We don’t think we are the only ones to notice that SUVs are the in-thing right now. These days, their popularity is such, they’re making sedans and hatchbacks almost irrelevant in a car maker’s portfolio. Cashing in on this demand, manufacturers are dishing them out in all segments. Micros SUVs, Compact SUVs, Premium Compact SUVs, the more expensive examples, there’s a choice available for nearly every budget. Purists will frown upon a lot among these for the reason that they are namesake examples which merely stand tall from the ground and can’t really do what a proper SUV must. However, for the average buyer, it doesn’t matter if the power isn’t going to all four wheels, if there’s no low ratio, or if the differential can’t be locked. What’s really making them popular then? Here’s what we figured.
High ground clearance
For the kind of roads, we drive on, ground clearance matters. It is not just speed bumps our cars must crawl over, but also get through craters which can swallow an entire vehicle, uproot bumpers, or at least bend the wheels. And these are the road conditions in our major metros! No wonder everybody wants a car where the bodywork sits high up from the ground.
If a vehicle must register its existence in the ‘SUV’ birth record file, to validate its credentials, it must be wide. Wider than a hatchback and a sedan in the same price bracket at least. And not many talk about the importance of width. Because maybe not many find it annoying when two grown men have to brush shoulders while being seated in the front seats, just to change gear. More width also means that the third passenger at the back doesn’t need to sit with an invisible “Squeeze me” message on the shirt.
More Suspension Travel
Ever experienced the suspension running out of travel after you load up your sedan or hatchback with luggage and passengers? For their tall stance, the springs and struts on an SUV also offer more flex. Because their centre of gravity is high, generally, the suspension is also firmed up to compensate for body roll. As a result, it is very rare for the springs mounted on a high GC vehicle to run out of travel.
Bad Road Ready
If you’re in a sedan or a hatchback and you come across a bad patch of road, your mind is already trying to map the smoothest way out. Caution takes over and you try to tip-toe your way through so that there isn’t any damage to the car. For example’s sake, let’s consider a sub-10 lakh hatchback /sedan and a compact SUV. Compared to the former, behind the wheel of the latter, you won’t be as nervous if the road suddenly disappears. It’s not that the hatchback/sedan will dismantle, it’s just that your mind is more at ease to know that you’ve got an SUV. Form and appearance of a machine can play tricks with our minds too!
The extra width we talked about, besides that, some of these mount their spare tyres on the tailgate to release more space in the boot. If not that, it can also be hung externally under the boot. The bigger SUVs have such massive boot space, you could put a king-size mattress in there or use that space for anything else. Manufacturers, generally bolt an extra row of seats in that area. Since that space is also a part of the cabin and not separate like it is in a sedan, the practicality and ease of access factor work really well in the favour of SUVs.
An automobile is an emotional purchase for most. It could be how we are wired as human beings, but sitting taller inside a vehicle does light a bright bulb somewhere. People like it, and there must be perhaps some social science behind it. On the other hand, for some, they’re only always trying to find a way to make the seat touch the ground. It’s the ‘In It’ or ‘On it’ conundrum where the average buyer prefers the latter.
The tough visual appeal does play tricks with the mind. For some reason, being inside an SUV makes many feel like they’ve worn an additional shield of metal, compared to being inside something as soft looking as a sedan. Being seen in one is also another reason which makes SUVs popular.
Ease Of Ingress And Egress
Getting inside one is pretty straightforward because of the high-perched seats. Ask elderly folks and they would tell you that between climbing a side step to get inside a vehicle and bending their fragile backs to get inside a sedan, they would prefer the former any day.
For their form and ride height, most of these vehicles can do a fair amount of soft roading to a place where you can then find a tree, lay down a mat and spread out all the picnic fare. These will get there without scraping their belly, losing a bumper, or hitting a rock to let some fluid out.
Go Anywhere Capabilities
For the more hardcore and challenging stuff, there are the real SUVs which are equipped with some serious kit to help you go anywhere.
For those who have trouble with spatial awareness while driving, an SUV with its almost non-existent rear overhangs and a high seating position which offers a great view of things ahead and around is easier to drive. Oh, these days you have cameras too.
Just As Efficient
There was a time when SUVs were traditional vehicles which were heavy and came fitted with engines which guzzled fuel. Modern manufacturing methods, lighter components, and advancements in engine and gearbox technology have changed all that. It might not be true still for some AWD behemoths with their heavyweight, automatic gearboxes and big engines, but most road-biased SUVs can cover an impressive number of kilometres for every litre of fuel.
A Wide Range Of Choice
For all the above reasons, there is now a wide range of choice available in every segment. If you want to drive one within the city, only on highways, or where there are no roads at all, there’s one for every purpose. With the new Micro-SUVs about to hit the market, there will be one for most budgets too.
As we write this, there are a bunch of cars we can see from our window, which are minutes away from turning into buoys. If you live in a city like Mumbai, an SUV with its better water-wading capabilities works better when it pours. Even when it’s parked, the chances of your car becoming an expensive floating object, are relatively lesser.