Every carmaker from Ford to Ferrari offers at least one SUV in their range, but should you choose an SUV as your next car?
SUV this, SUV that. It’s one of the hottest buzzwords in car land, and this body style outsells pretty much everything else. Take a look at new car sales data and you’ll see the Ford Puma has overtaken the Ford Fiesta, and SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson jostling alongside more traditional cars like the Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo.
Some brands are now committed to only selling SUVs to suit current customer demand. But what is an SUV and should you buy one? Our guide has the answers.
What does SUV mean?
SUV stands for ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’. It’s come to mean a chunky car with a raised ride height and a practical cabin that is mostly suited to on-road driving – even if many SUVs have looks clearly inspired by off-roaders.
The term is older than you might think – the first mention of Sport Utility Vehicle was in a brochure for the 1974 Jeep Cherokee. But cars like the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne really brought it into common usage at the turn of the 21st century. SUVs have become so popular that even supercar makers Ferrari and Lamborghini have built practical, high-riding models of their own.
What is the difference between an SUV and a 4x4?
4x4s are typically off-road-focused machines that offer impressive all-terrain capability – but usually at the expense of on-road handling and fuel economy. Think cars like the Land Rover Defender, Jeep Wrangler and Mitsubishi Shogun Sport.
SUVs may be able to handle light off-roading, perhaps a grassy field or a muddy track, but are designed to be more comfortable and more efficient on asphalt roads. You could say that most 4x4s have an SUV body style, but not all SUVs are 4x4s.
How is an SUV different from a car?
SUVs are usually based on cars – for example, the Ford Kuga uses many of the same parts as the Ford Focus. But the Kuga is larger than the Focus in every dimension, so it’s more practical than the Focus – there’s more boot space and rear-seat space. SUVs have a higher ride height than a normal car, which can give you a more commanding view of the road ahead – as long as you’re not surrounded by other SUVs…
You’ll often find black plastic body cladding around an SUV’s wheel arches and bumpers. You might also get roof rails and a bluff-looking front end design with a tall bonnet. Ford has even tried to make its Focus hatchback look more like an SUV with the Active spec, which adds the cladding and roof rails.
Because SUVs are larger, higher off the ground and often heavier than the cars they’re based on, they are usually less efficient and a little slower than an equivalent hatchback. But these differences often aren’t huge, and many buyers want an SUV regardless of the marginal extra cost.
Are SUVs safer than cars?
The perception is that SUVs are safer than cars because they’re higher off the ground and there’s more metal between you and any object you might come into contact with. In truth, nearly all modern cars are impressively safe, whether you’re in a hatchback, a saloon or an SUV.
Data from Euro NCAP suggests that SUVs can perform slightly worse in pedestrian safety tests, largely due to their higher bonnets and ride heights. For example, the Honda HR-V SUV scored 72% for pedestrian protection, while the Honda Civic hatchback scored 82%.
Why are SUVs so popular?
Here are a few reasons why SUVs are so popular:
- More practical than an equivalent hatchback or saloon
- Better visibility of the road ahead thanks to a higher driving position
- A commanding, secure feel from behind the wheel
- Styling that suggests you live an adventurous, outdoorsy lifestyle
- Raised ride height makes it easier to get young children in and out
- Ride height can also help buyers with limited mobility
- Modern SUVs are usually very fuel efficient and car-like to drive – you get the benefits of the SUV body style without the traditional drawbacks of a 4x4
- May not be much more expensive than an equivalent hatchback on a PCP finance deal