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Sport utility vehicle

(Redirected from SUV)
1989 Jeep Wrangler
1989 Jeep Wrangler
2001 Subaru Forester (a crossover SUV)
2001 Subaru Forester (a crossover SUV)
2003 Hummer H2
2003 Hummer H2

A sport utility vehicle (SUV) or off-roader is a vehicle that combines the load-hauling and passenger-carrying capacity of a large station wagon or minivan with features designed for off-road driving. In more recent years, the term has also grown to encompass vehicles with similar size and style that are marketed as sport utility vehicles, but which do not actually incorporate substantial off-road features. A new category, the crossover SUV uses car components for lighter weight and better economy.


SUV design characteristics

SUVs were traditionally derived from light truck platforms, but have developed to have the general shape of a station wagon. SUVs are typically taller, though, with a roughly square cross section. In contrast, station wagons are typically wider than they are tall, and minivans are taller than they are wide.

Typical to a light truck platform, SUVs have higher seating than a station wagon and a suspension designed for giving ground clearance for off-road driving. In higher-end models, all four wheels can provide motion ("drive"), unlike the majority of automobiles in which only the front or rear wheels provide drive. The design also allows for a large engine compartment, and many SUVs have large V-6 or V-8 engines. In countries where fuel is more expensive, buyers often opt for diesel engines, which have better fuel efficiency (and diesel fuel itself is often much cheaper).

Outside North America

Outside of North America these vehicles are known simply as four-wheel-drives, often abbreviated to 4WD or 4x4, though the term SUV is increasingly used. In Australia, "Utility", or "Ute", refers an automobile with a flatbed rear or pick-up, typically seating two passengers and is often used by tradesmen, and is typically not a 4WD vehicle. In the UK, SUVs, excluding farm vehicles such as Land Rovers, are often referred to in derogatory terms as Soft-Roaders or Chelsea tractors, coined by London Mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Development of the SUV

Descended from commercial and military vehicles such as the Jeep and Land Rover, they have been popular for many years with rural buyers due to their off-road abilities. However, in the last 25 years, and even more in the last decade, they have become popular with urban buyers. Consequently, more modern SUVs often come laden with luxury features and some crossover SUVs, such as the BMW X5, the Acura MDX, and the Toyota RAV4, have adopted lower ride heights and more car-like suspension settings to better reflect their typical use (overwhelmingly, for normal on-road driving).

SUVs in recreation and motorsport

Some private SUV owners do indeed take their vehicles off the road to explore places otherwise unreachable by vehicle or for the sheer enjoyment of the driving. In Australia, China, Europe and the U.S. at least, many 4WD clubs have been formed for this purpose.

Modified SUVs also take part in races, most famously in the Paris-Dakar Rally, and the Australian Safari .

SUV popularity

SUVs have become popular in US for a variety of reasons. Owners point to their large, comfortable cabins (which approach the passenger and equipment-carrying capabilities of minivans), safety, and the recreational possibilities of the vehicles. Additionally, most large SUVs have far greater towing capacities than conventional cars, and in the case of trailerable boats have superior abilities to launch and retrieve those boats from slippery boat ramps (and, indeed, from many places where no made ramp exists).

Undoubtedly, though, some of their success is due to their rugged, powerful image, a substantial factor for many people who might more logically choose a more economical and cheaper minivan or station wagon. Vehicle manufacturers have been able to sell the image of SUVs effectively, with per-vehicle profits substantially higher than other automobiles. Historically, their simple designs and often outdated technology (by passenger car standards) often made the vehicles cheaper to make than comparably-priced cars. The public's dislike of truck-like characteristics in SUVs has brought about the more-refined current crop of SUVs.

One argument for SUVs recent popularity is cheap gasoline. After accounting for inflation, gas prices in the 1990s were cheaper on average than in any decade since the invention of the automobile. If gas prices continue to rise to the point where fuel efficiency affects average consumer vehicle purchasing, SUVs will likely lose popularity to smaller vehicles in the lower-income market.


The explosive growth in SUV ownership has attracted a large amount of criticism, mainly of the risks to other road users and the environment, but also on the basis that the perceived benefits to the vehicle owner are illusory or exaggerated.


Safety is one common point of criticism. The majority of modern automobiles are constructed by a method called unibody or monocoque construction, whereby a steel body shell absorbs the impacts of collisions in crumple zones. Many SUVs, on the other hand, are constructed in the traditional manner of light trucks: body-on-frame, which when negligently designed can provide a comparatively lower level of safety. However, some SUVs have designs based on unit-body construction: the Ford Escape, Lexus RX 330 (Motor Trend), RX 400h, Mazda Tribute, and Acura MDX are some examples. In fact, the Jeep Cherokee/Liberty (1984+) and Grand Cherokee (1993+) have used unibody construction from the start, and have hardly sacrificed ruggedness or offroad prowess in the process.

The high center of gravity of SUVs makes them more prone to rollover accidents (especially in emergency manoeuvres) than lower vehicles. In recent years, Consumer Reports has found a few unacceptable SUVs due to their rollover risk. This was also dramatically demonstrated in one Top Gear show using a Range Rover.

