What is an SUV?

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ONE of the most controversial debates in the automotive world concerns the definition of an “SUV”.

While the term sport utility vehicle was once defined as a passenger vehicle built on a raw, ready-to-use pickup truck chassis and featuring on-chassis body construction, few these days would disagree with the definition of monocoque Jeep Cherokee or Kia Sorento, for example, as an SUV.

However, the term has been pushed to its limits with the proliferation of so-called “crossovers”. The term generally refers to vehicles based on hatchback or sedan car bases, but with raised ride heights, giving them an SUV-like stance. Examples include the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Captur, Ford Kuga, and Audi Q3. They effectively overlap two segments, hence the term crossover.

However, despite having more sophisticated bases than a traditional SUV, manufacturers and the automotive press often use the terms interchangeably. Crossovers look like shrunken SUVs, after all.

The introduction of vehicles such as the Audi allroad and Mercedes All-Terrain models – areas with raised ride heights – further muddies the water. They are also crossovers – a mixture of two types of vehicles.

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There are still vehicles that really can’t be called crossovers, as they are built using the body-on-frame “ladder frame” method and are primarily aimed at tough off-road vehicles or heavy towing. Among the cars that fall into this category are the Suzuki Jimny, the Toyota Land Cruiser and the SsangYong Rexton. While these are, even by the old-fashioned definition, off-road or 4×4, they are also commonly referred to as SUVs.

What is the official classification of an SUV?

Official classifications offer little information, as anything that can be remotely classified as an SUV or crossover in Europe falls into the J-segment tote category, from the Nissan Juke to the much larger and more versatile Range Rover.

As these examples clearly show, these J-segment cars can include models as compact as sedans or sedans, and therefore some reviewers now refer to B-segment or C-segment SUVs.

Nissan unveils 2021 Qashqai crossover SUV

Examples of B-segment SUVs include the Peugeot 2008 (based on the 208 supermini) while the larger C-segment has popular models such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Volkswagen Tiguan in its ranks.

A new generation of electric cars such as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 feature slightly raised ride heights due to the batteries under their floors and have also been referred to as SUVs or crossovers, to distinguish them from regular sedans.

2021 Hyundai Ioniq 5 review by Will Dron for Sunday Times Driving.co.uk

The upcoming Renault Megane E-Tech Electric, despite its stance and styling, is just 6cm taller than the Megane hatchback it is about to replace.

Renault Mégane E-Tech Electric

In other words, SUV and crossover are both incredibly nebulous terms. Perhaps looking at the history of the breed could provide some clarity.

Origins of the SUV

Taking SUV to mean a vehicle based on an off-road truck or chassis, the term could also be applied to a number of war vehicles such as the Japanese Kurogane Type 95 and the Volkswagen Kommandeurswagen, which used a sedan body. Beetle on a Kubelwagen chassis. .

Volkswagen Kommandeurswagen

Although these vehicles were useful in wartime, the cost of four-wheel drive made them impractical for civilian use.

What was the first SUV?

That said, even before the war a number of manufacturers such as Chevrolet built station wagon bodies on truck frames, but without four-wheel drive. As such, by a metric at least, the rugged 1935 steel-bodied, ladder-frame Chevrolet Suburban has some claim to be the first SUV.

1935 Chevrolet Commuter Tote

More regularly considered the first is the 1949 Willys Jeep Station Wagon, based on a vintage Jeep chassis with an estate body and optional all-wheel drive.

Willys Jeep Station Wagon

While a number of automakers such as Chevrolet, Dodge, and International Harvester produced variations on this theme, all had a little farming sentiment and it wasn’t until the mid-1960s Jeep Wagoneer (here- below) that the SUV has gained more weight. like manners.

Jeep wagoneer

What was the first crossover?

One of the European pioneers was the 1977 Matra Rancho which, while sporting Range Rover-inspired styling, was based on the front-wheel-drive Simca 1100 supermini and had the appearance of a rugged off-roader, but with little capacity.

Matra rancho

Based on current definitions of the crossover which typically doesn’t require a lot of off-road capability, the Rancho is a strong contender for the first of the breed. Most modern crossovers look out of place, but lack four-wheel drive and are rarely used off-road. As such, the Rancho is the true spiritual precursor.

In contrast, the Lada Niva, launched the same year as the Rancho, looked like a slightly raised sedan, but had four-wheel drive and true off-road capability. The Rancho was useless off-roading but looked like a 4 × 4; the Lada Niva was great off-roading but looked like a small hatchback. It’s still popular today, including with the Russian president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his camouflaged Lada Niva 4x4.

The 1979 AMC Eagle featured a station wagon body but with a raised ride height and all-wheel drive, making it a predecessor of cars such as the Audi allroad models.

1980 AMC Eagle

The 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ took the high ride height and off-road capabilities of vehicles like the Wagoneer and used unibody construction, making them lighter, smaller, and more affordable. As such, the XJ was a popular model that you could say started the modern love affair with the SUV.

So what defines an SUV?

Again, that’s not easy to say because everything from true off-roaders and off-road styled vehicles to slightly bulky hatchbacks is tarred with the SUV brush. Let’s try though.

Off-roaders and body-on-chassis 4x4s can be called SUVs, just like four-wheel-drive, high-ride-height unibody vehicles. Anything that is based on the same platform as a sedan or hatchback, despite its off-road capabilities, should rightly be called a crossover. That said, the terms are and will be used interchangeably, correctly or not.

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SUVs and crossovers are generally heavier, less aerodynamic and therefore less fuel efficient than sedans and sedans, and therefore attract much criticism.

However, when criticizing SUVs, it should be noted that the term often encompasses regular cars with a few beefier styling cues, and although the J segment is very wide, many cars classified as SUVs or crossovers achieve economy. fuel comparable to that of their sedan. and hatchback equivalents.



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