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The fuel tanks of 4*4 cars are larger than these of sedan cars.

BBC News: New research shows that human "mini-brains" develop more slowly than those of other primates.

The Guardian: Prehistoric women's arms 'stronger than those of today's elite rowers'.

The Guardian: Chelsea fans live further from their club's stadium and go to home matches less than those of any other London Premier League club.

I cannot understand why BBC News used "those" in this context. First, "these" is more formal than "those", and second, human are primates so we are not comparing between very different things, and this is even clearer in the other examples. However, an Ngram search suggests that "those" should be used in this context for some reason.

Is it wrong to use "these" in this context?

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You said

First, "these" is more formal than "those".

I don't think this is true. I have seen plenty of uses of "those" in formal contexts.

"These" and "those" are demonstratives, like the singular "this" and "that". They are used to point to people, animals, and things. "They often convey a more abstract idea of proximity rather than actual physical closeness" - What's the difference between “these” and “those”?

From Cambridge This, that, these, those

Locative difference

We use this and these most commonly to point to things and people that are close to the speaker or writer, or things that are happening now.

We use that and those most commonly to point to things and people which are not easy to identify in a situation. They are often more distant from the speaker, and sometimes closer to the listener

Substitution with that, those

In formal contexts, we can use that and those as substitutes meaning ‘the one(s)’.

In formal contexts, especially in academic style, we use that of/those of instead of the one of/the ones of or the … one/the … ones. This is preferred to the possessive X’s one/X’s ones.

In your case, the actual sentences are the following:

(1) New research shows that human "mini-brains" develop more slowly than the "mini-brains" of other primates.

(1a) New research shows that human "mini-brains" develop more slowly than the ones of other primates.
(1b) New research shows that human "mini-brains" develop more slowly than those of other primates.

Similarly, "those" is a substitute for "the arms" in the first Guardian example and for "[the] fans" in the second Guardian example.

The fuel tanks of 4x4 cars are larger than these of sedan cars.

This is strange. I don't think you can use "these" to substitute for "the fuel tanks" or "the ones". You need "those" here. But if the sedan cars are close to you, you could say this

The fuel tanks of 4x4 cars are larger than the fuel tanks of these sedan cars.

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Those is correct usage in all four of those cases, rather than these.

These is not more (or less) formal than those. The difference between them is essentially the difference between this and that.

This and these refer to things that are nearby. That and those refer to things that are more distant.

Like this and that, these and those can also be used together when comparing or contrasting two things. For example:

I want to wear these shoes, not those shoes.

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I would say that writing "than these of" instead of "than those of" is an error, since (as a Google Ngram Viewer search shows) the phrase "than those of" is about 1,200 times as common, and since I've never heard "than these of" before.

But why, exactly, do we write "those" and not "these"?

First, let's consider the word "that." The word "that" has a couple of different usages. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition for "that" lists these two, among others:

1.a. the person, thing, or idea indicated, mentioned, or understood from the situation: that is my father

1.c. the kind or thing specified as follows: the purest water is that produced by distillation

In sense 1.a, the word used is "this" if the thing is nearby (literally or metaphorically), and "that" if the thing is distant (literally or metaphorically). However, in sense 1.c, the word is used is always "that," regardless of distance.

The situation for "these" and "those" is exactly analogous to the situation for "this" and "that."

So, in all four of your examples, the word "those" is used to refer to "the kind or thing specified as follows," not to "the thing indicated or understood," so the word is required to be "those," not "these."

For what it's worth, Spanish uses different words for these two senses of "that." The word for "that" in sense 1.a is ese, esa, eso (depending on gender), whereas the word for "that" in sense 1.c is el, la, lo (depending on gender). (Note that the masculine is el, not él.)

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