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Old 23rd November 2010, 15:59   #1
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Should you buy an SUV? The definitive Sedan vs SUV debate

I'm seeing a large number of queries in our "What car?" sub-forum inquiring about SUVs. The justification usually given is highway driving. BAAH, I say. Nope, I don't buy that reasoning at all. Sedans are faster, efficient and immensely more satisfying to drive, especially on the highway.

An SUV is a special category of vehicle with its own list of pros & cons. The starting range of SUVs in India (i.e. Safari & Scorpio) cost about Rs. 10 lakh for the middle which could also buy you a higher end C segment sedan. Lets outline the upside & downside to either.

Advantage SEDAN:
  • Lets get one thing straight : A sedan is infinitely more pleasurable to drive. Whether its a straight expressway, especially on a typically Indian highway and even more so on a fast ghat section. The sheer handling & dynamics of a sedan are simply unmatched by SUVs. Take a Linea T-Jet out cornering, then attempt the same in a Scorpio or even a 20 lakh Fortuner and you'll know what I'm talking about. Thanks to their massive body roll, an SUV is hardly a vehicle you'd equate with the fun-to-drive factor. Most 100+ BHP sedans, due to lower center of gravity & higher power-to-weight ratios, remain an absolute blast to drive.
  • Performance : Again, thanks to their lighter weight and superior aerodynamics, a sedan's acceleration will leave an SUV for dead. A Honda City will do the 0 - 100 in 10 seconds, a Vento diesel in 11 seconds. The average time for SUVs in the same price bracket is 15 seconds (similar to 5 lakh rupee hatchbacks BTW). A sedan's braking ability is also superior to same-price SUVs.
  • Fuel efficiency : A sedan will be inherently more fuel efficient. If we are to compare the FE figures of C segment diesel sedans to the 10 lakh rupee diesel SUVs, the average sedan is about 30 - 40% more fuel efficient. In case of petrol to petrol comparisons, the difference can be as much as 75% in favour of sedans.
  • Ride comfort : The Safari's ride quality is an exception. Most other SUVs - from the Scorpio to the Endeavour to the Fortuner - suffer from bumpy ride quality. You can forget about the composed ride (city & highway) that most C & C+ sedans have to offer.
  • Depth of engineering : For the same money that you'd pay for an SUV, you can buy a sedan that's a lot more technologically advanced. Compare the VW Vento to a Tata Safari, a Skoda Laura to an Endeavour or a VW Passat to a Toyota Fortuner.
  • Cheaper : SUVs cost more to build and are thus, more expensive to buy as well.
  • Easier to maneuver : A sedan's smaller dimensions make it easier to drive within the city, be it traffic or squeezing into that tight parking spot. The controls (steering, gearshift, pedals) generally require lesser effort as well.
  • Parking : If you don't have a wide & tall parking spot, you can forget about SUVs.
  • Petrol : Not everyone likes diesels. A few of us remain diehard fans of high-revving petrols. Thanks to the poor fuel efficiency of petrol SUVs, they remain a dying breed in India.
  • A wider palette : Whether you want to spend 10 lakh rupees or 20, you'll have a far wider choice of sedans than SUVs in your budget.
Advantage SUV:
  • Space : SUVs, thanks to their greater proportions, generally have spacious interiors as well. Plus, the third row of seats can have you carrying more than 5 passengers (impossible with any sedan).
  • Ability to handle rough roads better : If your driving entails completely destroyed roads, the underpinnings of an SUV along with its higher ground clearance will make it the more suitable class of vehicle.
  • 4x4 available as an option. A 4x4 SUV will drive through farms, muck, slush and rocks. Your lifestyle, work or daily driving pattern may include either of these conditions and thus, necessitate an SUV.
  • High perched driving position : Undoubtedly gives you a superior view of the road ahead. In addition, you can look over the car in front of you, allowing you to take a more informed decision (e.g. when overtaking).
  • Muscle : Needless to say, errant auto rickshaws & taxi drivers don't mess with a butch SUV as much as they do with a shiny sedan.
  • Can seriously haul : SUVs have larger cargo capacities. Folding down or removing their rear seats gives enough capacity to move home. Dream on, sedans.
  • Image : Who doesn't want to look cool? A macho SUV can give your social standing a massive boost.

Which is safer?

