- Published: Tuesday, 15 July 2014 06:00
If you flip through the pages of CarBuyer Singapore every month, chances are, you’ll find a number of cars that we feature that one would normally classify as Sports Utility Vehicles, or SUVs. They come in various shape and sizes, from the stylish Lexus NX to the compact urban Mercedes-Benz GLA. Then there's the slightly oddball BMW X4, a convention-defying car that’s more coupe than off-roader. And Nissan recently launched the new Qashqai, a car with virtually no off-road ability, but yet has been dubbed a game-changing SUV in Europe.
READ MORE: New Qashqai Quashes Age Doubt?
What gives then? Why is almost every car being launched these days an SUV? Well, the simple answer is market demand. Cars of this type are being snapped up like crazy all over the globe. Simply Google “SUV sales figures” and you’ll see that in nearly every major market, SUVs are topping the automotive sales charts, most notably in Australia, USA and Europe. And their numbers are set to increase further, as manufacturers churn out more SUV models to fuel this trend, especially in emerging markets such as China.
It wasn’t always this way. The SUV trend kicked off in the 1990s, beginning in the US of A, where the first mainstream examples came to light. Cars from brands like Land Rover, Range Rover and Jeep had always brought off-roading to the tarmac, so to speak, but only when mainstream carmakers started to make them did SUVs really come into their own.
Since then, they’ve evolved too. From big, blocky people carriers that ride high and weigh a lot, the SUV has transformed into something of almost every shape and size, which is where the term ‘crossover’ comes into play: cars with off-road-esque features but no real off-road capability. What’s the difference? Well technically an SUV should be able to go further afield, but with so many variables (ride height, AWD systems, suspension setup etc) it’s very hard to say where one begins and the other ends.
But one thing’s for sure, the prevailing winds of the market show that crossing over is the way to go. A key stone of current strategy for Mercedes-Benz is offerings like the GLA compact SUV which will drive younger customers to the brand, likewise for BMW with its X4 and Lexus with the NX. Even upmarket carmakers are going the same way, as is the case with Bentley, Lamborghini and Maserati.
That brings us to the question, why are SUVs so popular and why are they getting even more so?
Perhaps this might be a churlish thing to say, but you can probably pin it down on today’s egoistic society, where everyone has the need to feel ‘important’. SUVs, with their raised height and tough looks, evoke a ‘look at me’ image that attract attention on the roads, purely by looking bigger than everyone else. Those same brands we just mentioned also say that looks are the most important factor when it comes to selling SUVs. And we thought buyers of sports cars were self-conscious!
SUVs also offer somewhat more practicality and space than the average sedan, which bodes well for your new-age yuppies who are more inclined to spend their weekends indulging in some sort of lifestyle activity, such as trekking and cycling. Aside from projecting the right image of being the tough and active sort, SUVs also tend to have more space and capacity to accommodate all your required gear for whatever adventure you’re off to next.
On a global context, SUVs are also finding much favour in emerging countries, where roads aren’t quite of the same standard as developed nations, and the raised ride height does well to alleviate the various bumps and potholes that one might encounter. Then there’s also the issue of climate change, with more unpredictable weather these days (ponding, anyone?) meaning that people seek security from the elements by getting a tough and capable car, which an SUV inevitably is.
The upshot of all that is that the SUV is set to become a mainstay in our automotive landscape for years to come, with almost every manufacturer, from the budget brands to the ultra-luxury and high-end makes, set to launch at least one such model over the next few years. Premium mass-market brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi won’t stop at one, and will probably have an SUV model in every segment before you know it. BMW has already confirmed an X7, an uber-luxury 7-seater SUV that is set to compete with the Range Rover and will debut by 2018. Audi is thinking of spinning off a crossover based on the upcoming new TT, which will challenge pseudo-coupe SUVs like the Evoque and X4, and Mercedes-Benz recently revealed its Coupe Concept, which is essentially their answer to BMW’s X6.
Perhaps the most telling sign of all that SUVs are here to stay, are the fact that brands that typically not known for their off-roader expertise are thinking of, or have already confirmed plans to introduce such models in their line-up. We’ve seen this with the Porsche Cayenne, which drew brickbats from critics at its launch over a decade ago but is now Porsche’s best-selling model, and was recently joined by its smaller brother the Macan. Maserati, Jaguar, Bentley and Lamborghini have already green-lit their new SUV models, and we won’t be surprised if maybe even Ferrari may decide to join the fray sooner or later.
READ MORE: Porsche set to ‘Macan’ the competition
In sum, whatever your taste in cars is, and whatever brand you fancy, there’s going to be an SUV variant for you coming soon. If there isn’t one for you right now already.
To read more about our SUV special feature, pick up a copy of CarBuyer Singapore magazine, out in stores mid July.