The truism of Oscar Levant’s quip that “Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel” is on parade this Sunday at the 75th Academy Awards spectacle — even though the usually glitzy event will be “toned down” somewhat as a result of the ongoing war.
Beverly Hills environmentalists who point fingers of shame at middle-class Americans for driving Ford Explorers, Chevy Blazers, and other SUVs will still have their photos snapped at the Kodak Theater emerging from 345-horsepower Cadillac Escalade SUVs and 300-horsepower Cadillac DeVilles luxury sedans — provided by General Motors for the occasion.
It should be a great advertising vehicle for GM’s premiere division — but what happened to the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight, and all those other non-polluting, fuel-sipping gasoline/electric hybrids publicly touted by California politicians and such stars as Cameron Diaz, Susan Sarandon, and Leonardo DiCaprio?
Well, for one thing, the tiny economy cars some Hollywood celebrities think the lowing masses should drive don’t provide comfortable travel if you’re dressed to the nines in tuxedos and evening gowns. No heated leather seats; no DVD entertainment systems — and no one turns their head to look, either.
But you can’t blame rich celebrities for appreciating the virtues of full-on SUVs such as the hulking, chrome-pasted Cadillac Escalade. Just their hypocrisy. Large vehicles such as the Escalade and its lower-priced brethren hold several real-world advantages over the compact-sized economy cars Hollywood wants the “little people” to drive. Safety, of course, is a major factor. An SUV’s weight, crushability, heavy-duty bumpers and elevated sightlines give it a huge advantage in a crash over any compact. You are much more likely to survive an impact in a 4,000 lb. SUV than in a 2,500-lb. compact. And driven with expect for its handling limitations, an SUV has another safety advantage: it is much les likely to become unglued when there’s snow on the ground — or just water.
Comfort and utility are two other reasons that many Americans put at the top of their priorities list when buying a new vehicle. The Escalade and several dozen other SUV models can fit anywhere from six to eight people in comfort — with room left over for bags, bikes, beverages, and bagels. You can do things and go places in an SUV that would be impractical, uncomfortable, or impossible in a compact car.
And gas mileage? Well, a suburban — or urban — mom, can put a whole soccer team in an SUV that gets 20 miles per gallon and be assured they’ll arrive at the field without muscle cramps. And eight-people riding in an SUV that gets 20 miles-per-gallon are averaging 160-passenger miles-per-gallon — exactly the transport efficiency of a 40-mile-per-gallon hybrid with four passengers. Additionally, though it’s not well-known, many politically correct vehicles such as minivans get hardly better gas mileage than the typical mid-size SUV — in the mid teens. What’s the big deal when there’s a 2-3 mpg difference between a 16-mpg SUV and an 18-19 mpg V-6 minivan?
The battle against SUVs is more about enforcing lifestyle choices on ordinary Americans — at the urging of a self-appointed elite that believes what’s good for the goose isn’t also good for the gander. They ought to turn down the thermostats in their 6,000-square-foot “McMansions” before demanding that middle America give up driving anything larger than a Honda Civic.
— Eric Peters is a D.C.-based automotive writer and the autos columnist for America Online, Netscape, and CompuServe.