The West

SUVs offer taste of the high life
With so many variants on offer, it’s hard to see the popularity of these versatile vehicles waning.

Australia's love affair with sports utility vehicles - or SUVs - continues to grow, with more and more families opting for the versatile wagons over more traditional passenger cars.

Initially, these "jacked-up" station wagons stirred our adventurous spirit. The idea of being able to drive a vehicle to work Monday to Friday and then take the family camping out the bush or beach fishing at an isolated stretch of coast captured the imagination of many Australians.

But over the past 10 years, as most of us have come to the sad realisation that life too often gets in the way of our dreams, we have seen the ruggedness of these vehicles disappear.

Flared guards covered in plastic cladding and knobbly off-road tyres have slowly been replaced by sleek lines, smooth surfaces and smooth-riding tyres as SUVs spend more time in an urban environment.

Clever engineers now also ensure they drive more like passenger cars, while interiors have become more comfortable and opulent while offering the latest safety technology.

The only thing that has not changed is the high ride height and versatility. There are also some models, such as the Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester and Suzuki Grand Vitara, that offer reasonable off-road capability.

The medium SUV market is the third-biggest segment in Australia, accounting for one in every 10 new vehicles sold.

The only segments that sell in bigger numbers are small and light passenger cars.

And it is hard not to see the popularity of SUVs continuing to grow in 2013.

In the past two months we have seen some of the biggest-selling models in the segment, the Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V, replaced by all-new variants that offer features and technology that not too long ago were the realm of prestige cars.

These new SUVs are available with cutting-edge technology including active cruise control, a lane departure warning, forward crash mitigation and blind-spot warning - all designed to reduce or eliminate the chance of having an accident.

At the same time, Renault has added a new premium model to its Koleos SUV family and Toyota has revealed details of its next RAV4, which will go on sale in January.

With this influx of new models, the choice in this market segment has never been greater nor the competition keener.

When you add the Mazda CX-5, which was launched earlier this year and immediately become one of the most popular vehicles on the market, it is hard to see their popularity waning.

This style of vehicle already comes with the choice of petrol or diesel powerplants, two and four-wheel-drive configurations and five or seven seats.

And next year Mitsubishi will add a hybrid variant to its Outlander line-up while Subaru will launch a turbocharged performance Forester.

The West Australian

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