SUV safety concerns are compounded by a perception among some consumers that SUVs are more safe for their drivers than standard autos; this perception is generally incorrect, although SUVs might provide more safety in a few situations. According to G. C. Rapaille, a psychological consultant to automakers (as cited in Gladwell, 2004), many consumers feel safer in SUVs simply because their ride height makes "[their passengers] higher and dominate and look down [sic]. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion". This and the massive size and weight of SUVs may lead to consumers' false perception of safety (Gladwell, 2004). [1]

In 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released figures showing that drivers of SUVs were 11 percent more likely to die in an accident than people in cars. [2] These figures may be confounded by variables other than the vehicles' inherent safety, for example the documented tendency for SUVs to be driven more recklessly (most sensationally perhaps, the 1996 finding that SUV drivers are more likely to drive drunk [3]). SUV drivers are also statistically less likely to wear their seatbelts. [4] The tendency to drive SUVs recklessly may be linked back to the perception that they provide superior driver protection.

Risk to other road users

An SUV hitting a pedestrian is about twice as likely to kill as a car at equal speed. This is in part because the collision of an SUV with a pedestrian tends to impact the chest, while the collision of a car with a pedestrian tends to impact the knees. The greater mass, and therefore momentum, of the average SUV relative to the average car is probably also a factor.

Also the size and design of SUVs leads to a restricted driver's view of the area immediately surrounding the vehicle. This means that young children are particularly vulnerable to collisions with SUVs as their size makes it more likely that they will not be seen by the driver. One study by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh found that in accidents in the driveway where children were injured by collision with a vehicle 64% involved a SUV/truck. [5]

In addition, the considerable weight of the larger SUVs (such as the Chevrolet Suburban and the Ford Excursion) makes collisions with other, smaller cars much less dangerous for the SUV and much more dangerous for the car. The higher ride and other design characteristics of many SUVs may also lead to greater damage to smaller crash partner cars. These mass and design dangers are known as crash incompatibility issues in the crash testing industry, and are a topic of active research. The most notable statistic in SUV design crash incompatibility is an increase in fatalities when an SUV strikes the head of a passenger or driver in a side-impact collision. This is one of the chief motivations for the development of side-curtain airbags in standard autos.

Many motorists in the United States have expressed dismay at the proliferation of SUVs on the highways, contending that the tall, wide vehicles block less-elevated drivers' view of the road ahead. Additionally, the height of SUV headlights has been cause for complaint by drivers who find themselves dazzled at night by oncoming SUVs even when their lights are on low-beam settings.

In Europe, from 2006 fitting "roo bars " to vehicles, such as 4x4s and SUVs, will be illegal.

Fuel economy

The recent popularity of SUVs is one reason the U.S. population consumes more gasoline than in previous years. SUVs are as a class much less fuel efficient than comparable passenger vehicles. The main reason is that SUVs are classified by the U.S. government as light trucks, and thus are subject to the less strict light truck standard under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations. The CAFE requirement for light trucks is an average of 20.7 mpg (US), versus 27.5 mpg (US) for passenger cars.

As there is little incentive to change the design, SUVs have numerous fuel-inefficient features. The high profile of SUVs increases wind resistance. The heavy suspension and large engines increases vehicle weight. SUVs also often come with tires designed for off-road traction rather than low rolling resistance. The more car-like SUVs tend to have a somewhat lower profile and better road performance tires, but often still have large, fuel-inefficient engines.


The high gross weight of some larger SUVs (including the Ford Excursion or Hummer H2) technically limits their use on certain roads. Rural bridges often have a 6000 lb weight limit, and some large SUVs surpass this limit when loaded. These laws are rarely enforced for SUVs, however, since these vehicles are seen as passenger vehicles instead of commercial trucks. Note too that other vehicles can weight as much - the Dodge Grand Caravan exceeds the 6000 lb mark by 650 lb, and the Honda Oddysey (5952 lb), and Kia Sedona (5959 lb) are close. For comparison, a midsize sedan such as the Honda Accord weighs in at only 4080 lb fully loaded. To be fair, these weights are all for vehicles fully loaded to GVWR, and most owners rarely reach full capacity.


In April 2005, William Cottrell, a 24-year-old american postgraduate student was sentenced to more than 8 (eight) years in federal prison and 3,5 million USD in fines for eco-vandalism against SUVs, after two of his comrades fled the country to avoid prosecution. [6] The judge who sentenced him owns two Hummers and a Ford Excursion.

Response to criticisms

Manufacturers are attempting to improve the SUV to address these criticisms. The most recent generation of SUVs have been designed to reduce the rollover risk with standard vehicle stability control. Manufacturers have added car-level bumpers to reduce "submarining" in collisions, and a full compliment of airbags are common. Therefore, SUVs have become somewhat safer in recent years.

The smaller crossover SUV models are essentially station wagons or minivans with taller wheels and bodywork, and are not much worse than their counterparts in terms of fuel economy.

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid is the first hybrid SUV, and its Mercury and Mazda counterparts will follow shortly. The Lexus RX 400h is also available. Like hybrid cars, these small SUVs will show dramatically improved fuel economy over their conventionally-powered counterparts.

See also


  • Gladwell, M. (2004, January 12). Big and bad. The New Yorker, LXXIX, 28-30. [7]
  • Motor Trend.

(Complete information on the Motor Trend reference is unavailable. However, the article was Motor Trend's announcement of the Lexus RX 300 as the 1999 SUV of the Year.)

External links

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