Cars vs. SUVs - Not So Easy To Decide Anymore

Mar 28, 2001

The Bottom Line It is a matter of personal taste.

It is a controversial topic – cars vs. SUVs. Let’s see how they stack up.


Which is safer: Car or SUV/Truck (classic SUVs are basically trucks with "body on frame" construction that contributes to a harsh truck-like ride)? It really depends. A lot of people think that SUV is better.

SUVs have higher center of gravity, which makes them unstable, and susceptible to rollover. Statistics show that one in four fatalities is caused by vehicle rollovers (remember Ford Explorer/Bridgestone accidents?) and recent tests show that SUVs are much more likely to roll over than cars. Not all SUVs are equal in this respect. Heavy SUVs (Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Excursion) are safer rollover wise. Also, crossover vehicles are usually safer – you can see results on the web site of the agency.

SUVs are also heavy and thus, as a rule, require more space to stop (this is not always true, but it’s a general trend). On the positive side - they are, again heavy. If you drive a heavy SUV and collide with a lighter car, the car will decelerate faster than SUV, so it will be better for you (and worse for the driver of that car). But if you hit the stationary object, the weight of your SUV will not help you at all (in fact it will make things worse).

Safety advantages of SUVs are greatly exaggerated.

Insurance Costs

Generally higher for SUVs. But not as high as high-performance cars.


Even though the crossover vehicles are approaching cars in handling and some (like BMW X5) can outhandle some cars, in general SUVs are less stable in turns, have high degree of body roll, slower acceleration and longer braking distances.

Cargo and Passenger Capacity

SUVs are better here – they generally hold more people and cargo and have high towing capabilities.


SUVs are better suited for off-road use than ever 4WD cars, but how often will you need it? Some people really need it, others buy SUVs to look cool and to drive them in the left lane on the freeway and tailgate.

Fuel Economy

Should I say anything? Cars are much better in terms of fuel economy.

Crossover Vehicles

There is also a new breed of SUVs based on cars (crossover vehicles), for example Lexus RX300 and new Toyota Highlander is based on Toyota Camry. These SUVs have unit body construction, better ride quality and less fuel consumption because of lower eight. These are not specifically designed for offroad use (but are you going offroad anytime soon?); still they may have 4WD and provide some offroad capability.

FYI: New Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute is crossover vehicle.


You saw a lot of “generally” here, a lot depends on particular models. Some SUVs are based on sedans now (like Lexus RX300 and Toyota Highlander are based on Camry) or minivans (Acura MDX based on Odissey).

It is a matter of personal taste - I prefer cars.

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