SUV vs sedan for a long drive – which is better?

2018 Audi SQ5

Here’s a question for you: Which is better for a long drive – an SUV or a sedan? Initially, you’d think an SUV, right? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you think.

Firstly, we have to consider what kind of journey you’re on. Is it a cross-country trek through Europe? Or are we talking an arrow-straight drive along the Nullabor Plain in Western Australia?

Let’s look at the reasons why you’d choose one over the other.

Holden Commodore

Long drives in a sedan

Sedans (or saloons, depending on where you live) have been the default choice of transport for decades, and with good reason. Their centre of gravity is lower, meaning they can handle better than the majority of SUVs, and they still have plenty of space inside.

Despite the marketing hype, often there is more legroom (and sometimes more headroom) in a sedan, meaning they can theoretically be more comfortable. And thanks to the better handling, on a long drive – which is normally at higher speeds – they’re actually safer than a tall-boy SUV in many cases.

Volvo XC40 front side view

Long drives in an SUV

Most people want an SUV in their lives, though, right? And on the surface, an SUV seems like the better options. They’re said to be more comfortable, more spacious, more practical and, let’s be honest, a little cooler.

But it’s not as straightforward as that.

SUVs have a higher centre of gravity, which means they’re more likely to tip if not treated with care (see our article on SUV rollover statistics). Normally they weigh more than a sedan which means they can actually take longer to slow down as well.

So far, so negative. But let’s look at some of the benefits.



With a more upright seating position, they’re better for your back, depending on how the seat padding has been done, of course. They can also be loaded with more gear, thanks to a wagon-like body, which isn’t impinged by a boot (trunk) which is separated from the rest of the car.

If there’s only two of you, you can lay the back seats down and fit more gear in, which means they can actually be more practical. And if you’re not carrying a lot of gear, you could have a snooze in the back as well. Not while you’re driving, though….

The issue with SUVs is that they’re designed to go off-road, and therefore the suspension is crafted to drive over rocks and obstacles. That can make the ride rather bouncy, and not as comfortable. A crossover may be a better option in that case.

But the real answer comes down to the make and the model.

2019 Acura RDX front

Sedan versus SUV – which is it?

The answer is whatever you feel more comfortable in.

Want to see further along the road? SUV. Want a better ride? Sedan.

In addition, there are some el-cheapo sedans and very luxurious SUVs, plus it also goes the other way around. So pick the vehicle that you’re happiest in.

The most important thing is to stay safe, no matter what. Wear your seatbelt. Check your tyre pressures regularly. Get your vehicle serviced at the appropriate intervals. And always be on the lookout for idiots on the road.

Do that and you’ll be better off than worrying which is the better vehicle choice for long drives.

But there are also other considerations than just long drives, which is why we’ve listed the pros and cons for both cars and SUVs.

Car vs SUV: The Pros and Cons

For many years, the buying public just bought passenger cars. They were the only type of vehicle available, apart from motorcycles, but there were also quite a variety of body styles.

Wagons, coupes, hatches, and saloons – being able to pick the one you want was very helpful. But it seems that SUVs have become the norm these days. Every car company makes at least one (excepting McLaren and Ferrari, but that’s changing) and there are some companies that only make SUVs.

These high-riding vehicles are now being made in a variety of shapes and sizes as well. Years ago the term Sport Utility Vehicle applied to just one kind of machine, but now it includes everything from raised hatchbacks through to hardcore off-roaders. There are “coupe” versions and crossovers filling in every niche possible.

So how do you know whether to buy a car or an SUV? Well, let’s look at some of the differences and the reasons for buying one over the other.

It’s worth noting that we’re not advocating one way or the other, despite being a resource dedicated to SUVs and crossovers, but rather we’re listing the pros and cons of each, so that you can make an informed decision when buying. We’re going to be talking in general terms here, rather than just focussing on saloons or sports cars, for example.

What cars have to offer

There’s a school of thought that says cars are easier to get into because they don’t sit so high off the ground. And that has merit for some people, especially older ones who don’t want to climb up and into an off-road vehicle.

