What Exactly Determines An SUV? (6 Common Features)

There’s a lot of confusion among car buyers regarding what defines an SUV.

Words like mid-size, crossover, compact, off-road, and full-size fly around effortlessly.

Needless to say, these words blur the lines between SUVs and other car types.

Allow us to help you define the features of an SUV once and for all. Not only are SUVs heavy vehicles, but there are also other things to define them.

1. They Brandish the Iconic Boxed Shape

This is the easiest way to identify an SUV because they are usually designed with more rough edges than sedans. Their figures can be analogized to that of trucks.

While it’s not a compulsory feature, this shape is pretty common. Also, we’re starting with simpler features that’ll help you identify SUVs at a glance. We’ll also keep it simple throughout so you can tell the difference from a mile away.

Although not all boxed cars are SUVs, if you pick a random boxed car, it’s probably an SUV. A typical example is the Kia Soul and its signature shape. Although the Soul exaggerates the SUV box-like design, it helps pass our point across.

However, while the box shape helps in identifying them easily, it isn’t always a great feature. That’s why SUVs suffer from severe wind resistance because the wind can’t brush over them with ease.

Instead, the windshield is always met with noteworthy resistance.

A negative effect of this aerodynamic drag is decreased fuel economy. Still, we wouldn’t blame automakers for such designs. Their boxed shape has always been needed to properly house their large interiors.

That’s because it’s difficult to package such huge interior components beneath a sedan-like design. So that’s why the boxed shape is common in SUVs; it’s functional.

Thankfully, modern SUVs have better aerodynamics and improved fuel efficiency. This doesn’t mean the boxed shape has been abandoned, it just means the edges have gotten smoother.

2. SUVs Have Higher Ground Clearance

Ground clearance is the distance between the lowest point of the car (other than the tires) and the road. You may also know it as ride height.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that SUVs ride higher than sedans and that’s a significant defining feature.

Even crossover SUVs (which are a blend between SUVs and regular cars) have higher ground clearance than sedans.

You may wonder what the significance of their greater ride height is. Well, it is what makes SUVs so great for off-road driving. This ensures there’s just enough space to navigate through dirt and rocks without incurring damage to the lowermost vehicle components.

Unfortunately, it’s also why they have a higher center of gravity. As you may have guessed, this isn’t an advantage. A car with a high ride height is more likely to flip over in a sharp corner.

With such disadvantages associated with SUVs and their distinct features, it’s concerning that they’ve become so popular in recent times. They must have some impressive advantages, else, why would people love them so much?

For more information on their downsides, please read our article about the disadvantages of SUVs.

3. These Vehicles Have Longer Wheelbases

This is another feature that’s easily identified by anyone who pays attention. It’s like the ride height because you have to do some rough measurements from the ground.

Only, in this case, it’s related to length, not height.

So, not only are SUVs higher, but they’re also longer than sedans. It’s noteworthy that we keep using sedans as our yardstick. This is because they are the competition and you’d probably opt for an SUV if you wouldn’t buy a sedan.

A good way of measuring the length of an SUV without tape is by observing its wheelbase. This is the distance between the front wheels and the rear ones. In full-size SUVs, you’d almost expect a third pair of tires somewhere between the front and rear ones.

Having a longer wheelbase surely has its pros and cons.

One disadvantage is that it causes difficulty in navigating tight spaces, hence, SUVs have a greater turning radius. This just means they need more space than a smaller vehicle to make a complete turn.

Luckily, a longer wheelbase provides room for increased stability and carrying capacity.

Another major advantage of a longer wheelbase is the availability of better seating conditions because of the larger interior. That’s why we’ve looked into SUV seats next.

Check out our article about reasons SUVs sell better than sedans to know why they’re so popular with buyers.

4. Spacious Seating Is a Top Priority

Spacious seating is another common feature and benefit of SUVs, so they are more comfortable than sedans.

They have superior seating in two ways, which are in size and quantity. Therefore, they’re suitable for large families, which is a good reason they’re in high demand.

First, SUVs have way more headroom and legroom for first and second-row seats. This makes it easier for tall adult passengers to be comfortable. In some SUVs, third-row seating is available, which may or may not be an added option.

This creates even more room for passengers, so some SUVs can seat up to 7 or even 9 people. However, it’s noteworthy that third-row seats aren’t usually as comfortable as the first and second-row ones.

From the above information, we know some SUVs are more comfortable than others.

rav4 inside

That’s usually when the concept of subcompact, compact, mid-size, and full-size SUVs comes into play.

However, that doesn’t mean smaller SUVs are miniature huts. It only means that when we marvel at SUV seating space, we mostly refer to mid-size and full-size SUVs.

Also, the largest luxury sedans are more comfortable than the smallest SUVs.

Despite that, the seats in SUVs are much higher than in sedans. This means even subcompact SUVs still have a higher line of sight than sedans that you’d consider more spacious.

5. The Cargo Area in SUVs Is Usually Big

That’s right, they’re unbelievably large. Again, this makes SUVs ideal for large families going on road trips. However, we should point out early on that the trunk space isn’t always directly proportional to the SUV size.

So, SUVs all have ample space, which is a selling point for them. However, the amount of space you’d get in an SUV depends on the design.

Some carmakers design some models with more focus on the seats and not the trunk. Others prioritize trunk space at the expense of seats and some give near-equal consideration to both.

For another type, the choice is taken out of their hands.

Allow us to explain.

Remember those third-row seats we talked about that may or may not be optional?

Well, if you opt for an optional third row, you will lose some of your ‘natural’ cargo space. Good thing people have the option to fold down their rear seats to optimize the cargo area.

rav4 open trunk

Even the smaller SUVs (like this RAV4 above) have lots of space.

With the rear seats down, you can get as much as 80 cubic feet in some SUVs. If you’re in the market for an SUV, the model you’d buy should depend on what you prioritize. Cabin or cargo.

6. SUVs Have Better Towing Capacity Than Sedans

SUVs aren’t as great for towing as trucks are. Still, they pack quite the punch. Large SUVs can tow weights as heavy as 8,000 or even 9,000 pounds.

To help you understand how that’s a big deal, SUVs weigh anything from 2,000 to 6,000 pounds on average. This means they can even tow their weights and more.

So, you wouldn’t panic if your car breaks down and your pal has an SUV to tow it to civilization. This can come in handy on road trips where cars are bound to break down.

However, remember using your SUV for towing has a drastic impact on fuel economy.

Final Thoughts

SUVs are a perfect example of how automakers make different cars with specific priorities in mind.

So, a compact or subcompact SUV is designed to give drivers some SUV advantages while maintaining some sedan features. This means they’ll get high seats and a little off-road capability simultaneously with good fuel economy.

If it’s an electric crossover SUV, it translates to an improved driving range. We can measure this from the battery consumption in miles/kWh.

Such variations are why the lines separating different car types are becoming increasingly blurred. The Pontiac Vibe, for example, is considered a mini-SUV and a sport wagon at the same time.

Ultimately, the variations can help enthusiasts own cars that are tailored to suit their driving habits. Be that as it may, you can easily spot an SUV now.


SUVs With the Most Cargo Space | Car Buzz

How Much Does An SUV Weigh | JD Power

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