Sedan or SUV? This is a question we get often, and it’s a rather surprising one – to me at least, because it seems like apples and oranges. Usually, the sedan and SUV blanks are filled with a model name that’s popular or trending.

Unlike many in this line, this writer doesn’t really like to talk about cars outside of work, but that doesn’t stop the questions from coming. Sometimes, it’s even a new acquaintance, immediately after finding out what I do for a living. Bah!

So, what’s a boy to do? Well, I’ll try to learn more about the person’s needs, lifestyle and usage. One thing I’ve learned since Day 1 is that this isn’t about me or what I like personally, but a car has to fulfil its mission for its intended audience.

SUVs were once called 4x4s, and they were Dakar Rally-ready, like the Mitsubishi Pajero

The fact that I’ve never owned an automatic car in my life, or that my view of almost every other car at the traffic lights (literally) is upskirt, does not matter an ounce. Also irrelevant are most of the things car enthusiasts treasure – fine, take that hot hatch to the hills, but remember that most cars lead normal lives.

That said, let’s try. The SUV trend is recent. SUVs used to be called 4x4s and only those who needed rugged four-wheel-drive machines bought those crude boxes. Soft roaders surfaced in the 90s, but it was only recently that they became so ubiquitous. A scene where every other car is an SUV is common in the Klang Valley. I’ve even seen the same SUV model in an assortment of colours, all in a mall carpark row.

Most of these urban-dwelling SUVs are front-wheel-drive, just like a regular car. They’re more car-like to drive than ever too. Many like SUVs for their higher ground clearance and loftier driving position, which affords a further view ahead. Having driven an SUV over the past two festive periods, I fully comprehend.

However, if you don’t need the extra space, there are many benefits of living with the good old sedan, and much of it is down to weight. A saloon will always be lighter than an SUV of an equivalent class and footprint, and this translates to better acceleration and fuel economy.

Simple really, a lighter car means the engine works less hard, and the benefits of a lighter load – with all else being equal – should show when you need “pick-up” and when you’re at the pumps. Similarly, SUVs with larger front sections are also less aerodynamic, adding further resistance to the engine.

On the topic of driving, the flip-side of the higher ground clearance that people like about SUVs is a higher centre of gravity. This inevitable higher CoG point would mean that – once again, with all things being equal – SUVs move around more.

Through experience, this can be a subtle but still noticeable side-to-side rocking on a highway cruise, and/or a more dramatic roll in the corners. Generally, this will be felt more by the passengers than the driver. Of course, there are performance SUVs with size-defying body control, but we aren’t discussing Porsches.

The difference in driving enjoyment between the typical SUV and sedan isn’t as dramatic as a Porsche these days, but it’s there, and the lower car is generally a nicer and more nimble steer.

We move to the more practical side of the debate – living and costs. Fuel economy aside, we’ve heard of many cases where first time SUV owners were shocked by tyre replacement costs. A good example was when the Mazda CX-5 first debut in Malaysia – the 19-inch alloys of the high-spec car looked perfect, but many first-time SUV owners were taken aback when it was time to replace the tyres. The Proton X70 in its most handsome state also wears 19-inch shoes.

One 19-inch tyre can cost as much as, or more than, a full set of passenger car tyres, and we’re not comparing with Myvi-size eco tyres either. This isn’t a negative point per se, but you have to know what you’re getting into. The same goes for brake pads for the larger discs.

However, as most SUVs these days are either FWD or on-demand AWD (with not much additional off-road hardware), general maintenance costs in the mechanical department shouldn’t be significantly higher than an equivalent sedan’s.

Lastly, there are more glass panels on an SUV (before taking into account the panoramic glass roof that some high-spec SUVs have), so tinting one will be costlier than a three-box sedan. That may be a one-time hit, but higher car wash costs are recurring. Once again, these aren’t issues if you can afford it.

There are some who prefer the security of a separate cargo area that the sedan’s boot provides, versus the SUV’s load space, which is covered by glass and a tonneau cover. The final point is the flip-side of the SUV’s nice high perch for the driver – those who have less mobile and/or elderly passengers might want to consider the ease of their entry/exit.

As for design, looks are subjective and there are desirable options on both sides of the pond, but personally, I’m into sleek over imposing. Recent three-box cars I’ve drooled over include the B9 Audi A4 and new Volvo S60, but the prettiest of all-time has to be the Alfa Romeo 159. SUVs? Well, they’re nice family wagons and the Range Rover Evoque is kinda cool…

That’s all we can think of – do you have any points to add? Note that not all of the notes above are applicable to everyone, and there’s some inevitable generalisation going on, but the idea is sedans vs SUVs in the same price ballpark.

In any case, variety is always good, and whether you lean more towards the SUV’s “trendy” appeal and size benefits, or a sedan’s better efficiency and drive, is down to personal preference. Just like apples and oranges, there’s no wrong fruit, just different fruits. Which is yours?