In the world of business, you either adapt to changing circumstances to stay afloat, or risk fading into obscurity. Clearly, many automakers have followed this adage when developing their SUVS in recent times.
The Sports Utility Vehicle - or SUV - was first introduced to the world through the ashes of World War Two, and represented a novel new form of transportation. No longer were drivers bound by pesky things called “roads”. With an SUV, one was free to drive through uncharted territories with relative ease, moving across mud, rock, sand, and whatever else that nature had to offer.
But all of that came at a cost (and then some). Many an SUV utilised a durable ladder-frame chassis to effectively traverse rough terrain. This took a toll on fuel efficiency due to heavy components, as well as on-road comfort when the vehicle was back in civilisation. Accessibility was also compromised, due to its relatively high riding height as compared to a unibody equivalent. Not the best vehicle to own then, if you live in an urban city such as Singapore.
However, the SUV category has since made a comeback at the turn of the century, and has won over the masses. Today, it would be near-impossible to not see an SUV on the road, even if you’re in the city - a strange sight some 20 years ago. So, what exactly has changed, and why are people flocking towards them even in this age of eco-consciousness?
To win the hearts and minds of the masses, automakers scrambled to diversify their SUV lineup. This way, they could reach out to more than just the niche adventurous demographic.
Take Toyota, for example. They started out with just the indestructible Land Cruiser in the 1960s, and steadily expanded their lineup as the years went by. Today, there are now three SUVs available to Singapore buyers from authorised dealer Borneo Motors - the compact Yaris Cross, the mid-sized RAV4, and the premium Harrier. When you explore PI offerings from the same marque, the list expands considerably.
Diversification is not just limited to differing trim levels and whatnot. Even luxury automakers with historically zero ties with SUVs have joined in the fray in recent times - Aston Martin with their DBX, Bentley with their Bentayga, and Ferrari with their upcoming Purosangue. Many brand purists have balked at such seemingly sacrilegious developments, but let’s face it: automakers are still business entities at the end of the day, and developing an SUV is the surefire way of making a profit, especially when that category is in high demand.
One might have noticed that for the vast majority of SUVs available in the market today, the front-wheel-drive (FWD) drivetrain takes precedence over the traditional four-wheel-drive (4WD) system. One good reason for that is simple: cost-cutting. Many SUVs never actually see mud and other non-tarmac terrain in their lifetimes, rendering an expensive 4WD or AWD system useless and even wasteful. Adopting a simpler FWD drivetrain not only helps in bringing production costs down, it also results in a more fuel efficient vehicle, and is thus more attractive to potential buyers.
The idea of platform-sharing has also become mainstream in the industry. To keep research & development (R&D) costs to a minimum, carmakers have created platforms that are interchangeable, regardless of whether the vehicle is an SUV or a sedan. This also means that generally speaking, modern SUVs are based on unibody designs and not ladder-framed ones.
One case in point is the RAV4 crossover SUV, which shares the same underpinnings as the new Lexus ES and Toyota Camry, using the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) TNGA-K platform. Digging deeper, it even extends to MPV models, which goes to show just how versatile such modern platforms are. Chances are, if you currently own an SUV, it's likely to be based on a car platform!
What does this all mean for the average buyer?
Well, mostly good news! The sharing of parts and platforms have allowed automakers to create some breathing space and build a wider range of SUVs, catering to more demographics at varying price points. This in turn benefits the consumer, who now has more vehicles to choose from. Looking to buy your first SUV? Compact models such as the Honda HR-V are available. Made it in life and looking for a luxurious full-sized one? The likes of the electric iX SUV from BMW are more than ready to scratch that itch.
Competition among carmakers is at an all-time high as well. Where SUVs used to look bulbous and had an unpalatable mish-mash of different design elements, they now look far more cohesive and dare we say, even elegant. Just take a look at the futuristic Hyundai Tucson, for example! And because of this stiff competition, manufacturers are not skimping on build quality, which means that you really cannot go wrong with most, if not all, of the SUVs on sale today.
Where things start to go down is actual off-roading capability. Many of the SUVs today are technically crossovers, as they share many of the same components as their sedan siblings, and are therefore road-biased. Couple that with an FWD layout, and you get a vehicle that only looks rugged, but cannot actually do proper off-roading, apart from driving over slightly muddy or gravelly terrain. There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course, but most of the modern crossovers are better off on the road than off it.
Not that off-road credentials matter much to many consumers here, but if you are an avid enthusiast who travels up North often, it would be best to stick to the tried-and-tested traditional SUVs such as the Land Cruiser or Wrangler, or even Suzuki's chirpy compact Jimny!
All in all, the differences between SUVs of the yesteryear and today are like night and day - and that's a good thing! They are in a much better position now than they were several decades ago, with all sorts of zany designs available at competitive prices, and built to high standards. And more importantly, many of these vehicles are capable of ferrying you and your family in supreme comfort and safety.
Carmakers have also been pushing for electric or hybrid platforms for their SUVs in recent times, which should be enough to allay fears held by environmentalists and prevent them from sharpening their pitchforks. And with high-performance models quickly becoming mainstream, we are very excited to see what the future holds for the category, and the industry as a whole.
If you are considering getting an SUV, why not have a look through our Used Cars section on the Motorist page? There, you will be able to find the right one for your needs.
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