Nissan’s giant Patrol is handy in the bush

Nissan’s giant Patrol is handy in the bush

Time and again we motoring journalist are asked the question, “Why don’t they ban big 4WDs from the suburbs?” Usually followed by, “because 4WDs block the vision of others drivers and are hazardous to pedestrians.” I’ve also heard plenty of complaints about threatening behaviour by those behind the wheels of 4WDs and SUVs. And in more recent times by drivers of big 4WD dual-cab utes.

Yet sales of 4WDs, which is the name usually only given to genuine off-road vehicles; and SUVs, the title used for most light duty off-roaders continue to rise at ever increasing rates.

Let’s get some logic into the anti-4WD argument. To start with, it’s not the big 4WDs that are selling in increasing numbers, their sales are fairly steady and have been for a number of years. And in any case, many of the sales of the big ones are in the bush, where they are all but essential to people living there.

Smaller SUVs and crossovers (which sort of look like SUVs but are really just taller station wagons) are also getting the sales charts excited.

Large 4WDs that do sell in the city and suburbs are generally being used as people movers. Their owners appreciate the ability of the 4WDs to carry up to eight people. So are much appreciated by families with lots of children, or split-by-divorce families doing the weekend-kid-swapping bit. Or simply by people whose children have plenty of friends and sport teammates.

It can certainly be argued that those who want a people mover should buy one, not a large 4WD. Many who do buy a 4WD have a dream of venturing off-road one day, but they seldom do. Perhaps these people should think again about their choice of vehicle next time around. But who are we to kill their dreams?

Suzuki Vitara is neat and tidy in town

Suzuki Vitara is neat and tidy in town

Some of the bigger 4WDs are becoming quite sophisticated in their makeup, being almost car-like in the way they drive. However their increased height means they are less safe, particularly when cornering or swerving, than cars. Driven correctly this isn’t usually a problem, but bad driving can cause serious injury or death.

Why have 4WD in the first place if a vehicle isn’t going to be used on unsealed surfaces? Many vehicles that look like SUVs are also built in 2WD format. They are therefore lighter and create less pollution.

Having said all that, there’s a responsibility on car makers to produce 4WD vehicle that are as safe as possible and to reduce the amount of pollution created by them. This has happened in recent years, with many 4WDs and SUVs now selling primarily with turbo-diesel engines instead of thirsty petrol powerplants. Indeed, some of the mid-sized SUVs actually have lower consumption and emissions than medium cars.

There’s also a responsibility on the owners to drive their SUVs and 4WDs in an appropriate manner, either on road or off. I have to admit that too many SUV drivers (often female, if I’m allowed to say that…) do get aggressive in traffic and tailgate others. Which achieves absolutely nothing towards getting themselves to their destinations faster. Back off girls and boys, please…

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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