Why buy an SUV?

The rise and rise of the Sports Util­ity Ve­hi­cle

NZSUV - - Contents - Story by CHRIS LORIGAN

SUVS are im­mensely pop­u­lar in NZ right now, so we take a look at what might be driv­ing the trend. Be­cause what else do you need in a car?

Why are Ki­wis buy­ing SUVS in such vast quan­ti­ties? Why have th­ese ve­hi­cles grown in pop­u­lar­ity over the past 10 years to rep­re­sent over a third of all new car pur­chases in NZ?

I have a Swiss Army Knife. I’ve had it for ages and I use it all the time for all sorts of stuff. Among other things it’s a saw, pli­ers, a knife, scis­sors, a tin opener and a plas­tic tooth­pick. I could, like Macgyver, sur­vive any­where with this thing. What’s my point? That hav­ing one tool with many func­tions is ef­fi­cient, ef­fec­tive and prac­ti­cal. It saves me hav­ing nine­teen tools I don’t need.

A Sports Util­ity Ve­hi­cle (SUV) saves me hav­ing nine­teen cars I don’t need. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of the mo­tor­ing world.

I’ve been re­view­ing SUVS for over ten years, and I be­lieve the rea­son for buy­ing one is very sim­ple: they do it all. You can drag off a boy racer in com­fort and style when you’re on your way to the boggy back-coun­try with your part­ner and five kids while tow­ing a boat. If you need to.

De­mand for SUVS in New Zealand is among the high­est in the world, and in­dus­try ex­perts ex­pect they will make up half of all new pas­sen­ger car sales here by 2018. Ev­ery ma­jor car man­u­fac­turer de­votes its re­sources to pro­duc­ing and mar­ket­ing at least one SUV model so they can have a bite of this large mar­ket sec­tor. With growth of al­most 30 per­cent a year for the past five years, this is the fastest grow­ing cat­e­gory within new

pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial sales in New Zealand and has been steadily in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity for the past decade. Volvo Gen­eral Man­ager Steve Kench­ing­ton, quoted in the AA’S on­line mo­tor­ing news in 2015, points out that the SUV’S 27 per­cent an­nual growth in mar­ket share is con­sid­er­able when com­pared to the four per­cent growth in the pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle cat­e­gory as a whole. “Ten years ago there were only a hand­ful of SUV mod­els avail­able in the New Zealand mar­ket. To­day we have over 60 small, medium, large and ex­tralarge mod­els,” he says.

Cade Wil­son, AA mo­tor­ing ad­vi­sor, gave me an ex­pla­na­tion for this pop­u­lar­ity: “SUVS have re­ally taken NZ by storm, par­tic­u­larly be­cause they fit our life­style. We want a ve­hi­cle that can fit in all our things and trans­port the pas­sen­gers we need…. They have more road pres­ence and vis­i­bil­ity than a car, which in turn makes us feel safer on the road.” I asked Wil­son if he would buy one: “Def­i­nitely; I would pre­fer an all-wheel-drive model. Late model SUVS drive and han­dle like a car, and of­fer a great view of the road from a lit­tle higher per­spec­tive. I par­tic­u­larly love driv­ing in an SUV when the

❝You can drag off a boy racer in com­fort and style when you’re on your way to the boggy back-coun­try with your part­ner and five kids while tow­ing a boat. ❞

weather is bad; I feel safe know­ing the ve­hi­cle han­dles well and will pretty much go through any­thing.” This opin­ion re­flects the AA’S June 2015 blog com­ment, “Are [SUVS] worth the hype?” To which they an­swered: “They prob­a­bly are.”

In 2015, half of the fi­nal­ists for NZ Car of the Year were SUVS: Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Land Rover Dis­cov­ery Sport, Hyundai Tuc­son and one of the small­est in the class, Mazda’s CX-3. This can be no ac­ci­dent: they’re very good ve­hi­cles.

