Sport-utility (vehicle), SUV or sport-ute is an automotive classification, typically a kind of station wagon / estate car with off-road vehicle features like raised ground clearance and ruggedness, and available four-wheel drive. Many SUVs are built on a light-truck chassis but operated as a family vehicle, and though designed to be used on rougher surfaces, most often used on city streets or highways. In recent years, in some countries the term SUV has replaced terms like "Jeep" or "Land-Rover" in the popular lexicon as a generic description for light 4WD vehicles.
Many SUVs have an upright built body and tall interior packaging, a high seating position and center of gravity, and available all-wheel drive for off-road capability. Some SUVs include the towing capacity of a pickup truck and the passenger-carrying space of a minivan or large sedan. The traditional truck-based SUV is more and more being supplanted by unitary body SUVs and crossovers based on regular automobile platforms for lighter weight and better fuel efficiency. In some countries, notably the United States, SUVs are not classified as cars, but as light trucks.
SUVs overtook lower medium segment cars to become the world's largest automotive segment in 2015, accounting for 22.9 percent of global light vehicle sales (for 2015), or 36.8% of the world's passenger car market (Q1–Q3, 2017). World-wide sales of SUVs grew from 5 million units in 2000 to 20 million in 2015 and are forecast to hit 42 million units by 2031. Becoming popular in the late-1990s and early & mid-2000s, SUV sales temporarily declined due to high oil prices and a declining economy, but by 2010, SUV sales around the world were growing again, in spite of gasoline prices. The market has overwhelmingly come to prefer 4/5-door models in favor of historically popular 2-door off-roaders.
There is no universally accepted definition of the sport utility vehicle. Dictionaries, automotive experts, and journalists use varying wordings and defining characteristics, in addition to which there are regional variations of the use by both the media and the general public. The auto industry has not settled on one definition of the SUV either.
Both the Merriam-Webster and the Collins English online dictionaries offer three different wordings – each. Merriam-Webster's general definition of a "sport-utility vehicle", found under "SUV" (abbreviated) reads: "a rugged automotive vehicle similar to a station wagon but built on a light-truck chassis (...)",[nb 1][nb 2] but "for English Language Learners": "a large vehicle that is designed to be used on rough surfaces but that is often used on city roads or highways". In British English the term "4x4" is generally preferred: according to Collins' online dictionaries, a sport(s) utility vehicle is either a "powerful vehicle with four-wheel drive that can be driven over rough ground",[nb 3] or in American English: "a passenger vehicle similar to a station wagon but with the chassis of a small truck and, usually, four-wheel drive",[nb 4] and in British English: "a high-powered car with four-wheel drive, originally designed for off-road use";[nb 5] but the citations quoted by Collins are few, and the term is not recognised at all by Chambers.
A Hemmings article defines the sport utility vehicle as bridging the gap between cars and trucks, "combining car-like appointments and wagon practicality with steadfast off-road capability"; also especially emphasizing the grand view – "Jeep called it chair-height seats and picture-window visibility," but AutoTrader editor concluded that the "SUV" acronym "is still used to describe nearly anything with available all-wheel drive and raised ground clearance."
In recent years, the term SUV has come in the US to replace the use of "jeep" as a generic trademark and description of these type of vehicles, a name that originated during World War II as slang for the light general purpose military truck.[nb 6]
Most government regulations simply have categories for "off-highway vehicles," which in turn are lumped in with pickup trucks and minivans as "light trucks."
Nevertheless, four-wheel-drive SUVs are considered light trucks in the United States (except for small, two-wheel-drive SUVs, model year 2011 or later) where they were regulated less strictly than passenger cars since 1975, under two laws: the Energy Policy and Conservation Act for fuel economy, and the Clean Air Act for emissions. Starting in 2004, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to hold sport utility vehicles to the same tailpipe emissions standards as cars.
Many people question "how can an SUV be called a truck?" Although the original definition of the "light truck" classification included pickups and delivery vans, usually SUVs and minivans are included in this category because these vehicles are designed to "permit greater cargo-carrying capacity than passenger carrying volume." Manufacturing, emissions, and safety regulations in the U.S. classify "an SUV is a truck"; however, for local licensing and traffic enforcement, "an SUV may be a truck or a car" because the classification of these vehicles varies from state to state. For industry production statistics, SUVs are counted in the light truck product segment.
