18 November 2007

Why buy an SUV?

Yesterday, I became an SUV owner, the hated nemesis of environmentalists everywhere. The SUV is the antithesis of the urban ideal of fuel efficient, easy to park vehicle. Why did I do this?

I really didn't start out looking for one. Indeed, I spent months quietly researching nice urban family sedans until I reached the point it which it was time to take the family out to dealerships for test drives and to sit in vehicles. In a family of four, no personal purchasing decision is truly a private one. I learned, to my chagrin, that a four or five passenger vehicle was not going to cut it.

It seems that children have friends, fellow soccer players, grandparents and all manner of other people for whom their parents are expected to provide transportation. When you have one vehicle and it expected to last a decade, it has to satisfy these requirements. This means that our requirements had to include a seven passenger capacity.

To my shock and amazement, there are, in fact, no seven passenger capacity station wagons, despite the fact that there has been something of a resurgence of high end station wagons, most notably Volvos and Subarus in the market. A seven passenger requirement leaves you just two options: a minivan or an SUV.

I considered getting one bigger cheap vehicle with a bigger capacity, and another small commuter car, but it didn't make sense. First, living a little more than two miles from work, I don't enough commute to justify a second vehicle. Second, I make a lot of mixed use trips. My trip to work in the morning, as often as not, starts with two kids and a gerbil as additional passengers. My trip home often involves picking up the rest of the family at the sidewalk and rushing off to the grocery store or an after school event. Third, I often make trips from work to court during the day with clients and seemingly endless boxes of files and exhibits for court or depositions. A subcompact is a poor fit for those trips. Of course, two vehicles are also quite a bit more expensive than one.

It turns out that the smallest SUVs that can carry seven passengers are competitive with or better than minivans in fuel efficiency. There is also only one new model of minivan of which I am aware, the Toyota Sienna, that offers an all wheel drive minivan, and that has gotten mixed reviews as a result of problems with the run flat tires that come with it. It also doesn't come cheap. While all wheel drive wasn't an absolute priority, after enduring several Colorado blizzard seasons, and blocking the road in front of my house because I spun out on a snowy day this past February and got my front tires stuck in an ice rut, all wheel drive was definitely an attractive option.

I'll admit that there were other considerations. A minivan is a concession to all things dumpy and domestic. An SUV comes with less psychological baggage.

And, so it was that I bought an SUV.

An SUV is still a horribly wasteful one passenger vehicle, and most SUVs, much of the time get use for that purpose. Mine will as well, often enough. I also still don't understand the idea behind a five passenger SUV, particularly a front wheel drive five passenger SUV. I'll leave that mystery to someone else. But, they do have a niche and when you drive them full, their fuel efficiency in terms of passenger-miles per gallon is quite competitive.


Michael Malak said...

There are SUVs, and then there are SUVs. Did you consider the Toyota Highlander? It's like a Subaru Forester on steroids that has three rows of seats for 7 people. For an extra $13k you can get the hybrid version.

Also, did you really analyze how many times you needed seating for more than 5 people? And of those times, how often it would be acceptable to take two cars instead of one? And of those remaining times it would be unacceptable to take two cars (e.g. a drive in the mountains with the in-laws) whether it would be acceptable to rent an SUV from the Enterprise at 3rd & Broadway?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Short answer: Yes, I considered all of those things, but the answers would get a bit too personal for the whole world to know.

Brady Cartee said...

Buying between a minivan and SUV is usually up to you. You should buy whatever you want. It's true that an SUV may be a wasteful one passenger vehicle, but you can also benefit from it by making it your family's vehicle service.