I am often accused of harming the environment. This is probably because I drive a large, heavy, V8-powered sport-utility vehicle, even though I'm not married, I live by myself, and I work from home. "Do you really need that car?" people say, glaring at me with the same look you'd give to someone who urinates on the floor.
"Need" is an interesting concept when it comes to vehicles, and I've often wondered about it. What do any of us really need anyway? If we went by need, you could probably eliminate all high-end luxury vehicles, because who really needs to have their butt massaged as they drive down the street, listening to showtunes?
"Need" would also drastically shrink the size of today's modern American family vehicle. Here's what I mean: I know a couple that recently had a baby. Now, you know, and I know, that a baby is rather small. When I say this, what I mean is that I currently have pots in my kitchen where you could store a baby, if for whatever reason you needed to conceal it from the authorities.
But the size thing didn't seem to matter to my friends, who responded to the birth of this child, this tiny little child, this creature that's no longer than my forearm, by purchasing a minivan. A huge minivan. A minivan that probably looks to the baby like the Hindenburg looked to all those people on the ground as they were running away from it.
Now, their argument here is that the baby will eventually get bigger, and that they might have more children, and that any time you go anywhere with the baby, it must also be accompanied by a large assemblage of baby accessories, which of course includes pacifiers, diapers, toys, books, high chairs, strollers, that living room sofa where the baby likes to fall asleep, entire backyard playground sets, etc.
But my response to this would be that Europeans stick their babies inside small cars, tiny cars, really; cars such as the Volkswagen Lupo and the Renault Clio and other vehicles with cutesy names that indicate they could be eliminated from the road at any moment by a violent gust of wind. The Europeans seem to do just fine with these cars, even though such cars don't have any room for modern niceties, like strollers, or baby toys, or airbags. So do my friends really need that minivan?
And this brings us back to the original point. Does anyone need anything other than maybe a used Camry? Do I, a single city-dweller, really need an SUV? Maybe not. But I'm glad I have one, because the city really is the best place to own an SUV.
Now, at first glance, I know this sounds crazy. In fact, it sounds insane. I'm trying to convince you, a manual transmission-loving station wagon enthusiast whose only experience with SUVs came when that one backed into you at Target, that city-dwellers, not dirt road country folk, should own gas-guzzling, high-riding, insulated-from-the-road SUVs. But before you take up a Kickstarter campaign to burn down my home and steal my baby-concealing pots, please hear me out. I have my reasons. And they are:
1. The city has the worst roads in human history. It should be noted, before I even get started, that I am not suggesting SUVs are the perfect cars for suburb-dwelling soccer moms who drive on well-paved streets with names like "Willow Tree Way." Instead, I am suggesting that it's completely OK to justify SUV ownership when you live in a city whose annual roads budget is roughly equal to my annual socks budget.
Seriously, I sometimes wonder how people with sports cars manage to survive it here. In my alley, we have enormous potholes; potholes so big that they've spawned baby potholes that team up with their elders to destroy your lower control arms. Of course, given that this is a private alley, you'd think things would improve on the street. But they don't. On the street, you have entire pothole gangs who roam the city and sprout up overnight, in whatever location they feel like they can do the most damage. Admittedly, the city sometimes notices these potholes and fixes them, but unfortunately their fix involves – this is completely true – covering them with a steel plate. So we have some serious issues here, and things only get worse with…
2. Bad weather. I've been told by many people that you don't need an SUV to drive in bad weather. Well, these people never spent an entire weekend shoveling my dad's 1998 Toyota Camry out of a snowdrift in Denver when they were 12. I did. My dad did, too, which is why he later purchased an SUV based on the Toyota Camry. It's the best of both worlds, really: it still feels like a Camry, but now snowdrifts are child's play; ready to be bounded through with joyous glee whenever you wish to experience the vehicle's true capabilities. This is according to the commercials, anyway.
Now, in Atlanta, we have an entirely different weather problem, which is rain. If you think rain isn't enough of a weather issue to justify SUV ownership, then you've never been to Atlanta. That's because it rains here more than it does in notoriously rainy places, such as Seattle, and yet the city's entire drainage system seems to flow through the master bathroom shower drain of a medium-sized single-family home.
The result is that I am constantly driving through extremely large puddles, some of which are located on side streets that I don't really need to go down, except that someone told me there would be an extremely large puddle there. This would be tremendously difficult if you had a car, but it's perfect for those of us with SUVs. And this brings me to my final point, which is…
3. Everyone else is driving an SUV. And for God's sake, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Especially if it means you'll finally be able to see over 'em in traffic.
Now, I realize that my arguments here may not be enough to convince you that an SUV is, in fact, perfect for city life. Here you may be thinking of tight parking spaces and narrow roads and various other city problems, like the fact that an SUV puts you at eye level with angry homeless people. But as I sit above all the other vehicles in traffic, looking down on you, the average reader, I have to wonder: do you really need that sports car?
the author of Plays With Cars.
He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He
owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon
using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars
North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he
no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the