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Is a Sedan or SUV Better for a Family Car?

When it comes to choosing the ideal family car, the debate between sedans and SUVs has long been a topic of discussion. Both vehicle types offer their own set of advantages and disadvantages, catering to different needs and preferences. Today we’re comparing the two to determine which is better suited for family use.

Space and Seating

SUVs typically boast larger cabins and higher seating capacities compared to sedans. This means SUVs are often preferred by families needing extra space for passengers and cargo. With the ability to accommodate up to seven or even eight passengers in some models, SUVs offer greater flexibility for larger families or those who frequently carpool.

On the other hand, sedans usually have limited seating capacity, typically accommodating five passengers. While they might be sufficient for smaller families, sedans might feel cramped during long journeys or when carrying bulky items.


SUVs are renowned for their versatility, thanks to features like foldable rear seats and ample cargo space. This makes them suitable for various family activities, such as camping trips, sports events, or hauling large items.

Sedans, with their more compact design, might struggle to provide the same level of versatility. However, sedans often have larger trunks compared to similarly sized SUVs, offering ample space for groceries, luggage, or everyday items.

Fuel Efficiency

In general, sedans tend to be more fuel-efficient than SUVs due to their lighter weight and aerodynamic design. Families concerned about fuel costs or environmental impact might lean towards sedans for their superior fuel economy. However, advancements in hybrid and electric SUV technology have narrowed this gap in recent years, offering eco-conscious families alternative options without sacrificing space and utility.

Driving Experience

Sedans are typically praised for their smooth handling, precise steering, and lower centre of gravity, resulting in a more car-like driving experience. This can be advantageous for families who prioritise comfort and agility, especially in urban environments or tight parking spaces.

On the other hand, SUVs often provide a commanding view of the road, along with enhanced ground clearance and all-wheel-drive capabilities, making them better suited for rough terrain or adverse weather conditions.


Both sedans and SUVs come equipped with a range of safety features designed to protect occupants in the event of a collision. However, SUVs generally have a higher stance, providing better visibility and potentially reducing the risk of certain types of accidents, such as rear-end collisions.

Additionally, SUVs often incorporate advanced safety technologies, such as blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistance, which can further enhance driver awareness and accident prevention.


In terms of upfront costs, sedans tend to be more affordable than SUVs, making them an attractive option for budget-conscious families. Additionally, sedans typically have lower maintenance and insurance costs compared to SUVs, which can contribute to long-term savings. However, families should also factor in fuel expenses, as SUVs typically consume more fuel than sedans, potentially offsetting the initial cost savings over time.

In the end, the decision between a sedan and an SUV as a family car ultimately comes down to individual priorities and preferences. Families requiring ample space, versatility, and off-road capabilities may find SUVs better suited to their needs, while those prioritising fuel efficiency, driving dynamics, and affordability may opt for sedans.

Should I Buy a Ute or SUV?

Choosing between a ute and an SUV depends on your specific needs, lifestyle, and preferences. Both types of vehicles have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to consider your priorities and how you plan to use the vehicle.

Here are some key factors to consider when deciding between a ute and an SUV.

Cargo and Towing Capacity:

Ute: generally designed for heavy-duty use, utes are a better choice if you need to transport large or heavy items regularly. They also tend to have higher towing capacities, making them suitable for hauling trailers, boats, or other equipment.

SUV: They typically have a closed cargo area, which is more secure and weather-resistant than a ute’s open bed. While some SUVs offer good cargo space, their towing capacities may be lower than utes, so consider your towing needs.

Passenger Capacity:

Ute: Usually have two rows of seats and can accommodate up to five passengers, but the rear seats may be less spacious and comfortable compared to SUVs.

SUV: Available in various sizes, from compact to full-size, and can often seat more passengers, including up to eight occupants. If you need to transport a larger family or group of people regularly, an SUV may be a better choice.

Off-Road Capability:

Ute: Many utes come with four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) options, making them suitable for off-road adventures or rugged terrain.

SUV: SUVs come with varying levels of off-road capability. Some are designed for mild off-roading, while others, like dedicated off-road SUVs, are built for more extreme conditions.

Fuel Efficiency:

Ute: utes may have larger, more powerful engines designed for heavy work, which can result in lower fuel efficiency compared to some SUVs.

SUV: Many SUVs offer better fuel efficiency, especially the smaller and more compact models. If fuel economy is a priority, an SUV might be a better choice.

City versus Rural Driving:

Ute: utes can be more challenging to maneuver in tight urban spaces due to their longer wheelbase. They are often preferred in rural or suburban settings where space is less of a concern.

SUV: Smaller SUVs are generally easier to drive in city environments because of their compact size and better visibility, but obviously this will be different for larger SUV models.


Both utes and SUVs come equipped with a range of safety features, but the availability and level of these features can vary between models and brands. Be sure to research and compare safety options when making your decision.


Consider your budget, as utes and SUVs come in a wide price range. Utes tend to have a lower starting price for basic models, but high-end models can be expensive. SUVs also vary in price, with luxury SUVs typically being more costly.

