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What Does SUV Stand For?

By Autolist Editorial | June 8, 2021

What Does SUV Stand For?

"SUV" is an acronym for "sport-utility vehicle." It is an abbreviation covering a broad range of rugged-looking, four-wheel-drive vehicles with off-road capabilities, high ground clearance, and a light-truck feel. Also called "sport-utes," among other terms, their large interior spaces, powerful towing capacities, and three rows of seating combine the storage and hauling benefits of pickup trucks with the sleekness and comfort of station wagons.

You may hear the term "crossover" when discussing SUVs. A crossover is simply a marketing term that refers to an SUV based on a car platform instead of a truck chassis. It is not considered an official type of vehicle, although automakers do like to refer to this term in their advertising campaigns. With this said, "SUV" is a loose term, as it can include vehicles ranging from car-like crossover SUVs with minimal off-roading capabilities to more Jeep-like SUVs with all-wheel-drive to manage rough terrains.

What Are SUVs?

Initially, sports utility vehicles were built on a truck chassis, but most modern SUVs feature a unibody construction in which the floors, body, and chassis all form a single structure. An SUV resembles a truck, minivan, and an average American family car combined together in terms of both look and feel.

The U.S., along with several other countries, classifies SUVs as light trucks rather than cars, giving them more relaxed fuel efficiency standards as a result. The term "sport-utility" isn't a technical term. It simply means the vehicle has a simple, outdoorsy quality and is excellent at getting things done. Although built for driving on rough surfaces with their four-wheel drive, SUVs are more often driven on city roads. Historical offroaders had two doors, but most modern SUVs have four or five doors to accommodate families.

SUVs are nearly two-fifths of the world's passenger car market, as of 2019, having bounced back from a down period during the Great Recession. The global supply of SUVs is projected to double between 2015 to 2025, and they've primarily supplanted other types of large family vehicles in the automotive market, including station wagons.

Although SUVs don't have the most exceptional fuel economy on the market, they have robust engines that don't tax easily. SUVs also have high seating positions and offer more passenger space. They tend to divide into models built for hauling heavy loads, excellent off-road driving capability, and models made for sleek looks and secure handling.

How Broad Is the Word "SUV"?

People confuse many types of big family vehicles, such as multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), with SUVs, so it's worth comparing the differences between them. Also called "minivans," MPVs are similar to SUVs in that they can carry five to seven people and have ample room for luggage, but they tend to be shorter in length than SUVs and have shorter hoods. Minivans are also not intended as offroad vehicles.

Similarly, sedans are spacious like SUVs, but they also lack offroad capabilities, and they don't fit more than five people. Hatchbacks are similar to other road cars in these respects, but lack extended trunks, instead favoring shared space for passengers and cargo.

Types of SUVs:

Mini SUV: Also known as subcompact SUVs, they are the smallest on the market. Basically, they are high-riding hatchbacks with minimal off-roading capability. The Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Seltos, and Mazda CX-30 fall into this category, and all offer all-wheel-drive. The Kia Soul is also considered a mini SUV but comes standard as a front-wheel-drive.

Small SUV: Better known as a compact SUV, they are considered the lifeblood of today's growing SUV market. Nearly every automaker offers a compact SUV model in their range as they have become the go-to vehicle for small families. Most offer generous cargo capacity and roomy rear seats. The Honda CR-V, Jeep Wrangler, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, and Ford Bronco are examples of compact SUVs. If you are looking for a small 3-row SUV, then look towards the Volkswagen Tiguan or Kia Sorento.

Midsize SUV: These SUVs take all the best parts of their compact counterparts and add extra passenger space and cargo capacity. Most midsize SUVs come standard with a turbo four-cylinder engine, but some feature a V6 engine. Extra towing capacity is also a benefit of midsize SUVs. Examples of SUVs in this category include Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, Honda Passport, BMW X5, and Toyota 4Runner.

Large SUV: A large or full-size SUV combines the heavy-duty feel of an SUV with the technology and underlying platforms of passenger cars. Full-size SUVs boast robust towing capabilities and a massive interior that can seat up to eight or nine passengers. The Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, Land Rover Range Rover, and GMC Yukon all fall into this type of SUV.

Today, the most consistent sellers are compact crossovers and midsize SUVs; however, for city dwellers, subcompact SUVs seem to offer extra appeal. SUVs can be further classified into luxury SUVs in each of the above categories. Luxury SUVs may share the same size as their mainstream counterparts, but you can expect upgrades that match high prices. You will find more sophisticated interior materials and upgrades to safety and technology features.

History of SUVs

Americans can be picky buyers when it comes to choosing a new car. Sales data shows that hatchbacks and station wagons are still on the shopping list for some car shoppers; however, another vehicle is quickly rising in popularity. Raise the suspension by a couple of inches and flare the fenders, and you have an SUV. They have become so high in demand that car dealers cannot keep them for very long on their lots.

Perhaps it is the early success of the truck-based SUVs that sparked so much interest in today's mainstream car-based SUVs, which have raised the bar to deliver more comfort, improved fuel economy, and functionality. But, what is an SUV, and what does SUV stand for? We will look at this vehicle in more detail and find out what truly defines this rising favorite.

The term "sport-utility vehicle" spread in the 1980s, when American Motors Corporation lobbied the U.S. Congress to make a separate category for vehicles that were neither trucks nor passenger cars but had elements of both. Originally, the term had a slash, as in "sport/utility vehicle," to emphasize the dual nature of the SUV. Sometimes the term had a hyphen instead, as in "sport-utility vehicle." Before SUVs appeared, people sometimes used the term "utility wagon" for tough, roomy station wagons such as the 1930s Chevrolet Suburban, which is the ancestor of modern SUVs. Today, the word "SUV" has some baggage. Many people associate sport utility vehicles with materialism and pollution, as they're not the most fuel-efficient, and their large designs suggest a desire for status. For this reason, "crossover" and "CUV" (crossover utility vehicle) have become popular stand-ins for "SUV," even when the SUV in question isn't a crossover.

In the automotive world, popular classifications don't always map onto official ones. In various countries, people refer to all light, four-wheel-drive vehicles as "Jeeps" or "Land Rovers," even though both terms refer to specific brands. That's because Jeeps and Land Rovers were common in World War II, where they demonstrated exceptional ruggedness and offroad capability, and because the Jeep Cherokee introduced in 1984 is widely seen as the first true SUV.

Recently, however, "SUV" has become a catchall term around the world for such vehicles. There are also many slang variations on "SUV," most of them derogatory. For example, "FUV" plays on the F-word to suggest contempt for the working class, while "land destroyer" and "urban assault vehicle" invoke a somewhat aggressive look of the SUV. Other pejorative terms for SUVs include "portable living room," "yuppiemobile," "lardwagon," "truck beast," "soccer mom," and "Lincoln aggravator" (derived from "Lincoln Navigator"). Regional terms for SUVs also abound. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, such vehicles are commonly called "Toorak Tractors," after the affluent Melbourne suburb of Toorak. Norwegians call SUVs "Stock Exchange Tractors" for a similar effect, and Londoners call them "Chelsea Tractors" after the wealthy suburb in West London.

Nonetheless, SUVs have evolved over time, regardless of what one perceives the SUV meaning to be. As they have evolved, their popularity has risen too since nine of the top 20 vehicles sold in 2019 in the U.S.A. were SUVs or SUV crossovers. Over a million of those sales in 2019 were new SUVs or light pickup trucks.