How SUVs Have Evolved Throughout History

What are SUVs?

Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are a common sight in today’s world. But before they became mainstream and common, there were a lot of changes from the original off-road vehicles they were meant to be initially. Now, they are the most popular subcategory of vehicles on the road. 

Not long ago, SUVs were meant to be used as transportation for people who worked in their vehicles. They were also used by large families to travel together. Let’s take a brief look at the history of SUVs and how they have evolved over the years to a completely new era of cars. 

What are SUVs?

Sport Utility Vehicles or SUVs comprise a wide range of four-wheel-drive vehicles, which can be driven on-road or off-road alike. To understand this better, see SUV car list here. Occasionally, they also have raised ground clearance and other features to make it more rugged. The term SUV can also be used for smaller vehicles with no four-wheel drive options.

Popular Four-Wheel Drive SUVs

  • Range Rover
  • Chevrolet Suburban
  • Jeep
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Class

Popular Non-Four-Wheel Drive SUVs

  • Tata Harrier
  • Crossover SUVs
  • Toyota Fortuner

Commonly, 4X4 SUVs are considered to be the norm for this category, and most of them are made to scale harsh terrains, and drive on normal roads with ease. Also, their engines are generally more powerful than other vehicle categories. In many countries, SUVs are considered to be ‘light trucks’ rather than cars. Modern SUVs have four or more doors to accommodate more passengers.

Different SUV Sizes

Generally, there are three different sizes in which SUVs are categorized – full-size, mid-size, and small. To understand these subcategories better, see SUV list here: 

Full-Size or Extended-Length SUVs

The SUVs which fall under this category are either meant to be driven off-road, or they are luxury vehicles with space for extra passengers and cargo. Some of the most popular examples of full-size SUVs would be the 2019 GMC Yukon or the Cadillac Escalade. 

Mid-Size SUVs

These are the most common subcategory of SUVs that you may find on the road. These cars are quite similar to your average family cars in build and shape, but offer features like all-wheel drive, huge cargo space, and spacious interiors. Some of the common examples of this size would be Toyota Highlander or the Honda Pilot. 

Small SUVs

These SUVs are meant for daily commute and can be parked easily. Also, they are generally more maneuverable because of their size. Also, some small SUVs can be considered compact crossovers because of their overall shape and size. The most popular car in this category would be Mazda CX-5.

History of SUVs

World War II was the first time when cars started to be built with four-wheel drives and large interiors which were meant to be driven on harsh terrains. One of the most popular vehicles in the history of automotive vehicles, Jeep Wrangler was also one of the first SUVs to be sold to the public in 1944. This was actually just a rebranded retail version of the military jeep that was used in the second world war. 

Most people consider the 1955 Gaz-M20 to be one of the first cars to fall under the category of true SUVs. It was the first passenger car with a unibody frame that was mass-produced. Next, there was the Lada Niva, which was a compact form of SUV. It was more ‘SUV-like’ than our modern idea of SUVs and had an independent front suspension with unibody construction. 

But, the first true SUV that succeeded in the market was Jeep Grand Cherokee XJ, which was launched in 1984. Before this, most cars did not have a unibody frame. At this time, most SUVs were two-seaters, which made them unappealing to consumers with large families. 

How did SUVs Become So Popular?

The real spike in interest in SUVs from the common public was when Ford Explorer was released in 1990. This car, together with Jeep Cherokee paved the way for modern-day SUVs. There were some specific benefits that customers would get from choosing an SUV over a traditional passenger car. Take a look at some of the distinguishing features of SUVs – 

  • Large interiors with 5-9 seats. 
  • Four-wheel drive capabilities for better traction on-road and off-road. 
  • Better passenger-carrying capabilities with more space for cargo. 
  • High ground clearance for driving on rough and rocky terrain. 

Towards the end of the 80s, family sizes began to expand, leading to a sudden spike in interest in this category of cars. At that time, SUVs were not meant to look flashy, but the features they offered were more innovative.

Modern SUV Technologies

In recent years, there have been many groundbreaking innovations in technologies used in SUVs. There have been aerodynamic improvements for better fuel efficiency, and changes to the overall design of the cars to match those of regular cars. 

The design is the part where SUVs have improved the most over the years. SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai, have changed the design goals of many other manufacturers. This car combines four-wheel-drive styling with hatchback running costs in order to create a great overall design for the customer. 

Final Words

SUVs are constantly improving in efficiency, design, and power. The most recent innovation in this category comes from tesla, with their Model X, which runs on electrical power. More electrically powered SUVs are constantly being designed, and you should be seeing them on a common basis in the near future. 

Also, the term ‘SUV’ is slowly being used to describe more and more subcategories, which makes it a bit generalized. New cars released in this category are often more powerful and comfortable, but most of them don’t have the same groundbreaking features that their ancestors brought in relation to their time. 

SUVs like the Dacia Duster, are expected to increase the number of cars in the category of small and modest SUVs. Overall, SUVs are expected to keep evolving in the future and continue to be perhaps the most popular category of four-wheeler vehicles. 



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