When looking to lease a new car, you are quite often met with an array of body types and styles to choose from. Hatchback, estate, saloon, SUV... the list goes on. But what is an SUV and how do you know it’s the right type of car you need?
What Does SUV Mean?
SUV is an initialism for Sports Utility Vehicle and refers to the type of car which has a high driving position (similar to a 4x4), but the body and design of the vehicle are sleeker and more stylish. Typically, an SUV will have a monocoque chassis, which means the body of the vehicle and the platform are all 1 piece, whereas your traditional rough-and-tumble 4x4 will have a ladder-frame chassis – this means the vehicle’s platform is separate to the body.
The term SUV was first applied to American cars that had loads of interior space, were capable of driving off-road and were squarely marketed at outdoorsy people who spent their time doing active sports like hiking and mountain biking and so on. Lifestyle folks, in other words.
Why Are SUVs So Popular?
Over the last 10 to 20 years or so, SUVs have become more popular with families who prefer them to more traditional cars, such as saloons, estates or hatchbacks. But why?
Well, there are many reasons why the SUV has grown increasingly popular, but the most commonly cited justification is that the vehicle’s raised suspension and seating position provides multiple benefits – including increased visibility out of an SUV, a heightened sense of safety and imperious command when sitting in it, and also making it easier for putting child seats into the vehicle… and then children into said child seats afterwards.
The SUV is also often more practical and spacious than other car body styles, which makes it perfect for growing families.
Types of SUV:
Now that you’ve decided on an SUV as your next car, what type of SUV should you get? We’ve broken it down into types of SUVs and what cars you could get under each category.
Similar to larger 4x4 vehicles with a high driving position, but compact like a hatchback and suitable for a family. Crossovers typically don’t have 4-wheel drive, usually running power through the front axle alone, but at the upper ends of their respective ranges, there is usually an all-wheel-drive option or version available.
For those looking for something more than the regular crossover. The midsize SUV has the same high driving position, but with more space and a sleeker design. More commonly 4-wheel drive, usually the defining factor in determining between what is a crossover and what is an SUV.
If you want to go the full shebang, go for the full-sized SUV. You’ll get the most space for passengers, more boot space than you’ll know what to do with and the best in-car tech to top it all off. Almost always 4-wheel drive and usually with the benefit of 7 seats.
What’s The Difference Between An SUV And A Hatchback?
Technically, an SUV IS a hatchback, because it has a boot lid (hatch) at the ‘back’ of the car which opens upwards. Of course, that definition applies to almost anything that isn’t a saloon, coupe or convertible, so there are differences between the 2.
Hatchbacks are cars, pure and simple. These are traditional, lower vehicles that used to be the preferred mode of family transportation before SUVs took a hold on the market. We’re talking things like the Vauxhall Corsa, the Ford Focus, the Volkswagen Golf, the Toyota Corolla and so on. An SUV, as we’ve discussed, rides higher than any of these cars and has a pretence – in either looks or in technical capability, if it has 4WD – of being able to better survive should you ever decide to drive it away from the public highways.
Regardless, both SUVs and hatchbacks are fantastic options for families, and each type of vehicle has its own advantages. If you have a large family or want a bit more space, you may want to consider an SUV. An SUV has added benefits like greater outward visibility and extra ground clearance too, due to it having a raised ride height. Another difference is passenger space. A typical hatchback can hold 4 or 5 passengers, but (depending on which SUV you go for) you could get up to 7 in an SUV.
In defence of the traditional hatchback, the taller, heavier SUV normally uses more fuel than a typical car, so if budgetary concerns are uppermost in your mind, stick with a car and not a crossover or SUV.
What’s The Difference Between An SUV And A Crossover?
You may not think there is much difference between an SUV and crossover, as both are big and suitable for families, but key differences exist. A crossover car is lighter, smaller and usually is only fitted with 2-wheel drive – which will normally be the front wheels.
An SUV is bigger, heavier, more expensive and will frequently be fitted with 4-wheel drive, plus various in-car control systems to help it perform off-road. Obviously, there is some (ahem) crossover between the 2 classes, as you can get a few 4WD crossovers and there are a handful of SUVs that only have 2-wheel drive, although they tend to be models no longer on sale these days (e.g., any sDrive-badged BMW X5).
Naturally, there are some major similarities between crossovers and SUVs. Both are raised off the ground for extra clearance, which allows drivers better visibility over other cars. Extensive interior space for passengers and luggage also makes them a popular choice for drivers and families.
What’s The Difference Between An SUV And A 4x4?
We know that the SUV was built for rougher terrain, but what about a 4x4? In truth, 4x4 literally means 4-wheel drive, so any SUV (or indeed crossover, or even a car) with 4WD is also a 4x4. However, as SUVs are a newer, more road-focused breed of 4-wheel drive vehicles, the 2 terms are now deployed to mark distinctions between the vehicle types.
Traditional 4x4s will have a more primitive ladder-frame chassis construction, in which the vehicle’s platform (its chassis) and its bodywork are 2 separate items. This allows them a great degree of flexibility away from tarmacked roads, but it also renders them less comfortable to drive when you’re on the public highways. Also, 4x4s tend to have heavy-duty 4-wheel drive systems, with things like locking differentials and low-ratio transfer gearboxes. They are also typically fitted with off-road-biased tyres, designed to get them through sticky mud.
In contrast, SUVs are monocoque (strictly, ‘unibody’ or ‘unitary construction’, as cars aren’t true monocoques). This process is how passenger cars have been constructed for decades, and it means the body, floorpan and chassis are all 1 structure. There’s a bit of a grey area as to which vehicle was the first unibody SUV but the widely accepted progenitor was the 1984 Jeep Cherokee, which was then cemented by the arrival of the 1st-generation BMW X5 in 1999.
SUVs, even if they have 4-wheel drive, rarely have locking differentials and low-ratio ‘boxes, instead relying more on clever electronics to maintain forward momentum in rough conditions. They are also much more road-biased, typically fitted with sports tyres (especially high-performance derivatives) and optimised to be comfortable on tarmac. They can tow as well as 4x4s – many SUVs are capable of hauling 3500kg of braked trailer behind them, the legal maximum in the UK – but they will not venture as far into the wilderness as a good 4x4 can go.
Can I Take My SUV Offroad?
Technically, yes. Most SUVs are able to go off-road to a certain degree, but if you want to do some serious off-roading regularly, it’s best to opt for a proper 4x4 with off-road tyres that can handle the terrain. If you are only going off-road every once in a while, your standard SUV should manage the trip using its predominantly electronic all-wheel-drive system. That said, you may want to think about off-road tyres, which are more puncture resistant and are better at finding grip on difficult surfaces such as rock, sand and mud.