The term is not used in all countries, and outside North America the terms "off-road vehicle", "four-wheel drive" or "four-by-four" (abbreviated to "4WD" or "4×4") or simply use of the brand name to describe the vehicle like "Jeep" or "Land Rover" are more common.
In Europe, the term SUV has a similar meaning, but being newer than in the U.S. it only applies to the newer street oriented one, whereas "Jeep", "Land Rover" or 4x4 are used for the off-roader oriented ones. The German automaker BMW utilizes the term SAV to denote "Sport Activity Vehicles." Not all SUVs have four-wheel drive capabilities, and not all four-wheel-drive passenger vehicles are SUVs. Although some SUVs have off-road capabilities, they often play only a secondary role, and SUVs often do not have the ability to switch among two-wheel and four-wheel-drive high gearing and four-wheel-drive low gearing. While automakers tout an SUV's off-road prowess with advertising and naming, the daily use of SUVs is largely on paved roads.
In India, all SUVs are classified in the "Utility Vehicle" category per the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) definitions and carry a 27% excise tax. Those that are 4 metres (157 inches) long, have a 1,500 cc (92 cu in) engine or larger, along with 170 mm (6.7 in) of ground clearance, are subject to a 30% excise duty.
The actual term "Sport Utility Vehicle" did not come into wide popular usage until the late 1980s — prior to then, such vehicles were marketed during their era as 4-wheel drives, station wagons, or other monikers. Although Merriam-Webster dictionary lists the first-known use as 1969, Crosley marketed a "Sport(s-) Utility" model as early as 1947, for the 1948 model year – a convertible based on a wagon. Ford first marketed a civilian off-roader as a "Sport Utility" in 1966: the two-door pickup version of the 1966 Ford Bronco. In 1974, Jeep used the exact wording "sport(s) utility vehicle" literally in their brochures description of the 1st generation Cherokee.
Just before and during World War II, around the world, prototypes and low-volume production examples began to appear of cars with sedan or station-wagon type bodies on rugged, off-road capable four-wheel drive chassis, like the 1936 Kurogane Type 95 (Japan), the 1938 developed Russian GAZ-61 and Germany's 1941 VW type 87 "Kommandeurwagen" (an "off-road Beetle" for high-ranked Nazi officers). But perhaps one of the closest of the early SUV-like examples was the 1940 Humber Heavy Utility. One of the most prohibitive initial factors to the potential civilian market popularity of an SUV-like car lay in its costs, and availability of certain critical parts. Before the war, adding four-wheel drive to a car almost doubled its cost, Compared to a common, rear-wheel drive vehicle, any 4WD needed a number of essential extra components, like a transfer case, and a second differential and constant-velocity joints for the driven front axle — all expensive components, because of the precision involved in manufacturing gears and such. In America these were produced up to the war only by a few specialized firms with limited capacity, but due to the war's necessity, from spring 1942 Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet joined in fabricating these parts in mass quantity, boosting their production more than 100-fold.
Early SUV-like production vehicles were descendants from light commercial and light wheeled military / utility vehicles, most prominently the World War II Jeep, but also the 4x4 Dodge WC series ½-ton and ¾-ton trucks. Contrary to the jeep, the larger 4x4 Dodge was not only built as an open-bodied command and reconnaissance vehicle, but also some 8,400 closed-bodied ¾-ton 4x4 carryalls were built for the US Army in 1942–1943. Dodge's post-war evolution of these, the 4WD Power Wagon, was occasionally also fitted with the carryall body.
After the war, the first civilian-production four-wheel drive cars for sale in the general marketplace, were direct derivatives of the rugged, utilitarian Jeep — boxy short-wheelbase models that prioritized nimble off-road vehicle prowess: the 1945 civilian Willys Jeep and the 1948 Land Rover, as well as Jeeps that were produced in several other nations. However, the Jeep CJ models remained open-bodied and initially did not offer doors from the factory. Doors and hard roofs were not even factory optional equipment until 1976, when the Jeep CJ-7 was launched.
Land Rover initially offered a coach-built short station wagon body in 1949, but it was expensive and sold fewer than 700 units. A more affordable closed metal body wasn't launched until 1956, when a 107-inch (2.72 m) long-wheelbase 4-door version was also introduced alongside it.
