Should I buy an SUV or a People-mover?

By Daniel Gardner, 16 Jun 2017 Car Advice

SUVs versus the people… movers

Seven-seat SUVs are flying out of Australian showrooms but could you be getting a vehicle that better suits your purposes with a people mover?

Australia’s demand for high-riders, crossovers and soft-roaders is showing no sign of slowing, with seven-seat models at the larger end of the SUV spectrum adding a healthy volume, while equally practical people-movers struggle to attract much attention.

Let’s look at the key reasons many flourishing families (and some prospective parents) leapfrog people-movers and jump straight to some of the more popular seven-seat SUVs, which include the Toyota Kluger, Nissan Pathfinder and Mazda CX-9.

“I frequently need to transport my kids and their friends”

While the aforementioned SUVs will all accommodate up to seven occupants, so will the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso and Volkswagen Multivan. However, Toyota’s Tarago and the Honda Odyssey go further, with each having room for up to eight.

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“When I’m not ferrying people, the extra space of an SUV is essential”

With all seats folded or stowed the Kluger offers 1171 litres of space, the Nissan has 2260L and the Mazda can accommodate 810 litres of cargo. That compares to 2181L for the Citroen, while the VW is based on the Transporter van and offers a generous load area akin to a commercial vehicle.

“The boosted ride height of an SUV offers better visibility in traffic and I like the idea of going places other cars cannot”

While most SUVs wear plastic wheel arches and tall tyres, many do not offer a dramatic advantage over other vehicles when taken off-road. The Kluger has a 200mm ground clearance, 165mm for the Nissan and 220mm for the Mazda, and are all available with four-wheel drive. Then again, Volkswagen’s Multivan is on offer with 4Motion four-wheel drive and a 213mm ground clearance.

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The Grand Picasso and Odyssey are not far off with 150mm of clearance each, though both are strictly front-wheel drive.

It is also worth mentioning that although many owners like the promise of off-road ability and an adventure into the outback, the bulk of owners will rarely exploit the full ability of their SUVs.

“I need to tow with my car and SUVs are best aren’t they?”

Not necessarily. The low-down torque of a diesel is very useful for towing and you won’t find one under the bonnet of any of the SUV’s. The Multivan and Citroen however, are offered with a diesel only, providing a gutsy 450Nm and 370Nm of torque respectively.

And that brings us on to fuel economy. With their boxier proportions, SUVs often have a greater frontal area, which can impair aerodynamics and increase fuel consumption. If it is carrying around a four-wheel drive system, the extra weight will also increase consumption.

The best any Kluger variant can manage is 9.1 litres per 100km, the Pathfinder does 9.9L/100km, while the CX-9 does a little better with a newer and smaller engine – 8.4L/100km. In the people mover corner though, the Citroen manages a commendable 4.5L/100km while the VW is as good as 6.5L/100km thanks to their frugal diesel engines.

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Even the naturally aspirated petrol people movers do relatively well with a score of 7.6L/100km for the Honda and 8.9L/100km for the 2.4-litre four-cylinder Toyota. A larger V6 is available.

When it comes to actual rated towing capacities, there is not a lot in it. The Kluger and Mazda manage 2000kg with a braked trailer, while the Nissan can haul up to 2700kg, compared with the 1600kg limit for the Citroen and Toyota or 2000kg for the Multivan.

The overall styling and ease of loading an SUV may still appeal to you over a more van-like people mover, but the practical micro-bus is still well worth considering before you set off for the dealership.