What You Should Know Before Buying SUVs
Although you’ll not find many SUVs today sharing their chassis with a pickup (which is how Ford’s Explorer and Chevrolet’s postwar Suburban both started), a true SUV continues to embody truck-like capability when compared with its crossover cousin. And those strengths play very well if you’re towing or traveling largely untraveled byways, but less so if you’re not towing (much) or place a value on reasonable efficiency. The beefed-up capabilities of the true SUV, such as body-on-frame construction and 4WD, typically add both weight and physical bulk. The additional weight drives down fuel economy, while the added bulk makes them cumbersome in many urban areas. With all of that, the more traditional SUV remains popular; the GM plant assembling the Tahoe and Suburban typically runs three shifts, and Jeep’s Wrangler and Grand Cherokee – despite their relative age in the marketplace – are still swinging for the fences when calculating sales. And with the growing interest in ‘adventure’ travel, Toyota’s 4Runner – especially in TRD Pro form – is enjoying growing popularity among those pursuing weekends (or years) removed from the grid.
Exterior – SUVs are, historically, two boxes sitting atop a truck chassis. The smaller box houses the drivetrain, while the larger box is intended to hold people and their things. In the U.S., the most ubiquitous of the classic body-on-frame SUV is the Tahoe/Suburban. Increasingly, though, you’ll see the SUV descriptive attached to unibody platforms, where the chassis – rather than being separate – is fully integrated into the structure of the body; in short, unified or unibody. This design is invariably lighter and, for a given weight, stronger. Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, which remains a true SUV, features a unibody, as does its corporate cousin, the Dodge Durango. Other body-on-frame SUVs in today’s marketplace are Nissan’s all-new Armada and its sibling, the Infiniti QX80. For carrying big stuff while towing big stuff, there are few things better than the traditional SUV.
Interior – Although most vehicle interiors are measured in cubic feet, you can assess the comparative interior space of larger SUVs in cubic yards. And while the smaller crossover might afford you three rows of seats, rarely will it offer space for significant amounts of luggage or cargo behind those three seats; a 3-row SUV will typically give you space for all that and more. And when equipped with available 4WD or AWD, along with more entertainment technology than your neighborhood AMC, any adventure – on road or off – can become a family adventure. Interior design and materials are variable, and range from commercial/construction/hose-it-out to furnishings appropriate for a penthouse. Of course, most interior spec is tied to your investment; SUVs under $40K will provide you with function, and something under $90K will supply you with functional luxury.
Powertrains – With heavy duty body-on-frame construction, SUV powertrains tend to be more robust than those offered by their crossover cousins. A robust V6 is often standard, a lusty V8 is the norm, and increasing attention is paid to diesel for its combination of tow-friendly torque and thermal efficiency. Given that many SUVs began their sport utility roles as pickups, rear-wheel drive is often standard with all-wheel drive or 4WD enjoying across-the-board availability. And when so equipped with that 4WD or AWD, your daily commuter can easily become a weekend or vacation-oriented base camp.
Safety – With many more cubic feet of space, and a platform more amenable to incremental weight gain, the only thing keeping electronic adds from being included on an SUV is money. In almost every instance manufacturers make available their entire safety portfolio when equipping or, more correctly, optioning their SUVs. The available menu on Nissan’s all-new Armada is a representative sampling: Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW), Blind Spot Intervention (BSI), Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) and Around View® Monitor (AVM) with Moving Object Detection (MOD). Beyond the optional equipment, of course, is the security of knowing that what you’re in is bigger than what the other guy is in. And if you’re goal is to survive the collision when it can’t be avoided, there are few things better than a big SUV.
Technology – Today, if a manufacturer opts for an introduction at a major auto show the offering is more typically devoted to newly-introduced technology within the product than the outside sheetmetal or under-the-hood enhancements. Of course, automotive technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve safety, efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common. Of course, what happens in the dash is not all that’s happening with the operation of an SUV. Optional parking assist available from an increasing number of manufacturers will park the car for you. Rearview cameras are the norm, and 360-degree cameras are increasingly available on both luxury and more moderately priced SUVs.
With the continued emphasis on making cars, trucks and crossovers as connected to our daily lives and tasks as possible, you can count on SUV manufacturers to be more than ready to provide state-of-the-art tech at, of course, state-of-the-market prices. There is no inhibition – trucks and their SUV counterparts are notoriously profitable for automakers, and optional tech only makes them more so.
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