SUV Good For First-Time Drivers? Yes, but avoid the full-size


If you’re just learning to drive a car for the first time, you will be familiar with the feelings of excitement and anxiety about the process. It’s no small thing to be behind the wheel of a piece of moving machinery – it seems like there are a million things to pay attention to at the same time. So, is it a good idea to learn to drive using your big ol’ family SUV, or should you find something smaller?

SUVs are large; placing them on the road and maneuvering them into tight parking spaces may be challenging. With loads of driver assists, an SUV may make learning to drive easy. A good idea is to learn to use a smaller SUV or crossover but avoid the full-size SUVs with extended body lengths.  

While it’s a very personal choice, opting for a larger, heavier car like an SUV as the vehicle you choose to learn to drive in, there are some benefits to this, too. Let’s weigh up the alternatives.

Honda CRV in showroom

It’s Your First Time

Learning to drive is a rite of passage. Many see this as the start of your independence and the chance to take charge of your own life. And, while this sounds as wonderful as it inevitably is, responsibility comes as part of the package.

Not only do you have to learn all the rules of the road and learn to navigate the fact that some drivers just don’t adhere to these rules, but you also have to learn about the car you’re driving. So, whether you’re learning to drive, or looking for a first car to buy for when you’ve acquired your license, here are some things to keep in mind.

What’s Tricky?

Cars are not created equal, and whether that means some are faster than others, or safer, or simply put, just bigger, it requires drivers to adapt their driving somewhat to accommodate the differences in nuances from behind the wheel. It’s already challenging just learning to drive, to begin with, so operating a complicated piece of machinery adds to your stress.

Remember that as a first-time driver, consistency is critical. Keeping things the same will mean it’s easier to rely on muscle memory and not get flustered when you need to get behind the wheel. For this reason, we recommend you choose the same type of vehicle to learn to drive as you will inevitably land up driving initially.

Let’s Talk About SUVs, Baby

Currently, the most popular type of vehicle in the United States, the quintessential Sports Utility Vehicle (or SUV) has a truck-like feel, has the practicality to haul people and cargo, and an outdoor-friendly nature, which allows it to go take on different terrains.

While some have four-wheel drive, the modern SUV doesn’t require this to classify as one. They are usually larger than average cars and have a higher ride height. Many are luxuriously equipped carry a hefty price tag. Most regular drivers will tell you that driving an SUV feels very different from driving a standard car.

What’s Good About SUVs For First-Time Drivers?

There are plenty of benefits to driving an SUV, whether it’s your first time behind the wheel or whether you’ve just earned your driving license:

  • Visibility: Because of the design of a sport utility vehicle, the driving position is generally good for visibility. Drivers are perched high up and can clearly see the front and sides, which helps when you’re learning to navigate the crowded streets and highways.
  • Technology: Most new SUVs come well-equipped with features – and we’re not just talking about infotainment systems and cool headlight animations. Driver assists like parking sensors, reverse cameras with guidelines, lane-keeping assists, and automatic braking are often standard and – when used in conjunction with attentive driving – make safe driving more straightforward than ever.

What’s Bad About SUVs For First-Time Drivers?

On the other hand, there are a few things to consider that aren’t so great about SUVs if you’re new to the driving scene:

  • Size: Even the smaller SUVs feel bulky and oversized, making them very difficult to maneuver, especially in tight parking spots and narrow roads. Not knowing where the car you’re driving ends makes it difficult to carry out complex operations like parallel parking or taking tight turns. Smaller cars are easier to place on the road, and sharing space with other drivers is easier.
  • Handling: Like trucks, SUVs tend to be less stable than regular cars, especially when unladen. The back end can often fishtail when the brakes are hit hard, making it risky for a first-time driver.
  • Big car, big mistakes: Due to the size of most SUVs, if a mistake happens, the chances are that damages will be on a larger scale too. For example, hitting another car with an SUV could reasonably be expected to cause more damage to the other car than if you collided with them in a smaller vehicle. Repairs to large, premium SUVs will also cost a lot more than they would in smaller cars.
  • Technology: The reasoning behind having so much on-board tech is sound, and all the assistance features do well to help keep you safe, but at the same time, these can be very overwhelming.

