I’ve dragged this piece from Libertarian Reason archives, cleaned it up a bit, added some pictures and opened up comments on it for the first time. This was originally written as part of a response to a BBC broadcast back in September 2005. Now, I’ve noticed even some libertarians tending to prejudge and misconstrue the reasons that someone would want to drive an SUV, so I think it warrants a re-run.

At the time I wrote this piece, I owned one SUV. I liked it so much that I bought another for my wife, and we drive both of them extensively now on a daily basis, clocking up well over 25,000 miles per year. SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle, also frequently referred to as a four-by-four, a four-wheel drive, a Jeep (though this is usually a misnomer) or in England, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a “Chelsea tractor”.

SUVs are vilified for one reason, primarily: they consume more fuel per mile than smaller cars – they therefore emit more carbon dioxide per mile than those smaller cars – and are therefore regarded as environmentally irresponsible vehicles. Into the mix, grim-faced proponents of SUV-vilification throw other negativities to give the impression that there are other (better?) reasons to hate SUVs, such as describing them as “behemoths”, or “road-hoggers”. Don’t be confused by these; they are bad excuses, made by some truly joyless people. The real reason for SUV-vilification is their lower rate of MPG (miles per gallon). Since I don’t have any problem emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and don’t believe its doing an iota of significant damage, I thought I’d give you some positives in an attempt to counteract all the negativity unfurled by these depressing people: real reasons that I (and others) own SUVs and love them so much.

1) Comfort and utility

Ample legroom, enough even to stretch your legs out in front of you while driving the freeway on cruise control. Spacing between passengers is greater, the centre console can hold a lot more and serve a greater range of purposes, each passenger can have two cup holders for longer trips, the bigger battery can serve more than one power point for various in-car appliances at one time and the oversized radiator supports a better air conditioning system (important here in the desert climate), enough even for separate rear air control and vents. Also count here the ease with which one can get a small child, perhaps in a car seat, in and out of the vehicle compared to a smaller car.

2) Superior view of the road

The higher position of the vehicle allow drivers to see the road much more clearly. Oversized mirrors give a better rear-view, and bigger windows provide an excellent sense of everything going on around the vehicle, making a difference in road safety that only a convert to SUV ownership will be able to attest to.

3) Safety

The vehicle is heavier, built sturdier and created with a stronger, more durable body. Combined with its size, in a head-on collision I’d much rather be me in my SUV than you in your hybrid. Add the best safety features in the industry; rollover protection, side-curtain airbags, computerised stability control, tire pressure monitor, etc.; modern SUVs are among the safest vehicles on the road.

4) Towing power

I like to tow our gas-guzzling jetskis and boat trailer to the launch ramp at the lake, and our ATV trailer out to the sand. In doing this I join with thousands of Americans around me who spend many weekends enjoying precisely the same activities (watertoys in the summer, desert toys in the winter). With a towing capacity of 5300 pounds, I’ll have no problems in that regard. It should be noted that only a pickup truck or SUV has the ability to tow trailers of this weight.

5) Off-road capability

With the necessary ground clearance, four-wheel drive capability, super-low gearing and stability control, an SUV so equipped can handle the kinds of terrain that smaller cars get easily stuck in. Be it a soft-sand beach, a rocky desert landscape like the American Southwest, a muddy forest trail or a snow-capped mountainous region, only an SUV or pickup truck can manipulate such ground with ease; for a camping trip, recreational drive, slippy launch ramp or off-road excursion.

6) Interior capacity

Try fitting seven people in a Prius. For several trips this summer alone, I have used my SUV to carry, in comfort, more than the five people that a standard sedan would allow. In each of these cases, we would have used two smaller cars in the place of my single SUV. For these kind of trips, therefore, my SUV achieves a greater number of miles per gallon per seat than even a hybrid, and becomes the vehicle emitting the least amount of carbon dioxide for the purpose. Not unusual. And even for a young family with the standard 2.4 children, a family outing would be very uncomfortable if not unworkable were the state’s car seat requirements for under fives adhered to in a regular sedan.

That SUVs accomplish all of the above while still harnessing the horsepower to reach almost 120 miles per hour – all the time ultra-smooth, whisper-quiet and with such a sense of style – truly constitutes a feat of engineering, making the Sports Utility Vehicle the supreme means of transport. Now perhaps instead of disparaging them and their owners, you SUV-vilifiers may cheer up and consider buying one yourselves?

Bryan Appleyard’s great article on this subject (for a UK audience) can be found here.

John Wright