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SUVs set to become more popular than regular cars

Small SUVs, like the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishia ASX, Renault Captur and Honda HR-V, are loved by buyers for their driving position.

Australians have fallen out of love with traditional Holdens and Fords and are buying imported SUVs in record numbers — even though many don't have the ability to get off the beaten track.

The latest sales figures show we are now buying almost as many SUVs as we are buying regular cars.

In the first three months of this year, SUVs of all shapes and sizes represented a staggering 42 per cent of all passenger cars sold (95,000 of 224,000), according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

Sales of SUVs have almost doubled in the past 10 years, from 173,000 in 2004 to 352,000 last year.

The industry believes the SUV boom will continue until at least 2020, where they may even overtake passenger cars.

It costs little more to get into an SUV these days than it does to buy a hatchback

The new generation of city-sized SUVs, or "faux-wheel-drives", are essentially a high-riding hatchback — and most lack a proper all-wheel-drive system or sufficient ground clearance to climb a street gutter.

"Buyers love the tall driving position, and the flexibility of a wagon without looking like they're driving a wagon," says Richard Johns of Australian Automotive Intelligence.

Mr Johns said price was also a factor in the popularity of SUVs.

"It costs little more to get into an SUV these days than it does to buy a hatchback," he said.

"The most popular SUV models also cost less than the typical $35,000 starting for the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon."

Love them or hate them, sales of SUVs are driving the record growth in the new-car market.

Last month, an Australian record for car sales in March, SUV deliveries were up by 15 per cent in a market that was up by 8 per cent.

Honda sold more HR-Vs than Civic hatchbacks, Hyundai sold more ix35s than it did of its Accent small car, the Mitsubishi ASX outsold the Lancer, Toyota sold more RAV4s than it did Toyota Yaris hatchbacks and Nissan sold twice as many X-Trails as it did Pulsar sedans and hatches.

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And the pint-sized Mazda CX-3 outsold the Ford Falcon in March, even though the just-released Mazda had only been on sale for the last eight days of the month.

The SUV specialist brands are cashing in. Jeep sales were up 15 per cent and Land Rover up 19 per cent last month.

The SUV phenomenon has also hit the top end of town.

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SUVs now account for more than half of the sales for Toyota's luxury division Lexus, and its oddly-styled NX SUV was the brand's biggest selling model in March.

The Porsche Cayenne and Macan SUVs each outsell the 911 sports car by more than four to one.

BMW this week released a $200,000 high performance version of its 2.2 tonne BMW X5 that can outrun a Porsche 911.

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Even Rolls-Royce has joined the fray, planning to release an SUV within the next three years, although it refuses to use the term "SUV", preferring instead to call it a "high riding vehicle".

Clearly some people still look down on SUVs.