Dis­lik­ing SUVS has be­come a de­fault re­flex as nor­mal as de­spis­ing the pommy cricket team

Wheels (Australia) - - Editor's Letter - ALEX INWOOD

IT’S AN ODD SEN­SA­TION TO CATCH YOUR­SELF DUR­ING A MO­MENT OF SIG­NIF­I­CANT PER­SONAL CHANGE, TO BE­COME AWARE THAT A FUN­DA­MEN­TAL SHIFT IS HAP­PEN­ING, WHILE IT’S HAP­PEN­ING. AND YET, AS I SLID MY BUM INTO THE SOFT, SUP­PLE SEAT OF WHEELS’ VOLVO XC60 LONG-TERMER, THAT’S EX­ACTLY WHAT OC­CURRED.

I was in a dark, cold and de­cid­edly de­press­ing car park at Mel­bourne air­port, hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous three days criss­cross­ing NSW in a group of fo­cused, top­less and wor­ringly ex­pen­sive su­per­cars, which you’ll read about next month. Maybe it was the weather, or my sleep-de­prived state, but slip­ping into the Volvo felt like a big, warm hug. It was easy to get into, its seat­ing po­si­tion high and com­mand­ing. As I switched on the heated steer­ing wheel, I made the kind of noise English peo­ple make when you of­fer them tea and bis­cuits. I may have ac­tu­ally mut­tered, “Oooooh lovely.”

Self-aware­ness isn’t a strength of mine, so while I ac­knowl­edged this un­ex­pected wave of af­fec­tion, I parked that thought and drove home. And that would have been that, had Alpina not re­vealed its ver­sion of the BMW X3 the fol­low­ing morn­ing. With the XD3’S hun­kered stance, deep blue paint and multi-spoke al­loys en­larged on my com­puter screen, the noise ap­peared again, only this time it was deeper, more an­i­mal­is­tic.

I found my­self lust­ing after an SUV, which felt odd, and made me pon­der a deeper ques­tion: would the wider Wheels read­er­ship feel the same way? Hav­ing spent more hours that I care to ad­mit trawl­ing through the com­ments on our so­cial me­dia pages and field­ing let­ters from read­ers after our last two COTY win­ners (Mazda CX-9 and Volvo XC60) I’d wa­ger that no, the ma­jor­ity wouldn’t.

SUVS may now ac­count for more than half of all Aussie sales, but to car en­thu­si­asts, to peo­ple who ac­tively pur­sue the thrill of driv­ing, they’re still de­rided. They’re dis­missed as in­fe­rior and com­pro­mised, bought by peo­ple who don’t know or sim­ply don’t care that they’re heav­ier, thirstier, uglier, more cum­ber­some and of­ten less prac­ti­cal than an equiv­a­lent sedan or bet­ter yet, a wagon. The past decade has seen dis­lik­ing SUVS be­come cool; a de­fault re­flex that feels as nor­mal, and as right, as de­spis­ing the pommy cricket team.

Well, peo­ple, things have changed. Mod­ern SUVS have im­proved to such a de­gree that this stigma no longer holds wa­ter. Ra­bid de­mand for the high­rid­ers has seen en­gi­neers rise to the chal­lenge, with ad­vances in driv­e­train and chas­sis tech mean­ing that for the most part, SUVS now drive like cars. They’re be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ef­fi­cient, too, pro­vid­ing you pick the right one. My hy­brid XC60 av­er­aged 4.8L/100km on its last tank, while nail­ing all of the SUV hall­marks buy­ers crave: a high seat­ing po­si­tion, eas­ier ingress/egress and a loftier ride height that, while unlikely to ever be used off-road, makes nav­i­gat­ing the ur­ban jun­gle, with its speed-humps, gut­ters, and steep drive­ways, that bit eas­ier.

There are ex­cep­tions, of course. Heavy SUVS with sloppy han­dling and thirsty en­gines still ex­ist and de­serve your vil­i­fi­ca­tion, but the rate of progress has been such that the en­tire SUV seg­ment can no longer be writ­ten off as me­diocre.

Wheels dep ed Andy En­right ar­gues that SUVS are now so good that they’re of­ten bet­ter than the per­for­mance wag­ons of yore we hold so dear. A Porsche Ma­can Turbo, for ex­am­ple, would likely run rings around a V8-pow­ered Audi RS4 Avant.

The point here isn’t to sug­gest you should rush out and buy an SUV, but to chal­lenge the way you think about them.

IN DE­FENCE OF THE SUV

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