type of automobile
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A sports utility vehicle, also known as a sport utility van or simply an SUV or a sport utility car, is a type of vehicle which combines the load-hauling and versatility of a pickup truck with the passenger-carrying space of a minivan, hatchback, station wagon, passenger van or large sedan. It is built as a rugged vehicle for cargo and passenger carrying. Originally SUVs were not designed to be fuel efficient but modern designs are getting better fuel mileage. In 2014 US sales of SUVs were over five million vehicles.[1]

Toyota Land Cruiser J300

There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive."[2] Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A crossover SUV is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars); however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.[3]

The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel-drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 Jeep Cherokee (XJ) is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style.[4][5] Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large sedans and station wagons. SUVs accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021.[6]

SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation.[7] Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second-largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide.[8] Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers.Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit.[9][10][11] Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously.[12]


A Jeep Rubicon

The typical SUV is a two-box design.[13] Unlike a pickup truck (US term) that has an enclosed cabin, and an open cargo box the SUV has an enclosed cargo/passenger compartment.[13] It has upright seating for five to seven passengers.[14] It has an open interior with no trunk. It is often built on a pickup truck chassis for towing capacity, and usually has four wheel drive.[14] Only about 15% of SUV owners ever go off-road.[15] According to Jeep Wrangler brand manager Kevin Metz, 60% of Jeep Wrangler owners go off-road while around 80% of Rubicon owners do.[15]

A similar class of vehicle is the crossover SUV, a common Northern American term. That is built on a car chassis.[16] Often it uses a unibody chassis instead of the heavier body-on-frame design of SUVs.[16] Crossover vehicles often have all-wheel-drive instead of four-wheel drive. Crossovers are usually lighter than SUVs and get better fuel mileage. In general, when referring to an SUV, many include crossovers.[16] However it is incorrect to refer to an SUV on a truck frame as a crossover.[16]


A Bantam Jeep during Army testing
1953 International Harvester Travelall, an early SUV-type vehicle

Early SUVs were built like light commercial and light wheeled military utility vehicles. Famous examples were the World War Jeep (US),[17] and the Land Rover (UK).[18]

The term "sport utility vehicle" came into popular use in the late 1980s. Until then, they were marketed as station wagons. An early example of marketing a civilian off-roader as a "sports utility" is the two-door pickup version of the 1966 Ford Bronco.[19] In 1974 Jeep used the term "sport(s) utility vehicle" exactly in their brochures for the 1st generation Jeep Cherokee.

Off-roading sports

Camel Trophy Land Rover

Many kinds of off-roading in the USA are centered around SUVs.

  • Rockcrawling is a popular off-road sport. Vehicles used for rock crawling are usually modified with different tires, suspension and gear ratios. Rock crawling takes time to learn and can be very expensive. Most rock crawlers have full-time jobs and many get sponsors to help with the costs.[20] The object is to get the vehicle across difficult to near-impossible rocks and terrain without completely destroying the vehicle.
  • The Camel Trophy competition (1981–2000) was an annual 4x4 competition. The first Camel trophy was held on the Trans-Amazonian Highway, a 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) road across Brazil. Over the next eight years, the expeditions crossed Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Zaire, Brazil, Borneo, Australia, Madagascar and Sulawesi before returning to the Amazon. After the first year the endurance event came to be dominated by specially equipped Land Rover vehicles. The Camel Trophy Owners Club is a group of people who collect ex-Camel Trophy vehicles.
  • Jeep Jamborees have been held since 1953.[21] Jeep Jamborees are off-road excursions that travel historic and scenic trails across the US. In 2013 alone there were 32 events in various locations.[22] All models of Jeep enter the events and drivers range from first time off-roaders to seasoned veterans.
  • Easter Jeep Safari is an annual event held at Moab, Utah. It has been held every year since 1967.[23] It runs for nine days ending on Easter Sunday and can have up to 1,000 vehicles of all kinds; not just Jeeps.[23] It uses up to 40 trails in the Moab area. Trails are rated from easy to difficult.
  • King of the Hammers is a one-day 200+ mile endurance off-road race.[24] It combines desert racing and rock crawling. This race is held in February on Means Dry Lake at Johnson Valley, California USA. 2015 will be the 9th annual King of the Hammers event.[24] The vehicles are extremely modified and for off-road use only.



