Words are important. I should know, I have a whole bucket of them right here by my desk that I use in my work every single day. In fact, I’m using some of them right now. As a word-user, it has come to my attention that the series of words “Sport Utility Vehicle,” usually abbreviated “SUV,” is currently used to denote a popular class of vehicle, and I believe is also being misused to describe a class of vehicles that deserves a separate appellation. Two of these vehicles are the Jeep Wrangler and the upcoming Ford Bronco. Vehicles of that class need a new name, so let’s figure one out.
At this moment, in the year of our Great Sky Chief 2020 (in America at least), SUVs are the most popular class of vehicle out there. The sorts of cars that are described as SUVs are vehicles like the BMW X5 and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and the Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevy Tahoe, Ford Escape, and on and on and on.
If you’ve been, oh, outside at any point in the last decade or so, you have a pretty good idea of what sorts of machines I’m talking about. Generally, they’re bigger vehicles, with tall station wagon-type bodies on big wheels, and while many may look off-road capable, generally you cannot expect especially good ground clearance, breakover angles, or, in many cases, even four-wheel or all-wheel drive.
They tend also to be pretty well-appointed inside, with fully enclosed bodies, and plenty of soundproofing and padding and carpet, all the trappings of a car that values comfort highly.
Even the smaller subset of SUVs, crossovers, shares these same basic traits. By far, the vast majority of SUVs on the road are vehicles like this: large wagons with high ride heights on large wheels, with enclosed cabins designed for passenger comfort.
Now, if we look at a car like the Jeep Wrangler, we can see that it’s classified as an SUV. In fact, it’s so classified as an SUV that last year it was actually awarded an SUV of the Year award, which you have to admit is a very SUV thing to do.
And yet, if we really look at the Wrangler, we find that it doesn’t actually have much in common with most SUVs at all. In fact, lets compare it to another SUV that the same company sells for just about the same price:
Keep in mind, too, that these are both Jeeps, and as such the Compass there has a somewhat greater focus on off-road ability than most common SUVs, like this very popular one here:
The point is that Wrangler does not have much in common with most of the vehicles we call SUVs. The fundamental design decisions are different, the target market is different, the expected use cases are different, the ownership and driving experience are very different—it’s just not an SUV.
Even if you really love both Wranglers and the term SUV, I’m afraid we’re going to have to admit defeat here: the term SUV has been co-opted by CR-Vs and RAV4s and Volvo XCsomethings, and you’re not getting it back.
Another interesting way to tell the difference is to look at a vehicle that has, over the years, evolved from this still-unnamed class into what we think of as a modern SUV: the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
The G-Wagen started life as something very much like a Jeep Wrangler or an original Toyota Land Cruiser, but over the years has softened and gotten richer and more luxurious until the latest redesign that finally took it into full modern SUV territory, even though its styling still evokes its former status.
I guess maybe the Land Cruiser has done the same sort of thing, now that I think about it. Same with Land Rovers, too.
Vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco and original, older G-Wagens and so on aren’t trucks, either, of course. Vehicles like this really do need their own category, since it no longer makes sense to lump them in with SUVs. It’s not exactly a large category, but the machines in it have such large associated subcultures that they deserve to have their own class.
For modern cars you can buy today (or in the near future), there’s the Wrangler, of course, and the new upcoming Bronco, and the Suzuki Jimny I think qualifies. I was considering lumping them into a sort of modern Fun Car category, but none of these are really based on mass-market economy cars, which is a key Fun Car criteria, so I don’t think that will work.
There sort of is already a name for these sorts of vehicles, but when I remind you of what it is, I think you’ll see why it can’t really work: “jeep.”
Yes, lower-case, genericised “jeep” has been used to refer to these kinds of vehicles very effectively for decades. Sadly, though, knowing FCA’s understandable desire to protect the Jeep brand identity, I think there’s little to no chance of getting the generic term “jeep” into official usage.
What names would work for these, then? Our Jeep-fetishist/rust junkie David Tracy suggested All Terrain Road Vehicle (ATRV) which is a bit clunky. Multi-Terrain Vehicle (MTV)?
That’s not bad, but for old bastards like me, it’s hard not to think of this:
I’m not sure if that’s good or bad?
Maybe Comfort-Impaired Vehicle (CIV)? More Rugged Vehicle (MRV)? Less-Comfortable Utility Vehicle (LCUV)?
I want to avoid class names like Rock Crawlers or Desert Runners or Mud Puppies or anything like that because that gets too specific—you could still drive one of these and never really off-road it.
Maybe we can skip all the acronym/letter names and go for something more fun and evocative. Toughs? Brutes? BR-Utes? Goons? Heavies? Maybe something like Heavy Fun (HF) in contrast to Heavy Duty?
Look, I’m not exactly sure, but I bet if we all brainstorm, we can come up with something that works.
I think we can all agree, though, that these vehicles are not SUVs as that term has evolved, and it’s sensible to make a new category.
So let’s give it a shot! Once we have it, I figure I’ll give the automakers and automotive press a month or so to get all their marketing materials changed over. That should be enough to avoid any fines I may impose for improper nomenclature.