If you’re not an off-road enthusiast who’s obsessed with performance, it’s easy to get confused by the term ‘true SUVs’. After all, an SUV is an SUV, right?
Not exactly, and most people have a definition of what they consider a true SUV. We’ve explained their distinctions and listed some ‘real’ SUVs for you.
Table of Contents
What’s the Difference Between True SUVs and Crossovers
Before we dive into it, you should know what their difference is and whether it even matters. True SUVs are more like trucks because they’re built on a truck chassis. Crossovers, on the other hand, are built on a car frame. Now let’s get more technical.
A vehicle’s chassis is its skeleton, and all other car parts directly or indirectly rest on it. In trucks and true SUVs, the frame is first built, then the body is attached to it. This type of chassis is referred to as a ladder-frame or body-on-frame design.
Crossovers use car chassis, which are called unibody frames because the frames are practically inseparable from the bodies. Sure, crossovers have many advantages and that’s why a lot of Americans prefer them for regular daily driving. However, true SUVs are still preferred for off-road and towing tasks, so we’ve prepared this list.
As you may have guessed, we call ladder-frame SUVs true SUVs because they were the first SUVs. Another reason is that they’re more suited for the tasks that the original SUVs were designed to do.
Most body-on-frame SUVs are full-size SUVs. On average, original SUVs were larger, so a few of them fall into the mid-size and compact SUV segment. That’s why it’s almost puzzling to imagine ladder-frame SUVs in the subcompact class.
Although they’re scarce everywhere and not just in the united states, here’s what we could find:
1. Suzuki Jimny
The Suzuki Jimny is the closest anyone has ever gotten to a sub-compact ladder-frame SUV. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because it’s not sold in the U.S. anymore.
Several people have likened it to the Willys Jeep, famous for its World War 2 role. Like the Willys Jeep, the Jimny knows its way around rough and uneven terrain. Also, its small size means it can maneuver tight spaces much better than every other ladder-frame SUV.
We consider the Jimny to be the only one of its kind because it’s the only ladder-frame sub-compact SUV today. More so, you can’t even buy it in the U.S. at the moment. With this in mind, it’s safe to say there aren’t sub-compact true SUVs sold in the united states right now.
It gets trickier to find a compact ladder-frame SUV. While there used to be a number of them around, the rush of crossover SUVs replaced them. This provided an alternative for automakers to reserve smaller SUV sizes for the crossover segment.
Today, the word compact has even become synonymous with the term crossover. So, almost all compact cars are crossovers. That’s why it’s easier to find ladder-frame SUVs in the mid-size or full-size categories.
2. Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler has two variations based on segments, so there’s a mid-size variant other than the compact Wrangler. However, the great news is that both variants of the Wrangler are still body-on-frame vehicles.
There’s often a thin line between compact and mid-size SUVs. Essentially, some SUVs are designed to be compact but are still classified as mid-size SUVs.
The Wrangler is as close as anyone can get to a modern compact true SUV with up-to-date safety features. While it’s not the most modern infotainment system, it’s quite acceptable for a true off-road SUV. It’s also a great choice for people who want off-road performance at a budget-friendly price.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of the Wrangler is that you get off-road performance without it being too large. So, a Jeep Wrangler is the most practical baby step if you’re not comfortable with a monstrous SUV. Also, like the Suzuki Jimny, you’d get perfect maneuverability in tight spaces.
3. Kia Sportage
Although the current Kia Sportage is a crossover, the earliest one was just a compact body-on-frame SUV. This means the Sportage came back after some years as a crossover with less off-road capability.
As expected, this was met with mixed reactions, with many folks disliking the reduced off-road performance. Still, the Kia Sportage has enjoyed success over the years.
Although many mid-size SUVs are also crossovers, you’d find some true SUVs in this segment. A mid-size SUV is also the last chance at an SUV that’s not large like a house. Let’s explore your options in the mid-size class.
4. Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner is among the remaining mid-size ladder-frame SUVs in the market. While it was originally a compact SUV, it has been produced as a mid-size SUV since 1995.
Like other cars we’ve talked about, the Toyota 4Runner is among the last remaining options in its segment. This makes it invaluable and also means it’s one of the best mid-size trucks for towing and off-road driving.
See also: SUVs with the lowest ground clearance.
5. Nissan Pathfinder
The Nissan Pathfinder has been in the market for a long time. It was first unveiled as a compact SUV before it became a mid-size one. From 1995 to 2012, it was produced as a mid-size body-on-frame SUV and that’s what we’re interested in.
Another SUV that has been produced in different classes is the Ford Bronco. So, because it has been a compact, full-size and mid-size SUV, we won’t include it. However, it’s one of the true SUVs still around today.
Except you plan on buying a Pathfinder from 10 years ago, you won’t find one that’s not a crossover. This further proves how much crossovers have taken over the SUV category.
No doubt, this is the class with the greatest number of true SUVs left. That means the full-size class is the right place to look for variety if you want off-road beasts. Let’s review your options.
6. Ford Expedition
The Ford Expedition was intended to continue in the footsteps of the Ford Bronco. Like the Bronco, it is an excellent vehicle for tough towing tasks. Unlike the Bronco, it has earned a reputation for being one of the largest SUVs out there.
Its size and three-row seating make it recommended for families and cross-country trips. However, don’t get stuck on one option. Let’s check others.
7. Toyota Sequoia
The Sequoia is a great example of a body-on-frame SUV derived from the chassis of a pickup truck. This truck is none other than the Toyota Tundra. In other words, we can say the Toyota Sequoia is just a Tundra with a covered trunk.
However, don’t take that too seriously because we’re sure the design is not so simple. Nonetheless, this quality makes the Sequoia a good choice, just like the Expedition.
Here. we talk about how long the Toyota Sequoia lasts.
8. Lincoln Navigator
The Navigator speaks class and grandeur, so it’s hard to imagine it as an off-road vehicle, no argument there. Driving it off-road or using it to tow another car may feel like using a Rolls Royce.
However, a towing capacity of 8,700 pounds and a ground clearance of 9.7 inches would disagree with you. While it’s not the best SUV for off-road driving, it’ll serve you well.
9. Chevrolet Suburban
The Chevy Suburban has been around for so long and is still being produced. That alone says a lot about its quality. It’s also considered by many people to be the first SUV ever made.
This would mean the 1935 Chevy Carryall Suburban cleared the path for modern SUVs today. However, many still regard the original Suburban as a station wagon, so it boils down to perception and opinions. If you want a ladder-frame performer, the Suburban is a great place to start.
Today, it’s difficult to stare at a true SUV for too long, especially a mid-size one. Blink and it becomes a crossover. We’ve seen more than a few cases of automakers redesigning their SUVs to become crossovers.
So, while some SUVs would remain true SUVs, we expect that number to drop because of the reduced demand.
It’s exciting to know some cars still feature ladder-frame chassis. However, crossovers provide a wider range of usage than our old ‘true’ pals.
So, if you’re buying a true SUV, you should be a constant off-roader. Else, there is no need for a ladder-frame SUV.
Besides, a crossover would also serve you well on mild off-road trips. Ultimately, perhaps it’s finally time for crossovers to take over the SUV segment for good.
To learn more about crossovers, read this article about what determines a crossover car.