What to Look For in an SUV

SUV is the shorthand for Sport Utility Vehicle, a category that encompasses cars that can haul people and cargo and traverse terrain that would make many other paved-surface-going vehicles run for cover. These days, the options are endless.


Today, manufacturers offer SUVs based on sedan and station wagon platforms as well as truck-inspired models that are larger and more capable off road. This guide will help you understand all your options.


The first time you get behind the wheel of an SUV, there are a few things to consider. Not only are these vehicles significantly longer than a typical sedan, but many of them also weigh a dangerously close to a half-ton pickup truck. This size makes maneuvering and parking challenging for new drivers.

The good news is, that all of that extra length and weight pays off when it comes to capability. From their cavernous cargo areas and spacious 3-rows of seating to their incredibly rugged off-road capabilities, SUVs offer plenty of space for passengers, luggage, pets, tools or whatever else you may need for your next adventure. And if you’re going to be spending most of your time on paved roads, the SUV’s elevated driving position is great for visibility and offers a more comfortable ride than most cars. Of course, you can always add roof racks and other accessories to further enhance the utility of your vehicle.


SUVs tend to be heavier than sedan cars and less fuel-efficient, though that varies depending on the type of model. They also have a higher ride height than hatchbacks and saloons, which can make them less aerodynamic. That extra space in the cabin can mean more storage, and most SUVs have modular-type rear seats that fold away when not in use for even greater stowage.

Whether you want something large enough to take on off-road trips or small and sleek for urban commuting, there’s an SUV out there that will suit your needs. SUVs can also be powered by a range of fuel sources, including gas, hybrid and electric.

If you ask someone to define an SUV, they might say it’s a car with the cargo room of a station wagon and the look of a light truck. The first SUV was the 1984 Jeep Cherokee, which combined off-road drive with a unibody design. Today, the SUV is a common sight on our roads, and there are many models to choose from, including premium options like the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLA and affordable SUVs such as the Suzuki Vitara and Nissan Qashqai.


As a broad category, SUVs can vary hugely when it comes to safety. The best ones are those that have been awarded a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and have received five-star ratings in government crash tests.

Many SUVs have four-wheel drive and special off-road gear so they can be driven on rough terrain or even towed up a muddy hill. However, as manufacturers cottoned on to the fact that SUV drivers spend almost all of their time on tarmac, they dropped these capabilities to save weight and improve fuel economy.

The higher centre of gravity of an SUV can make them more likely to roll over, so check that they have a good rollover resistance rating. Lastly, look for the usual active safety features, including anti-lock brakes (ABS), forward collision warning and lane keeping systems. The Lexus UX is a great example of a compact SUV that has all of these features, including adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beams. It also offers next generation safety technology like smart stop technology and a ten-airbag suite.


The SUV is a broad category, now covering everything from small hatchbacks with a raised driving position to big luxury four-wheel drives. They have a rugged, off-road look that suits the lifestyle of many buyers. And they can carry passengers and cargo comfortably, and traverse difficult terrain easily.

Historically, SUVs were built with a traditional body-on-frame ladder chassis, and they were often aimed at rough off-roading or heavy towing. But the term was reworked in the late-80s and early-90s to encompass all sorts of models that sat higher off the ground and had a tough, rugged appearance.

The modern love affair with SUVs began with the 1980 AMC Eagle, which was a bit like a car-based station wagon but had a higher riding height and off-road styling. The 1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ took that idea and used a unibody construction, and it’s that kind of model that we now think of as an SUV. That’s why we still use the term today, even though it covers such a wide spectrum of vehicles. Despite the range, all SUVs have several characteristics in common.


Whether you’re planning to haul a camper, pulling a boat or carting some ATVs around, an SUV can easily handle the task with its impressive maximum trailer weight rating. You’ll also want to check the maximum payload rating to see how much gear you can pack inside, as well as the roof weight rating — consult your owner’s manual or dealer for specific numbers.

Most modern SUVs have towing capabilities that rival those of some pickup trucks, and most offer three rows of comfortable seating and plenty of cargo space. For example, the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE and Porsche Cayenne can tow up to 7,700 pounds while providing premium luxury features like unique room layouts and a high-definition surround-view parking camera system.

However, it’s important to note that you should never tow more than 80% of your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity. Doing so can cause excessive wear and tear to your SUV, shortening its life. Sticking to the 80/20 rule can help you get the most out of your SUV without sacrificing safety or performance.