SUV’s: love them or not, they are here to stay

Loved or loathed, SUV’s are here to stay. SUV is the term Americans gave to a broad range of utility vehicles in different body styles but most of which should be more accurately described as All Wheel Drive rather than 4 Wheel Drive. Is there any real difference? Yes there is. All Wheel Drive (AWD) is what you find in Subarus, Audis and Volvos whereas 4 Wheel Drive (4WD) is a proper off road vehicle with extra high ground clearance, locking hubs and high/low range gears. Such systems are used in the Land Rovers, Toyota Landcruisers and Range Rovers. The actual technical workings are beyond me and frankly all most of us care about it whether it works or not.  Judging by comments on some of the previous stories, the gay driving fraternity are not much more enamoured with SUVs than the rest of the non-SUV owning public. SUV’s range from the smaller models like Toyota RAV 4 and Subaru Forester to full sized 4 wheel drives like the Range Rover and Hummer. Do vehicles such as these deserve a place on city roads chockers with big trucks, limos and tiny city cars not to mention those nuisance pedestrians and bicycles? Only kidding…..

Toyota Kluger Grande $72,000 drive away: 3.5 V6, 11.6L/100k

11.9l/100k, 201kw 337nm torque, 0/100kph 8,2 secs

The 7 seater is a favourite among the soccer-mum set. It is vast inside with the 2nd and third rows of seats folding flat in an easy 1 minute process. If you invited every friend you have, you could play twister in the back and still have room to park a small aircraft. It is truly huge. There are lashings of leather on the seats and doors along with touches of genuine fake wood on the dash and console for an extra touch of luxury. The appointments are simply too numerous to name but the electric rear door will keep you amused for hours. If you don’t want to lift the whole hatch, the glass window opens far enough to throw in a couple of David Jones bags.

On the road it is supremely smooth with oodles of power and great visibility for such a huge hunk of metal. It has a few off roader extras like hill decent and a snow setting which we were did not get a chance to try out but with no locking diff. True 4WDs have locking diffs and high/low gears. You’ll still mange muddy roads but if you try much more than this you are bound to be up to your ball joints in trouble before you can say “Toorak Tractor”. There are reverse sensors and a camera to make sure you don’t hit anything you don’t mean to. It goes without saying that there are plenty of airbags and electronic safety gadgets. You cannot drive any vehicle this size as if it was a sports car. You have to consider the size when changing lanes or parking and the high centre of gravity means you do feel it in the corners. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t quite manage the claimed fuel figures even when driving like a nana but again you can’t expect Corolla fuel consumption from something twice the size.

The Grande is the top-of-the-line and apart from being very quiet, has a load of extras. I love the keyless entry and start and am a sucker for a sunroof. There is a feeling of space, luxury and quality and I have to admit to be pleasantly surprised by the way it drove.

So f you find one parked over the lines in the local car park, be in no doubt that it was not the size of the car, but the knob behind the wheel at fault.

Volvo XC60 the Tech pack $70,000 on the road: 3.2v6, 11.2l/100k

0/100kph 9.4 secs, 179kw, 320nm torque


Once upon a time, only baggy arsed old men and women in silly hats drove Volvos. They all had a personality bypass and without exception were hopeless drivers. But something happened while we had our backs turned and Volvo transformed from the ugly duckling into a sleek modern luxury brand with a model to satisfy almost every taste. I’ve become a bit of a fan.

The most technologically advanced of our cars, the XC60 is a medium sized SUV. It drives like car and is more like the Commodore wagon than the Kluger in that respect.

The entire range consists of a single model to which you add whatever packs you want (or can afford). The tech pack includes sat nav and blue tooth with reverse camera and in this case was dealer fitted rather than factory ordered. You get a different screen on the dash which is arguably better than the Volvo model. The inside is trimmed in quality leather and of the 4 test cars seemed to have the nicest quality.  Bluetooth is easy to use as are the rest of the instruments. The Satnav screen doubles as a DVD player and displays the view as you reverse. It’s worth noting we had crappy reception until the aerial was moved to where it should have been installed in the first place. Should you have rubbish reception on your satnav, question where the installers put your antenna? It should be in line-of-site with the satellite.

We drove the XC60 for 800 km in a single trip and found it very cosy and the easiest of the test cars to drive as it drove like a car but had a high driving position. This is possibly the most quoted reason for soccer mums choosing SUV’s as their mode of transport. Like the Kluger, the XC60 also had an electric tailgate to make loading easier. There are settings for different conditions such as snow and steep hills. We managed very muddy tracks easily when perhaps a two wheel drive car might have up to its hubcaps going nowhere.

Since Volvo is obsessed with safety, there is a vast array of electronic safety gizmos in addition to those found in our other test cars. There is a clever system that can see someone carelessly stepping into your path. It will hit the anchors and prepare the car for impact by making sure you are pulled back in your seat. Should the object not be a pedestrian and the Volvo thinks you are about to have a crash, it will tighten the seatbelts, close the sunroof and windows and make sure you are not locked in when the car comes to a halt. It also knows who is sitting where and only sets off those airbags. Of course some of these systems can be de-activated if you are off super smooth tarmac. You will thank the fact that you can turn off the sensors if you have to pull in to long grass. This is very handy should you run out of petrol and there is no space at the edge of the road. While on that subject there are not a whole lot of petrol stops late at night for a few hundred kilometres below Ballina on the Pacific Hwy so when the Swedes tell you that you need fuel, you really need fuel.

