Bush or ’burbs

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - BILL McKIN­NON

Thirty years ago, the SUV didn’t ex­ist. Hard-core dual range 4WDs such as Toy­ota’s LandCruiser, the Nis­san Pa­trol and Holden Jacka­roo were the only al­ter­na­tives to Fal­con, Com­modore and Camry wag­ons, our favourite fam­ily freighters back in the day.

In the 1990s, a few imag­i­na­tive car com­pa­nies tried their luck with wag­ons that com­bined el­e­ments of both and the SUV was born. Pioneer SUVs such as Subaru’s Out­back and the Toy­ota RAV4 were light, safe, fuel-ef­fi­cient, com­fort­able and easy to drive — just like a car — but they also had ex­tra ground clear­ance, high-range all-wheel drive and dual-pur­pose tyres so you could also point them at a dirt road with­out em­bar­rass­ing your­self in front of the fam­ily.

To say we went for the con­cept is an un­der­state­ment.

The SUV is now avail­able in hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent flavours, led in the sales charts by Mazda’s CX-5.

The con­ven­tional 4WD wagon is still with us, of course, but it sells in much smaller num­bers than SUVs.

Toy­ota’s Prado has dom­i­nated this mar­ket for 20 years but last year’s launch of Ford’s new Ever­est, Mit­subishi’s Pa­jero Sport and Toy­ota’s For­tuner could well spark a 4WD re­vival.

Ever­est, Pa­jero Sport and For­tuner are ba­si­cally wagon bod­ies dropped on to an ex­ist­ing one-ton­ner 4WD ute chas­sis — re­spec­tively, the Ranger, Tri­ton and HiLux.

They’re cred­i­ble fam­ily ve­hi­cles largely be­cause their crash pro­tec­tion, which wasn’t even an op­tional ex­tra on one­ton­ners or 4WDs of yore, is now com­pa­ra­ble with the ma­jor­ity of cars and SUVs, at least ac­cord­ing to ANCAP tests.

One-ton­ners are still way off the pace, though, when it comes to the lat­est hi-tech driver safety aids such as radar cruise con­trol, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing and lane keep­ing — th­ese are avail­able, for now, only in the Ford Ranger and Ever­est.

So the 4WD v SUV fam­ily wagon de­ci­sion in 2015 re­quires you to make fewer com­pro­mises but it’s still worth ask­ing your­self ex­actly what you want the ve­hi­cle to do, where you’re go­ing to use it and what your pri­or­i­ties are. Work this out and you’ll know which way to go.

If your most am­bi­tious of­froad ex­cur­sions will be on ac­cess roads to pop­u­lar na­tional parks, or the snow in win­ter, an SUV will do the job per­fectly well and you won’t be pay­ing for off-road hard­ware you’ll never use or the ex­tra weight of a 4WD that costs you se­ri­ous money ev­ery time you fill up or get it ser­viced.

De­spite the fact that AWD and sta­bil­ity con­trol es­sen­tially do the same job — im­prove grip, con­trol and safety in slip­pery con­di­tions — an all-paw SUV is still worth think­ing about if you do reg­u­lar high­way hauls be­cause it does give you an ex­tra mea­sure of grip.

If bop­ping around town is all you do, many SUVs now in­clude a front-drive vari­ant, which will be fine in this ap­pli­ca­tion and is usu­ally thou­sands of dol­lars cheaper.

In six or seven-seaters, check whether the side cur­tain airbags ex­tend to the third row. In some wag­ons only the front and mid­dle row pas­sen­gers are pro­tected.

The SUV be­came more pop­u­lar than the 4WD be­cause dur­ing the noughties peo­ple re­alised that the lat­ter is com­plete overkill for ev­ery­day sub­ur­ban driv­ing.

How­ever if off-road ad­ven­tur­ing, out­back travel or tow­ing are on your agenda, the 4WD wagon or one-ton­ner will usu­ally do the job much more eas­ily and re­li­ably than an SUV.

The trade-off is rel­a­tively se­date per­for­mance, pon­der­ous han­dling and higher run­ning costs. Th­ese things are, af­ter all,

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