But having a car closer to the ground also gives you a far better chance when it comes to safety. SUVs have a higher centre of gravity and are therefore more likely to roll over, either in a crash, or if you lose control. Passenger cars are much less likely to do this.

Passenger cars traditionally have a softer suspension tune than the average SUV because there’s no need to climb up and over obstacles, and have less length of spring travel, which means cars have a nicer ride and can have better comfort. Sometimes less bouncy suspension actually prevents some people from getting motion sickness.

Cars also weigh less than SUVs because there’s no all wheel drive system and less metal and glass because on average they’re smaller vehicles overall. This means they weigh less and as a result, they burn less fuel and require less power.

Because cars weigh less, they’re also better on brakes, tyres and generally need less maintenance, making them cheaper to run overall.

And don’t worry about space – some of the luggage capacities of passenger cars is comparable to SUVs, especially now that SUVs are becoming sleeker and more aggressive in their design language.

Plenty of reasons to buy a car, then. But what about SUVs?

Why choose an SUV?

When you delve into things a bit deeper, you start to see why so many people have opted to buy an SUV instead of a car. Clearly, the most obvious in this day and age is an SUV is a lifestyle choice.

There’s an element of “keeping up with the Joneses” inherent in a lot of purchases. Another term that has become quite prevalent is “soccer mum”. You know, the women who ferry their kids around to sports on a Saturday or Sunday. Just look at the carpark of any sports field on a Saturday morning. There used to be a flurry of mini-vans rocking up – now it’s a sea of SUVs and crossovers.

There’s also the surety of all wheel drive. Now, this is a definite plus. Most cars are two-wheel-drive, and while that’s fine and safe on dry roads, when it becomes wet or super cold (when there’s a bit of snow around) then all wheel drive tends to be a bit safer.

All wheel drive vehicles usually have bigger wheels and wider tyres, giving more grip. And if there’s a lot of rain or even debris all over the road, then all wheel drive helps you to get through any slippery sections of the road.

Related to that is the raised suspension. A vehicle that’s lifted slightly higher allows it to traverse deeper sections of water – particularly helpful if it has flooded, or the region you live in is prone to flooding.

This raised suspension lifts the whole body of the car, and for some people they’ll actually find it easier to get in and out when the vehicle isn’t as low as some passenger cars. Of course, the ride isn’t quite as good as a rule, however a lot of manufacturers are actually fitting adaptive suspension or air suspension to improve ride comfort and get around this quirk.

Luggage space and practicality is another huge advantage of some SUVs. With their two-box design, a large back end allows for a big loading area and with the back seats being able to be folded down, there’s a huge space for loading Ikea flatpacks or similar. Four wheel drives are effectively huge wagons, so it can make transporting things around a lot easier.

And then there’s the transportation of people. There’s a plethora of seven-seat SUVs running around, and some of them, like the Land Rover Discovery and Mazda CX-9 give excellent space for third row passengers, allow adults to sit in the back happily.

Car Pros

  • Easier for older people to get in and out of
  • Less likely to rollover
  • Cheaper to refuel
  • Cheaper to service
  • Better ride

Car Cons

  • Can’t see over traffic
  • Too low for some people
  • Not enough carrying space
  • Can’t carry as many people

SUV Pros

  • Easier to see over traffic
  • All wheel drive grip
  • Can drive through flooded areas
  • Can look more tough and/or expensive
  • Can carry more people
  • Larger loading area

SUV Cons

  • Ride generally isn’t as good
  • More expensive to refuel
  • More expensive to service and maintain

Conclusion

As you can see from the above, there’s a lot to like about both kinds of vehicles, but with more and more manufacturers bringing out crossovers, it seems that SUVs aren’t going away. We’re in an era where we’re seeing a definite shift away from the traditional thinking of buying cars. So much so that a lot of carmakers have stopped making wagons and are concentrating on SUVs instead.

Of course, we can’t blame them. But tell us in the comments below what you like or don’t like about cars or SUVs. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Karl Peskett 435 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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