The first generations of the later International Harvester Scout 80 (1960) and the 1966 Ford Bronco were also shorter than 4-metre, two-door, off-road-focused vehicles. Although they sported more sophisticated body designs, a rear seat was not available in the Scout until 1965, and the rear seat was initially optional equipment in both brands.
The earliest examples of longer-wheelbase, civilian, wagon-type SUVs (using the term retrospectively) were truck-framed station wagons and carry-alls, to which four-wheel drive was added – first of all the 1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon, launched a year before its 1947 Jeep Truck sibling. Though Willys sold it as a "Jeep", it wasn't offered with four-wheel drive until 1949. The all-steel GMC and Chevrolet Suburban Carryall that dated back to 1935, the 1953 International Harvester Travelall, and the 1954 Dodge (Power) Town Wagon were all large station-wagon bodied versions of light trucks that were made available with 4-wheel drive in 1956/1957. GMC and Chevy initially only offered the 4x4 option in the form of a dealer-installed NAPCO Power-Pak aftermarket conversion kit — factory four-wheel drive only arrived in 1960. In Britain, also from 1956, the Land Rover Series I line was expanded with a 107-inch long-wheelbase version, including a 10-seat station wagon which used very simple metal panels and bolt-together construction, intended to be used both as commercial vehicles and people-carriers.
On none of these early, longer vehicles was it obvious to have four side doors. The Willys Wagon barely sold any 4-door models, and the bigger carry-alls and travelalls from GMC / Chevy, I.H. and Dodge frequently only had one rear side door on the models that had windows all along the sides. Only on the 1956 long wheelbase Land Rover were four side doors a normal version.
The Russian GAZ-61, produced in small numbers from 1940, combined a 4-door closed steel sedan body with an off-roader's chassis and drive-train but had no rear hatch, tailgate, or doors, and was only for Red Army officers. The Pobeda M-72 (GAZ-M20/1955) – which Russian references credit as possibly being the first SUV with a unitary body rather than body-on-frame construction.
These were followed by the more 'modern' Jeep Wagoneer (1963), Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-55 (1968), the Chevrolet Blazer / GMC Jimmy (1969), International Harvester Scout II (1971), and the Land Rover Range Rover (1970).
Automotive writers and journalists have offered various opinions about what was the "first true SUV". A vehicle often considered is the 1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon designed by Brooks Stevens, which was first offered with 4-wheel drive in 1949. It was produced in the US until 1965 and into the 1970s in Argentina and Brazil. The 1956 factory optional 4WD version of the International Harvester Travelall has been called the first full-size SUV. Hemmings Motor News has called the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer "the progenitor of the popular sport utility vehicle" that "combine[s] utility, handsome good looks, [and] multiple surface capabilities", and Four Wheeler magazine simply called it "the first modern sport utility vehicle".
According to Robert Casey, the transportation curator at the Henry Ford Museum, the 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) was the first true sport utility vehicle in the modern understanding of the term, although Jeep already used the term literally in their 1974 brochures, for the original SJ Cherokee. Developed under the leadership of AMC's François Castaing and marketed to urban families as a substitute for a traditional car (and especially station wagons, which were still fairly popular at the time), the Cherokee had four-wheel drive in a more manageable size (compared to the full-size Wagoneer) as well as a plush interior resembling a station wagon. With the introduction of more luxurious models and a much more powerful 4-liter engine, sales of the Cherokee increased even higher as the price of gasoline fell, and the term "sport utility vehicle" began to be used in the national press for the first time. "The advent and immediate success of AMC/Jeep's compact four-door Cherokee turned the truck industry upside down."
The corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard was ratified in the 1970s to regulate the fuel economy of passenger vehicles. Car manufacturers evaded the regulation by selling SUVs as work vehicles. The popularity of SUV increased among urban drivers in the last 25 years and particularly in the last decade. Consequently, modern SUVs are available with luxury vehicle features, and some crossover models adopt lower ride heights to accommodate on-road driving.
