off-road gas guz­zlers. The es­tate ver­sions of lux­ury cars, such as the BMW 3-Se­ries and Mercedes C-Class, are ex­actly like their sedan coun­ter­parts in terms of tech­ni­cal and rel­a­tive de­sign work, only with much big­ger and more prac­ti­cal boot space.

And yet, cars like th­ese are just ig­nored. And even when op­tions that com­bine the driv­ing qual­i­ties of the SUV, and the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of the sedan, peo­ple still don’t take no­tice. Cars like the Audi A4 All­road and Volvo XC70 are great ideas and of­fer an ideal pack­age, but they are dis­re­garded as gim­micky or mis­placed.

There has also been a de­vel­op­ment in the type of car where the SUV stems from. Pickup trucks have now be­come lux­u­ri­ous lim­ou­sines that of­fer the driver every ounce of com­fort and con­ve­nience, while driv­ing around in a small tank.

The Toy­ota Hilux and Ford Ranger are great ex­am­ples of this (and their price tags clearly re­flect it). But how is it that dif­fer­ent from a Range Rover that never leaves the city lim­its? I would be strained to find the owner of a full-spec Volk­swa­gen Amarok who would not dare use their car for any­thing other than trips to the co-op.

Use your car for what it was built for, South Africa, and not for just look­ing good or for rea­sons like tak­ing the kids to soc­cer prac­tice. Take a mo­ment to look at es­tate cars, and re­mem­ber that there is a car for ev­ery­one. So while I take ma­jor is­sue with clas­si­fy­ing a Suzuki Ig­nis as an SUV, I am con­soled by the knowl­edge that it will never leave the Sea Point Prom­e­nade.

Photo credit: Mo­to­press

The Suzuki Ig­nis. A city runaround.

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