The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 34.0°F | Mostly Cloudy


In Praise of Sport Utility Vehicles

And now, a word from Detroit on the latest cultural innovation

Eric J. Plosky

Ignore the alarmist outcry of tree-hugging environmentalists; forget the punditry of knee-jerkers driving Honda Civics; dismiss the overblown rhetoric of consumer advocates: SUVs -- sport-utility vehicles -- are great. Transportation’s future is not in plastic-bodied minicars or battery-powered golf-carts, nor even in Star Trek-style transporters. No, it is the SUV, an eight-thousand-pound behemoth of steel and chrome, that will transport us, nine at a time, safely, comfortably and stylishly into the new millennium and beyond.

Sure, it’s often a climb to get into an SUV. Hey, you’re climbing to a new level of driving! Once you’re inside, visibility is great -- you’re eye-level with traffic lights (great for the color-blind!). Acceleration is top-notch; almost all SUVs these days are capable of 60 mph. And despite vicious rumors to the contrary calling SUVs “unstoppable,” it usually takes less than a quarter-mile to bring one of these rolling Fort Knoxes to a halt.

Handling is impeccable, but of course it doesn’t really matter -- just run over what you can’t avoid! The ride is smooth and luxurious; with enough leather-like vinyl slathered liberally throughout the interior, you can almost forget the very slight trucklike clangor and the gentle bouncing erroneously described as “bone-jarring.” There’s room for you and up to eight of your friends, with space to spare for luggage, golf clubs, skis, snowshoes, and an entire dog-sled team. Or you can carry a whole baseball team, including the coaching staff, the batboys and the groundskeepers!

SUVs are safe. In accidents between cars and SUVs, it’s usually the car that bears the brunt of the damage. For maximum safety, SUVs’ bumpers are designed to deflect cars under the wheels in the event of a collision. No need to worry about two SUVs colliding; all modern designs incorporate a safety feature known as the “roll-over.” Recent media reports have incorrectly assumed that SUV roll-overs were accidental -- not so! The roll-over feature can only be activated during emergency situations, by turning the steering wheel at least 10 degrees; the SUV then pitches over and barrels safely off the road and away from a potentially dodgy situation. For added safety, a roll-over can only be executed while the transmission is in “Drive,” “Reverse,” or “Park.”

SUVs help reduce our dependence on renewable, nonpolluting energy sources. Gasoline is at its lowest inflation-adjusted price ever, so OPEC-trained automotive engineers, who always try to take advantage of bargains, have deliberately designed fuel economy to be between 4 and 7 miles per gallon of (premium) unleaded. Remember that federal regulations require us to disregard fuel-consumption standards that apply to regular cars. One other feature -- the standard 47-gallon fuel tank doubles as a self-destruct device, as featured by Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley on “Dateline NBC.” No wonder militaries and governments around the world choose SUVs for secure transport of generals, dignitaries and mucky-mucks.

In a style-conscious world, SUVs make a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter if you can haul an entire football team unless you can do it with panache, and chrome and brass-plated SUVs with sixteen-inch ground clearance don’t disappoint.

Drivers of these tarted-up trucks manage to convey several messages at once -- “I’m all business,” “I’m cool” (increasingly, “I’m cooler than my schmuck of a neighbor”), and sometimes even “Get the hell out of my way; I’m driving a freaking huge vehicle.” Smaller cars such as the Toyota Camry, the Ford Taurus and the 1972 Chrysler Imperial simply can’t compete with SUVs on style.

Look for even more interesting new trends in the 2000 models. Hot on the heels of its Explorer and Expedition, Ford is set to introduce the Executioner, which will have a 23-passenger capacity (plus 12 standees). The Lincoln Destroyer’s bumpers, door handles and tires will be ornamented with sterling silver and 22-karat gold. You’ll need a stepladder to get into the new Chevy Mammoth, and an elevator to board the Nissan 4RunnerEater. Snuggle into the velvet-and-shag upholstery of the 2000 GMC Bloated, Stupid Monster for three minutes while waiting for it to work its leisurely way to highway speed.

Oh, and keep your wallet open. Gas prices are on the rise, fuel economy is still on its stylish way down and the 2000 Guzzler is heading for your driveway.