Lately, when various people have mentioned to me they are considering buying a new car, two things are apparent;
1) Kids have prompted the decision
2) The default choice is a four-wheel drive
(aka SUV – Special Utility Vehicle)
Now, I won’t deny the first item on the list.
But I am afraid the second point must be addressed. (And I will attempt to do it with all the civility I can muster.)
This should be fun.
But first, here are a few reasons i think we should ignore the boom in SUVs and keep cars small.
Smaller = cheaper to run, cheaper to produce and cheaper to maintain. You need the money.
The world needs us to consume less. No surprise there. And this is potentially the biggest purchase you will make – in regard to carbon – so why not make it with the world in mind. Generally speaking, larger cars are heavier and require larger engines demanding more fossil fuels and expelling more climate changing gases. (With some rate exceptions like a Lexus Hybrid 4WD) They demand more resources to produce and represent greater waste when they are eventually disposed of. They require larger tyres to support the weight that is, at the same time, doing more damage to roads than a lighter vehicle. Lose-lose.
Larger cars and taller cars, especially, are a threat to all motorists in lower cars who receive reduced visibility on the road when a SUV pulls along side or is parked on a corner where you intend to pull out. Due to the reduced rear visibility, there is the obvious threat to small children that news reports continue to remind us of. Reports that they roll over more often than sedans were exaggerated. I do think the invincibility some drivers of large vehicles feel could influence their driving.
Ever tried to see past an SUV in your lane? Or a car park? More smaller cars mean more parking spots on every street. Yes! And when street amenity is preserved, suburban clutter is not made worse by larger cars eating up the already pitiful open space in urban areas.
If you are single and/or kidless, why drive anything larger than a vehicle that can get up hills and won’t disintegrate at freeway speeds? This, to me, is the sweet spot for a small car. See Corollas, Hyundai i20s or VW Golfs. Two doors can be awkward so thankfully even the compact Honda Jazz comes with the option of five doors.
(MY) ONE CHILD POLICY
If you have one or two children, how does the equation really change? More than one seat per child is superfluous.
Unless, that is, we are to follow the same societal pressure that declares kids need their own bedroom.
Let’s face it, in cars, you can’t get away from people altogether, so everyone has to get along (if nothing else it’s good practice for CityRail. And besides, children are now in car seats until the age of seven.
(Kids will fight over space regardless. As my siblings will attest, I was the one most likely to lash out when someone’s leg touched mine.)
Two kids often means a bunch of attendant belongings and – if you like Fisher Paykel’s products – possibly a bunch of sizable, moving, musical apparatus. For me, this is not enough reason to buy a larger car. Leave the third and fourth toy at home! Play eye-spy – It’s one of those ye olde games without a screen but the kids will be thrilled to learn it is in 3D.
Got three kids? When did a family car stop doing that job? They’ve certainly got bigger – compare the 1980 Commodore with today’s Commodore. Didn’t we all grow up in a sedan or station wagon that survived ok until the oldest kid could drive or started pashing someone with a car?
There’s much to be said for packing smarter not larger.
Speaking for myself, if we have three kids, we’re sticking with our Mazda 3. And you can hold me to that.
It fits three child seats across the back and it has a good size boot but if we were going away for a week, it can take a pod on top or we’ll attach a borrowed trailer to the towbar.
You don’t know the satisfaction it brings a man to be pulling a trailer.
Now I know why men love driving around with one and reversing it unnecessarily into tight spaces.
There’s also much pride in delivering the perfectly packed boot.
However, the car companies clearly want to get us into larger cars and are eager to push even families with two or three children into SUV territory. Look at the reduction in the number of station wagons available (gone are the Falcon and the trusty Magna which I enjoyed for a while). Commodores stopped for two years but ‘due to popular demand’ it has returned.
That said, the Mazda 6 station wagon is a goer and Mondeo has a European-designed number worth a look. The boot on these cars is bigger than any you will get in an SUV.
If you have four kids, I get it, a sedan or station wagon won’t cope.
Of course, you could also get a people mover. It’s not like you are going four-wheel-driving and most have more boot and seat space than an SUV.
There are still the issues of visibility but less environmental concerns as they don’t weigh nearly as much.
Here’s a comparison that shows a popular SUV is 600kg heavier than a similar-sized people mover with more seats:
Toyota Kluger (7-seater)
Kia Carnival (8-seater)
Here’s an idea – let’s bring back the Tarago! Why did people stop buying Taragos? Was it due to the naff factor that it makes you look like a soccer mum and a SUV is beefy and therefore you drive around with more purpose than a simple ferry service?
Lastly, I think the choice to buy a large vehicle thinks less about all drivers than it does about just yourself. When I have asked three people why they like driving in an SUV, they say ‘because you are higher’. Higher somehow equates to safer, in people’s minds. Greater visibility? Well, only until the person beside you decides to get one too because they can’t see anything anymore.
And here’s how that feels from a small car:
So the future will look different one way or the other.
We either all get a larger, higher car – please no – or, as is now looking more likely, a carbon tax is brought in that will at some point add a premium to larger cars and reigns in these vehicles unless their efficiency rockets up in coming years.
Following is a list of 7+ seaters currently available, showing there are many options in both SUVs and people movers, and hopefully some you are not aware of.
|Dodge JC Journey|
|Hyundai Santa Fe|
|Kia Sorento, Rondo|
|Land Rover Discovery 3|
|Mazda CX7, CX9|
|Mercedes GL Class, R Class|
|Mitsubishi Challenger, Outlander, Pajero|
|Nissan Dualis 2, Pathfinder, Patrol|
|Peugeot 308 Touring, 4007|
|Ssangyong Rexton, Stavic|
|Toyota Kluger, Landcruiser 200, Prado|
|Citroen C4 Picasso|
|Hyundai iMax – Flash|
|Renault Grand Scenic|
|Toyota Avensis, Tarago|
|Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life, Caravelle, Multi Van|
Ten small cars you can live with — an About.com Cars Top Ten http://bit.ly/hrOf7e
Fords Small Car Problem A European Perspective – Motor Trend Blog http://bit.ly/ijgzeb
Drive.com.au blog: Are luxury small cars a rip off? http://bit.ly/i1IIJT
Yes! Yes! Yes! We have a mazda people mover (i don’t know more details than that. we bought it second hand) that transports up to 8 people around in safety while doing far less damage to the environment. My only point of divergence from your argument would be that we do “only” have 3 kids, but it’s great to be able to take a friend (or three) when we go away or to the beach, or another kid and their parent to Saturday sport, or stick my parents in the car as well and then go and pick up some long lost family friend from the airport. But you’ve given me a new insight into why my husband likes the trailer when we go camping :). I still try to use it as little as possible for short trips (we walk to school) but there are still times I drive it all by myself (eg to do the family shopping). Then, yes, it does feel like a bit of a bus, but I’ve long ago given up worrying about how i LOOK in it :). Thank you
We have a Tarago. My husband cringed when he bought it – his parents had had one for their family, and it all felt, well, a bit circular, but there you are. We love it.