The modern sports utility vehicle (SUV) can trace its roots back to rugged but lightweight vehicles like the WW2-era Willys Jeep developed for military use, and the original post-war Land Rover designed for farmers.
The “SUV” of old wouldn’t be suitable for modern families. They were uncomfortable –
with a pair of straps instead of a door – and offered the fuel efficiency of a tank.
Today’s models take all the positive features of these motoring dinosaurs – the raised driving position for a commanding view of the road, off-road credentials, and towing capability – and combine them with modern levels of comfort, safety and security. They also offer lots of interior space so driver and passengers feel relaxed and protected. What’s more, they are now stylish and fuel-efficient.
Get a grip
If you’re shopping for an SUV then one of the first questions you should ask is: do I need four-wheel drive (4WD)? The extra grip will be welcome for off-roading, tackling demanding country roads, winter weather and heavy towing. Off-road tyres can be important too. Normal road tyres won’t be up to the job when heading far from the beaten track.
For simple commuting, permanent 4WD is not necessary. There are other, more cost-effective options such as two-wheel drive (2WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) that only sends power to all four wheels when it’s needed.
What’s in a name?
There is a wide range of SUV sizes and body styles: large, medium and compact, as well as crossovers. The latter have become increasingly popular during the last decade. Crossovers combine the driving experience and practicality of a normal hatchback or wagon car with SUV attributes – such as raised seating position and ride height, and more rugged exteriors.
Don’t get too hung up on the terminology though. Automakers describe their vehicles differently. For example, the Ford Edge may have some of the same underpinnings as the Mondeo passenger car and Galaxy people mover, but it is still an SUV.
Sizing up the market
A full-sized SUV such as the Edge, the Volvo XC90 and the Toyota Land Cruiser is designed to carry large families, and to haul and tow. These are often sold equipped with diesel engines and the reason is simple, it can help reduce fuel costs. Modern diesels also are generally very refined and offer plenty of pulling power – essential for towing and heavy loads.
A mid-sized SUV offers lots of interior space and a commanding presence on the road – but is easy to drive in town and small enough to fit in to everyday parking spaces.
And don’t be fooled into thinking bigger is always better – a compact SUV can surprise with its capacity. A smaller SUV offers many of the same attributes as their larger siblings, including the raised seating position and good ground clearance, but cost less to buy and can be cheaper to run.
Predominantly offered with 2WD, these “soft-roaders” are primarily designed for use on the road. That’s no bad thing. 4WD vehicles tend to have extra mechanicals under the floor that can compromise interior space – in particular boot space – making 2WD a more sensible option for a smaller SUV, unless 4WD really is needed.
Keep on selling
Part of the popularity of the modern SUV lies in the fact that it is easier to handle than its forebears. Whether you’re running the kids to school, hauling sports gear, towing a caravan, or ferrying a pack of dogs, there’s an SUV to suit.
An SUV can be more expensive to buy than a hatchback, saloon or estate car, but this can be offset by the fact that they retain their value for longer.