Many of the driver aids that are designed to help can be pretty distracting; for example, auditory warnings and even haptic feedback through the steering wheel can be jarring and cause you to take your eyes off the road. You may be able to turn these alerts off, however.

…So, Why Are SUVs So Popular?

Popularity for large SUVs and crossovers has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years, even leading to the discontinuation of some small cars and sedans in the USA. There are many reasons why – not only because these vehicles just look so great. But there are obvious benefits to driving an SUV:

  • Practicality – SUVs are spacious, carry many passengers and their things, and usually have extensive cargo areas.
  • Style – the athletic, often assertive stance that SUVs portray is modern and beloved by almost all generations of buyers. Some performance SUVs even manage to look sporty and aggressive, with big names like Lamborghini and Maserati buying into the style and launching their own versions.
  • Performance – there are so many options to choose from in the segment, ranging from economical urban runabouts to hardcore, V8-equipped beasts that can give muscle cars a run for their money. There’s an SUV that suits almost everyone these days!
  • Versatility – SUVs are not just for ferrying your kids to and from school and are even cool enough to give the executive some status. Premium brands like Jaguar, BMW, Audi, and even ultra-luxury manufacturers like Bentley and Rolls Royce now have SUVs for this reason. And, most SUVs come with the capacity to tow a decent amount, too, so you can hitch your ATV or boat whenever you feel like a weekend away.
  • Features – Top-end infotainment systems and many helpful driver-assist features we’ve mentioned either come standard or are available as optional extras. Together with sturdy construction, SUVs are some of the safest cars on the roads today.
  • Space and Comfort – Naturally, more significant dimensions mean more space, and not just for your luggage. Plush leather seats with ample legroom and headroom make for a super comfy vehicle to drive your passengers around in.

Are There Any Downsides?

As with everything in life, there are disadvantages to consider too. SUVs do have some negatives too, which include:

  • Price – these are not the cheapest cars on the market compared to other body types, although many manufacturers offer reasonably-priced entry-spec models these days. If you’re buying a car as a new driver, these may be out of your price range, although the second-hand market is always an excellent place to shop, too.
  • Fuel economy – generally speaking, the larger and heavier the car, and the more powerful the engine, the more gas it will use. SUVs tend to consume much more than smaller cars, so if you’re thinking of buying one as a first timer, make sure you have the budget for it.
  • Handling and driving – unless you’re forking over a substantial amount of money for a luxury SUV, chances are that it will feel more like a truck than a car, and this isn’t always a good thing.

So Is An SUV Good For First Time Drivers, Or Not?

The logic seems to say that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, but attempting to pilot a large, lumbering vehicle with an overwhelming amount of tech would undoubtedly be more complicated than a simple sedan.

Additionally, learning to drive such a massive, complicated vehicle could make it challenging to adapt to smaller cars. You may struggle with placing the car on the road and in parking spaces, regardless.  

In terms of learning to drive, it’s a good idea to opt for a small or midsize SUV or crossover to reap the benefits while avoiding the size disadvantage if you can’t learn on a regular sedan. And, when it comes to buying unless you genuinely have the budget for one as a first car, we’d advise against it.

If you do decide to buy an SUV, just before buying the vehicle, it’s worth investing a few dollars to check the VIN number against a database. An audit with a company like VinAudit (links to VinAudit) will guard against Mileage fraud, Salvage rebuilds, Title washing, Vin cloning, and a ton of other uglies.

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John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty-five years, and I've worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Landrover, and Jaguar dealerships. My passion is cars. I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of car ownership, including buying advice, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

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