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Sport utility vehicle

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The sport utility vehicle (commonly known in the United States by the abbreviation SUV) is a type of vehicle that combines the load and passenger-carrying capacity of a large station wagon or minivan with features designed for off-road driving.

SUVs have the general shape of a station wagon, but in a taller setup due to a more upright seating stance and a suspension and ground clearance designed for off-road driving. Typically, all four wheels are driven, unlike most conventional cars in which only the front or rear wheels receive drive. The design also allows for a large engine compartment, and many SUVs have large V-6 or V-8 engines. In countries where fuel is more expensive, buyers often opt for diesel engines, which are more fuel efficient (and diesel fuel itself is often much cheaper).

Outside of the United States, these vehicles are known simply as four-wheel-drives, often abbreviated to "4WD" or "4x4". In Australia, "Utility", or "Ute", refers an automobile with a flatbed rear, typically seating two passengers and is often used by tradesmen, though is typically not a 4WD vehicle.

Descended from commercial and military vehicles such as the Jeep and Land Rover, they have been popular for many years with rural buyers due to their off-road abilities, but in the last 25 years and even more in the last decade they have become popular with urban buyers. Consequently, more modern SUVs often come laden with luxury features and some, such as the BMW X5, the Acura MDX, and the Toyota RAV-4, have adopted lower ride heights and more car-like suspension settings to better reflect their typical use (overwhelmingly, for normal on-road driving).

Some private SUV owners do indeed take their vehicles off the road to explore places otherwise unreachable by vehicle or for the sheer enjoyment of the driving. In Australia, Europe and the U.S. at least, many 4WD clubs have been formed for this purpose. There are also clubs specialising in classic 4WD vehicles. An examples of these would be the Haflinger and Pinzgauer all-wheel-drive vehicles originally made by Steyr-Puch[?] in Graz, Austria.

Modified SUVs are also raced, most famously in the Paris-Dakar Rally, and the Australian Safari[?].

SUVs have become popular for a variety of reasons. Owners point to their large, comfortable cabins (which have nearly the passenger and equipment-carrying capabilities of minivans), perceived safety, and the recreational possibilities of the vehicles. Additionally, most large SUVs have far greater towing capacities than conventional cars, and in the case of trailerable boats have superior abilities to launch and retrieve those boats from slippery boat ramps (and, indeed, from many places where no made ramp exists). Undoubtedly, though, some of their success is due to their rugged, powerful image, undoubtedly a substantial factor for many people who might more logically choose a more economical and cheaper minivan or station wagon. Vehicle manufacturers have been able to sell the image of SUVs effectively, with per-vehicle profits substantially higher than other automobiles. The simple design and often outdated technology (by passenger car standards) often makes the vehicles much cheaper to make than comparably-priced passenger vehicles.

The explosion of SUV ownership has attracted a large number of critics of the vehicles, mainly for the effect that the vehicles have on other drivers and the environment, and the fact that the perceived advantages of SUVs are in the critic's eyes either illusory or exaggerated.

The high center of gravity of SUVs makes them more prone to rollover accidents than shorter vehicles, and their size, stiffness, and high bumpers make them more prone to damage other cars and drivers in a collision. Consumer Reports[?] has found a few SUVs unacceptable in recent years due to their rollover risk. The considerable weight of the larger SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban and the Ford Excursion makes automobile-large SUV collisions much less dangerous for the SUV and much more dangerous for the automobile.

The recent popularity of SUVs is one of the reasons that the U.S. population is consuming more gasoline than in previous years. SUVs are as a class much less fuel efficient than comparable passenger vehicles. The main reason is that SUVs are classified by the U.S. government as light trucks, and thus are not subject to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE[?]) standards of passenger vehicles. As there is little incentive to change the design, SUVs have numerous fuel-inefficient features. The high profile of SUVs increases wind resistance. The heavy suspension and large engines make the vehicles heavy. SUVs also often come with tires designed for off-road traction rather than low rolling resistance. The more car-like SUVs tend to have a somewhat lower profile and performance tires, but often still have large, fuel-inefficient engines.

For the above reasons, particularly the additional environmental impact and risk to other vehicles that they pose, SUVs are the subject of much criticism.

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