Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

November 06, 1998

The sport/utility vehicle is on it's way out because its politically and environmentally incorrect? Fat chance! The market for these gravel-grinders (and their wannabes) is bigger than ever. The current shopper's vehicle handbooks list almost 50 of them but to condense things a bit, we've reduced them to a thumbnail sketch that cuts through the rhetoric. Here's how we view the current crop of SUV's:

COMPACT: CHEVROLET TRACKER - Used be the Geo but that name is history. A "bow-tied" Suzuki design but only offers a four-banger engine. Two or four doors, two or four-wheel drive, stick-shift or automatic. Only 97 horses so you won't win races. - ISUZU AMIGO - Really an Isuzu Rodeo with a short wheelbase. A two-door with a canvas top over the rear seats. Can't be used in 4WD on dry pavement. - KIA SPORTAGE - A mini, it comes with four cylinders only, can be had as 2WD, too. The 2-door is shorter with a canvas top over the rear seats like the Amigo. Stick or automatic. - SUZUKI VITARA - The basis for the Chevy Tracker but carries a more powerful V6 engine. Other than that, the vehicles are pretty much the same. - JEEP WRANGLER - A proud name with traditional Jeep looks and qualities. The side windows are plastic on the soft-top but glass on the optional hard-top. Thrives off-road. Noisy, windy but fun-filled. Everybody loves the Wrangler for it's looks and panache.

COMPACT SEDAN-BASED: HONDA CR-V - A boppy little front-wheel drive "sedan" with a tall body and the ability to direct power to its rear wheels too. Not intended for the rough stuff. - TOYOTA RAV4 - Another two-or-all-wheel drive boulevardier on a sedan platform. Provides style and comfort while the driver negotiates ice and snow without chains. - SUBARU FORESTER - A hybrid. An Impreza AWD wagon that's been stretched and raised a bit. It carries a flat-four engine up front and a sophisticated torque-splitter for its all-wheel drive system.

REGULAR: - CHEVROLET BLAZER - A pioneer in the field. The current version comes in 2-and 4-doors, uses a V6 engine and is more a wet- weather friend than a hard off-roader. - DODGE DURANGO - A newcomer built on the Dodge Dakota pickup frame. Can be had with a V6 or two different V8s. - FORD EXPLORER - The top-selling SUV in the U.S. Comes as a V8 or a V6 and can be equipped with a plethora of options. - GMC JIMMY - A clone of the Chevy Blazer, although it now carries an all-wheel-drive feature that can be used on dry pavement. - TOYOTA 4RUNNER - Beefy, off-road capable and extremely popular, the 4Runner uses four-cylinder or V6 power, in two-or-four-wheel drive. - ISUZU RODEO - Another gentrified off-roader. Lots of fancy stuff available (leather, sound system, etc.). - JEEP CHEROKEE - Been around a long time and can be had with a four-banger or a venerable pushrod straight six. Five-speed, automatic, etc., lets you design your own. The GRAND version is all-new and very upscale. Has less "Jeep" and more Grand. - MITSUBISHI MONTERO SPORT - Smaller, lighter and more nimble than its Big Brother and quite at home in the underbrush. - NISSAN PATHFINDER - A holdover for three years but still capable. Has a V6 and 4000 pounds of towability, although it's a bit short on horsepower. - OLDSMOBILE BRAVADA - An on-the-road SUV not designed for mean roads. A "street- smart" traction control makes it a family cruiser for wet and snowy streets. Another Blazer clone with a V6 and no stick-shift. - TOYOTA LAND CRUISER - Wow! A really high-tech V8 (twin cams and all) in a truck-based SUV. Big interior space for lanky drivers.

LUXURY LINES: LAND ROVER DISCOVERY - It's 85 percent new for '99 but you can't see it. How British. Neat off-road stuff like a Hill Decent Control and electronically-controlled hydraulic rams instead of sway bars. V8 powered. - LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER - Same as the Discovery but bigger and with more polished wood and fancier leather. Two V8s, both pushrod. - LEXUS LX 470 - An upscale Toyota Land Cruiser with more leather, etc., but same new hot V8 engine. - LEXUS RX 300 - More car than SUV, its a New-Wave front-or-all-wheel-drive, ES 300 based promenader not intended for creek beds - MERCEDES-BENZ M-CLASS - Classy vehicle with a V8 or V6 engine. No stick-shift makes at a country-club cruiser rather than a rock crusher, but it does come standard with low-range. - LINCOLN NAVIGATOR - A patrician version of the Ford Expedition. It put Lincoln at the top of the luxo sales race. - CADILLAC ESCALADE - The Chevy Tahoe that Cadillac wishes it had rebadged at the same time Lincoln brought out its Navigator. - ACURA SLX - An Isuzu Trooper with an upscale brand name. - INFINITI QX4 - A very fancy Nissan Pathfinder. Its leather upholstery and garage-door-opener clue you that it's not a vehicle to take on an African safari.

REALLY BIG: CHEVROLET SUBURBAN - They don't come any bigger. Room to seat the soccer team with enough space left to stow a Tracker. Packs a 454 CID "Big Block" or the standard 350 V8 plus you can have it with a stump-pulling V8 turbo-diesel. Your GMC Truck dealer can sell you one, too. - FORD EXPEDITION - Not as big as the Suburban but close. Capable of going off-road but watch the side-mirror clearance on those boulders. It's pretty wide. CHEVROLET TAHOE - An upscale, larger Chevy with V8-power and more trick stuff. - GMC YUKON - A clone of the Chevy Tahoe. - MITSUBISHI MONTERO - Tall and stately, it's a remnant of the past that's giving way to the "SUV Lite" syndrome.

HUGE AND UGLY: AM HUMMER - If you're into intimidation, drive a black-on-black Hummer in commuter traffic. Conversion companies like Canepa Industries custom-civilize the Hummer, but if you like the lines, maybe you should have stayed in The Army.

We've herein covered them all. Next year we'll do another head-count to see if the pundits are correct about the Decline and Fall of the SUV.

Home | Buyers Guides For Every Auto Make | New Car Buyers Guide | Used Car Super Search | Total New Car Costs | 2016-1993 Car Reviews Truck Reviews
1996-2016 Automotive News | TACH-TV | Media Library | Discount Auto Parts

Copyright © 1996-2016 The Auto Channel. Contact Information, Credits, and Terms of Use. These following titles and media identification are Trademarks owned by The Auto Channel, LLC and have been in continuous use since 1987 : The Auto Channel, Auto Channel and TACH all have been in continuous use world wide since 1987, in Print, TV, Radio, Home Video, Newsletters, On-line, and other interactive media; all rights are reserved and infringement will be acted upon with force.

Privacy Statement | Size Does Matter | Media Kit | XML SITE MAP | Affiliates

Send your questions, comments, and suggestions to Editor-in-Chief@theautochannel.com.

Submit Company releases or Product News stories to submit@theautochannel.com.
Place copy in body of email, NO attachments please.

To report errors and other problems with this page, please use this form.

Link to this page: http://www.theautochannel.com/