If you have lots of people to cart round, you can order the extra row of seats in the back (as per the Kluger). Volvos have shrugged their dowdy frocks to become a real alternative for those wanting a classy all purpose mode of transport.

Honda CRV Sports Auto 10l/100k$39,546

125kw, 218nm torque, 1/100kph N/A

The CRV has just had a midlife facelift. The small SUV segment has exploded over the last few years and new models are coming thick and fast so Honda gave one of us their latest CRV soft-roaders.  The 3rd generation model has a rear hatch instead of the earlier models side opening rear door. The facelift bought a new fresh front end and interior tweaks. It has the 2.4L engine and auto trannie from the gorgeous Accord Euro which along with the AWD system gives a nice bit of grip off the mark. I wouldn’t call the performance stunning by any means but those who buy AWD wagons are not buying sports cars to be thrown around corners at speed while riding like a Ferrari. In fact you get a comfortable high driving position with plenty of room for 5 adults. The boot space isn’t huge but is about what you would expect from a wagon with relatively short overhang at the rear. I’ve always thought the front was a bit odd and the side view didn’t quite work for me.

The drive is pleasant enough and the fuel average is about the 10L/100K mark which is OK. Although the CR-V is among the smallest of the AWD wagons, it feels quite big to drive. Reversing would have been helped no end by reverse sensors or a camera. I personally think no one should buy an SUV without them. They are all very tall and the tailgate very high and you stand no chance of seeing behind you when backing up. It is little wonder people run over their kids in them while trying to reverse out of their garages.

The interior is simple and basic. There is the usual Honda quality with the bits fitting properly and no squeaks. The audio system lacks the built in Bluetooth hands free you would expect. Although hands free is an available option, it comes as an aftermarket Blue Ant add on which is wired through your speakers but is not inbuilt as with most other makes. The unit sits on the A pillar at about eye height and sticks out about 2 cms. Being 2cms by 2 cms by 10 cms, it is one of the least attractive Bluetooth options I have seen. Honda have fixed this in their up and coming models but that is no help if buying a car now. The new Legend (which we will be driving in a few weeks) is the first to have the swanky new built in system.

Honda is currently having a clearance so it is worth nothing that the CR-V is similarly priced to the Accord Euro. Our Honda comparison tests will appear in the next instalment and will feature the Accord, Accord Euro and the new Insight hybrid.


Here are 3 different vehicles. 2 were around the $70k and one at half the price. The 2 big cars have V6 engines while the Honda has a 2.4L 4 pot. The CR-V was a good entry level SUV with a ton of space and is really quite a decent drive for a very tall vehicle. It is the same price as the drop-dead-fabulous Accord Euro, but horses for courses. The Kluger was very luxurious and drove like a very big car and with 7 seats could transport a whole bunch of friends. The Volvo drove most like a car and was very solid on the road. The handling was more like a large sports wagon than a smallish SUV. Volvos have been leaders in safety for decades and the XC60 continues that trend. I thought the Volvo was the best looking but the CR-V shouldn’t be overlooked at the price. All cars had electronics for safety and loads of airbags for crash protection. There was ABS and cornering control just like in regular cars. The full range of gear is on the manufacturers websites.

Of course most of us don’t have kids to cart around, but some of us like a bit of sport or want to tow a jet ski. Perhaps we’d like to chuck some camping gear in and head into the great outdoors. Most of us however do not follow sport, nor do we go camping, well not in that way at least. Most of us are  horrified at the thought of being more than a few kilometres from a David Jones  and to us, roughing it is 3 people to a room at Sheraton Mirage sharing a single bathroom.

By now you might have guessed my I quite like the Volvo as it has the right balance between SUV and car. If I bought the CR-v I would always be kicking myself for not buying the Euro. The Kluger, though nice to drive, is simply too big to handle tight inner city streets and park in CBD parking stations. You might say “But that isn’t what they were designed for” and you would be right. But let’s face it, that is what we are all going to do with them. The vast majority of SUV’s will never see more than a slightly wonky unsealed road, and even they will be few and far between.

So, you want an opinion as to what car is best? They are all good in their own way. You simply can’t drive any big cars with any degree of enthusiasm or you will finish up in the Kitty Litter. Another interesting facts is that as you look at the power and performance figures, remember that a Ferrari 308GT of the ’70s had a 3.0l v8 that produced about 190kw of power so the two 6 cylinder SUV’s have better than 70’s super-car performance!

After driving these cars for nearly a month I am left with a few impressions but the main one is this: when you see a school zone packed with Paris-Hilton-sunglass wearing soccer mums, you’ll know the bad driving has nothing whatever to do with the cars!!!!!!