I get it. With all of us putting on weight, our backsides are spreading, making a big vehicle with a big seat more attractive. Add better visibility from a higher seating position, the ability to carry more stuff, and that sense of safety that only comes from mass, and the trend away from cars toward sport utility vehicles (SUVs) makes sense (see Infographic, pg. 26). For automakers, it’s a fantastic trend because the profit margins on SUVs are much more favorable than cars.
However, using the most scientific language I can muster: SUVs stink. Cars are better.
They’re more fun to drive, easier to park, more economical to own, more fun to drive, better for the environment, loaded with modern safety equipment, and more fun to drive. Owning an SUV is a conscious decision to make driving miserable on a daily basis because you might need its capabilities at some point in your life.
I’ve heard the arguments – I need the extra seating for when my in-laws visit. I need the towing power because I’m going to get a boat one of these days. I need the storage space because I plan to build a new deck, and I’m going to have to haul lumber home from the hardware store.
However, unless you’re towing a boat to Home Depot to pick up your in-laws for a 17-hour trip at least once a month, those excuses don’t hold up. Every now and then, I need to move 200 lb of manure to my backyard garden, but I don’t lug a wheel barrow with me at all times, just in case.
When I need to bring home furniture, haul junk to the dump, or take the family on a luggage-filled vacation, car rental agencies can give me an awful-to-drive, fully capable land yacht. And I can happily return it a few days later. Given the lower fuel and purchase costs for my small car vs. a big SUV, I’m coming out ahead.
And did I mention that cars are more fun to drive?
When I pull off the freeway on my way home, I pull my foot off the gas and let inertia carry me around a sharp curve, reducing speed from 65mph at the start of the exit to about 25mph by the time I get to the top and tap my brakes. The maneuver works like a dream in a Chevy Cruze. Try that in a Chevy Tahoe, and you’ll make the drive-time traffic report. Throwing the back end out of a Toyota Corolla can be a fun bit of drifting. Throwing out the back end of a Toyota Land Cruiser generally ends in a trip to the hospital.
To be fair, much of the SUV growth of the past five years has come from smaller crossovers, vehicles built on car architectures, giving them some of the fuel economy and driving responsiveness of sedans. So, some people are only sacrificing part of the joy of driving in the name of increased utility.
But you can keep your SUVs and crossovers. Even with a tiny, eco-inspired engine, my manual transmission small car is more fun to drive.