Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are available in a wide range of prices and sizes, ranging from small models not much bigger than subcompact cars, to extended-length trade vehicles designed for heavy workloads. All sizes have their benefits. Mid-sized models typically provide the best balance of interior space, fuel economy, and engine power. Smaller SUVs are generally less expensive and get better fuel economy, but they tend to have less passenger and cargo space. Larger models provide more room and towing capacity, but get poorer fuel mileage, are less manoeuvrable, and have a significantly higher overall ownership cost.
Small SUVs are out of contention for hard-core off-road weekend adventures. Even diesel-powered vehicles are often less than entirely adequate for negotiating tight, overgrown tracks, crossing streams or cresting steep grades without damaging the underbody.
For families at a certain stage of life, the small SUV can be a combination of snack bar and rumpus room. ‘Easy to clean’, ‘durable’ and ‘functional’ are qualities just as important to drivers as intangibles like ‘sleek’, ‘powerful’ and ‘cosy’. Most recent models come with auxiliary power sockets, USB ports and cupholders. Likewise, many offer safety features such as reversing camera, rain-sensing wipers, knee airbag for the driver and a hill-holder system. If the driver is under 25 then the must-have accessories include Bluetooth connectivity, social apps and digital radio, which does reduce the available model options.
Smaller SUVs are good for drivers looking for more room than a sedan can provide, flexible cargo space and a higher driving position than cars. A number of small SUVs have fuel economy that rivals some family sedans, though others can be thirstier and have a rough ride. If you are just looking for a vehicle that provides flexible cargo space, you might want to consider a wagon or hatchback, because they provide better fuel economy and are more affordable.
The upscale small, performance-oriented SUVs typically offer better handling, quieter cabins, nicer fit and finish, and more amenities than regular small SUVs, though fuel economy and price are common trade-offs. Most vehicles in this niche are from European or Japanese prestige brands.
The place to start when buying is the Redbook buying guide. It outlines running costs, main features, reviews, ANCAP ratings, comparative information and more. Or visit RACQ’s website for reviews and information on the car of the year awards.