SUVs / Crossovers: Are they actually better at anything?

With this post, I’m not talking about real 4×4 off-roaders that have an actual purpose. I’m talking about the bigger cars that have a higher ride height, are often FWD and don’t have any real off road capability to speak of.

These cars cost more to buy, use more fuel and handle worse than an equivalent hatchback or estate. They are likely to cost more to insure, take up more space on the road in many cases and generally are taking the car industry in the opposite direction to where we should be going in order to tackle all the huge problems we currently face.

The benefits people give for SUVs include a higher seating position for more comfort, a commanding view of the road, inherent safety in a larger vehicle, and apparently they are more stylish, although that is extremely subjective. They also hold their value better than the equivalent hatch. However, by the time you sell it, you’ve been spending significantly more money on fuel than you would otherwise have been, and that will have cut into the resale value advantage quite significantly.

The comfort argument I’m not an expert in since I’ve not been in SUVs much at all. However, I find it hard to believe that a similarly sized hatchback with a comfort focus couldn’t be as good of a ride. Especially as the most comfortable cars produced historically have been saloons and not high riding cars.

As far as the higher riding position, my Renault Zoe (B Segment hatch) has quite an upright seating position, so I don’t really think that element has to be exclusive to SUVs. Probably the reason it is mostly exclusive to SUVs is because they want to sell you a car that costs thousands more, and make that a prominent feature.

So far, I can’t see any advantage of SUVs, apart from the aforementioned hardcore off-roaders that I’m excluding from this argument against crossovers.

So what about electric SUVs? Surely if they’re being powered with 100% renewable energy then we can all drive huge SUVs everywhere. Not so fast. Yes, the environmental impact will be massively reduced with an electric SUV, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically the best choice. They’re still big and heavy, inefficient compared to smaller, lighter and more aerodynamic cars. They still wouldn’t have the exclusivity on seating positions or comfort. They wouldn’t necessarily be able to store as much stuff as estates. The tyres are likely to cost more to replace. They’re a pain in the ass to deal with in towns and cities, even if you have rear axle steering like some luxury models have now.

Just because they’re massively better than ICE cars doesn’t mean they’re immune to criticism. If you compare a Tesla Model 3 with a Model X, the 3 long range version has a battery pack of 75kwh and does 310 miles of range. The X 100D which is the longest range version, has 295 miles of EPA rated range. So that’s 15 miles less than a car with 25kwh less capacity.

I’m not saying you can’t create inefficient EVs. We create endless inefficient ICE vehicles. But as we’re currently limited by the number of battery cells we can create, it would probably make sense to focus more on efficient use of those batteries until we can ramp the production to a point where we’re no longer constrained. It also goes against the electric movement to reduce consumption and be smarter with how we use energy in general. That’s not to say cars like the New Roadster shouldn’t exist. That car will be a monster, but it will also be incredibly efficient when driven sedately. Not something you can say about electric SUVs. Especially ones that are significantly less efficient than the Model X.

Having said all that, what if we didn’t make electric SUVs on principle, and sales of EVs started stalling, while sales of ICE SUVs skyrocketed. No one wants that situation either. I just hope that I’m not forced in future to buy a car body style that I strongly disapprove of. We always need to have choice, even in the self driving future when we’re no longer driving ourselves and have no need for sporty handling or fun driving characteristics. Even then, I want any car I get in to be the most efficient it can be, while also giving me the comfort that we’ll all really prize when our sole focus is on getting somewhere in the most relaxing and enjoyable way possible.

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