Less and less SUVs with four-wheel drive

SUVs go like sliced bread. The trend towards Sports Utility Vehicles has been continuing for several years now. The reasons for their popularity are the good space available, the comfortable entry and the subjective feeling of safety. However, it is doubtful whether the improved clarity, which is also often mentioned, will soon be an argument if the SUV boom continues in this way. Utility value is without question present, but what should be sporty about the vehicles remains a secret. Perhaps off-road driving is meant by it. Mountain hiking is also considered a sport.

But what about the real off-road capability of SUVs? The fact is: SUVs are usually only limitedly suitable for off-road driving. The ground clearance is often not very high and a reduction gear is usually missing. Almost no model has a usable axle articulation either. Even a differential lock comes as standard in just nine percent of the versions and is optional for about two percent.

But are at least all SUVs available with four-wheel drive? And how often are they actually bought? JATO Dynamics has compared the figures for the German market over the last four years.

It is striking that large and luxury SUVs are almost exclusively available with four-wheel drive. A choice between four-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive is available, especially for small and compact SUVs. However, some models in the lower segments are not even available as 4x4s. VW T-Cross, Opel CrosslandX or its corporate brother Peugeot 2008, for example, are only available with front-wheel drive. Others are at best available with four-wheel drive for an extra charge, but usually only a few versions.

But is that really a problem? Probably not. Since 2016, at least in the two lower segments, the registration numbers of four-wheelers have been declining. Whereas between January and November around 61 percent of compact and a good 21 percent of small SUVs were ordered with four-wheel drive, in the same period in 2019 the figures were only 50.4 percent (compact) and 13.8 percent (small).

Distribution has reversed in three years

The trend becomes even clearer if one looks at the overall figures: In the first eleven months of 2016, around 58 percent of the 608,000 registered SUVs still had four-wheel drive and only a good 41 percent had front-wheel drive. But within three years, this ratio has almost reversed. From January to November 2019, just over 990,000 SUVs were registered in Germany – of which only just under 45 percent were 4x4s and a good 55 percent had front-wheel drive.

In absolute terms, the number of front-wheel drive models more than doubled in the eleven months from around 252,000 to around 545,000. So for most SUV customers, the often more fuel-efficient two-wheel drive seems to be sufficient.

More information on Jato can be found here.

Note: The article originally contained data for the period January to September and has been updated.