It’s that fun time of year where last-minute late night shopping trips are born, beer reserves run worryingly low by the close of every single day and relatives force themselves to be nice to each other. Most of the time.
But it’s also spawned another growing tradition; the suburban Christmas lights cruise. People you don’t know who adorn their houses in sound and light shows, dioramas of red-nosed reindeer and 25 cents-per-kilowatt-hour electricity bills. The extravagance, thankfully coming at someone else’s cost, is a sure crowd-pleaser for kids.
But what if we want the perfect car for a boulevarde cruise to see the lights, sights and sounds of suburbia without leaving the air-conditioned comfort of our metal and glass cocoon? Some cars are much better for all-around vision than others. What, then, makes for the best Christmas lights present for drivers and passengers alike?
Cheap and cheerful: Honda Jazz
This cheap, tiny little hatchback is a lot roomier inside than you’d expect, and outward visibility is also quite good. Look around the current crop of small cars and it’s all rising shoulder lines and pinched glasshouses. Not so with the Jazz, where everyone but the rear middle seat passenger can gaze out into the LED-lit glare in uninterrupted awe.
The Jazz also has the advantage of having one of the most versatile small-car interiors on the market.
High snobriety: Range Rover Vogue Autobiography
Right from one of the cheapest cars on the market to one of the most expensive. The most opulently appointed Range Rover in the Range Rover range to have ever ranged suburbia is wonderfully high off the ground, glides over back-street imperfections on its adjustable air suspension, and has windows deeper than the financial hole dug by a teenager maxxing out their first credit card.
If there’s only four of you, the centre rear seat can be replaced by an optional fridge.
People power: Citroen Grand C4 Picasso
It’s a seven-seat people mover like no other. It features a sliding second row that can rob or add space to the third row to maximise use and a windscreen that wraps back over the front seats, aiding visibility. In the second row, there’s a couple of folding tables built into the backs of the front seats that yield space for colouring books, or whatever else appeals to young children once the lights go out.
It’s also available with either a petrol or diesel engine.
Trading places: Volkswagen Amarok
Trade utes now account for around one in every five new vehicles sold in Australia, so to exclude them from this assessment would be doing a disservice to cashed-up tradies – and all the mum and dad drivers who like the worksite-on-weekdays, family-fun-on-weekend lifestyle they offer. Of the dual-cab utes, we reckon the Volkswagen Amarok is the best-driving of the lot. Lots of glass and a light, airy cabin high up off the ground offer much better visibility than an SUV or traditional passenger car.
One thing the Amarok lacks, though, relative to its showroom rivals including the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, is that it doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of driver assistance features its rivals offer.
THE PICK: Subaru Forester
Yep, there’s one car that rules over the lot of them: the Subaru Forester. First of all, it’s an SUV, so you have an instant height advantage over more pedestrian vehicles. But unlike other design-driven trends that factor in raked shoulders with receding windows, the Forester is like a car of old, offering as much deep window space in the rear as it does in the front.
What’s also helping the Forester is that it recently won a Wheels comparison of mid-size SUVs – one of the strongest-selling segments of Australia’s new-car market. What impressed the most was the way the Forester soaked up all the lumps and bumps, no matter if it was a country road or inner-suburban street.
As a Christmas lights cruiser, the Subaru Forester takes the cake. With brandy and custard on the side.