The truth about SUVs: an essay by Phil McNamara

Published: 01 March 2007

There's life in the old SUV yet, says CAR editor Phil McNamara

The SUV is heading the way of the dinosaur. That's according to the national newspapers, but why should they let the truth get in the way of a good, 'populist' story.

Sure, SUV sales slid a little in 2006, with the segment down 6.2 percent – double the total market's decline. But there's a simple reason for that – and it isn't that the anti-4x4 alliance has won the propaganda war, or that Ken Livingstone's congestion charge, Richmond council's parking tax or rising fuel prices have taxed 4x4s off the road.

Oh no. The simple truth is that Britain's three biggest-selling SUVs – the Land Rover Freelander, Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V – were all on run out in 2006, so demand and supply naturally dipped. Nissan's popular X-Trail is a bit long in the tooth, too.

Land Rover's best-selling car globally in 2006 was the Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover sales also grew in the UK. So we're guzzling more 'gas-guzzlers', because they are so practical, capable and desirable. And now both Rangies are available with a sensational V8 diesel engine, their petrol:diesel sales split is going to be well beyond the 76 percent diesel norm in the off-road segment.

The bottom line is this. People want the space, image and novelty an SUV offers. And with a diesel engine in the bonnet, they are no less anti-social than a family saloon, a market segment that is shrinking. With Ford, Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Volkswagen set to join the mid-size SUV fray, expect the 4x4 market to grow – not shrink – over the next couple of years. Right now, the SUV is the populist choice. So buy one with pride. You're not a sociopath, you're just sensible.

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine