Cars come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and we often think of them in particular ways. Sports cars like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini might be seen as sexy and desirable by some, while classics might remind us of the times when we were younger, making us feel sentimental and nostalgic. Then there are cars you look at and go: “Well, that’s just stupid!”
For me, that is now the feeling I get whenever I see an SUV. This wasn’t always my attitude to these high-bodied shopping haulers. However, I recently bought a particularly silly one, and the ownership experience has convinced me that SUV actually stands for Stupid Utility Vehicle. Here are five reasons why I now think so.
1. Four by four for what? Many SUVs have all-wheel drive, a fact manufacturers love to sell us with cinematic adverts showing these metal beasts racing through the desert like Lawrence of Arabia during his attack on the Ottoman Hejaz Railway. While there are some people who legitimately need the ability to drive over rough terrain, the most off-road driving that 99% of SUVs ever do is when they place two wheels on the sidewalk while parking.
The truth is that most of us don’t need AWD, and it’s often detrimental to the whole driving experience. The car is heavier, needs more fuel, costs more to build (and therefore to buy), and there are more parts that need to be maintained or can go wrong. Having AWD just to tootle around town is stupid.
2. Safe, but for whom? Many people buy SUVs because they think sitting inside such a huge metal object will keep them extra safe. While there is some truth to this argument—especially with more modern cars—there are also some caveats. Older models, specifically those with old-school ladder frames, can actually be less safe as they’ll fold like an accordion when impacting a solid object.
Then there’s the fact that these cars might be safe for the people inside of them, but if you’re the driver of a smaller car, getting hit by one of these beasts is almost always going to hurt you more than the other guy. And that’s before we even consider what taking a bumper to the chest will do to any pedestrian unlucky enough to cross the path of an SUV. Because many have ridiculous blind spots in front of their huge hoods, the chances of ending up under the wheels of one are also higher than with other cars.
3. Monstrous money pits. SUVs are expensive, and I don’t just mean to buy. Sure, getting one in the first place can leave a sizable hole in your pocket, but running one every day isn’t exactly cheap either. The 4.0-liter V8 turbodiesel in my SUV sounds awesome and does have more torque than most container ships, but sadly it also has the fuel consumption of one.
The fact I picked it up relatively cheap in a car auction only partially makes up for the higher parts prices. A quick price check for tires, for example, showed that just one premium rubber for it can book in at as much as P15,000—or roughly twice what my wife would pay for a tire for her new Suzuki S-Presso. The same goes for many other parts like brakes or suspension. It’s easy to spend stupid amounts of money on these things.
4. How big is too big? Our 2008 ML-Class is actually quite small compared to some of today’s city trucks, but it already feels huge when you’re behind the wheel. I honestly don’t know why clearly competent and otherwise intelligent automotive engineers would come up with a vehicle like this and go: “Yup, let’s sell that as a car for urban use!”
It’s hard to fit it into narrow lanes, difficult to park, and awkward to maneuver when things get tight. Then there’s the fact that you don’t really need all that space most of the time. I bet that for 95% of their working lives, most SUVs only ever carry one or two passengers and minimal luggage. This means a smaller car could do the job just as well (or even better).
5. False advertising if ever there was one. SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle, but let’s be honest here: There is absolutely nothing sporty about a studio apartment on wheels. Manufacturers might be shoving ever bigger engines into them and even creating super SUVs, but the fact remains that associating such a huge vehicle with the term “sport” is like calling an aircraft carrier “agile.” They also don’t really offer more utility than a station wagon or even a sedan.
You might now think that I’m going to sell our beast again in favor of something a little more sensible, but you’d be wrong. Yes, the big old Chedeng on our driveway is too big, eats the remaining hair off my head, and I’ve already dented it trying to park, but I also somehow just like it. It’s a nice feeling to have such a huge machine at your disposal, to look down on most other cars, and to know that if I wanted to attack an Ottoman train in the Arabian desert, I could.
What’s so stupid about that?