Guest post by Ashref Ismail
With the ever-increasing sales of the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment around the world, it begs the question whether the humble sedan is still relevant. More-so, when its hard working sibling the estate or station-wagon has all but being culled at the designers’ table.
So successful has this segment become, that every major manufacturer has one or more of these highly profitable multi-purpose vehicles in the product brochure. Even premium, high-end purveyors of performance marques boast an SUV.
Porsche committed the sacrilegious act of blurring the lines with its highly Cayenne back in the early 2000’s. Now, Maserati boasts the svelte Levante, Lamborghini the exotic Urus, Bentley has its controversial Bentayga and not to be outdone, Rolls Royce, offers its select clientele the hideous Cullinan. We hear Ferrari is busy putting the final touches to its own high-powered SUV.
Truth be told the SUV craze has truly been milked to its extreme. Originally meant to be a comfortable alternative to the rugged, off-road workhorse, it was actually made famous by Range Rover back in the seventies, when the British marque realized that there was a gap in the market for a luxury off-road vehicle with sufficient power and off-road features to take its most discerning owners far off the beaten track.
When Mercedes Benz introduced the “ML” series in 2001, the die had been cast. Even though build quality was “iffy”, the range sold well and the Germans, which included BMW (X Series) and Audi (Q Series) followed suit, with Porsche’s Cayenne and later, the Macan recording the brand’s highest sales volumes. Not to mention increasing profitability. A new niche was created.
Today, every manufacturer, from new entrants such as the Chinese Haval brand, to low-cost Mahindra from India and established brands from the far east all offer small, mid-size, large and premium SUV, Sport Activity Vehicles or Cross-Over Vehicles. While not all of them are pukka off-road vehicles, most offer a modicum of gravel travel ability earning them the “Soft Roader” nomenclature.
If you’re in the market for an SUV, you truly are spoilt for choice. Based on price, performance, positioning, packaging, residual values and of course, test driving them, these are my recommended favourites:
Small SUV Category
Affordable, accessible and light on fuel consumption, the Renault Duster provides comfortable on and off-road performance for five adults and their luggage. Recently refreshed, the car looks modern and stylish and appeals to those with a small budget. Powered by both petrol and diesel engines, they’re available in 4×2 and 4×4 with prices ranging from R 260 000 to just under R 350 000. No fancy frills, just old fashion value-for-money in an appealing package. Also consider Ford’s Ecosport and Honda’s BRV range, not forgetting Toyota’s highly competent Rush range.
Medium/Mid Executive Category
There are so many excellent brands to choose from this highly competitive segment, but my favourate remains the Mazda CX-5 range. Understated, comfortable, spacious, well-engineered and stylish, buyers are beginning to warm to the Mazda brand after its divorce from Ford. Resale values are also strong and after sales service is remarkable. The diesels are tops and are priced from R 400 000 to R 590 000. I have yet to test it, but if sales figures are anything to go by, the newly launched, Toyota Rav 4 is going to be a segment killer, so best you put it on your shortlist.
So many awesome performers to choose from such as the VW Toureg, the BMW X5, the Jaguar F-Pace, the Mercedes GL, the Audi Q7’s, not to mention the even pricier options. This category is obviously for those for whom the price tag does not matter, but brand loyalty and brand cache mean a lot. So, if I won the lottery, I would go for the Range Rover – any V8 petrol model in the range. It remains an accomplished off-road and on-road performer that will show a clean pair of heels to many high-performance sports cars. Despite its racing car performance, it has excellent off-road credentials to deliver you far into the wilderness in superb comfort and prestige. Priced at a whopping R 2 million for the “entry level” model to an eye-watering, mind-altering
R 4 million+ for the flagship Range Rover LSV Autobiography Supercharged special edition! The RR might best be purchased used, because cars in this price bracket lose the most value. Ouch!
If you happen to be new to the off-road scene and would like a true 4×4, compact SUV, complete with high clearance, diff lock and low range, then take a peek at the tiny, but can run-with-the-big-dogs Suzuki Jimny. This highly competent, tiny vehicle punches way above its body weight and is equally at home in the urban jungle or doing battle in the rugged outback. Sure, it’s small, but running costs and fuel consumption are small as well. Not to mention its cute looks that can truly be personalized to make it a fun second or third car. Priced from R 270 000 to R 320 000, the waiting list is long and given its cult car status, is going to be a modern-day classic collectable.
As mentioned in my opening paragraphs, there are indeed many, many SUV’s to choose from and what you eventually select should be based on the five P’s: Performance, Price (including resale prices), Package, Position (in the market) and Personality (matching yours to the car of your choice!)
Ashref Ismail is an award winning motoring journalist and radio presenter. He is also the managing director of Real World Training and Development. Ashref is also a life coach, mentor, motivational speaker, MC and PR practitioner. You can catch him on Bumper2Bumper on Cii Radio every Friday evening talking cars. He also hosts a segment every month on my show with his car of the month recommendations.