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SUV: What Is It?

SUV: Sport Utility Vehicle. Toyota can take the charm or the blame for giving Planet Earth this, thanks to the RAV4. It didn’t take long for other manufacturers to join the queue, even the luxury brands. Nowadays, if you don’t offer a SUV or three, your sales force will take a hit.

But what is a SUV? The way I see it, in simple terms, it’s a crossover between a station wagon and a four wheel drive, with the origin sometimes a sedan style vehicle that became a wagon. The RAV4, the car some call the original SUV (although the Americans will claim it was the Cherokee in 1984 that started the trend), was and remains a wagon in shape, sitting on a raised body style.

Let’s break down where we sit in 2015; there’s no longer a case of one size fits all, so, for the purposes of simplicity, I’ll go small/medium/large.

Australia’s perennial combatants, Ford and Holden, both offer entries in the small SUV size. Based on their small cars, the Fiesta and Barina, they offer up the EcoSport and Trax. They’re tiny, at just under 4300 mm in length and sitting on wheelbases of just 2600 mm. It really is as if the hatch has been perched on top of a mini four wheel drive system. Power comes from, generally, the same kind of engines found in the “donor” vehicle. The Trax offers either a 1.8L or turbo 1.4L whilst Ford has the same 1.0L three cylinder as found in the Fiesta, in its range.
Japanese company, Suzuki, well known for its niche approach, has the Swift based S-Cross in its range, the revamped and renamed SX4. Light SUVAlthough not strictly a SUV, there’s not enough difference to not include the somewhat odd looking Japanese entry. Another odd looker is the controversially styled Nissan Juke; personally not a favourite of mine it still needs to be included as it fits the criteria I have set. Mitsubishi would have us believe the ASX is gorgeous….I’ll leave that to you (don’t forget the sister models from Peugeot and Citroen)

Next step up the ladder we find the Audi Q5, Porsche Macan, Ford Kuga, Jeep Cherokee, Holden’s Captiva, Kia Sportage, Hyundai ix35/Tucson, Nissan Dualis and the one that started it all, the RAV4 and they’d all be within this medium class. Most are five seaters only, a couple offer seven (albeit) cramped seats, will vary in engine capacity and fuel (diesels start to be more common here, at around the 2.0L size). Subaru’s evergreen Forester would dovetail nicely and has just been updated to slide a diesel into the engine bay as well. Features such as forward collision warning, auto tailgates and the like start to become within reach. Drivetrain options will be primarily automatic and front wheel drive only, with some makers offering some off road ability and electronic controls like Hill Descent Control, however the Cherokee will be a standout with a “proper” off road transfer case and four wheel drive capability.Ford KugaMazda CX5

Up the ladder we find the large SUV; consider the Grand Cherokee, Volvo XC60/90, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Toyota Kluger, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, Ford Territory and such. Price will vary considerably between makers and individual models with a range, with features such as glass roofs, seven seats, rear seat air conditioning vents and controls. Off road capability increases, with more having a centre locking differential as standard (but not necessarily a transfer case for low range gearing) plus ride height will have increased and diesels will be more prevalent compared to petrol engines (generally around 3.0L and above) and interior trim levels and equipment will have increased to reflect the specification level.Volvo XC 60 profile
Mazda once had the CX-9; sales decreased due to the viability of the CX-7 hence I include the CX-7 here, with the CX-3 and CX-5 slotting into the small an medium car parks.

Companies such as Nissan and Toyota do provide dedicated off road capable vehicles such as the LandCruiser and Patrol, as does Land Rover and Range Rover. As such, they tend not to come under the SUV umbrella.
This article is also not intended to be a solid and definitive coverage, rather it’s to provide a guideline and paint an idea of what a SUV may entail. For more specific details, please use the various company websites.


  1. GEORGE says:

    AT 85, I NEED A VEHICLE THAT IS “BUM HEIGHT LEVEL” i.e I don’t have to squat down into the car or struggle to rise..just merely sit swivel and lift the legs in and getting out of the vehicle
    and it needs to be about the same size of a FORD FOCUS or may 10 cm more.
    The car will need all the cameras & lane changing indication and any other safety features.

    NOW the first manufacturer that starts to target to the over 60’s market with the above features will have increased sales.


    March 27th, 2015 at 8:39 pm

  2. Antony B says:

    I think it funny that you mention the Jeep Grand Cherokee is more similar to a Kluger or Territory AWD, than it is towards a Range Rover/Patrol/Landcrusier.

    Admittedly is may not ne quite as good at the Range Rover, Nissan or Toyota entries in the 4wd stakes but it is a proper 4wd that will leave the ones it is listed with for dead. The GC is a true off roader unless you (with cheap, fall into the ‘I got a Jeep’ crowd) get the cheapest Larado.

    March 30th, 2015 at 7:26 am

  3. Garry Phillips says:

    Dear George, You may want to check out the TOYOTA RUKUS.
    Not much of a looker ,but does have easy in and out access.
    All the very best, Garry

    March 30th, 2015 at 4:52 pm

  4. Les says:

    I believe you will find the “FIRST” use of the term SUV was by Jeep, from around 1964. It described a “Dual Cab Ute” with 4X4 capability and sold as a “Sport Utility Vehicle”. Note: “Sport” not “Sports”. It was intended for dad to use for Sport, as a Ute for work and to take the family out when not Hunting or Working. So, if you don’t own a Dual Cab Ute with 4X4, you don’t own an SUV.

    April 6th, 2015 at 6:49 pm

  5. Dave Conole says:

    Hi Les, if you’d be kind enough to provide some further info, I’d be happy to include that. Thanks for the feedback. Dave

    April 7th, 2015 at 8:20 am