What is an SUV?

If you’re looking for a family-friendly vehicle that’s spacious, practical, and capable of covering different types of terrain, an SUV could be the right car for you.

Written by Verity Hogan
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What is an SUV?

SUV is short for sports utility vehicle – a car type that’s become increasingly popular in recent years. One of the reasons why you might be seeing more SUVs enter the market is that there are several types available, from compact models to off-road heavyweights. But despite these differences, all SUVs typically sit high above the ground, have a sturdy, athletic look, tall bodies, and plenty of interior cabin space. Many SUVs also offer four-wheel drive, but two-wheel drive models are available, depending on your needs.

The meaning of SUV  

SUVs have quickly become the go-to option for drivers with growing families, so it’s not surprising that the definition of what makes a sports utility vehicle has evolved over time.

The term originated in the US and was applied to vehicles that offered substantial boot space while also being able to accommodate several passengers at once. These vehicles were primarily aimed at outdoor adventurers: drivers who were just as likely to use their car to head off-road and cover tough terrain as they were to take the kids to school and back.

However, as the number of people buying SUVs has increased, the category has changed to meet demand. There are now a large variety of SUVs available on both the new and used market, including small, large, hybrid, and electric models.

What’s the difference between an SUV and a crossover?

When you first start scrolling through online listings, looking for your next car, you might come across the term ‘crossover’. There are very few differences between SUVs and crossovers, and you’ll probably find that the terms are used interchangeably. However, strictly speaking, classic crossovers are smaller than SUVs, sit lower to the ground, and are less likely to offer four-wheel drive. SUVs are usually also built with a separate body and frame while the crossover chassis is all-in-one.

What’s the difference between an SUV and a 4x4?

While every 4x4 comes equipped with four-wheel drive (the clue is in the name), not every SUV has 4x4 capability. When searching for your next car, you might find four-wheel SUVs listed and some dealerships and car sellers use SUV as a modern term for a 4x4. It makes sense as there are many similarities between the two, both have a high suspension and a more substantial body shape than a saloon or hatchback, for example. Even so, keep in mind that not every SUV has four-wheel drive as standard.

Why are SUVs popular?  

While SUVs have been available in one form or another for decades, they’ve really gained popularity in the last 20 years. The main reason for this mass adoption has been their appeal to families – most family drivers would now prefer to purchase an SUV rather than an estate car or traditional MPV. And it’s easy to see why; SUVs offer an enviable amount of cabin space, great views of the road, a raised suspension, and high seating that means they can be more accessible for passengers with mobility issues and small children who need special seat fittings. The bulky exterior of the typical SUV car can also appeal to those who want to feel as safe as possible behind the wheel.

What are the disadvantages to SUVs?

SUVs aren’t for everyone and there are some disadvantages to consider when deciding whether to choose this type of vehicle. The popularity of SUVs can push their prices up and both new and used SUVs can be more expensive than family-friendly hatchbacks and estates. The size and weight of most SUVs can also make them more difficult to manoeuvre, especially if you’re not a very confident driver or need to navigate tight spaces. These qualities also mean SUVs can burn through more fuel and emit more carbon dioxide than other cars, so they could cost you more at the pump and when driving in congestion zones. Even so, it’s not all bad news: fuel-efficient SUVs are available, and more hybrid and electric models are entering the market every day.

What is the best SUV?  

With such a wide range of SUVs to choose from, there’s no one-size-fits-all. The best SUV for you will depend on you, your current circumstances, and what you’re looking to get from your new car. And if you’re looking to buy an SUV on car finance, your budget and loan type might mean you need to find the best used SUV instead.

If you live in a city, consider a compact SUV that can cope with sharp corners and fit into smaller parking spots. However, if you spend a lot of time in the countryside and need to head off-road, a larger SUV with four-wheel drive might be the best choice for you.

3 of the best crossovers

Nissan Juke

The Nissan Juke is a crossover SUV that drivers either love or love to hate. It’s a controversial choice due to its distinctive styling, but it’s a shame that its characterful looks can sometimes dissuade buyers from making the most of a great all-rounder. Designed for city living, the Juke offers light steering, a high driving position, and cruise control to add extra comfort when you do head out on the motorway. Whether you choose the 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol engine or the 1.6 litre self-charging hybrid, you’ll also benefit from a generous 422-litre boot and a good quality interior.