Keith Bradsher explained the rise of the SUV with American Motors' (AMC) lobbying the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a waiver of the United States Clean Air Act. The EPA subsequently designated AMC's compact Cherokee as a "light truck", and the company marketed the vehicle to everyday drivers. AMC's effort to affect rulemaking changing the official definition of their new model then led to the SUV boom when other auto makers marketed their own models in response to the Cherokee taking sales from their regular cars.
SUVs became popular in the United States, Canada, India, and Australia in the 1990s and early-2000s. U.S. automakers could enjoy profit margins of $10,000 per SUV, while losing a few hundred dollars on a compact car. For example, the Ford Excursion could net the company $18,000, while they could not break even with the Ford Focus unless the buyer chose options, leading Detroit's big three automakers to focus on SUVs over small cars.
The higher cost of labor in the U.S. and Canada compared to the lower wages of workers at non-U.S. companies like Toyota made it unprofitable for American auto makers to build small cars in the U.S. For example, the General Motors factory in Arlington, Texas, where rear-wheel-drive cars were built, such as the Chevrolet Caprice, Buick Roadmaster, and Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, was converted to truck and SUV production, putting an end to full-size family station wagon and overall terminating production of rear-wheel drive full-size cars. Due to the shift in the Big Three's strategy, many long-running cars like the Ford Taurus, Buick Century and Pontiac Grand Prix fell behind their Japanese competitors in features and image (relying more on fleet sales instead of retail and/or heavy incentive discounts); some were discontinued.
Buyers were drawn to SUVs' large cabins, higher ride height, and perceived safety. Full-size SUVs often offered features such as three-row seating to effectively replace full-size station wagons and minivans. Wagons were seen as old-fashioned. Additionally, full-size SUVs have greater towing capabilities than conventional cars, and can haul trailers, travel trailers (caravans) and boats. Increased ground clearance is useful in climates with heavy snowfall. The very low oil prices of the 1990s helped keep down running costs. The SUV was one of the most popular choices of vehicle for female drivers in the U.S.
Social scientists have drawn on popular folklore such as urban legends to illustrate how marketers have been able to capitalize on the feelings of strength and security offered by SUVs. Popular tales include narratives where mothers save the family from armed robbery and other incidents by taking the automobile off road, for example.
In Australia, SUV sales were helped by the fact that SUVs had much lower import duty than passenger cars did, so that they cost less than similarly equipped imported sedans. However, this gap was gradually narrowed, and in January 2010 the import duty on cars was lowered to match the 5 percent duty on SUVs.
Sales of SUVs and other light trucks fell in the mid-2000s because of high oil prices and declining economy. In 2008, General Motors announced plans to close four truck and SUV plants, including the Oshawa Truck Assembly. The company cited decreased sales of large vehicles in the wake of rising fuel prices. The business model of focusing on SUVs and light trucks, at the expense of more fuel-efficient compact and midsized cars, is blamed for declining sales and profits among Detroit's Big Three automakers since the mid–late-2000s. The Big Three were slower to adapt than their Japanese rivals in producing small cars to meet growing demand due to inflexible manufacturing facilities, which made it unprofitable to build small cars. However, starting in 2010, SUV and light truck sales have started an upward trend due to lower gasoline prices and a revival of the North American economy. In 2013, General Motors saw its sales for its large SUVs increased by 74%, making them the largest producer of SUVs in the United States. However, the "small and compact SUVs, when compared with other vehicles in the light truck segment, has made this vehicle segment the third highest selling vehicle segment in the automotive market in 2013." With the redesigned GM and Ford large SUV's being introduced in 2014 (for the 2015 model year), it has seen a slight resurgence among consumers due to better fuel economy and new engines, along with updated and newer features. This resurgence in the popularity of this variation on SUV's is also seen with brands such as Audi, Jeep and Ford creating the compact SUVs in 2018. Positive reception for compact SUV's are further confirmed when noting that the Volvo XC40, another luxury compact SUV, won European Car of the Year 2018.