There are many reasons why SUVs have become popular. One reason is the comfort of their large cabins. Many models can carry almost as much as a minivan. Another reason is the driver sits higher than other cars, giving better all-round vision. SUVs with truck frames are heavier (sometimes much heavier) than standard cars. Their size gives them an image of safety.[25]

Men aren't the only targets of SUV and CUV ads. For example, some ads for the Subaru Forester are deliberately aimed at women buyers.[26] Roughly 35 to 40 percent of SUV buyers are women.[27] Ads commonly show SUVs driving across boulders or perched on a mountain peak.[28] Advertisers know that one important reason many people buy SUVs is image.[28]

Practicality for larger families is a consideration. Not only can the vehicle take a family of five or six, plus luggage, but also the family dog (who often has a special compartment at the back). On the other hand, the vehicle doesn't fit standard parking spaces. That can be quite a problem in, for example, the UK. The alternative, when groups of more than four travel, is to take more than one standard size car.

Other names


In Australia and Europe SUVs are often called 4 wheel drives (4X4) or 4WDs.


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  2. "SUV Meaning: What is an SUV?". Car and Driver. 13 April 2020. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  3. Wardlaw, Christian (15 September 2021). "What is a Crossover SUV?". J.D. Power. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  4. "1984 Jeep Cherokee". The Washington Post. 2 February 2003. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  5. Jordan, Michael (September 1983). "1984 Jeep Cherokee Reimagines the 4x4 for a New Age". Car and Driver. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
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  7. Cite error: The named reference InternationalEnergy was used but no text was provided for refs named (see the help page).
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  9. "Taller cars and trucks are more dangerous for pedestrians, according to crash data". NPR. 2023.
  10. Tyndall, Justin (2024). "The effect of front-end vehicle height on pedestrian death risk". Economics of Transportation. 37. doi:10.1016/j.ecotra.2024.100342. ISSN 2212-0122.
  11. Lawrence, Eric D.; Bomey, Nathan; Tanner, Kristi (July 1, 2018). "Death on foot: America's love of SUVs is killing pedestrians". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  12. Gladwell, Malcolm (2004-01-05). "Big and Bad". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on February 19, 2016. Retrieved 2021-10-30.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jason Fogelson. "SUV—Sport Utility Vehicle". Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Caroline Baillie, Engineering and Society (San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2009), p. 293
  15. 15.0 15.1 Melissa Eligul (20 November 2013). "Awesome Adventures News Blog". Awesome Adventures News. Archived from the original on 12 January 2015. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 "SUV vs. Crossover: What?s the Difference?"., Inc. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  17. "sport utility vehicle | automobile". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2009-02-23.
  18. Bradsher, Keith (2004). High and Mighty: SUVs—The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-58648-203-9.
  19. "1966 Ford Bronco U-100 4-Wheel Drive models & features brochure". US: Ford. 1965. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2018.
  20. Patrick Hueller, Rock Crawling: Tearing It Up (Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2014), pp. 24–25
  21. Bob Carpenter (25 November 2014). "2014 BIG BEAR JEEP JAMBOREE". Fourwheeler Network. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  22. Sue Mead (3 December 2014). "The First Annual Roof of the Rockies Jeep Jamboree". Truck Trend. Archived from the original on 9 December 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  23. 23.0 23.1 R. Buckley, Adventure Tourism (Wallingford, UK; Cambridge, MA: CABI Publishing, 2006), p. 424
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  25. Keith Bradsher, High and Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV (New York: Public Affairs, 2003), p. xiii
  26. Jack Solomon, Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012), p. 61
  27. Deborah Clarke, Driving Women: Fiction and Automobile Culture in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), p. 103
  28. 28.0 28.1 Jean Kilbourne, Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (New York: Touchstone, 1999), p. 103