Ultimately, choosing between a ute and an SUV should be based on your specific needs and preferences. It’s advisable to test drive both types of vehicles and consider factors like cargo space, passenger capacity, towing needs, and how you plan to use the vehicle before making a final decision.

Additionally, research the available models and their features to find the one that best suits your lifestyle and requirements.

Opening Windows Versus Air Conditioning

When the weather gets hotter, it’s important to stay cool when you’re driving.  However, these days, it’s important to consider fuel consumption as well and get the most out of what you’ve paid for – and what we’re going to talk about in today’s article applies to electric vehicles as well!

The two best choices for keeping cool inside the car are using the air conditioning system and the old-fashioned method of opening the windows (if you’re over a certain age, you’ll always try to pantomime cranking a handle to indicate opening a car window.). However, you may have heard people tossing around the idea that opening the window is less fuel efficient. Or you’ve heard that using the air conditioning increases fuel consumption. Which of these is true?

It is certainly true that running the air-conditioning puts extra demands on the engine and consumes more energy when it runs (and this is true of internal combustion engines, hybrids and electric vehicles). This means that when you ask the system for some nice icy-cool air to flow through the cabin and keep you fresh rather than hot and bothered, you increase your fuel consumption.

However, opening the windows affects the drag and aerodynamics of your car. When they design them and test them, designers try to get the drag as low as possible, and they study the way that air flows around the vehicle at speed (usually using wind tunnels as well as computer modelling). This is done to reduce the amount of friction affecting the car, because the more friction that needs to be overcome, the more energy will be required, which requires more fuel, etc. etc. All these tests assume that the exterior of the car is rigid. However, when the windows open, all bets are off and the equations go out the window (almost literally). The open window affect the flow of air, which is how opening the windows cools you down, but it also increases turbulence.

The big question is which is worse in terms of fuel efficiency. Sweltering in the heat just isn’t an option – that’s downright dangerous, especially given some of the temperatures reached in some parts of Australia during summer. So what does the fuel-efficiency-minded person do?

The windows versus air conditioning debate has been going on for some time. In fact, the popular TV show Mythbusters had a go at it. They got both guys driving around a track in similar SUVs, one with the windows down and one with the air conditioning on to see which one ran out of fuel first.

The one with the air conditioning did, which looked like that case should be closed, but it’s not as simple as all that. Firstly, the Mythbusters test wasn’t a strictly controlled one. Even two vehicles of the same make and model will perform differently, depending on a range of factors, including the condition of the engine and the inflation of the tyres. Secondly, the two presenters have different builds and probably have different driving styles, simply because they’re different human beings. To be a more rigorous scientific test, the only thing different should have been the choice between air con and windows open. In other words, the test should have been conducted with the same vehicle driven by the same person with exactly the same conditions – which possibly wouldn’t be the case if you only drove the car once with the air con on and windows up, then with the A/C off and the windows down, as the operating temperature of the engine (cold start vs. hot start) also affects the fuel efficiency. Lastly, one test isn’t enough in the world of science – one result could be just a one-off exception. The ideal is to run test after test after test and see what the general tendency is.

It also gets more complex than that. It turns out that the more aerodynamic a vehicle is to start with, the bigger the effect of drag will be. In other words, in a smooth, sleek sedan, the effect of opening the windows will be greater in terms of percentage than opening the windows on a big chunky 4×4.

To cap things off, speed also has an effect. This is because the faster you go, the more air resistance your vehicle encounters, so the drag increases, and they increase exponentially. This means that if you’re driving at 100 km/h, the effects of drag are four times greater than what you experience at 50 km/h.

The problem was put to a team of actual engineers who ran a proper scientifically rigorous test* to solve the problem. They used two vehicles, a 2009 Ford Explorer to represent the big SUVs and a 2009 Toyota Corolla to represent the sedans. They were tested in the lab and on the road at a variety of speeds and at idle. Here’s what they found:

  • At 40–70 miles per hour (that’s 64.4–113 km/h), in both vehicles, turning the air conditioning up to the maximum (which is how they ran the tests) used more fuel than opening the windows.
  • Above 70 miles per hour (113 km/h), the two cars behaved very differently.
  • At 75 mph (121 km/h), in the Toyota Corolla, there was no difference between having the air con on and having the windows down.
  • In the Toyota Corolla, at 80 mph and above (that’s 129 km/h – did they test this legally on an actual motorway or did they have their own circuit somewhere?), having the air conditioning on was more fuel efficient than opening the windows.
  • In the Ford Explorer, having the windows down continued to be more fuel-efficient than using the air conditioning.

The study also tested the air conditioning at different settings other than full blast, but you have to pay to see those results!

Of course, not all cars are Toyota Corollas and Ford Explorers, and each has its own drag coefficient and intrinsic fuel efficiency. However, a good general rule of thumb is that if you’re travelling around town, windows down is more fuel efficient. In small sporty vehicles, using the air conditioning is best at open road speeds, but having the windows down is more efficient for big chunky ones.

