Over the last however many years we have seen the inexorable rise and rise of the SUV. These big beasts are now ubiquitous on our roads and I have a problem with them. In the early days they were promoted as being somehow rugged and outdoorsy when they patently were not. Nobody is fooled by that any more.
Sure, a few have pretensions toward a modicum of off-road ability but most are never meant to venture on the rough stuff. They are essentially inflated hatchbacks and if I’m honest I am at a loss to understand why people like them so much.
There seems to be an optimum shape that is like a template to manufacturers: in short, they all look the same to me in a general sense. That’s not to say they are bad cars, it’s just that I think the public has sleepwalked into them seeming to equate size to usefulness.
It seems clear to me that the SUV has used those big shoulder pads to nudge aside the sleeker estate car of old. There was a time when that’s all you got: a saloon car with a conservatory built on the back. With the proliferation of soft-roaders now, the station wagon’s days as the reliable do-it-all family motor of choice have been consigned to a time when social media was a gossip column in a newspaper made of actual paper, written by a woman in a twinset.
The rise of the SUV has put a dent in the sales of estates for family use. Clearly there are still plenty about called Estate or Avant or Touring. Most manufacturers have one or many more variants in their range but they have taken a back seat as far as the family wheels are concerned.
In my view the station wagon is one of the finest driving cars you can get for your money just because it is so versatile. They are about balancing practicality and performance, ergonomics and efficiency, frugality and fun. They carry the load and they fit the bill for drivers in that they handle pretty much as well as their saloon or hatchback counterparts.
Try the Audi RS6 if you don’t believe me. There’s a car that can do a run to buy garden trellis at Homebase so fast that you are likely to meet yourself coming back.
Estates are equally at home monstering fast country roads, cornering with aplomb. Most SUVs at speed will handle the corners like a creaking coal barge on the River Tyne. They are simply too tall and bulky. Think Mo Farah versus Greg Wallace in a running race.
They can accommodate your kids and their bikes and they are easier to load, being lower, obviously. The rear cargo space is as big and sometimes bigger than equivalent SUVs. The Subaru Levorg I was driving last week is a case in point. It, like others on offer, also has the added advantage of four-wheel drive.
Sleek low-riding estate cars can slip through the air far better than SUVs and mostly have smaller wheels and tyres. Thus fuel economy should be better. In driving, it would be a finicky driver indeed who could find a difference between the estate and the saloon/hatch equivalent. Most smaller SUVs are based on more manoeuvrable hatchbacks from the same stable. I know which I would prefer to drive.
Both types of vehicle are road and family friendly. They both have their merits. Folk seem to like the commanding position of the SUV, looking down on smaller cars. They perceive them as being more roomy and adaptable, but it just isn’t the case. I like to take a drivers pleasure in a motor and get that frisson as I walk across a car park to a thoroughbred rather than a beast of burden. Geoff Maxted