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The big bad SUV isn’t always big or bad – these are the ones to buy

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Published Time: 09.02.2024 - 17:40:34 Modified Time: 09.02.2024 - 17:40:34

Parisians recently voted to triple parking fees for sports utility vehicles, but there are still some acceptable options David Shepherd In a decisive victory for cyclists, net zero and asthmatic children everywhere, the citizens of Paris have voted to banish sports utility vehicles (SUVs) from the city’s streets

Parisians recently voted to triple parking fees for sports utility vehicles, but there are still some acceptable options

: David Shepherd

In a decisive victory for cyclists, net zero and asthmatic children everywhere, the citizens of Paris have voted to banish sports utility vehicles (SUVs) from the city’s streets. Drivers of these huge, gas-guzzling, smoke-belching monstrosities will face punitive charges for parking inside the French capital, thus heralding the end of “carbesity” and sending an unequivocal message worldwide – that the environmentalists have won, and dastardly SUV owners have been thwarted for good.

Or at least, that’s what you’d think if you’d only read the headlines. Because while Parisians did indeed vote for higher parking charges for SUVs, the referendum attracted a spectacularly low turnout of under 6 per cent, and the resultant vote was split pretty much half and half – far from the “clear choice” that socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo described it as. The higher parking tariffs won’t apply to residents, either, with further exemptions available for taxi drivers, the disabled, health workers and tradespeople. 

It’s difficult to imagine a less resounding victory for the green lobby, which paints the SUV as a sort of climate bogeyman but which has struggled to make a dent in ever-increasing sales of these larger, taller vehicles. That’s partly because consumers worldwide tend to buy the most effective product for their needs, even in the face of widespread moralising, but mostly the environmentalists are losing this fight for a simpler reason – that none of them can agree on what SUVs are, only that they’re awful and terrible and should all be banned.

What makes an SUV an SUV?

Most of us can picture an SUV. We might imagine a Nissan Qashqai, a Vauxhall Mokka, a Toyota Rav4 or a Hyundai Tucson – all bestsellers in the UK, and all definitely SUVs. But according to the new French rules, none of them will incur the higher parking rates as they all fall under the 1.6-ton cut-off weight for internal combustion vehicles. That’s right: the Nissan Qashqai is not an SUV under Parisian parking law. 

The fully electric Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback, however, falls foul of the regulations. Nobody would look at it and describe it as an SUV, but as it weighs more than two tons – the threshold for SUV-hood among EVs – the new French parking restrictions will apply to it nevertheless. The Hyundai Ioniq 5, too, falls foul of the new regulations; a bunny-hugger who obediently bought one of these zero-emission Korean EVs would have to pay handsomely to drive into eco-friendly Paris, while somebody who blithely drives a petrol Audi Q3 would be exempt. 

It’s a muddled system, muddled further by a lack of consensus on what makes SUVs such pariahs. Is it purely their emissions? It can’t be – a high proportion of them are clean, green electric vehicles. Do they really kill more pedestrians and cyclists? It’s not clear – and some have industry-leading pedestrian impact scores from safety agency Euro NCAP. Maybe it’s that they take up too much room? That, too, is an oversimplification – a Qashqai has a smaller footprint than the decidedly uncontroversial Ford Mondeo. 

The big bad SUV isn’t always as big or bad as more sensationalist media would have you believe. There are cars that are too big for our roads or which pollute the air unacceptably, but not all are SUVs; similarly, many SUVs are small, battery-powered, and in the mind of any rational person, perfectly acceptable acquisitions for those who need a family car. The idea that “SUVs = bad” is a shameful oversimplification, and solving the world’s transport woes will require a great deal more thought than went into the Paris SUV referendum.

The smallest SUV: Suzuki Jimny

The (excellent) Clean Cities Campaign sent me an SUV “fact sheet” the other day, outlining all the ways in which these oversized, space-inefficient vehicles were taking up too much space and seemingly growing every year. Unfortunately, the photo they chose to illustrate this point was of the Suzuki Jimny, which is tiny – at just 3.48m long and 1.65m wide, it takes up less room than a Ford Fiesta, and weighing in at 1,135kg it’s lighter than any electric car on the market. It’s ideal for narrow streets, country lanes and anyone who wants to take up as little space as possible on the road.

Unfortunately, emissions laws mean Suzuki stopped selling the Jimny in Britain a few years ago – the regulators would prefer you to buy a much bigger, far heavier EV. But you can find excellent examples second-hand, or get the commercial version (with no back seats) which remains on sale.

The safest SUV: Lexus RZ

The cheapest SUV: Dacia Duster

The cleanest SUV: Kia Niro EV

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