There is no denying that one of the most popular choices for consumers over the past few decades has been the sport utility vehicle. Unless you have been living under a rock anyone can clearly see their popularity as there are so many out on the road today. While they may not be the most environmentally friendly vehicle one could buy they really are extremely practical. There are full size, mid size, and compact SUVs now and other genres have branched off of them like Crossovers which in my mind are between wagons and SUVs. Due to their popularity there are a plethora of options out there in all sizes and more and more performance options are introduced every year for those of us who want to get the kids to soccer practice early. The SUV is no new concept though. For example, we talked about the Chevrolet Suburban last month and the fact that it is one of the longest running names in car history being introduced in 1935 and is still in production today. People have loved larger truck-based family haulers for decades but the last 30 or so years have really seen the most development in the segment. As usual, this may be a little subjective as some of these will be based on what I like but with such a large segment its hard to pick just a few.
In recent years there has been a demand for more performance from the SUV segment as people with families or active lifestyles don’t want to have to drive slow, uninspiring vehicles but they still need something practical for their day to day use. Manufacturers have answered their wishes with AMG tuned SUVs from Mercedes, SRT versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Durango, and M series X5s from BMW. The newest player as of this year to the “performance SUV” segment is the Ford explorer with its first ever ST badged variant. We all know that the aftermarket loves factory turbocharged vehicles and there are already tunes out there that offer almost 100 whp and well over 100wtq over stock with just tuning alone. This is great for those of us who can’t leave anything alone and Ford’s Ecoboost engines are some of the most vulnerable on the market today. The ST is already a pretty potent performer out of the box with 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque which will propel the almost 5,000 lb SUV to 60 in just over 5 seconds. I think it’s the best looking explorer in a long time or ever for that matter but that performance comes at a price. Like all of the performance based SUVs, it’s not cheap starting at 55,000 bucks. SUVs are definitely not the cheapest things out there and once you add high performance components they don’t get any less expensive but that’s understandable. That’s a tough one to swallow for those of us who like a little bit of performance and if you are reading this you probably fall into that category.
Watch any 80’s movie or sitcom where there is a family involved and there is a good chance there is a Jeep Wagoneer in the driveway. Introduced in 1963 as a Luxury station Wagon the Wagoneer was, for all intensive purposes an SUV. It was a 4 door family hauler built for families with a body on frame architecture and 4-wheel drive capability. The wagoneer was produced for 29 years with an almost unchanged body making it the third longest running production, single generation vehicle in history but was discontinued in 1991. They are hard to miss with their famous wood panel look and distinctive SJ style front end. They offered amenities such as an automatic transmission, independent front suspension, power steering, and optional air conditioning which were things not offered in other competitive vehicles in the early 60’s. The Wagoneer was developed under the Willys name as they wouldn’t change over to the Kaiser Jeep Corporation until right after the Wagoneer was introduced. Early versions of the wagoneer were powered by a Willys tornado SOHC 3.8L inline six-cylinder engine that was good for 140 hp. This engine was replaced by a slightly more powerful American Motors 3.8L inline six just a few years later but the optional 5.4L 250hp AMC derived V-8 was a very popular option come late 1965. You don’t see these around as much anymore as they have been out of production for almost 30 years now but they are unmistakable when you do see them and helped set the foundation for SUVs today.
Another SUV that has been in production for quite some time with strong military roots is the Gelandewagen or G-wagen for short. Originally hailing from Austria and now exclusively badged under the Mercedes brand in most parts of the world, the G-Wagen has been in production for 40 years! Originally developed as a military vehicle, development started in 1972 as a joint venture between Daimler-Benz and Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Graz Austria. The rest is history as the G-Wagen is still around today, albeit with significant changes over the years. Design wise though, you can easily identify the G-Wagen as they still look pretty much the same as they did 40 years ago. That’s one of my favorite things about them. The technology is all updated but the body has stayed that classic G-Wagen shape. The trucks are tanks with big powerful V-8 engines and 3 locking differentials and they are regarded as one of the best off-road vehicles produced although it would be a rare sight to see one on the trails. Some of the biggest changes to the platform came last year as the truck is all new, although still features the unmistakable G-Wagen exterior. It has strayed further and further from its utilitarian roots thanks to people like the Kardashians and others with more money than brains who simply want to buy the most expensive versions of cars just because they can. That is a big drawback of the G-Wagen, its cost. A new base model truck will run you close to 130K nowadays with AMG models close to 150k but there are decent deals on used older models and would make a sweet high-end overlanding build!
One of the oddest SUVs ever built came from a company that many would consider the last manufacturer to produce a sport utility vehicle but they have recently introduced a new one into the market. That company is Lamborghini and the wacky creation from the late 1980’s was the LM002. The LM002 also had beginnings in the military world. Lamborghini built a concept military vehicle in the 1970s called the Cheetah. It was a very expensive failure that was never picked up by the military but did lay the foundation for one of the 1980s most extravagant Italian cars. The LM002 is like a Hummer with a V-12 up front. That’s right, the truck got the big V-12 and 5-speed manual transmission straight out of the Countach. While the 450 hp was nothing to sneeze at, the truck was less than enthusiastic on account of its heft. That didn’t really matter to its perspective buyers though and that V-12 is one of the best sounding examples ever built. It was a luxury SUV but features one off Pirelli Scorpion run flat tires and 3 locking differentials. The LM002 embodied 80’s supercar makers absurdity and with only 300 units built between 1986 and 1992, they have become quite collectible. Just last year the Italian automaker released its second attempt at a sport utility vehicle with the Urus. The Urus is based on a shared platform with the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne, and Volkwagen Toureg but thanks to heavy use of lightweight materials its considerably lighter. While not powered by a sonorous NA V-12 engine the Urus picks them up and puts them down with its 641 hp twin turbo V-8. The SUV will rocket to 60 in just over 3 seconds and hammer the quarter in 11.4 seconds. That’s one quick family hauler but be prepared to shell out a little over 200k for your own piece of Italian history.
Wrapping this up I wanted to talk about an SUV that I’m slightly obsessed with for some reason and im sure I’ve talked about it here before and it probably won’t be the last time. It’s the Toyota Land Cruiser. I remember as a teenager perusing car dealerships looking at cars I couldn’t afford and seeing the Land Cruiser and thinking to myself “why are these things so expensive?” The Series 100 LC’s were the most expensive cars on the Toyota lots at the time and I didn’t know much about them. They have a certain mystique about them in my mind. The fact that they are built to withstand the harshest conditions on the planet and were designed with a minimum 25 year service life in a third world country. They are so rugged and reliable the UN chose them as the only vehicle they would use in their endeavors. The LC has proved to be one of the most reliable vehicles ever produced and what began as a “Jeep-like” offroad workhorse (Literally, the Japanese took a Willys Jeep and copied it later running into trademark issues and changing the name to Land Cruiser) has evolved into a luxury mall crawler that will set you back 85k these days. Introduced in 1951 the LC has a rich history in the offroad scene. I’m not sure if its my yearning for the overlanding trend or what but I seriously want a 100 series LC in my driveway. Its cousin, the Lexus LX470 would be just fine as well! I drove one a few years ago with 270k on the clock and while the interior looked like it was used for dog training the truck was very solid for its age. They come from an era at Toyota that will probably never be seen again. That’s enough about me and what I want. There is no better time than the present if you are in the market for an SUV, new or used, as there is a myriad of options out there for you! It’s easy to see why SUVs are so popular as they are a “jack of all trades” in many cases. From all of us here at Gearbox, have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!