The cost of living has been spiralling out of control in recent months and motorists especially, have been hit hard. Diesel has hit the dizzying heights of over £2 a litre in places and petrol isn’t far behind. Taking this into consideration, you’d think people at the lower end of the financial spectrum would be doing all in their power to run a car that is as cheap and frugal as possible but you’d be wrong. Bigger, heavier and less aerodynamic SUV’s and crossovers are still top sellers, proving that either people have more money than they’re letting on or their egos get in the way and don’t want to be seen “downgrading” to a smaller, more efficient vehicle.
Two cars that are close to my heart, proved this same theory still applied over 20 years ago too. In 1999, Audi brought the A2 to the market, a lightweight, aluminium bodied hatchback available with 1.4, 3 cylinder diesel or 1.4 and 1.6 petrol engines. It was marketed as a premium product despite its relatively small size, giving customers the chance to own a practical, compact and efficient car, wearing VAG’s premium badge, without the usual cheapness associated with most cars in that class. Here in the UK, the 1.4 TDI version that I own can see over 70mpg on a long journey and high 50s mpg around town, combine that with £30 a year in road tax, it’s a very cheap car to own.
Also released in 1999 was Honda’s first gen Insight. A car that, in typically Honda fashion, was heavily focused on great engineering and in beating Toyota’s Prius to market, became the first mass production hybrid car. The Insight had an aluminium body, built in the same factory as the S2000 and NSX, wind tunnel tested aerodynamics, and a 1 litre, 3 cylinder engine, with an electric motor mated to the crankshaft. Nerdy details like the use of 0W-20 low viscosity oil to reduce engine friction, 0.25 coefficient of drag, 838kg kerb weight and a lean burn engine contributed to its headline 81mpg figure.
23 years ago, car manufacturers were building cars for the future, not only cheap to run but good for the environment too. They focused on well packaged, lightweight technology to get us from A to B using the least amount of fuel possible. So why in 2022, are we surrounded by space inefficient, 2.5 ton SUV’s that will do well to get half the mpg figures of the Audi and Honda? It’s not the fault of the manufacturers, they build what sells and both the A2 and Insight were sales failures. The gen 2 insight became much more conventional, engine capacity was increased and so was weight. Audi didn’t even bother replacing the A2.
The fact that both manufacturers now offer a wide variety of SUV’s and crossovers that are heavier, less aerodynamic and less fuel efficient than even their equivalent hatchback or estate versions, is a clear sign that the buying public care more about image than their bank balance and keeping up with the Jones’s than saving the planet. Ford have only recently announced the Focus will be no more come 2025. Puzzling since that is likely to increase the company’s average CO2 emissions.
The real puzzle is what you actually gain with a crossover/SUV. A lot of them use the same chassis as a regular hatchback meaning there’s no more useable space, they have a higher centre of gravity and are therefore dynamically worse to drive, have pointless 4 wheel drive systems that add weight and sap power through transmission losses and when equipped with the equally pointless “sport” trims often come with expensive wide tyres giving more rolling resistance. Yes they do have their purpose, great for the elderly who struggle to crouch down into a regular car but for middle aged Dave from London who’s on his solo commute to the office block or Karen who’s taking little Timmy half a mile down the road to school, it’s vulgar excess.
These are the people I have no sympathy for, those who spend a large percentage of their income on finance and fuel for a brand new vehicle that’s fuel efficiency and packaging is obsolete next to cars built nearly quarter of a century ago. They instantly revoke their right to complain about the cost of fuel despite a life changing cheaper option staring them in the face. Their selfishness is making it harder for those who do need a big car, who do use an off roader, off road and who own a particular car because it’s their passion. People shouldn’t be vilified for taking their Ferrari out for a B road blast at the weekend nor should you point the finger at those in muddy Land Rovers doing a bit of green laning in the country.
Next time you’re out for a drive, look around at the volume of pointless cars and then think what they should be driving. A Vauxhall Corsa for example, is substantially cheaper and more economical than the Mokka that shares the same platform and that offers very little in the way of more practicality. Likewise the Fiesta – Puma and Focus – Kuga. If it’s your dream to own a Crossover or big SUV when you don’t actually need one, fine, it’s a free country but you revoke your right to complain about fuel prices.