Why buy an SUV?
The rise and rise of the Sports Utility Vehicle
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