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  • What Defines an SUV? – Driver’s Seat Editorial

What Defines an SUV? – Driver’s Seat Editorial

Jun 7, 2016
Photographers: Courtesy of the manufactures
It seems these days that the term “sport utility vehicle” has taken on a very broad meaning. According to Merriam-Webster, a sport utility vehicle is “a rugged automotive vehicle similar to a station wagon but built on a light-truck chassis.” Now, I know what you’re thinking: since when does Merriam-Webster keep track of the meaning of stuff like this? Probably around the same time they started considering things like “twerk,” “lol,” and “autotune” part of the English language. Then there’s another definition listing a sport utility vehicle as one that is a high-performance four-wheel-drive automobile.
So, then, what does define a sport utility vehicle and why exactly are we talking about it in an issue of Truck Trend? To answer the latter, we at Truck Trend fancy ourselves the authority on both pickups and SUVs, and it says so right in our tagline on the cover of each issue. And because SUVs are more closely related to light trucks than sedans, it’s a natural fit for us. What defines an SUV, however, has become quite blurry.
Photo 2/13   |   005 Land Rover LR4
The transition to unibodies has all but made the Merriam-Webster definition outdated. As of writing, I can count on my fingers (and a few toes) the number of SUVs that are still built on truck-based ladder frames. Those include the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon, Cadillac Escalade, Jeep Wrangler, Ford Expedition, Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Sequoia, Lexus LX570, Lexus GX460, Nissan Armada, Infiniti QX80, and Land Rover LR4. Calling an SUV ‘high-performance’ also leaves a lot to interpretation. My mind goes straight to the Range Rover Sport, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, or now-gone Chevy TrailBlazer SS. But how can this definition fit when many are now sporting four- or six-cylinder engines? And four-wheel-drive being part of the equation makes no sense at all these days.
Now we find ourselves back at square one, wondering just what defines an SUV in the 21st century. In my simple mind it’s any vehicle that is larger than a passenger car, with traditional doors (unlike the sliders of a minivan), and lacking an open-air bed. They don’t have to be truck-based, don’t need to be high-performance, and certainly aren’t required to be four-wheel drive. The Federal government classifies SUVs by bumper height, which is far more clinical. And let’s not even get started on CUVs, which today are just smaller SUVs that carry a marketing term thought to have been made up by CNNMoney in 2008.
Why then, with such a broad definition, do we, as pickup lovers, care about SUVs? Simple. Despite most no longer carrying pickup underpinnings, SUVs are still equipped to haul both people and cargo, and the vast majority are set up with some level of towing in mind. This is where the separation happens between the SUV and the typical sedan, which stereotypically carries four passengers and two suitcases, far less than even the smallest of SUVs. (Of course there are exceptions in every situation, so you owners of large saloon cars with massive trunks can put down the pitchforks.)
Photo 3/13   |   008 Nissan Armada
Anyway, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this issue is going to take a bit of a swing toward an SUV focus. We’ve still got some great pickup stories, but we’re also going to take a look at Jeep’s 2016 lineup of concept vehicles; we’ve got a massive buyer’s guide for those interested in the latest crop of three-row SUVs; we’ll take a look at new Audi Q7, Cadillac XT5, and Kia Sportage; and we help you shop for a used BMW X5.
I’d love to hear your take on the whole SUV definition debacle, and if you’d like to see more or less of them in Truck Trend. I know in my driveway there is an SUV parked next to three pickups, and I suspect yours is similar. Shoot me an email and let’s talk SUV!

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