When is an SUV an off-roader?
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.