Buying an SUV: Is it a winning choice?

You're not just imagining it—there are more and more sport utility vehicles on our roads. Perhaps one of your neighbours or co-workers has just bought one. SUV sales rose 197% between 2010 and 2015.1 So it’s highly likely that someone you know has bought one recently. But is it a good buy for you? You’ll know after reading this article!

1. Why buy an SUV?

First of all, what is a sport utility vehicle (SUV)? A utility vehicle is a spacious hybrid between a car and a truck that can carry many passengers and handle all kinds of road conditions. There are a number of subcategories, but they are traditionally divided into two distinct types: the sport utility vehicle and its highly popular compact and subcompact variants (hybrid truck), and the crossover utility vehicle (hybrid minivan). The latter is the one found most often on our roads. Nonetheless, to keep things simple, we're going to use the acronym “SUV.”

Each year, a growing number of Canadian families are embracing the SUV, because it offers comfort, plenty of storage and superior handling in any road conditions. It's versatile, robust, and you feel safe when riding in one. For active families, it’s ideal. Several manufacturers are also offering lines of compact and subcompact models to adapt to the different needs of buyers. Unless your needs as a driver are very specific, there is probably an SUV out there for you!

2. Why decide against buying an SUV?

Although there are tons of utility vehicles on the road, they have a bad reputation among many buyers. They get criticized on a number of fronts. First of all, there’s the cost. You won't get away with under $25,000 without options. The bill can easily add up to over $30,000 if you add air conditioning, heated seats, and so on. However, most manufacturers now offer a more reasonable price range. Compact and subcompact cars come with many more options for buyers, allowing them to purchase a smaller vehicle with the same features.

Then there’s fuel consumption. SUVs are large vehicles that use more gas than most cars. That’s a cost you should add to your calculations when shopping around. For example, the Nissan Micra,3 which is considered to be an economic vehicle, uses 6 to 8 litres of gas per 100 km, while the extremely popular Subaru Forester4 uses 7.5 to 11 litres over same distance. It’s a vehicle that consumes more and pollutes more. The environmental footprint of utility vehicles is substantial, and has led to a huge controversy.

3. SUV or car: The pros and cons

The number of utility vehicles on Canadian roads rose 197% between 2010 and 2015, while the number of cars has dropped 16%.1 What’s at the root of such a drastic change in our consumption habits? Do the numbers alone justify this shift to utility vehicles? Let's compare two popular models: the Toyota Yaris5 and the Subaru Forester:4

  Subaru Forester Toyota Yaris
Base price 27 295$ 16 470$
Capacity 5 passengers 5 passengers
Drive All-wheel drive (AWD) Front-wheel drive (FWD)
Consumption (highway) 7.4 L/100 km 6.8 L/100 km
Warranty 60,000 km 60,000 km

The Forester is more expensive at the time of purchase, but you’ll notice that it uses less gas than expected. The difference between the two vehicles is greater, however, when you compare them for city driving. The Forester uses 9.2 litres, whereas the Yaris, only 7.9 litres. So the Forester gets the best mileage over long distances and has all-wheel drive (AWD), which anyone who has to do a lot of driving and deal with bad weather conditions needs. The two vehicles are comparable on paper, each having their own benefits and drawbacks, but they suggest quite different drive profiles.

4. Who should buy an SUV?

So who would benefit from having a utility vehicle? It’s very popular, but its features are suited to a certain type of driver. In terms of economic value, it’s a robust vehicle suited for long distances and difficult road conditions. It’s made for frequent and long drives. But does it meet your needs? If you simply need a car to get to work, a utility vehicle will cost you more and cause more headaches. If you have needs that can't be met by a car, the SUV is an option to consider.

For example, a small active family is on the road more often than it seems, between Ethan's karate classes, Julia’s gymnastics competitions, Mom’s night classes and Dad’s weekly hockey games, not to mention the family’s weekend excursions and summer camping trips. The SUV is a vehicle that suits people with an active lifestyle: large families, outdoor enthusiasts and people who have no qualms about hitting the road to see the world.

There are good reasons why sport utility vehicles and crossovers are so popular. They adapt to any condition or driver. So it’s very important to weigh the pros and cons, because this is a purchase that needs to be managed responsibly in terms of finances. Therefore, it’s very important to be well informed—and you’ve just come one step closer to that goal!

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