On- and off-road ca­pa­bil­ity (if yours is a 4WD model), speed and power, safety, space, vis­i­bil­ity, seven seats, road pres­ence, tow­ing ca­pac­ity, com­fort, han­dling, style – in gen­eral, the SUV com­bines all of this into one pack­age. Some are bet­ter at do­ing it than oth­ers, of course, and each will have its own par­tic­u­lar strengths and weak­nesses, but which­ever way you look at it, this is a ve­hi­cle for all sea­sons. For all rea­sons, per­haps.

But there’s ar­guably more to it than prac­ti­cal­ity. There’s some­thing about own­ing an SUV that goes be­yond this ‘do any­thing’ po­ten­tial. It’s some­thing about im­age. Clive Matthew-wil­son of world renowned, Nz-based Dog and Lemon, says: “The SUV is the sta­tion wagon of the early 21st cen­tury…. [They] sug­gest you’re a dom­i­nant in­di­vid­ual who is the mas­ter of your own des­tiny. That’s why even tiny SUVS with­out four-wheel drive are styled to look rugged and of­ten a bit men­ac­ing; in the mind of the city of­fice worker who drives an SUV, their ve­hi­cle is some­how re­lated to a gi­ant mil­i­tary off-roader like the Humvee.”

The SUV is per­haps a re­flec­tion, there­fore, not only of your de­sire to get out there but also of a kind of ‘here I am, I’m re­ally liv­ing life to the max’ men­tal­ity.

All SUVS de­scend from the 1941 World War 2 Jeep and, seven years later, from the all-pur­pose Land Rover. Jeep and Land Rover only pro­duce 4WDS and SUVS, each mar­que building sev­eral mod­els to fit the re­quire­ments of a di­verse clien­tele. Th­ese iconic mo­tor­ing brands have an in­nate as­pi­ra­tional char­ac­ter, an ad­ven­tur­ous rugged­ness that lies on a gen­eral SUV con­tin­uum span­ning, cur­rently, the Jeep Wran­gler or Land Rover De­fender to the Suzuki SX4 or Ford Ecosport. In be­tween are some pretty im­pres­sive and use­ful ve­hi­cles that are very pop­u­lar with Ki­wis – the likes of Hyundai Santa Fe, Toy­ota RAV4 and Mazda CX5. Th­ese three might not be seen as tra­di­tion­ally rugged in the off-road sense, es­pe­cially if they’re 2WD variants, how­ever they do re­flect the po­ten­tial of a fam­ily’s recre­ational ideal, even if that ideal in­fre­quently be­comes a re­al­ity and they rarely, if ever, brave the muddy, rocky, sandy or snowy wilds of this fair land.

But the point is that they could if they wanted to. To vary­ing de­grees. They sug­gest a recre­ational life­style, a fam­ily ad­ven­tur­ous­ness, a free­dom, a de­sire. And the thing is that most of them are able to play those roles to some de­gree. But even if they never do, the SUV is, as Matthew-wil­son points out, “the sta­tion wagon of the 21st cen­tury, [they make] more sense for fam­i­lies: the SUV has be­come the peo­ple-car­rier of choice for those with mul­ti­ple chil­dren. There are few af­ford­able seven-seater peo­ple-car­ri­ers, but lots of af­ford­able, seven-seater SUVS, used mainly around cities.”

They take the whole fam­ily and all the gear, bikes and fish­ing rods and what­ever else out into the world in com­fort. Fuel econ­omy is of­ten com­pa­ra­ble to a sedan or wagon; and size, with the ex­cep­tion of height, is of­ten on a par as well. Ride height and oc­cu­pant vi­sion is one clear ad­van­tage of an SUV, and safety is bet­ter than ever. What more do you need in a car?


Fam­i­lies all over NZ are ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ver­sa­til­ity of SUVS; so much so that th­ese ve­hi­cles are start­ing to take over the pri­vate mar­ket

Ca­pa­bil­ity be­yond the tar­mac is one ma­jor ad­van­tage of a 4WD or AWD SUV

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