The Case Against The 4x4.

The charge: SUVs are too big for UK roads

The reality: The Nissan Pathfinder is 4.74m from bumper to bumper. That means it is shorter than comparable seven seater MPVs such as the Chrysler Voyager (4.8m), Renault Grand Espace (4.86m) and Chrysler Grand Voyager (5.09m) let alone a BMW 5-series saloon (4.84m) or Vauxhall Vectra Estate (4.82m) that only seat five.

And a Pathfinder (1.76m tall ignoring the roof-rails) blocks out little more light than a Voyager (1.75m tall) or an Espace (1.73m). In fact you could say that an SUV, with its separate bonnet, produces only a partial eclipse compared to a monospace-style MPV … or an ice-cream van, for that matter.

The charge: SUVs create more pollution.

The reality: The advanced 2.5-litre common rail diesel powering the 174PS Pathfinder is one of the more efficient large capacity engines on the market. It generates 238g/km of CO2 emissions – that’s exactly the same as an Audi TT 3.2 quattro which barely seats two but nobody’s formed a lobby group to get coupes banned. Yet.

The charge: SUVs guzzle fuel.

The reality: The Pathfinder dCi returns 31.4mpg on the combined cycle. That’s exactly the same as a BMW 325i or Audi allroad 2.5TDi quattro 180. Looking at seven seaters, the Pathfinder drinks less than a Chrysler Voyager 2.8CRD. It’s also less thirsty than a Vauxhall Vectra 2.0T Estate. And the latter has the same power output as the Pathfinder.

The charge: SUVs are fundamentally unstable.

The reality: SUVs are taller than typical saloons or estates and as a result have a higher centre of gravity. However sophisticated traction and stability systems such as ESP - part of the standard ALL-MODE electronic 4x4 system on Pathfinder - keep the vehicle under control no matter how tricky the conditions.

The charge: The UK’s cities are full of SUVs.

The reality: In 2004, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 12,731 new 4x4 vehicles were registered in London, just 6.29 per cent of the capital’s total new car registrations. London has 2.8 million cars of all ages lining its streets. Of this figure, just 3.5 per cent are 4x4s.

The charge: Pedestrians are more likely to be seriously injured when hit by an SUV.

The reality: In a pedestrian/car impact, it is fairly obvious that the pedestrian is going to come off worse. However careful design by Nissan engineers has ensured that its SUVs are at least as pedestrian friendly as its conventional cars. The X-TRAIL has a two star NCAP rating for pedestrian safety. The BMW 5 Series is only a one star car. The same applies to the latest generation of superminis: the Renault Modus, Fiat Panda and Hyundai Getz are one all one-star cars when it comes to pedestrian safety. Nissan is still awaiting NCAP results for Pathfinder.

The charge: But American research suggests that pedestrians are 27 times more likely to be killed when hit by an SUV than by another vehicle.

The reality: Not true. The figure was mentioned in an American report published seven years ago but related to side impact collisions involving commercial vehicles, a group which in America includes SUVs. European SUVs, as well as being smaller than their American counterparts, incorporate sophisticated side impact protection.

The charge: SUV drivers think they own the road.

The reality: The high ‘command’ driving position of the SUV is one of its safety features, giving drivers a better view of the road and its environment. Rather than owning the road, the SUV driver simply sees more of it. And gets advanced notice of any problem ahead.

The charge: The SUV is the worst possible car to take on the school run.

The reality: A seven seater SUV like Pathfinder is an ideal vehicle for the school run, if used responsibly. To carry six children to school in a family hatchback would require two vehicles… and together these take up more road space and produce more pollution than one SUV. And as we’ve seen, a Pathfinder is shorter than many large MPVs.

The Pathfinder spends most of its time in two-wheel drive. But on a frosty or wet morning, it can automatically switch into four-wheel drive. And only for as long as is required to maintain traction. An MPV or other family car does not give mum or dad that level of peace of mind. So in rural areas or those which annually experience bad weather (e.g. Scotland), a Pathfinder is literally a safer option. And as for double parking outside the school gates, this creates disruption regardless of the size and type of vehicle.

The 4x4 verdict: not guilty.

Published 10 February 2005 Melanie Carter

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