Downsize fuel bills - buy an SUV!

Last updated 12:11 01/02/2012

It was easy for the (mainly electronic) media to jump on the figures released yesterday by the NZ Transport Agency about SUVs being the market's largest vehicle segment, and assume that the public was leaving big cars and opting for gas guzzlers instead.


In 2011 18,684 SUV units were sold against 16,326 units in 2010, which made the segment grow to 29 per cent of the total.

The fact is, it is more than possible to drop your current large car and opt for an SUV that not only has similar space, but also has a better fuel consumption level and a smaller, not larger, footprint.

Take our traditional large car segment leaders. The six-cylinder Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore offer fuel economy levels of at least 9.9L/100km and 8.9L/100km respectively (larger-engined versions of these cars use more fuel correspondingly).

If the punter whose previous drive was one of these cars, he or she can walk across the Ford or Holden showroom and slide into a seven-seater SUV with more space, similar or better safety ratings (passive or active) and - get this - a lower appetite for fuel.

The Ford owner could drive out in Ford's twin-turbo diesel V6 Territory SUV with an 8.2L/km fuel economy rating, while across town, the Holden fan could take a Holden Captiva, another SUV with up to seven seats, that scores from 6.6L/100km.

The same occurs at the Nissan franchise, where the V6 Maxima owner, used to fuel economy figures in the 10.2L/100km area, can leap into an X-Trail and expect figures in the 6.4L/100km bracket.

The X-Trail doesn't have seven seats, so Mr Maxima might have to opt for the Pathfinder SUV instead, with a 9L/100km rating, still less than what they were used to with their old six-cylinder sedan.

The key is that with modern diesels and small-capacity turbopetrol engines, the right choice of SUV often has a smaller carbon footprint than the car of the Green zealot who's about to attach a "Polar Bear Killer" sticker to your vehicle's bumper.

For such people, the cleaner, greener modern SUV or Crossover is an inconvenient truth, just as it was for TV and radio news last night as the usual "Gas Guzzler" and "City Tractor" comments were dusted off for the umpteenth time, upon the release of the NZ Transport Agency's SUV sales figures.

Other inconvenient truths include that most SUVs are shorter than similarly positioned cars and occupy less parking space, and here's one real game-changer: it's possible now to buy a Range Rover Evoque (5.6L/100km and 149g/km) with a smaller consumption/emissions footprint than a Toyota Corolla (7.3L/100km and 171g/km).

So to all intents and purposes, SUV buyers ARE downsizers and unless Holden and Ford offer diesel versions of the Commodore and Falcon, our favourite large cars are all but doomed in the marketplace.

Follow Dave Moore on Twitter - @mooretothepoint

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Post a comment
Linda   #1   12:17 pm Feb 01 2012

lets not forget the road user charges and increase insurance shall we?

JesseD   #2   12:38 pm Feb 01 2012

Many new mid-large sized cars are also much more miserly than they used to be, so it's not only SUVs that are benefiting from greener technology. In fact, the environmental "footprint" that you refer to is not solely dependent upon the car's fuel consumption, but also on where and how it was manufactured, and where it ends up. For example, a large SUV that is built in Japan, Europe, or the US, and shipped to NZ, will have a much larger footprint than a smaller car with the same fuel efficiency, because it takes more (and more expensive) material to build it, and costs more to ship). As for Falcons and Commodores, they have always been the most basic cars, with the oldest technology, and are therefore clearly not representative of modern "large" cars, such as those from Japan or Europe.

Huub Bakker   #3   12:50 pm Feb 01 2012

There is talk of fuel economies of both petrol- and diesel-engined cars here but are the two comparable? After all, diesel has a higher density than petrol and so a litre of diesel contains more energy than a litre of petrol.

From my rough figures based on the densities and calorific value, diesel will give 6% more energy than petrol on a volume basis. This means that the V6 Territory SUV, for instance, would use not 8.2L/100km but 8.7L/100km if it were running on petrol. So the difference is considerable even if it doesn't change the thrust of the story.

PB   #4   01:06 pm Feb 01 2012

Trust me, no is buying them because they actually need them, it's a status symbol plain and simple. I doubt they'd even look at features, just go straight to the Range Rover or the Jeep or the Escalade and in some cases in Auckland the Hummer. Anything to make them feel like they live in an episdode of Cribs.

&rew   #5   01:19 pm Feb 01 2012

We upgraded from a used medium sized sedan to a new SUV about five years ago. We seldom go off-road, and were conscious of what we used to call (in Australia) the "Pitt Street Farmer" image. The primary decision maker for us was that our family do a lot of camping holidays, and the extra luggage space means we don't have to pull a trailer or use a roof rack any more. That said, the increased ground clearance and part time 4WD ability has also made things easier on several ski trips (no stopping to put on chains) and proved useful on a couple of excursions to remote costal locations. We have only used the two extra seats a handful of times, but they prove handy when half the daughter's netball team need a lift on the same day, or to enable the extended family to make a trip in one vehicle instead of two.

Fuel economy wasn't even in our thoughts when we bought the SUV, but we were pleasantly surprised that after six months our regular "around town" fuel bills had gone down by about 7%. I don’t have any comparisons for emission statistics, but I’m confident a five year old SUV which has been scrupulously maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations would be no worse than the 15 year old Japanese import with dubious service history we traded up from.

AdamR   #6   01:26 pm Feb 01 2012

Dave - let me guess: when leaded fuel was phased out, were you violently opposed to it? Be honest...

j   #7   02:32 pm Feb 01 2012

Love modern SUVs. Safer, more space, and 4WD means better control. But there are real downsides this article avoids. Such as the reality of gravity and rolling high vehicles. To avoid this your SUV is either heavier or wider, neither a good option. Then we've got the annoyance to other drivers at roundabouts, stop signs, corners and driveways. Just to ad to that you've got a higher sightline which creates more of a blindspot for small objects near the car (kids). And lastly the 4WD option is often not real 4WD and trying to take it offroad will just see you trapped in a sandpit getting pulled out by a Jeep or worse yet, a Rav 4. I'll stick to my 4WD, Legacy for now.

Realist   #8   03:16 pm Feb 01 2012

Hey lets compare new SUV fule consumption to older car ones, and hope no one notices that the comparison is completely flawed...

cm   #9   04:07 pm Feb 01 2012

My 3 year old Kia Sportage diesel with over 100,000 km on the clock typically uses less than 7l/100km.

David   #10   04:19 pm Feb 01 2012

We just swapped our Commodore SV6 for a Toyota Kluger(Highlander in NZ) its 2wd and only a 5 seater, as we don't have children. Fuel use is marginally better in the giant Toyota. But the practicality is the key to it. We can get our labrador in it without risk of our seatbelts being chewed to pieces, we can take it on rougher bits of road that would have ripped the front off our Commodore. It has the most flexible back seat and so much more space than the commodore (which noone ever complained about) There was no compromise, it drives like a car, rather than a ute, and uses the same fuel as an equivalent large sedan. You do not need 4wd as we realistically will never take it on anything more than a dry dirt track in summer to go swimming. As a vehicle it just makes more sense than a big sedan, so its no wonder people are changing what they are buying.

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