Dacia Duster

If you’re looking for a crossover SUV that’s great value for money, the Dacia Duster is sure to fit the bill. A family-friendly vehicle at the budget-friendly end of the market, the Duster feels solid with brutalist styling inside and out alongside comfort mod-cons like cruise control, air conditioning, a media display, and Bluetooth. The Duster offers front-wheel drive as standard and has good underbody clearance so can cope well on more rugged terrain, but there is the option to upgrade to a 4x4 if you’re planning more off-road driving.

Kia Sportage

As its name suggests, the Kia Sportage nods to its sporting heritage with its muscular build and taut lines. Now available as a hybrid as well as two-wheel drive petrol and diesel models, the Sportage also takes some inspiration from the natural world with its assertive tiger nose and honeycomb grille. Inside, passengers will enjoy plenty of space and great legroom while the suite of safety features make it perfect for families and include automatic emergency braking and blind spot collision avoidance. Drivers will also benefit from a good view, light steering, and reassuringly firm suspension.

3 of the best small SUVs

Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 offers everything you’d expect from the Swedish manufacturer. A premium small SUV with a wealth of safety features, the XC40 has a typically Scandi-inspired minimalist cabin with clever concealed storage and adjustable seats that are designed for comfort. Under the hood, front-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic gearbox come as standard while families will love the 452-litre boot with its large opening and no lip. Volvo are also at the forefront when it comes to environmentally friendly models with two plug-in hybrid and a fully electric version available.

Renault Captur

One of the most popular modern compact SUVs, the Renault Captur offers everything you need for city driving. The high driving position offers great visibility, the steering is precise, turns are stable, and the tyres give good grip on the road. Its cabin is designed for comfort while the boot offers an impressive 536-litres of space with the rear seats pushed forward. The petrol Captur has one of the largest engines in its class, but full and plug-in hybrids are also available, while the exterior design has an athletic feel with unusual two-tone body paint.

Hyundai Kona Electric

If you’re looking for a fully electric SUV, the Hyundai Kona Electric is one of the best on the market. It looks good too, streamlined, sporty, and with sculpted lines that flow seamlessly into coloured wheel arches. Inside, the cabin is spacious and comes with a whole host of added extras including a premium sound system, wireless phone charging, and heated seats. Just like a traditional SUV, the Kona has a high driving position that offers good visibility while its performance is surprisingly punchy and can achieve up to 300 miles on a single charge.

3 of the best large SUVs

Land Rover Defender

Beloved by country dwellers and farmers alike, the Land Rover Defender combines a rugged construction with a surprisingly soft interior. It’s a large SUV that can cope with almost anything, whether driving in town or off-road, and is endlessly customisable. Choose three or five doors, petrol, diesel, or hybrid engines, and up to seven seats to make the Defender work for you and your lifestyle. The SUV has moved away from its agricultural heritage, but still includes nods to the past such as the exposed hardware in the cabin and its distinctive boxy shape.


When looking for a luxury SUV, you can’t go wrong with the BMW X3. Aerodynamic, sporty, and refined, the X3 has a strikingly modern design but still feels substantial on the road. It’s practical too, with a 10-inch central display, 550-litre boot, and precise steering. Despite being ideal for families, the X3 is fun to drive and able to achieve 0 – 62mph in just 8.4 seconds. A plug-in hybrid model is available alongside the traditional petrol and diesel engines while the distinctive BMW kidney grille looks good while powering down the motorway or taking pride of place on the drive.

Peugeot 5008

If you need a lot of space from your SUV, the Peugeot 5008 has seven-seats, five doors, and an impressive 952-litres of boot volume. The build quality is impressive throughout with a compact steering wheel designed to improve handling and a comfortable ride, even when travelling at higher speeds. Passengers can enjoy good head and legroom as well as having access to USB ports in the middle row to charge their phones on the move. The exterior is bold and raised with sporty flourishes, while visibility is further enhanced by the rear-camera fitted as standard.  

Verity Hogan

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