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There’s more to the SUV than old prejudices

Your Life

There’s more to the SUV than old prejudices

There remains a small, if declining, number of folk who cannot get their heads around Sports Utility Vehicles. BRUCE McMAHON looks at the new genre and a vehicle that has become fashionable and functional.

Way back when, there were sedans, station wagons, sports cars and four-wheel drives. Somewhere along the road – encouraged first by the likes of Jeep’s Wagoneer and then more compact machines such as Subaru’s Leone – four-wheel drive wagons became more civilised, more car-like and morphed into a new automotive genre.

Many scoffed at these high-riding SUVs, seeing them more fashionable than functional.

And that was the proper truth (still is) for some of this mob.

While touted as go-anywhere-anytime machines, most are limited to bush roads at best.  Some have no chance of a relaxed Sunday drive up to the coloured sands; some would baulk at delivering a risk-free ride to the Birdsville races; some are two-wheel drive only, yet these SUVs are replacing family sedans and wagons in suburban garages across the motoring landscape.

While most will not live up to the bushability of a proper four-wheel drive (such as an Isuzu Mu-X wagon with body-on-chassis and two-speed transfer case) it’s not that hard to understand the attraction of today’s SUVs, especially one with the style and convenience of Kia’s latest Sportage.

This medium-sized wagon is well-suited to a range of needs and a far cry from the original 1990s Korean wagon, as honest as that was.

Consider this: a Kia Sportage today has ground clearance of 181mm – a Model T Ford had 250mm between road and the machine’s underpinnings; a 1977 HZ Holden had 142mm.

The VF Commodore, the last home-grown Holden, was down to 110mm.

As traditional passenger cars became more stylish and more aerodynamic three decades back, ride heights dropped. Tyres became more biased toward bitumen road handling.

A couple of things happened here. With less ground clearance, the family car became less suitable for many country roads. More importantly parents and grandparents, found it was more of a chore to bend and strap kids into cumbersome car seats.

And some folk were advised, by doctors in many cases, to look at easing back, hip and knee complaints by buying one of those new-fangled SUVs for ease of access over lower-slung sedans.

So, there was a fair degree of function to this fresh automotive fashion. As the niche grew there became less emphasis on the all-road ability of SUVs as people appreciated the simple versatility of these cars. Plus, the neighbours bought one the other day.

If out there looking to catch up, the 2022 Kia Sportage is a must on the shopping list.

From around $33,000 for a two-wheel drive version to $53,000 for an all-wheel drive version with all the fruit, these have a sharp road presence, a welcoming and comfortable interior plus a swag of safety features and conveniences.

There’s the choice of petrol or diesel engines and a deal of sporting character across the range, aided by a suspension tuned for Australian conditions. Diesel versions have terrain mode, allowing drivers to switch settings – altering engine, transmission and traction controls – to best suit different road surfaces.

This is one SUV that’s both functional and fashionable.

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