The “estate” we’re in

By Aidan Timmons, Senior Market Analyst of Motor Trade Publishers.

It seems like an eternity ago that credit was free flowing and the decision to upgrade your car every couple of years was almost a given. After all, in the climate that existed at the time it made perfect sense. Now however, many find a petrol model SUV parked in the driveway and a real dilemma on their hands when it comes to deciding on a replacement. You see, there really isn’t any issue with the SUV body shape other than it may be a little cumbersome in city traffic or around shopping centre car parks but the space and comfort it affords far outweighs either of those niggles. The issue is the usual complaint amongst owners today, and that is they don’t want a petrol vehicle anymore. So why don’t these people just go and buy a diesel SUV I hear you say. Well it isn’t as straightforward as you might think.


Firstly, many SUV diesel models come in what we like to consider “large engine sizes”, which used to mean 2.5 and 3.0 litres but with the advent of the high output, small diesel engine now it means anything above a 2.0 litre. And this is compounded by Kia and Hyundai’s recent launch of the Sportage and iX35 respectively. In fact, Hyundai had released the iX35 in its 2.0 guise here first but dealers acknowledge that the 1.7 will certainly outsell its larger counterpart. Even Range Rover have lumped a 2.2 diesel heart into its new Evoque. This is nothing new as it already features in its Freelander range, but the desire to spread the same smaller engine across its range is testament to the desire of manufacturers to not only reduce CO2 emissions but also engine capacity. Basically, in both respects the smaller the number, the better.


So, we have a family with a petrol model SUV looking to change and not being able to afford the new smaller diesel engine models and have no interest in anything above a 2.0 diesel. Well there is hope on the horizon as a surprising feature of the post VRT restructuring debacle has been the resurgence of a dormant player in the market – the humble estate. Typically considered as a “sales reps” car, the estates of old bore no resemblance to their better looking saloon cousins. Boxy, awkward and a little too bland, they were almost like driving the epitome of mundane. However, on closer inspection the requirements of a sales rep are shared by many potential buyers who seek a comfortable, economical, affordable, spacious and refined vehicle.


Marketing departments the world over have seized the opportunity to reinvent these vehicles by rebranding them as “Crosswagon” or “Tourer” or my personal favourite “Sportback”. Somehow this makes them sound sportier or more exclusive and had they simply just renamed the vehicles I would contest their validity however, they have backed up their new titles with aesthetically beautiful bodywork. Indeed some estates (I’m a purist so forgive me for sticking with the original term) are far superior in the looks department than their previously more handsome saloon brothers.


Furthermore the estate has remained practical and the designers have obviously spent thousands of thumb bleeding hours mastering Tetris on their old Nintendo Gameboys and studying IKEA catalogues as the size of the average estate has remained much the same but with a greater emphasis on internal storage space. Not only that, but estates come in the same engine sizes as their saloon equivalents. They don’t tend to have drastically higher CO2 levels either so provided the saloon model is well down the spectrum, customers can expect affordable road tax rates also. It is the ultimate utilitarian vehicle in today’s modern Ireland where the SUV has whetted our appetite for large family transport but which is now struggling to offer up the same diverse selection found in the estate segment.


I never joined in on the SUV-bashing crusade for a number of reasons and I am not about to now either. Many anti-SUV protagonists must have been cursing under their breath when the treacherous conditions last winter exposed many of the weaknesses of “regular” vehicles. And I don’t for a second buy the argument that because they pollute more they should be penalized through taxes when the average SUV driver may cover far less mileage than a saloon or hatchback owner. But, what I am in favour of is a balanced approach to purchasing new and used vehicles and if truth be told, there are many among us who blatantly and wrongly ignored the plucky estate in favour of the SUV.