Starting in 2015, sales of SUVs started dominating the industry. In 2016 global market researcher Euromonitor International released news that world-wide SUV sales surged 22 percent since 2015. "SUVs overtook lower medium cars to become the largest automotive segment in 2015, accounting for 22.9 percent of light vehicle sales globally." The world's fastest growing SUV markets in 2014-2015 were: China: + 47.9 percent; Italy (+ 48.6%), Spain (+ 42%), Portugal (+ 54.8 %) and Thailand (+ 56.4%). According to automotive market researcher Focus2Move, the SUV segment grew to 27 million units in 2016, or 26% of global passenger car sales, updated to 21.6 million sales for Q1–Q3 of 2017, taking 36.8% of total market. Moreover: the 12% growth of the SUV sector was the only growing segment at global level, and thus solely responsible for overall 2.4% growth of the world's passenger car market.
In the US, at the end of 2016, sales of SUVs and light duty trucks had surpassed traditional car sales for the year by over 3 million units. Manufacturers like Hyundai have started reducing their production of traditional cars in favor of SUVs citing reduction in sales and difficulty competing with other manufacturers.
Euromonitor International in 2016 further concluded:
"The popularity of SUVs in the early 2000s has precipitated a rush of companies trying to capitalise, with a growing number of brands and new concept offerings like crossovers to appeal to a wider audience." "However, a combination of key social changes such as urbanisation, smaller households and an ageing population, in conjunction with increasing emissions regulations, have also boosted the fortunes of the small car segment."
"Euromonitor predicts that small cars will see a Global Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 2.9 percent between 2015 and 2031 but this is firmly secondary to the projected CAGR of 4.8 percent for SUVs." "[Global] sales of SUVs grew from 5 million units in 2000 to 20 million in 2015 and are forecast to hit 42 million units by 2031."
"(...) replacement demand [for cars] in developed markets will start to slow and global growth will be increasingly reliant on SUVs and emerging markets.
Although designs vary, SUVs have historically been passenger vehicles with a separate body on a chassis taken from some kind of light truck, commercial vehicle, pick-up or off-road vehicle. SUVs are typically of a two-box design, with the engine compartment in front, and a combined reconfigurable passenger and cargo compartment behind it, instead of having a separate trunk.[nb 7] Early SUVs were frequently two-door open-body models with removable tops, like classic Jeeps, or large station wagon-like vehicles, like carryalls / suburbans or travelalls.
SUVs typically have high ground clearance, big wheels, a tall (and historically boxy) body, and upright (high H-point) seating. This can make them more likely to roll over due to their high center of gravity. Bodies of SUVs have recently become more aerodynamic, but the sheer size and weight keeps their fuel economy poor. Most mid-size and full-size SUVs have three rows of seats with a cargo area directly behind the last row of seats. Cargo barriers are often fitted to the cargo area to protect the vehicles occupants from injury from unsecured cargo in the event of sudden deceleration or collision.
Over time, consumer demand pushed the SUV market mostly towards family-friendly four/five-door models. For example, even the only 159 in (4.0 m) long 1991 Chevrolet Tracker mini SUV was a four-door model. 1999 saw the final production of the two-door full-size truck-based Chevrolet Tahoe SUV; and in late 2013, Toyota dropped its badly selling 2-door Land-Cruiser variants. Some of the last old-school two-door SUVs soldiered on for some time as carry-over models, but their sales were not viable enough to warrant a redesign at the end of their life cycle. The SWB 2-door Mercedes-Benz G-Class was ended after 2011, and the Land Rover Defender was altogether axed in 2016.
Only a few short-bodied 2-door SUVs remain today, such as the diminutive but capable Suzuki Jimny. The body-on-frame Jeep Wrangler has continued as a compact two-door body style, but from 2007 it was complemented with a 20-inch longer four-door variant: the Wrangler Unlimited.[nb 8] A few relatively recent attempts for new two-door SUV models, the 1997-2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS and the 2011-2014 Nissan Murano convertible, were both short-lived and enjoyed only low production numbers. A rare exception to the trend is the relatively successful compact to mid-size Range Rover Evoque introduced in 2011. The latter two models are examples of another trend — they are of unitary body construction.
Although originally, SUVs were of separate body and chassis construction, virtually without exception, whether they evolved from short, highly off-road focused designs such as original Jeeps / Land Rovers and the like, or from larger heavy-duty people haulers (carryalls, suburbans, travelalls etc.), gradually more and more automakers introduced off-road vehicles and SUVs with an integrated, unitary body or monocoque vehicle frame design.
