What do you think is the most asked question to a motoring journalist? A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me what would be a good car to buy. She has a car plan that requires her to replace her vehicle every five years. #SanaAll .
Given her fixed budget from the company, she thought an SUV would fulfill her needs. She was even willing to sell her current small crossover, to “upgrade” to a larger, seven-seater even if it meant she had to top-off the additional price difference. It will only be she and her husband who will use the car. And her office is only a few blocks away from the condominium they reside in inside the Makati CBD.
The lure of the do-it-all, go-anywhere SUV has surely made my friend, and many car buyers, prefer this type of vehicle over sedans. According to local automotive industry data, SUVs, MPVs and AUVs, along with pickups and vans, can account anywhere from a third to even 90 percent of a brand’s sales.
Lumped together as light commercial vehicles, they represent a sizable chunk of monthly releases from car manufacturers. You only need to look out of your car’s windows to see how many of these types of vehicles are around you. Shall we say seven out of 10?
And despite the congestion in the metropolis, the tight inner city roads, and lessening parking spaces, the majority would still choose an SUV, or a crossover for their daily driving needs.
A similar trend can be seen around the world. Almost every car manufacturer, even the ultra-luxury and sports car focused brands, now has an SUV or crossover in its lineup. And even the next generation of vehicles, those running on batteries, are getting on the utility design bandwagon if only to cater to customer wants and desires.
But what makes these utility vehicles so endearing to the car masses?
There’s more space
Now who doesn’t want a large enough car to haul people and cargo? The amount of space and its accessibility in SUVs has made these vehicles more popular over the years. Manufacturers have gotten smart in engineering versatility through tumbling or hideaway seats and opening up real estate inside a vehicle. All while adhering to safety standards and making their vehicles look fine and decent.
The ability to transport large and heavy items comes in very handy. And those times you do need the space, or an extra third row for the kids or the nanny, a utility vehicle might just be all the car you will need.
That same space has also spawned a transport business among enterprising Pinoys. Vans are now a regular fixture of our mass transport system. Complementing the classic jeepney, these vans can travel provincial routes aside from the regular office commutes into and out of the city.
These vehicles offer one unique advantage over the typical sedan, and that is ride height.
The ground clearance an SUV, crossover, or pickup has over a car is enough of a comfort for many especially during the rainy season. Flash floods can make a lower car succumb to the elements. Whereas, an SUV with its raised engine and cabin can lessen the chances of water intrusion or engine damage.
That extra height also comes into play with urban obstacles such as off-specification humps, side gutters, steep ramps or large rocks in the middle of the street. The peace of mind that comes with the fact that you can clear most of these with hardly a sweat makes utility vehicles all the more sought-after.
Philippine roads are not exactly the smoothest around. That is why SUVs and crossovers have become quite ubiquitous in the last couple of decades.
With many SUVs based on pick-up ladder frame platforms, it is no wonder they have acquired a reputation of having the ability to traverse any kind of terrain. Often designed to handle heavy loads in demanding scenarios, SUV suspensions are more than capable of getting you out of nasty situations. Or at least allow the vehicle to survive and drive another day.
Commanding presence on the road
There’s an undeniable feeling of invincibility whenever one drives around in an SUV. The height, heft, and brawn of a medium or large sized vehicle has this psychological effect on people which makes them move aside for it.
Being able to see what is happening around you from a higher perspective also lets drivers become more aware of their surroundings. Drivers who own SUVs confess that size does matter, especially on a crowded road. And having these tall, wide and long vehicles can have an intimidating effect on drivers of smaller city cars.
A family that drives together, stays together
Asians have the propensity of taking whole families on long drives. Filipinos have mastered the art of filling their cars to the brim for outings and vacations. Having a larger ride such as a Sport Utility Vehicle or Multi-Purpose Vehicle has made it even easier for the whole barangay to tag along.
Quality time is indeed precious, and having a seven-seater or a van helps create more memorable moments in the family journey.
Now, despite their undeniable popularity, utility vehicles are not always the best way to move around. Especially if comfort and driving dynamics are high up your list of determining factors in choosing a car.
Here are five reasons to not pick an SUV, MPV, or crossover for your next ride.
Too big to handle
Some owners of SUVs find their ride too large for the narrow streets of the metropolis. Others find it difficult to park in tight spaces. Then there are those who have learned to wrestle their SUVs into submission, if only to make it go towards an intended direction.
Indeed, even supposed compact SUVs are not so compact anymore. Moreso, the mid to large-sized ones have become a handful to drive around town. The fact is, the larger the vehicle, the more skill is required of the driver to steer, control, and maneuver it. Some SUV owners jump from a small car into a big SUV and think all the moves he or she did in the car will apply in an SUV. They mostly misjudge the vehicle’s space, length and height. Either way, SUVs need to be tamed by a driver who is up to the job.
You forget what you’re driving
Have you ever encountered an SUV driver who slowed down to a crawl as the vehicle approached a rut or puddle of water? There are many SUV drivers who, perhaps out of habit, slow down unnecessarily when going over rutted roads. One of the reasons you’ll get an SUV is because of the clearance and toughness it brings to the table.
Not taking full advantage of these is a disservice to the vehicle. And it annoys other people on the road too. If you’ll be driving such a huge vehicle like a typical car, then you might as well stick to the latter.
Not for driving enthusiasts
There are laws of physics that you dare not challenge. And it goes without saying that a tall, lanky SUV will have a greater propensity to sway side-to-side on challenging, curvy roads. If you value handling and spirited driving, SUVs and utility vehicles may not be for you. SUVs are built like tanks. And they drive like them, too.
But if you are willing to compromise the driving values you hold dear from your youth for some space, practicality and versatility, then by all means, try one out.
Not all utility vehicles are created equal
SUVs, MPVs, AUVs, crossovers, pickups, five or seven-seaters, all these types of vehicles are made to address the different needs of the buying public. Technically, yes, they are all cars. But the sturdiness and power you might expect from a seven-seater based on a small car platform, versus a seven-seater built on top of a pickup ladder frame, will surely be different.
Just because a vehicle seats seven people, it doesn’t mean it can do so with ease. Some brands are banking that their small people carriers will seldom see a full load. And thus, they have engineered them to be most efficient, lively and easy to drive with only two or four people inside.
So it would be best to assess your particular needs. If you or your spouse will be the only occupants of the SUV for 90 percent of the time, you might as well get a smaller vehicle to match the purpose.
Ah yes, the Achilles heel of many pickup-based people movers, and pickups themselves as well. Real SUVs, by their very nature, are made from pickup truck frames designed to withstand around 1,000 kilos of cargo load. As such, the suspension tuning on these vehicles are stiffer than a typical sedan.
Aside from that, the ladder frames they are built upon are made rigid to withstand them buckling under load. Cargo will not complain if they bounce around or sway from left to right during long drives. But people will surely do.
That is why some manufacturers have opted to build their seven-seaters around an existing sedan’s monocoque shell. This is what we now call the crossover because it is designed to mix the benefits of space, height and versatility of a real SUV with the riding comfort, conveniences and ease of use of a car.
So it would be best to know your intended case use for a utility vehicle before you commit to one. Just because a brand is popular and very reputedly tough, reliable or strong, has an endless supply of parts, or is fun to drive, it does not mean it is the right one for your purpose. If you want to retain comfort in a utility vehicle, drive a crossover instead.
PHOTO: The Toyota Veluz sub-compact SUV is the latest to be launched in the local market.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.