Well, the debates wide open on this factor. A sedan's superior handling & braking capabilities will help you avoid that accident in the first place. Plus, SUVs are prone to roll over too. On the other hand, you can't argue with sheer size & metal. In a head on collision between a Captiva & a Cruze, or a Safari and an Indigo, I do feel occupants of the former will suffer less injury.

The best of both worlds:

Crossovers are based on sedans, yet styled as SUVs. Cars like the Yeti / CRV / Outlander are nearly as much fun to drive as their sedan siblings and bring some SUV advantages too. However, in many areas, they are neither "here" nor "there". For instance, these crossovers lack the sheer ruggedness & offroad ability of SUVs. Neither can they seat anymore than 5 passengers (just as sedans). Plus, due to their weight, they aren't as quick or efficient as sedans. It doesn't help that they cost more than their sedan siblings either. Most people buy the premium crossovers for image rather than anything else.


In a nutshell, buy an SUV only if you need the three rows of seats, rough road package or AWD. But for all things else, there is no substitute for the driving pleasure that a powerful sedan or hatchback can give you.

Last edited by GTO : 24th November 2010 at 11:09.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 16:17   #2
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I agree with you completely GTO. However, here's what I feel:
  1. Many people buy an SUV just for the macho image not knowing the pro's and con's of an SUV. Everyone knows these sort of people and do not have any value for either the vehicle or the people around them in smaller cars.
  2. There is another breed of people who wish to own an SUV/MPV/MUV only because of an absence of a smaller people mover (smaller/compact dimensions but a 7 seater. e.g. Daewoo Tacuma), and have no choice but to go for these kind of vehicles.
  3. Another category is of pure enthusiasts. Those who love off roading, buy an SUV.
  4. Lastly, some people buy an suv as they prefer to travel in one, in order not to damage their cars on bad roads.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 16:39   #3
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I simply don't have the luxury of buying sedans anymore thanks to the horrible roads around my area. Also, I regularly drive between Bangalore and the coast, the very act is considered an art these days. We even have a thread dedicated to the practitioners of this art. All because of the completely destroyed ghat roads between these two areas. I really envy all the feature goodies available to sedan buyers, but I'll have to stick with SUV for the sake of my sanity.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 16:45   #4
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Great topic GTO!

I often feel that many SUV owners dont have a real logical reasons except the long time desire to own a SUV. I have seen/read about such cravings to own one, especially the Safari. This forum is full of posts where propestive buyers get completely poetic about the SUV they want to own.

Most of these people may not even utilise the full potential of an SUV (like me, who went for 4x2, because I would anyway never take my Safari to a terrain that would cause any damage to her) but would buy it just for the pleasure of owning one. I have driven her mostly on highways and on a few terrains where a regular sedan would not dare, but there are others like ADC who have proved what an SUV can do - with or without a 4WD.

So, to add to your summary GTO, I would also say 'buy an SUV if you have this unending desire to own one'.

Last edited by Kairalee : 23rd November 2010 at 16:56.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 16:54   #5
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Very well written GTO. It's almost like you read my mind. I was about to start a similar thread ( well, I couldn't have written so good though!). You just about covered everything. But there is yet another class of buyers whose reasoning of chosing SUV over sedan sounds interesting. Saw some guys who bought 10 lakh SUVs ( read Safari/Scorps) because, among other reasons, they cost as much as a top end C-segment sedan. Middle variants of these two SUVs cost nearly same as top versions of Verna/NHC/Vento/Linea. So why not pay same and get a bigger car. Bonus being, SUV seats more and it rides high ( good for bad roads), road presence, ego-booster etc.etc. These buyers do not care much about pick-up but they know SUVs too can crawl up to 140-150 kph.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 16:58   #6
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Very apt timing for this thread. I was just cracking my head on my new purchase.
Though I prefer a sedan and my parents are shifting towards an SUV because of the space and the long distances we have to travel on bad roads.

Last edited by speedmiester : 23rd November 2010 at 17:01.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:00   #7
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You forgot the social consciousness aspect. In the West (and thanks to Jairam Ramesh, even here!) SUVs are associated with gas guzzling and therefore inherently bad for the environment. Ergo, anybody who drives around in one is the Devil personified! Never mind that some petrol sedans return worse mileage figures than these!
Nice thread GTO. I am a die-hard sedan man, mainly for the reasons you outlined and also partly because I'd hate to be perceived as a bully and sadly that's what a lot of SUV owners in India are.

