When is an SUV an off-roader?

Matamata Chronicle - - Out & About - MO­TOR­ING

With the re­cent ex­plo­sion of SUV sales both lo­cally and on a global scale, the lines be­tween car and SUV have be­come in­creas­ingly blurred.

Tra­di­tion­ally, an SUV is de­fined as a light truck, based on a lad­der chas­sis, with good axle ar­tic­u­la­tion, that is sim­i­lar in pack­ag­ing and lay­out to a sta­tion wagon and usu­ally pos­sesses con­sid­er­able off-road abil­ity. A low-range trans­fer case al­lows it to crawl along tough ter­rain. That gen­eral def­i­ni­tion has been em­braced as gospel by many peo­ple who are se­ri­ous about go­ing off road.

But the pro­lif­er­a­tion of high-ten­sile, lowweight steel, mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses, pow­er­ful com­puter pro­ces­sors and clever off-road elec­tron­ics in mod­ern ve­hi­cles has started blur­ring even those rules.

Af­ter all, Land Rover ve­hi­cles are still con­sid­ered re­mark­ably ca­pa­ble off-road, yet the brand cur­rently sells no mod­els based on a lad­der chas­sis. There are other mod­els with se­ri­ous of­froad abil­ity that don’t even have low-range, re­ly­ing in­stead on those elec­tron­ics and lots of sin­glerange gears (VW Amarok for one).

So what ex­actly is it that makes an SUV an of­froader?

Well, it’s a num­ber of things, but two stand out as be­ing far more im­por­tant than the rest - ground clearance and tyres.

It’s pretty self-ex­plana­tory, but be­ing high enough to get over some­thing hard and hav­ing enough trac­tion to get through some­thing soft pretty much cov­ers the bases for most off road­ers.

Of course, a cer­tain ro­bust­ness is also a pre­req­ui­site, which is why the ven­er­a­ble lad­der chas­sis has re­mained the de­fault choice for so long. But mod­ern high-ten­sile steel con­struc­tion pro­cesses have made mono­coque plat­forms just as ro­bust, al­beit more ex­pen­sive.

Which is why the lad­der-chas­sis, ute-based SUV is still a pop­u­lar choice for some­one want­ing real off-road abil­ity.

‘‘The key there is you’ve got to work out what you want to do,’’ says Ross MacKay, ed­i­tor of NZ4WD mag­a­zine.

‘‘Once you’ve worked out what you want to do then you nar­row down the ve­hi­cles that fit that cri­te­ria.’’


Brands like Land Rover can give even a soft-roader like the Range Rover Evoque ad­ven­ture-po­ten­tial.

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