Which Ones Can We Call SUV?

2013 Ford Explorer is a unibody construction, not body-on-frame. PHOTO: Net Car Show

2013 Ford Explorer is a unibody construction, not body-on-frame. PHOTO: Net Car Show

There’s no other unique automobile body type that has commanded such a huge following in our country than the SUV. Sports Utility Vehicle. The reasons? There are two, and anyone would agree that 1) SUVs are a huge status symbol and 2) not only are they strong, Capable, Rugged, and Durable, they just breathe that aura. Status had to go with strength! Add Ability. Or, as BMW loves to, Activity.

But one thing has evidently been overlooked (or I could risk saying dropped) by carmakers, as we see in some of the latest refreshes and releases of SUVs for the 2013 and 2014 model years, and the now so popular, so beloved, so sought after, hybridization of sedan, called crossover utility vehicle, or CUV. That one thing? The unique place of the SUV itself. It’s very legacy.

That is what Just Jigged will acquaint you with now and give you the features that continue to define true SUV, which you should look for. We’ve jigged all the releases and refreshes and we share them with you.

When the body type debuted in the late 90’s, SUV was practically a pickup truck, and was a body-on-frame construction, similar to a station wagon but equipped with four-wheel drive for off-road work. Body-on-frame chassis construction meant that the SUV had a rigid steel frame over which the cabin was molded. It was stalwart! The extra weight and complex setup of the four-wheel drive train were well supported. The Capability was sexy! Great off-road prowess!

When I say debut in the late 90’s, don’t misunderstand me. Really, “SUV’s,” of course, do note the quotes, had been there since after the second World War, the Jeeps, the Land Rover series, the Wagoneers, the Broncos, the Toyota FJ-55 Land Cruiser, the GMC Jimmy, had been there and built for urban families, combining plush interior of a mere station wagon with off-road ability of a military Jeep. But, these were still just called wagons, so that, as far as terminology goes, SUV just hadn’t been born. They are now. And station wagon? Old-fashioned. Just doesn’t resonate anymore!

Automakers have the almighty power to build a car type and to kill it.

And before I go any further, I want you to know that body-on-frame used to be the way all automobiles were built in the old days. Now, even if the modern-day favoring of monocoque, or one-piece, unibody frame, design works for cars, sedans, true-breed SUVs still stick with the body-on-frame we’re talking about. We’ll find it’s what makes the difference. And, I’ll mention a few, just risk mention a few for you.

Whenever we said Jeep (brand name becoming generic) or Land Rover, we pictured a big wagon that was only a few levels lower in Capability as the Humvees but inspired similar levels of confidence albeit for domestic Purposes. There once was off-roads. Are there still? I could also ask if families still haul heavy loads. Because, it comes down to owning a multipurpose vehicle.

Ford was renowned for the Explorer which started in 1995 as a true SUV, but the 2013 model and onward are no longer quite such. Yes, the new Explorer may still retain some strength and features that may qualify it as SUV, and yes, it can handle some off-roading, but, really, really, and just like the Toyota Highlander, and Nissan Pathfinder, it is more of a big city car these days. Looks very tolerable for everyday city cruising.

Yes, daily uses of SUVs these days are largely on paved roads. You want to question if there still is a place for the body type? Questions along those lines and a bit of survey led Ford to design the Explorer the way it is now. A fine, fine car! Another reason SUVs are more inclined to become a little “softer” is that starting from 2004 the United States Environmental protection Agency began holding them to the same tailpipe standards as cars. So, they have to be cars! Besides, a unibody design saves an automaker time and money.

But, yes, but, for those who still understand that there remain a place for SUV forever, ever, it is best that we know which ones really so are. Truth is because the general styling hasn’t changed, the skeleton which you do not see cannot tell which is which, except you look inside, which is why we need to jig them as they come. General styling? Why, same higher ground clearance, upright boxy body, high hip point, high road visibility, large cargo area, plenty of interior room still pervade them all, whether truck frame or unibody.

So? Well, let’s get right to it!

The first feature I love to highlight to look for on an SUV is suspension. It should be air, or some sort of, Adaptive suspension, meaning by a simple push of a button at the dash you can either lower the ride height for better on-road handling or increase it for better of-road traversing. Sometimes, I feel 8 inches on-road is too high, but that appears to be the standard. Yet, a true SUV will rise 11 inches off the ground off-road. The wheels about such suspension will be located by a double wishbone-shaped independent setup, which means greater load-bearing, stability, more optimized wheel motion off-road, and handling.

Why not 4WD? Needless to say! But, note that AWD is not the same as and never as Capable as 4WD, just because the four wheels are permanently driven. That’s why the second feature to look for is the transfer case low-gear range. A 4WD can go into a very low gear range, lower than first gear, when the terrain proves punishing, like rock crawling, mud wading, or steep, steep incline.

As for power, I don’t usually talk about it. It’ll be just fine to run things. That is, motive power, power from the engine. But how do the axles manage all the torque? So, the third feature is the differentials. Whether one wheel of your SUV will spin relative to another depending on the level of the ground at a particular spot will depend on how well the differentials handle torque vectoring, proportioning of power to wheels as needs demand. That said, look for things like limited-slip differential and electronic-locking differential.

Beyond all other features that can be on any automobile, the three features above are ultimate and truck territory. How one manufacturer does it better than another may determine whether one SUV is more Capable than another. Now, since I highlighted just three key features let me limit the risk of recommending to just three. Usually, it is in the looking inside and testing that we find these things. So? The Grand Cherokee is one. The Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged is another, and the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG (the G-Wagon!) is yet another. Classic.If all your runs are within the metropolitan areas of Lagos you may not understand that we still have very, I mean, very limited number of paved roads in the country, and a lot of farms, rocky, mountainous trails, remote areas, etc where a true SUV just begins to come alive and have fun, or give you fun. Otherwise, you may just settle for the big (high-riding) cars. They’re just fine!

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5 thoughts on “Which Ones Can We Call SUV?

  1. […] all, don’t think I now hate this current generation unibody Touareg. I still love this car. It still retains some SUVness like double wishbone front suspension, Torsen center locking differential, rear steel spring […]

  2. […] what would you expect if you learned that Lamborghini was to build a SUV? Sports Utility Vehicle? I spell that out on Purpose. Now, quickly discount the military-minded LM002, you know it? The Rambo Lambo Humvee. LM, […]

  3. […] (I use that loosely) was (or would be at the time it should’ve come alive and have fun) (note that SUV really is a truck!) (or should be a truck – it keeps changing) he would not have bought it! That particular one, […]

  4. […] I got to admit that of all SUVs (and I mean true SUVs as I’ve attempted a couple times to define the body type) I love the Range Rover! I won’t suffix that yet. Just Range Rover. But, I know the picture […]

  5. I present here a better expansion upon the SUV thought.

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