Since so much of the SUV's history can be tied to the original US jeep, it is relevant to begin with mentioning the US military's replacement of the Willys Jeeps by the Ford M151 ¼-ton 4×4 trucks starting in 1959. The Ford M151 jeep had an integrated body and frame construction, was produced from 1959, and remained in use through the 1990s.
In 1977, production of the Russian Lada Niva began — the world's first mass-produced civilian off-road vehicle with a unibody architecture. The Niva combines a closed, boxy, hatchback-like body with full off-road capability, not only featuring high ground-clearance, but full-time four-wheel drive, a transfer case with high and low gearing, and lockable center differential. A longer wheelbase five-door model was added in the early 1990s and the car remains in production for four decades now.
The compact 1983 Cherokee was Jeep's first unibody SUV. Nevertheless, it was a seriously off-road capable design, using front and rear solid axles, transfer-cases with high and low range, and either part-time or full-time 4-wheel drive. Following this, Jeep replaced the venerable SJ Wagoneer with its Grand Cherokee line in 1992, featuring a unibody structure from the start. Derived from the XJ Cherokee, it too came with front and rear live axles, high and low range, and either part-time or full-time 4-wheel drive systems.
Land Rover have fully switched to unibody architecture SUVs, starting with their newer, more compact models — the 1997 Freelander, its 2014 successor Discovery Sport, and the 2011 Range Rover Evoque, which were all unibodies from the start — but also on the large models, starting with the 3rd generation Range Rover in 2002, as well as the 2013 Range Rover Sport and the 2017 Discovery.[nb 9] The last body-on-frame hold-out, the archetypal Land Rover Defender, was retired after 2016.
Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi redesigned its 2000 Montero/Shogun/Pajero with a unibody, discarding the previous box-ladder frames, achieving a lower center of gravity, 300% more torsional rigidity, and longer suspension stroke. Suzuki's 3rd gen Vitara equally switched to a unibody in 2005, while still offering off-road capable selectable four-wheel drive with a lockable central differential along with low ratio gears.
A mini SUV (also called subcompact SUV or subcompact crossover) is a class of small sport utility vehicles. The term usually applies to crossovers based on a supermini (B-segment cars in Europe) platform.
A compact SUV is a class of smaller SUVs that are commonly built with less cargo and passenger space, and often with smaller engines resulting in better fuel economy, the term is often interchangeable with crossover SUV.
A mid-size SUV is a class of medium-size SUVs whose size typically falls between that of a full-size and a compact SUV. This term is not commonly used outside North America, where fullsize and midsize SUVs are considered similar.
Full-size SUVs have greater cargo and passenger space than midsize SUVs. They are usually given higher safety ratings than their smaller counterparts.
An extended length SUV, also sometimes called a long-wheel based SUV, are vehicles that are similar to a full-size SUV, except that these vehicles have a larger cargo area of around 130 in (3.30 m) and passenger space that can seat up to 8 or 9 people (with the available third row seating that when folded or removed adds more cargo space). Although these extended length SUVs are mostly sold in North America because of their size and the roads are made and designed differently, they can also be found in other countries, exported to such places like the Philippines and the Middle East. The vehicles are 221 in (5.61 m) to 223 in (5.66 m) in length and can be distinguished by the rear wheel area not touching the rear doors. So far, the only automakers that are actively building these extended length SUVs are General Motors and Ford, both from their assembly plants in the United States (GM in Texas, Ford in Kentucky).
SUVs are sometimes driven off-road on farms and in remote areas of such places as the Australian Outback, Africa, the Middle East, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, South America, Russia and parts of Asia which have limited paved roads and require a vehicle to have all-terrain handling, increased range, and storage capacity. The scarcity of spare parts and the need to carry out repairs quickly resulted in the popularity of vehicles with the bare minimum of electric and hydraulic systems, such as the basic versions of the Land Rover, Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser. SUVs for urban driving have traditionally been developed from their more rugged all-terrain counterparts. For example, the Hummer H1 was developed from the HMMWV, originally developed for the military of the United States.
Some buyers choose SUVs because they have more interior space than sedans of similar sizes. In areas with gravel roads in summer and snow and ice in winter, four-wheel drives offer a safety advantage due to their traction advantages under these conditions.
