The entire world wants to drive an SUV! At least, that’s the impression we get from observing the car news: In a recent article, Car Dealer Magazine reports that Kia’s 2015 Sorento is now officially the fastest selling used car on the UK used car market!
This is remarkable for two reasons. For one, the Kia is hardly the kind of ‘dream car’ you’d expect at number one. (It is pretty great, though!) And secondly, it shows just how far the triumph of SUVs has come: Long after dethroning sedans and hatchbacks, they have even relegated superminis to the second spot.
SUVs now officially rule the world. But is that a good thing?
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SUVs have been gaining ground for years.
Of course, you don’t need this article to tell you that SUVs have become exceedingly popular. Even if you’re not already driving one yourself, you will have noticed their presence on the streets, in the media and advertising, in the catalogues of even the most traditional car manufacturers.
The first SUV dates back roughly to the mid-80s. Although, of course, the exact year depends on what you consider to be the first car to deserve that title.
One thing’s for sure: The body type originated in the United States. There, it made a lot of sense to combine the functionalities of a jeep/pick-up with those of a family vehicle. These new cars also seemed ideally suited to a decade when fuel was still cheap and no one worried about the ecology.
We can probably thank the Nissan Qashqai for bringing that trend to Europe. Reinvented as a more rugged version of the mini-bus or MPV, it came at a time when many couples decided to become parents fairly late in life. Suddenly, they needed a car that could meet many different demands.
The SUV was that car.
The History of the SUV: From Niche to Domination
But what about the ecology?
It is certainly bizarre that SUVs have managed to become so popular. After all, this new generation of car drivers seemed particularly concerned about green topics! It seems outright aburd that they should discover the car, of all modes of transportation, as their favourite. And yet, this isn’t as mysterious as some make it out to be.
Since the 1980s, cars have massively improved in terms of their fuel economy. Although SUVs were still far less green than sedans, let alone superminis, they were suddenly no longer as bad as they once had been. It was certainly not like roads were suddenly flooded with Hummers! Their performance was far better, in fact, than those of the Broncos or even the Espaces they were replacing. In many respects, for a while, their effect could even be regarded as positive.
What’s more, people were using their SUVs differently. For many, they were more of a complement to bike and bus, something to use perhaps two or three times per week rather than every day. Parents would often share their SUV with their children, who appreciated that they could take friends for a ride.
Manufacturers obviously catered to this audience by portraying SUVs as the cars of the future. These cars had nothing in common with the fourwheel drive machismo which had ruled marketing departments for a decade. It is telling that female drivers especially embraced SUVs.
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And so, the triumph of the SUV began.
Over the past 15 years, SUVs have gradually conquered the hearts of drivers in the UK and mainland Europe. We have the Nissan Qashqai to thank for that.
The Qashqai may or may not have been the first true SUV that crossed the Atlantic. But it was certainly the car that made Europeans realise that it was not totally absurd to drive one. For many years, they had ridiculed Americans for their larger than life hamburger meal sizes and monster trucks. Now, they were discovering the American lifestyle for themselves.
When the Qashqai arrived, most journalists greeted it with reserved applause. Some forward thinking writers already had a hunch that Nissan had got the balance right on this one. Most realised that it was something new. But to what extent, they had no idea.
Could they have predicted the rise of SUVs in the UK and Europe? One thing’s for sure:
Car magazines had for far too long misunderstood the true needs of most drivers.
No wonder they saw their fortunes dwindle! But so had manufacturers, who had focused on cars which simply did not offer what most wanted out of them. Both appeared to think that consumers either wanted flashy, business-style saloons or cheap, versatile city cars. They didn’t realise that their demographic had changed.
The Qashqai was not a perfect car. But it so exactly met those long ignored needs that people simply didn’t care:
- It offered more luggage space than almost any other car in its category.
- It offered more passenger space than almost any other car in its category.
- Seats could easily be folded down, further increasing the size of the trunk.
- It had an elevated driving position, which appealed to women.
- It was a fantastic car for those with disabilities.
- Also, it offered a high degree of flexibility
Customers flocked to the Nissan with their purses opened.
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The entire industry performed a turn around.
Even Nissan must have been surprised: It had always been a niche manufacturer. By 2010, meanwhile, the Qashqai had entered the top 10 sales charts.
Manufacturers suddenly had to question their strategy. Although many doubted whether SUVs were really the future, they all eventually caved in and started offering their own SUV models. Almost every single one was a success. Manufacturers were presented with an uncomfortable choice: Continue to produce hatchbacks and saloons and lose out – or switch to SUVs and stay in the race.
Why are SUVs so irrestible?
To understand what made the proposition of the SUV so unique, we need to take a look at what they were up against.
One simple reason for their popularity is that SUVs did not just compete with sedans or saloons or jeeps or MPVs. They effectively competed with all of them. And in many respects, consumers were finding that they were actually always better off with an SUV.
Why was this?
SUVs offered slightly less space than most MPVs. But they were still pretty large and their boot space especially was pretty excellent. For most families, they offered more than enough for large shopping trips, family vacations or weekend excursions with the children and the dog.
