SUV vehicle on the road

Is An SUV Bad For Your Budget?

Once just a tiny niche of the market, SUVs are now the default car of choice for most Australians – in 2020, they accounted for one in two passenger-car sales.

By Shell on Mar. 29, 2021

Clearly, we've decided SUVs are worth buying, but are we paying a hip-pocket penalty to own and run them compared to the sedans, hatches and wagons we once preferred? Here, we crunch the numbers*.

Breaking it down

A family-sized SUV will obviously cost more to run than a tiny hatchback, just as a big luxury sedan will soak up more dollars than a tiny SUV. So we need to weed out the cost variables beyond the 'SUV' aspect, which means focusing on SUVs heavily based on, or mechanically similar to, traditional passenger cars in their maker's ranges.

For diversity, we've picked two SUVs – Toyota's entry-level Yaris Cross and Mazda's middle family player, the CX-8.

1. Purchase price

You’ll see below that, right from the start, it costs more to drive an SUV off the lot. The Yaris Cross costs about $3,000 more than an equivalent Toyota hatch with the same transmission (a Yaris automatic) and the CX-8 about $4,000 to $5,000 more than a comparable Mazda sedan or wagon (the 6).

Toyota Yaris Cross GX 2WD: From $26,990 plus on-road costs Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport auto: From $23,630 plus on-road costs
Mazda CX-8 Sport 2WD: From $39,910 plus on-road costs Mazda 6 Sport sedan/wagon: From $34,590/$35,890 plus on-road costs

However, do get a little 'more' car for your money. The Yaris Cross and CX-8 both have bigger boots than their traditional siblings (the Mazda has two extra seats there as well) and can tow more.

But they also have the same engines, the same basic level of kit and – CX-8's extra seats aside – the same basic utility. And being two-wheel-drive (2WD), neither offers the promise of off-road nous – for all-wheel-drive (AWD), you'll need to stretch the spend further.

You might, though, hang onto a little more of what you spent come trade-in time – SUVs, being highly sought-after, now tend to retain their value better than less fashionable alternatives.

2. Fuel economy

SUVs tend to be a little bigger than a traditional car of the same basic size. That typically means more weight – and weight is the enemy of... well, everything, starting with fuel economy.

You’ll see below that the Yaris Cross and CX-8 both drink more than their traditional siblings despite using the same engine/transmission combo – the former uses half a litre more every 100km on the official cycle, the latter 1.1L more.

Draw that out over an average Australian's annual 15,000km of driving at today's capital-city fuel prices and you'll pay about $120 a year more to drive the Yaris Cross, and about $260 more to pilot a CX-8.

And that's the bare minimum. Tick the box for AWD and an SUV inevitably gets heavier and thirstier.

Toyota Yaris Cross GX 2WD: 5.4L/100km Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport auto: 4.9L/100km
Mazda CX-8 Sport 2WD: 8.1L/100km Mazda 6 Sport sedan/wagon: 7.0L/100km

3. Servicing and insurance

Today's 2WD SUVs are really just blown-up passenger cars and that's reflected in servicing costs, with the Yaris Sport and CX-8 both only fractionally more expensive to fettle than their traditional equivalents.

Toyota Yaris Cross GX 2WD: $1025 for five years/75,000km, $716 per annum# Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport auto: $975 for five years/75,000km, $685 per annum#
Mazda CX-8 Sport 2WD: $1933 for five years/50,000km, $831 per annum# Mazda 6 Sport sedan/wagon: $1893 for five years/50,000km, $863 per annum#

What about insurance? We sourced multiple quotes for each contender and the average difference was about $30 per annum between SUV and traditional car – not a big factor. Again, though, this is if you only want to tap into that SUV 'flavour' (i.e. a 2WD model). Go for AWD and the service/insurance-cost premium over a traditional car will increase due to its increased mechanical complexity and off-road capacity.

The deciding factor

So, will an SUV cost more than an alternative passenger car? Yes, when it comes to purchase price and fuel economy, SUV’s are generally more expensive, and fractionally more expensive to service and insure. However, the cost may be justified if boot space, extra seats, towing capacity or resale value are important for your lifestyle. As always, the decision should be made based on your individual circumstances.

* Recommended retail prices (RRPs) and service-cost projections correct at the time of publication.

# Average cost of three quotes for male driver, 45 and over, clean driving record, no finance, metropolitan location, off-street parking, no drivers under 25.


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