Here, I will have to add that there are some other advantages of using the air conditioning rather than opening the windows. Firstly, if the outside air is already hotter than comfortable, you’ll only feel a small drop in temperature if you open the windows. It might not be enough to drop temperatures of 40° or more to a nice comfortable room temperature of 18°C. However, the air conditioning will really drop the temperature to this ideal level.

The other problem is that it isn’t just air that can get through the window when its open. Having half a swarm of bees going through the window isn’t the best for safe driving. Nor is having a wasp fly through the window a good idea. Worse still are stones flying up. I’m not making this one up. Last summer, when we were towing a caravan with the windows down and had pulled over to let someone pass, a stone flicked up, glanced off the wing mirror and flew through the open rear window and hit my adult daughter in the face.  A freak accident, I know, but I know that from now on, both she and I will be using the air conditioning on the open road.

* Huff, S., West, B., and Thomas, J., “Effects of Air Conditioner Use on Real-World Fuel Economy,” SAE Technical Paper 2013-01-0551, 2013,

Terramechanics: The Science Of Off-Roading

A lot of us have purchased, or have considered purchasing, a 4×4 vehicle. This could be because we like the benefits of extra safety or the visibility of the higher body. Or it could be that we want to go off-road in the vehicle and do a spot of exploring. However, when we get behind the wheel of one of these vehicles and head for the nearest dirt road or river, we don’t often stop to think about all the science behind what we’re about to do. The most we might think about are things like the power and torque needed – and possibly the basic physics involved in getting over or around a gnarly bit of terrain.

However, there’s a whole branch of science related to off-road driving, known as terramechanics. In fact, there’s a specialised scientific journal on the topic. Terramechanics has been a scientific topic since the 1950s, and the concept was introduced by a Polish-born engineer by the name of Dr Bekker, who was one of the key developers of the lunar rover vehicle used on the moon. However, much of Dr Bekker’s work was more down to earth – literally.

Terramechanics, in a nutshell, is the science of how a vehicle operates off-road on rough, uneven and soft terrain. It mostly considers the interaction between the wheels and the ground, although the science also acknowledges that things like the length of the wheelbase, the torque and the ground clearance are all very important factors. However, it’s what happens where the rubber meets the (off) road that gets certain people in white coats (probably dirty white coats) very excited.

Now, if you get right into terramechanics, the maths gets pretty complicated. If you’re like me, you probably left quadratic equations behind once you left high school. However, engineers and designers in the field of terramechanics use them all the time. I won’t get into the heavy-duty maths, but here, we’ll have a little look at some of the things that get thought of when the designers are coming up not just with new 4×4 models but also with the tyres that go on them.

Vehicle-related factors

Load: the weight of the vehicle plus what’s in it – probably you, a friend, the dog and something to eat.

Contact area: Exactly how much of the tyre is touching the ground. This is affected by the design of the tyre, the width of the tyre, how much air you put in the tyre and the condition of the tread.

Rolling resistance: Also known as friction.

Torque: You knew this one was going to be important, didn’t you? That’s why the torque – the measure of rotational acceleration (rather than linear acceleration) is always given in the specs of any vehicle.

Wheel width: Put simply, more contact area means more grip.

Wheel radius: There’s a reason why 4x4s have bigger tyres, and it’s not just for better ground clearance.

Terrain-related factors

Designers have to consider these factors when they design tyres and the vehicles. As anybody who’s done any off-roading will know, not all types of terrain are created equal, and the techniques and tyres that work well with, say, snow won’t work with sand.

In fact, a lot of what goes on in terramechanics considers the properties of the soil or the other terrain (snow and sand). You might think of soil as just mud or good plain dirt, but it’s pretty complicated stuff. It’s a combination of solids (the actual particles of soil), liquids (water) and gases (air), and it’s constantly changing even in a single place, to say nothing of how soil varies from place to place. I won’t bore you with all the different factors, what they mean and how they affect each other, but some of the most important ones that researchers have to specify when they run tests of new tyre designs or even whole cars are the following:

Moisture content: How much water is in the soil at any point. This affects the shear strength of the soil, which is very important in a lot of the formulae used in terramechanics to work out whether a wheel will lose traction or not. The shear strength of anything is its ability to stand up to a force that will make it slip sideways.

Porosity: How much air is inside the soil – these pores are where the water goes when you water the garden.

Particle size and shape: How big the minute particles of soil are and what shape they are has a big influence on how the dirt sticks together, holds moisture and compacts under pressure. Most of us have known since childhood that sand and clay are very different, and this difference is mostly down to particle size and shape.

Specific gravity: How dense a substance is. Yes, this is related to the specific gravity known to home brewing enthusiasts.

After considering these basic factors, things start involving complicated equations that make my head ache.

You know, I’m kind of glad that when I go off-road driving, I don’t have to keep all these factors and the science in my head – otherwise, I’d overthink everything all the time and wouldn’t enjoy the experience. An experienced off-road driver will be able to do by feel and “instinct” (i.e. right-brain thinking) what the terramechanics expert would have to calculate. All the same, I’m glad that there are people working hard to make sure that our vehicles and the tyres on them are the safest and best they can be.