4×4 Vehicles… Are they "green"?

The popular opinion is that they most 4x4s and SUVs are definitely are not at all “green”? Well, I have been investigating whether popular opinion is correct.

Traditionally, 4×4 vehicles, or SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) have always been considered very environmentally unfriendly. They are big and heavy and normally have large and thirsty lumps at the front powering them. I think that if I were to consider this question a while back, say 10 years ago, I might have concluded that popular opinion was correct. They often had the most appauling fuel consumption figures and along with that goes high CO2 emissions, not to mention high particulate emissions from older diesels.

Nowdays things are different… very different!

Take the new Land Rover Freelander 2 for example… it is a 2.2 turbo diesel yet it can produce 190hp and still return a regular 40mpg on mixed routes and much more on a long run. Now just to put that into perspective… I have a 2003 Toyota Yaris, it is a small 1.3 ltr and you would imagine that it should be more economical than a Land Rover Freelander 2… surely? Not so. My Yaris is in good condition and properly and professionally maintained and yet it returns only 42mpg on mixed runs most of the time. Now that is staggering. That a large 4×4 could be as economical as a small hatch. How can this be?

There could be many reasons, one of which is the driver and the way it is driven but I am discounting that as the same drivers drive both vehicles. Again, the types of journeys could make a big difference but again I discount that as they tend to be used for similar types of journey. The biggest difference by far is the progress that has been made in the electronics of the car and specifically fuel management. It is staggering to consider how complex these modern cars are. The engine management systems are nothing less than full-blown computers assessing the condition of the vehicle and engine thousands of times a second and making small adjustments to the engine settings (timing, fuel/air mix etc) and to the various traction control and ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) systems. It can pick the optimum settings for the current situation and hence can make quite incredible fuel savings not to mention keeping the vehicle in a safe and controlled condition.

Then there is the purpose for which they are used and that can make owning an SUV or 4×4 better for the environment; specifically that many of these types of vehicles are used to tow caravans. Towing in itself will increase the fuel consumption but consider this… by holidaying here in the UK how much CO2 is being saved by not taking foreign flights? I used to have at least one holiday abroad a year and often two. Now I own a modern SUV but by towing a caravan all my holidays are taking without flying and that is a huge saving of CO2 emissions. In fact, if you do the calulations it is quite scary the amount of CO2 chucked out the back of an airliner. Even modern planes, which are considerably better than even just a few years ago, will produce more CO2 per passenger on a return trip from the UK to the USA than my modern 4×4 will produce all year! So, if you cut out holiday flights as a result of owning a modern 4×4 then the 4×4 is often a good choice for the environment.

Yes, SUVs are more expensive to buy and maintain, but modern SUVs is not the gas-guzzlers that they used to be and to switch from an older, smaller car, perhaps a family saloon, to a modern SUV does not necessarily mean it is any worse for the environment.

There is a second element to this that is not really SUV specific but worth mentioning. Buying a Land Rover here in the UK means that the car is manufactured in the UK. Shipping cars around the world can hardly be good for the environment and whilst I appreciate that many foreign-built cars are often the cars we want (me included – I have a Toyota!) it is “greener” surely to buy British. So, swapping from a foreign-built, older, family saloon or hatch to a British-built, modern, SUV could be the better choice for the environment.

Of course… the only GOOD choice for the environment is not to own any vehicle and to stay at home growing our own veg and living off the land. Well that might be an option for a few but for most being green is about choices and often those choices are a case of picking the least damaging to the environment. In the balance of things owning a modern 4×4 and not taking foreign holidays can definitely be an environmentally friendly choice.

Interesting eh?

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