SUV Buying Guide

The SUV, short for sport utility vehicle, is a versatile, utility vehicle ideal for transporting passengers, cargo or both. In many ways, SUVs are similar in design to station wagons, but are built on a truck chassis and can operate in a variety of different road and weather conditions.

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About SUVs

SUVs offer comfort, command of the road, and ample interior space. Many models are available in either four- or all-wheel drive. During the 1990s, SUVs largely replaced the station wagons that had been popular with suburban families for decades. Typically, SUVs provide the same, if not greater, interior space as the average station wagon, while being higher off the ground and more capable of handling the road under adverse conditions.

Many of the early SUV type vehicles to hit the market were inspired by military vehicles like the Jeeps and Land Rovers used in World War II. The 1949 Willys Jeep wagon and the 1953 International Harvester Travelall are prime examples of early military-inspired SUVs.

In the 1960s, a whole slate of vehicles was released onto the market that could be regarded as early versions of the SUV. These included the 1960 Toyota Land Cruiser, the 1963 Jeep Wagoneer, the 1966 Ford Bronco, and the 1969 GMC Jimmy. In 1970, the Land Rover Range Rover, another SUV predecessor, was introduced in the U.K.

However, the age of the SUV officially dawned in 1984 with the release of the Jeep Cherokee XJ. Regarded by many experts as the first sport utility vehicle, the Cherokee was marketed as an alternative to station wagons that was so popular at the time. The Cherokee was four-wheel drive, but its size was much more manageable than its similar and larger counterparts such as the Jeep Wagoneer or the GMC Suburban.

The Cherokee's success greatly changed the dynamic of the truck and station wagon market while introducing the term “SUV” to the public. The Cherokee also started the SUV’s popularity throughout the 1990s into the early 2000s. Automakers were particularly keen on SUVs because they were able to enjoy a much greater profit margin, which along with the public's demand for SUVs, led to more U.S. automakers to jump into the SUV market.

Nowadays just about everyone manufactures at least one SUV. Drivers love SUVs for their high ground clearance, spacious cabins and ample cargo space. Meanwhile, manufacturers enjoy making a profit of $10,000 or more per vehicle.

SUV Variations

SUV Brands

Some of the most historically popular SUV models that remain top sellers today include the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota 4Runner, the Chevrolet Tahoe, and the Ford Explorer. There have also been a number of more economical compact SUVs released in recent years including the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 SUV, and even hybrid SUVs like the Ford Escape. Currently popular luxury SUVs include the Cadillac Escalade, the Porsche Cayenne, the Volvo XC90, and the Audi Q7.

Who Drives SUVs?

SUV models such as the Kia Sorento, the Lexus GX, and the Acura RDX are very popular with suburban families and fill much the same role the family station wagon once did. Other types of SUVs such as the Subaru Forester and the Jeep Wrangler are especially well-suited for drivers who like to explore the great outdoors and frequently travel over rugged terrain. Of course, for drivers who can afford it and want to ride in style, a luxury SUV such as a Cadillac Escalade or a Porsche Cayenne can be the ideal. Luxury SUVs offer drivers comfort, performance, technology, style and a full complement of add-ons and extras.