Last edited by noopster : 23rd November 2010 at 17:02.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:02   #8
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I bought ANHC 7 months ago in black. I polish it (a special polish for black - don't remember the brand) and keep it covered (open parking). Then an idiot on a bike bumps into it (while we were standing still) and scratches the passenger side front and rear doors. 2 days later another idiot gives a foot long scratch on driver's side rear bumper. Both times there excuse is "traffic mein to aisa hota hee hai"!! I was fuming for 2 days after this.

Only reason I will buy an SUV (with bull bars) is to keep such idiots at bay. In fact, I was thinking about getting bull bars for my ANHC and use it for out of town drives. The above happened on an out of town drive.

Last edited by asr245 : 23rd November 2010 at 17:04.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:10   #9
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Originally Posted by asr245 View Post
In fact, I was thinking about getting bull bars for my ANHC and use it for out of town drives. The above happened on an out of town drive.

Never mount bullbars on sedan. Its weight will bring already-low ground clearance of a sedan even further down.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:12   #10
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Muscle : Needless to say, errant auto rickshaws & taxi drivers don't mess with a butch SUV as much as they do with a shiny sedan.
9 times out of 10 this is the reason for a city slicker to buy and SUV- I know that was the case for me as well and having driven a sedan thereafter for 2 years, I am seriously contemplating an SUV again, budget permitting, when the time for change comes up a year from now.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:13   #11
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I can highlight a recent incident for my side. My Scorpio got rear-ended a few days before we were planning a family vacation by road from Chennai to Hyderbad. So I borrowed my cousin Honda city for the trip. The first three hours of highways leaving chennai was a fantastic four lane highway with a median where 120+ was comfortable.

I actually told my wife that we should have got a sedan as when the roads are good nothing beats a fast sedan. About 100 kms before hyderbad, we decided to take the state highway as it saves about 80 kms.

After about 30 minutes of driving we noticed that the only other vehicles in this highway as MUVs (Bolero/Sumo etc), buses and trucks. Before long the road (state highway) became a highway to hell. It was so bad with ruts that literally swallowed the honda city. I scraped the front, middle and rear numerous times. Apparently the Honda City's approach/rampover/departure angles are not good enough for our state highways. Somewhere on the highway, we saw a truck lying on its side. When we went close, we saw that he didn't see a huge (about a meter and half deep) hole in the road and slammed into the hole. His front axles came off along with the leafsprings and tires. That's when I started to miss my Scorpio.

If you love to take long drives an SUV or high ground clearance cross over is your best bet until India's roads improve.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:14   #12
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GTO has given all the explanation why to choose and what to choose. Adding to that, I would like to prefer to have a CROSSOVER / Compact SUV Kind of thing. And that why I have chooses to buy a some thing similar to that FUSION

It gives me enough space for our us.
As we are a small family, we does not need a huge fullsize SUV
I do some rough roading too, which a Sedan may not able to perform.
It gives a Good GC.
Driving a Fusion is much better than Scorpio. More stable on the road.
Gives a wide view of the road.
Gives better mileage than a SUV.
A 4 wheel will be added advantage for me.

Looking forward to have a new Yeti like car in India

Last edited by GTO : 23rd November 2010 at 17:50. Reason: No more than 2 smileys per post please
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:30   #13
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The main reason my parents are insisting on an SUV is the unpredictable conditions of our roads after a few rains.
I traveled with my parents to Mangalore about six months ago in a sedan. The roads were quite good and we did not face any problems. We traveled the same roads about 2 months back in the same car after the monsoons. It was literally hell on earth. The potholes were swallowing the car completely. The travel time exceeded by more than 2 hours.
Though my travel is mainly between Bangalore and Mysore on well paved roads. The frequent travels across the state has made me think twice before putting my money on another sedan.
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:32   #14
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Forester - a rare breed

This is where the cars like Foresters score. They are like sedans in terms of handling and car-like feel but have enough ground clearance and ability to tackle bad/slippery the roads. Unfortunately the car is discontinued and the upgraded version has joined the mainstream of tallish SUVs (CRV, Outlander etc).
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Old 23rd November 2010, 17:48   #15
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@GTO: Good Job as usual!

How about cost of ownership with respect to Spares and Service. SUVs might set you back a tad more if there were big repairs related to suspension/ Tyre replacements and engine. Am making a calculated guess without experience. People with first hand experience can comment.

3 rows of seats which would be good enough to carry all family members and the ability to handle bad roads would be the compelling reasons for me if I were to choose a SUV.
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