The sport utility vehicles have also gained popularity in some areas of Mexico, especially in desert areas or in cities where drivers frequently encounter potholes, detours, high water and rough roads. Increasing use is also attributed to the high number of dirt roads outside major population centers, resulting in washboard and mud in the rainy seasons.
Some highly modified SUVs, together with their more rugged off-road counterparts, are also used to explore places otherwise unreachable by other vehicles. In Australia, China, Europe, South Africa, South America and the United States at least, 4WD clubs have been formed for this purpose. Many 4×4 mud racing events and other activities take place throughout the US organized by clubs and associations.
The Trophee Andros ice-racing series is another competition where SUVs participate as well.
Numerous luxury vehicles in the form of SUVs and pickup trucks are being produced. Luxury SUV is principally a marketing term to sell fancier vehicles that may have higher performance, comfort, technology, or brand image. The term lacks both measurability and verifiability, and it is applied to a broad range of SUV sizes and types.
Nevertheless, the marketing category was created in 1966 with Kaiser Jeep's luxurious Super Wagoneer. It was the first SUV to offer a V8 engine, automatic transmission, and luxury car trim and equipment in a serious off-road model. It came with bucket seating, air conditioning, sun roof, and even a vinyl roof. Land Rover followed suit in 1970 by introducing the Range Rover. The trend continued with other competitors adding comfort features to their rudimentary and truck-based models.
The production of luxury models increased in the late-1990s with vehicles such as the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade. These luxury SUVs generated higher profit margins than non-luxury SUVs did. For some auto makers, luxury SUVs were the first SUV models they produced. Some of these models are not traditional SUVs based on light truck as they are classified as crossovers.
The luxury SUV class encompasses both smaller 5-passenger SUVs and larger 7-passenger SUVs, with luxury features both inside of the cabin but also in the outside. Buyers looking for a luxury vehicle that offers more cargo capacity than a sedan may prefer a luxury SUV. This is also a vehicle aimed for those who prefer an SUV with a little more style.
Luxury SUVs typically offer the most expected safety features including side airbags, ABS and traction control, and many of them also come with electronic stability control, crash resistant door pillars, dynamic head restraints and back-up sensing systems.
In Australia and New Zealand, the term SUV is not widely used, except by motoring organizations, the press, and industry bodies. Passenger class vehicles designed for off-road use are known as "four-wheel drives", "4WDs", or "4×4s". Some manufacturers do refer to their products as SUVs, but others invented names such as XUV, (HSV Avalanche XUV or GMC Envoy XUV) or action utility vehicles (AUVs). The term "AWD", or all-wheel drive, is used for any vehicle which drives on all four wheels, but may not be designed for off-road use. "Crossover" is a marketing term for a vehicle that is both four-wheel-drive and primarily a road car.
In the United Kingdom the term "4×4" (four-by-four) is also common, even for vehicles not used in urban areas. "AWD" is not commonly used there. The less capable SUVs also pick up the name "soft-roader" because while they appear designed to go off road, in many cases they're not actually capable of it.
In Finland the term "katumaasturi" is commonly used to designate SUVs. It roughly translates to street-off-roader, or street-4×4. This marks the difference with what is called "maasturi" which is a vehicle with off-road capability.
In Sweden the most mainstream term for SUV is Stadsjeep (Sw) (city jeep) — it is literally the title of the Swedish article on this topic.
In Australia, a variety of pejorative terms, including "Toorak Tractor" and "Mosman taxi" are used to describe vehicles like Range Rovers used in wealthy urban areas with fine roads, fine dining, and exclusive designer shopping precincts, where off-road ability is not required. The terms allude to affluent suburbs of Toorak, Melbourne, and Mosman, Sydney to name a few. These terms were in use at least as early as the late 1980s.
The equivalent term "Chelsea Tractor" became prominent in the United Kingdom around 2004 to describe vehicles such luxury SUVs used in urban areas such as Chelsea, London, where their four-wheel-drive capabilities are not required and the car is believed to be a status symbol rather than a necessity.
In New Zealand, the term used is "Remuera Tractor", after the affluent Auckland suburb. In Christchurch, the term "Merivale Tractor" is used.
In Norway the term "Børstraktor" (Stock Exchange Tractor) serves a similar purpose.
an automobile similar to a station wagon but built on a light truck frame
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