They were more practical than many sedans and looked just as serious for business purposes. Contrary to a true fourwheel drive, rugged jeep, you could take your business acquantance for a ride with them.
Curiously, many female drivers were quite taken by the higher seat position. It allowed for a better view of the road ahead which was especially relevant in city traffic. For the same reason – one among many, actually – SUVs were also excellent for those with a disability.
As jato.com notes, hatchbacks were getting bigger just about the same time that SUVs were becoming smaller. When the two became really close in size, many drivers were finding that the SUV was simply more appealing.
So are the days of the Sedan and Hatchback numbered?
It certainly looks that way. SUVs have overtaken the old car body types and they have done it so convincingly that some manufacturers have already stopped producing and developing new sedan type vehicles. Although this has only been the case in the USA so far and with brands like Ford, Europeans are also veering away from the once so dominant sedans and saloons.
That said, many of these developments move in cycles. It wouldn’t be the first time that formats considered dead are staging a comeback (here’s looking at you, vinyl LPs). Sedans have proven still more than viable for electric vehicles and the supermini is still, all in all, the most popular car type.
There are definitely still many reasons why you should consider an alternative to a SUV.
It’s time for our deathmatch between these different bodytypes to determine which is best for you.
From an ecological perspective, SUVs are still a burden.
For many voters, climate change is the single most important topic for deciding how to vote. So why do we keep driving SUVs?
As we pointed out, the simple reason is that SUVs are nowhere near as bad as you might think. According to official numbers, the Qashqai’s real fuel consumption is 5,9 liters / 100km or 48 MPG (UK). That may not be the absolute best you can achieve. But it’s pretty incredible if you think about it.
That said, superminis and most Sedans will beat the numbers of any comparable SUVs with ease. SUVs are heavier in every respect and consume more. If you really want to make a dent into the eco balance, an SUV should not be your first choice.
Sedan / Hatchback: 1
Safety is not a reason to buy an SUV.
Safety has become one of the most important choices for buying a new car over a used car. In fact, emotional factors aside, it may well be the most important one.
SUVs have heavily benefitted from this fact. This is not because they make use of innovative safety technology no other body type has access to. Simply, their higher chassis and more rugged build means they have an advantage over other cars in case of a collision. Some of the larger models do look a bit like a tank without weapons.
Is it egoistical to drive an SUV to try and gain an advantage over other drivers? Perhaps, but it is more than understandable. And besides, it is not like SUV drivers are crashing into other cars for fun.
On the other hand, almost every single modern car offers outstanding safety functionalities as well. So, although SUVs may have a slight edge in the safety department, sedans and hatchbacks are still very, very safe indeed. Only superminis can’t quite match this level. But that’s really only down to their size.
Sedan / Hatchback: 2
From a driving experience perspective
This is a hotly contested aspect. SUVs are the pinacle of driving for some. They love the relaxed feeling of hovering high above the road, the power they can feel underneath the hood.
To others, the appeal of an SUV will forever remain a mystery. It can’t be denied that sedans have a more flexible body structure, and, because they are closer to the ground, they offer a more pronounced road feeling. They also hug bends better and feel far more sporty.
For this one, there is probably no right or wrong answer. Which body type you most enjoy driving will remain a question of personal preference.
From a functional / practical perspective
Functionality is really what started the popularity of the SUV. It is easy to see, why: They offer unparalled trunk size. They offer a lot of leg room inside and, often, enough head space as well. They offer reasonable offroad qualities.
On the other hand, superminis are great precisely because they are far smaller and can fit just about any parking space. Especially when it comes to backwards visibility, they are better than SUVs. (this goes for most sedans and hatchbacks, too.)
It is here that most sedans and hatchbacks lose out to SUVs. You can get similar qualities in them, too, but mostly only in far larger and, thus, more expensive models, such as the Passat. At the same time, a Passat may be a serious alternative, as SUVs are usually considerably more expensive anyway.
Which brings us to our last criterium.
Sedans / Hatchbacks: 0
From a financial perspective
For the car industry, the SUV boom has been a veritable miracle and windfall. When the Qashqai arrived, it seemed to be on the downward trajectory, with sales numbers and profits dropping.
SUVs were great, because they were not complicated to build and develop. But they offered incredible profits.
For you as a consumer, the disappearance of the sedan/hatchback would not be good news. These types are great for anyone with a limited budget, while SUVs will always command a higher price – perhaps with the sole exception of Dacia’s model range.
This is not to say that an SUV can not be worth it. Quite to the contrary, we, too, love them and think they can be fantastic. But if your budget is really tight, they may not be your first choice.
Total: Superminis and SUVs on top
Quite fascinatingly, then, our test replicates and explains the situation on the UK car market:
Superminis are economical, cheap and will fit any parking space. Due to their size, they lag behind in the safety department.
SUVs are functional and flexible. They offer excellent safety features, drive well, but are expensive.
Sedans and hatchbacks offer an excellent allround package. But they do not excel in any specific department.
But of course you don’t need to follow this train of thought.
Everything depends on what you need and what your financial possibilities are.
To see how we can help you find the right car for you, visit us now at our Manchester showroom – or check out our digital showroom on this website. You can also contact us directly about finance using our easy to use contact form.
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