DEC 17th 2015
Erin Baker – Question: are SUVs taking over the world? And, if they are, do we mind?
A Former Motoring Editor at the Telegraph, Erin combines a bike licence and race licence with a love of high-speed cars and penchant for embarrassingly low-speed crashes. Now she has two sons, she’s largely put her leathers to one side, preferring the cut and thrust of automotive industry debates and wondering which cars have Isofix…
Everyone’s got one coming out: Bentley has just launched its gargantuan and already sold-out-for-2016 Bentayga. Other luxury car makers including Maserati are showing theirs at Geneva in March, as is Seat, with its first foray into the model line. At the end of the year, Skoda joins it with a seven-seater.
You can’t afford not to produce an SUV these days. The derisory term “Chelsea tractor” has largely gone by the wayside as 4x4s (often actually soft-roaders with front-wheel-drive only, but it’s become a term nonetheless) simply become the car of choice, whether you live in the middle of London or middle of nowhere.
Proof of this phenomenon is the strange beast that is the Porsche Cayenne. How the media scoffed at Porsche introducing an SUV. And how Porsche is grinning from ear to ear with the model that has vastly outsold anything else they produce. Who would have thought the iconic 911, which defined Porsche as the sole maker of the archetypal sports car, be cast into the shadows by a big, fat “utility vehicle”?
There’s no denying the customer preference for the perceived safety advantage an SUV offers, with its raised ride height and larger body shell. Drivers have voted with their wallets and decided they’ll waive superior handling and more speed in favour of ambling along in a sofa on wheels.
I’m shortly taking delivery of a new Volvo XC90 long-term test vehicle. My partner and I have four boys, so a seven-seater is somewhat necessary, if not desirable. Part of me will be very sorry to see my Mazda CX-3 go; the interior may be cramped for toddler legs behind my seat, but I can park it in any space on my road, which I will not be able to do with the Volvo, and it’s a perky little performer with its spirited 2.0-litre, 120bhp petrol engine.
When I told someone about the XC90 the other day, he scoffed at the thought of the Volvo, saying he much preferred his BMW X5 because it at least ‘drove like a normal car’, whereas he felt he struggled to make progress in the XC90.
But that’s the beauty of the SUV, surely. You sit and amble. You relax. You try very hard not to float along in the middle lane of a motorway for no good reason, which a slow-but-steady SUV somehow inspires you to do.
It’s certainly the closest thing to relaxed driving with four boys in the car, I can tell you.
Photography courtesy of Bentley, Volvo and Mazda