SUVs: The Evolution of A Driving Favorite

The SUV family tree includes station wagons, estate cars, light pickup trucks, minivans, large sedans, and even some standout forebears like the WWII-era Willys MB (or Jeep). SUVs began their more modern, widespread, popular presence in the 1990s, peaked in appeal because of high oil prices, then got hot again, especially when gas started getting cheaper and prices more stable. According to Wikipedia, “At the end of 2016, sales of SUVs and light duty trucks had surpassed traditional car sales for the year by over 3 million units.” Buyers like the bigger passenger and cargo space, safety features, towing possibilities and off-road capability.

What Is It?

Although there’s no single, inclusive definition, an SUV is definitely not a sedan. Edmunds, the everything-about-cars resource, uses the term to describe a vehicle with “a tall body, a hatchback and an elevated ride height,” and built on either a car platform (in which case, marketers are usually talking about a “crossover”) or a truck platform. A “car-based” design may give you better handling, better fuel economy, and a smoother, roomier ride. “Truck-based” SUVs are heavier, can tow more, and generally score better off-road.

Within those fairly broad descriptors is a nearly infinite choice of manufacturers, models, trim levels, and bells and whistles.  Subcompact to full-size, with subsets depending on seat layout (“3rd row, seats 8!”). And, of course, a very wide price range (from $20,000-ish to more than a hundred grand for very upscale, luxury examples).

What To Look For

Consider good crash scores (from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) among your buying checklist items (which should also include points like “cost to own” and insurance premiums).

ABS, front-side airbags and stability control are pretty standard, and more high-tech features like rearview cameras, keyless starters, power liftgates, and blind-spot warning alerts are becoming increasingly standard (as they are on more and more vehicles generally). And look for driver- and passenger-friendly features like foldable/removable–or reclinable–rear seats, electronic and entertainment options, plus extra storage bins and cup holders.


Four-to-eight cylinders, 2WD/4WD/AWD are all options.  Even if “very good” gas mileage isn’t generally associated with SUVs, the most efficient and economical can get you in the mid-high 20 mpg range, with hybrids doing considerably better.

Check out U.S. News & World Report’s Rankings and Reviews of the best 2017 SUVs (based on performance, exterior, interior, safety, and reliability).  They range from the #1 Compact Category Honda CR-V to the tied-for #2 Luxury SUV With 3 Rows–the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5 (the 2016 Tesla Model X won number one in this category).


4 thoughts on “SUVs: The Evolution of A Driving Favorite

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