Ever wonder why so many people are buying SUVs and crossovers these days?
I've long thought that there are two reasons. First, height. It's nice to be up high; you can see the road better (and see over, or through, all the other tall vehicles). And second, conformity. We buy whatever everybody else is buying.
This second reason actually makes some sense, because whatever vehicle is mainstream at any given time gets the most R&D money and engineering and manufacturing expertise poured into it.
Want the truth? We can't handle the truth
But I was wrong, turns out. Jalopnik, the automotive site, recently let us in on the truth. "Don’t get it twisted," they say. "The real reason SUVs and crossovers are performing so well isn’t as much about cargo space, all-wheel drive for bad weather or our desire to own vehicles that project an image of rugged, outdoorsy individuality: it’s just that for an aging and increasingly unfit population, they’re just easier to get in and out of."
I had to agree. I've only ever bought one SUV, a 2012 RAV4 that I got tired of after three years, but that was the reason I bought it.
Don't think I'm being holier-than-thou. I found this BMI Calculator at the Mayo Clinic website, a good one because it takes girth into account. (To measure your waist, use a tape measure at the level of your belly button with your stomach relaxed.) According to the calculator, I am just a wee bit over the line between overweight and obese, and I have "an unhealthy waist size" that puts me "at very high risk of developing obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease." Yeah, okay, but not for lack of trying.
Crossovers look nimble, lithe, and active, but their best
trick is that they don't remind us that we're not
At about the same time I bought that RAV4—which, not coincidentally, was about the time my weight peaked (at 273—I'm 233 now)—I got to sit in a Ford GT at an auto show. Whew, what an ordeal—it was like shoehorning myself into an undersized coffin sitting on the floor. Took some doing.
I also used that BMI Calculator to figure out what weight I would need to be to get into the range they call "normal." It's exactly what I weighed in my last years in high school and first years in college.
Shimmy in, slither out
"It’s easier to get in and out of a vehicle with seats about two feet off the ground," says Keith Knudsen, Ford vehicle architecture manager, quoted in an article in The Detroit Free Press. "Seat height is key," he continues. "People like to be able to slide in, not lift themselves up or down."
It's also the reason why SUV and crossover seats tend to be flat: easier to slide on to...and no telling how wide the butt is that has to fit on it. I sympathize there too: I test drove a Honda Civic Si a few years back, and the radical seat bolsters, which felt like they were designed for a slender Asian twentysomething, literally didn't fit my body. I sat half on top of the seat bolsters, and the back bolsters poked me right in the kidneys. (Best seats ever? The old VW GTI VR6. But it's not like I've tried everything.)
This is not something manufacturers are going to be talking about much, as both articles note. But the truth is, while we like vehicles that project an image of youth and vigorous athletic and outdoor activity, the really important thing about them is that they're easy to get into and out of. Otherwise, they'd remind us that we're fat and out of shape every time we got behind the wheel. And we can't have that.
"Open Mike" is the anything-goes, often off-topic Editorial page of TOP, wherein we let the Editor out of his kennel and let him stray. It appears either once, twice, three times, or no times per week, usually on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Jim Grey: "Cars are actually returning to form. The 'longer lower wider' era that began in the 1950s turns out to be a 60-year fad that has now ended. Did you know that a RAV4 has about the same exterior dimensions as the 1949 Plymouth station wagon? The RAV4 has a lot more interior space of course. I wonder how long before we stop calling these SUVs or CUVs and just call them cars."
Mike replies: Good point! Note the comments about the 1940s Chevrolet woodies in this post.
Jeroen Pulles: "It's the full-frame of cars; You don't really need it, but it's a safe choice. By the way, mounting surf boards on the roof of a SUV, as in the Subaru promotional photograph, is very unpractical. Don't forget to keep a ladder in the trunk. That's why you want a VW Transporter: just pop everything in the back."
Mike replies: I read an article recently that made the case for vans being the most practical cars—in practice much more useful for most people than pickup trucks or SUVs. The average pickup truck owner uses the cargo bed just four times a year, and the average SUV owner goes off-roading fewer times than that. Just ask yourself which you'd rather have, a van or a pickup truck, if you were moving and it was threatening to rain. The only problem is that they have a terrible image...somewhere between commercial delivery vehicle and soccer-mom kid-hauler. If only some carmaker could figure out a way to make vans macho.
Not THAT Ross Cameron: "They’re also popular with parents of young children for the same reason. Easier to lift ‘em out than bending down into a standard car."
Dennis Mook: "I shoot with Fujifilm APS-C and Olympus Micro 4/3 cameras and drive a minivan and I’m proud of it! Just returned from a 30-day road trip from Virginia to the Rockies and back. The minivan, which I bought for road trips after I retired, is the perfect vehicle. My wife and I can sleep in it if necessary, I can load a 4x8' sheet of plywood flat on the floor and seat eight as well. It is quiet, rides smoothly with comfortable seats, got me spryly over the Rockies and the best tank of gas gave me 31.2 MPG. The 5,700 mile trip overall averaged 27.9 MPG. Oh! The Fujifilm and Olympus systems, with their small and lightweight but extremely high quality lenses, are the perfect travel cameras as well! Be different, be proud and don’t go along with the crowd!"
John: "I've owned a great number of cars, including a 528 BMW, a SAAB 9000 turbo, usually with manual transmissions, and probably over a dozen motorcycles, but the only car I ever fell in love with was my Ford Aerostar [van]. Easy to get in and out of, great vision, unbelievably comfortable seats, and loads of space; once it carried a 17-foot rowboat in the back for a short distance. I almost cried when it had to be taken to the wreckers with a broken engine and transmission."
Rob L.: "I still want a truck, but my Toyota Sienna [minivan] is the best car I've had. Reliable, tough, carries all my stuff—even better, I don't have to unload everything after a camp out, or deal with covering stuff, etc. The only vehicle that would truly give me an advantage over my van is a full-length Suburban, in that it would have 4WD and ground clearance and about the same room, but at twice the price and half the MPG."