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Are SUVs Considered Cars or Trucks?

Are SUVs Considered Cars or Trucks?

One of the ambiguities regarding owning an SUV is whether it is a truck or car. However, the latest models are compact, having small or medium sizes with fuel-efficient operation and luxury features at an affordable price.

Are SUVs Considered Cars or Trucks? SUVs are similar to cars and trucks because few SUVs are built on truck chassis, and others have a car-like unibody structure. Therefore, manufacturers usually mention them in the truck category to benefit from the regulatory relaxation regarding fuel and emissions. Few SUV models have dominant pickup truck features, while others are closer to cars. 

SUVs have become more of a luxury passenger vehicle with time having off-roading, hauling capacity, and plenty of storage space.

Are SUVs Considered Cars or Trucks?

SUVs come in various designs, shapes, and sizes. However, there is no specific definition of such vehicles because of significant variations in its models.

It is a multipurpose vehicle having features of a car as well as of a truck.

It is also the reason for its increased popularity, as you can enjoy a comfortable ride with off-road capabilities like 4-wheel drive, high ground clearance, and towing capacity. Moreover, it offers plenty of storage space to carry essentials for a camping experience. 

They have a market share of about 1/3rd of total cars that indicate their popularity. The main reason behind the acceptance in public is the presence of excellent features of a utility vehicle.  

Features of SUV similar to a truck

Pickup trucks have the primary purpose of towing and loading cargo, off-road operability, and sturdier build.

They have classification based on their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) to indicate their loading capacity.

You will find traditional SUV models having bodies built on truck frames and dominating features of mid or full-size pickup trucks. 

4-wheel drive

The most prominent feature that SUVs share with pickup trucks is 4-wheel drive.

It is a drivetrain configuration that provides power to all 4 wheels, enabling them to provide surface grip on rough or uneven terrains.

You will find this option in all large and extra-large models. A few models having 4WD configuration are Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes Benz G-Class, Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover, and Jeep Wrangler. 

You will find 4-wheel drive as a synonym for SUV in initial models, and it used to be part of its definition.

However, with the development of compact and mid-size designs, you will also find the 2-wheel drive and partial 4WD drivetrains.

Off-road capabilities

The two features that make a vehicle suitable for off-road driving are high ground clearance and all-terrain tires.

Each type of SUV has sufficient clearance between the ground and their body more than sedans, enabling them to go off-road up to a certain degree.

This feature is prominent in large and full-size designs, while compact ones have minor height differences.

They are available in various trim levels equipped with enhanced off-road capabilities.

For increased safety of the engine and transmission parts, you can buy models with skid plates installed.

Few models have sensors installed to measure wading depth while passing through a puddle of stagnant water.

You can even drive compact or crossovers on rough terrains by equipping them with the right type of tires and drivetrain management system.

Their ability to traverse all kinds of landscapes, from rocks to snow, makes them a part of the pickup truck family.  

Built on Truck chassis

True SUVs have a body-on-frame construction built on the chassis of pickup trucks.

These traditional-style models dominated the market until the production of compact models or crossovers. A ladder frame made of steel rails and cab mounted on the chassis as a separate unit highlights such vehicles.

They are easy to manufacture and available in multiple lengths and widths. Manufacturers utilize the already designed frames for pickup trucks and install a body on them.

It helps them to increase their overall weight and considers them into the category of pickup trucks. 

High loading and towing capacity

The primary purpose associated with pickup trucks is their usage for freight carrying and towing applications.

SUVs built on truck frames have heavier foundations assisting them in having high payload and hauling capacities.

Full-size models have plenty of cargo space, and their payload limits are at par with light or medium-duty pickup trucks.

Moreover, they have an advantage over pickup trucks that, besides towing, they provide more seating capacity to carry more people.

Examples of SUVs with their towing capacity and payload capacity

Model Towing Capacity Payload Capacity
Ford Expedition 9000-9500 lbs 1500-1800 lbs
Nissan Armada 8300-8700 lbs 1300-1600 lbs
GMC Yukon 8000-8500 lbs 1400-1700 lbs
Lincoln Navigator 8500-9000 lbs 1600-1800 lbs
Land Rover Defender 8000-8300 lbs 1400-1600 lbs

Storage space

They have abundant cargo space to carry your luggage. Besides the standard trunk on the rear side, they have foldable rows of seats.

In addition, there are storage compartments under them to increase the overall cargo space.

Compact models or crossovers have about 45 cubic-ft of storage space. At the same time, the full size and extended length designs have 145-150 cubic-ft of room to carry loads.

Seating capacity

Cars have standard seating arrangements to cater to 4-5 people. Full-size pickup trucks, on the other hand, can accommodate 5-6 people.

Finally, they have a 5-8 person seating capacity, from crossovers to full-size models.

Moreover, the seats are spacious, and you can also use the rear seat as a bed for rest or sleep during travel in remote areas for the camping experience.

How is SUV similar to a car?

With the technological advancements, compact SUV designs have unibody construction and are closer to cars.

They are comfortable, easy to drive, and have safety features compatible with passenger vehicles. 


Compact and mid-size SUVs are comfortable to travel and drive for long distances like a car.

They have spacious seats with more headspace and legroom. In addition, these models have superior quality suspension systems making the journey smooth and free of any jerks.

They have adopted suspension systems continuously monitoring the road surface and adjusting itself to ensure a comfortable ride. Moreover, you will find driver assistance and other tools for easy driving.

Luxury features

The latest models have luxury features like heated seats, a climate control system, and the best seats.

In addition, advanced infotainment systems and software-based settings help the drivers for a wonderful traveling experience.

Other notable features are semi-autonomous driving, hybrid or electric design, and a deluxe interior, making them comparable to cars.

SUVs have a smaller body

Automakers are selling more and more compact SUVs built on car platforms having unibody structures.

Their popularity lies in their cars’ shapes and extra features of elevated height, spacious cargo compartment, and full-time 4-wheel drive.

However, their similarity with cars and inconsistency in features that used to be part of traditional designs makes their classification vague from earlier definitions. 

2-wheel drive

Most sedans have front-wheel drive to reduce their weight and increase fuel average. 

They ensure off-road capability by computer-controlled drivetrain module and omit the 4-wheel drive option.

You will find numerous new models are either 2WD or partial 4WD, suitable for on-road driving in urban areas. 

Fuel economy

The latest small and mid-size SUV models are either hybrid or electric powered. Moreover, they have lighter structures that make them fuel-efficient.

They have fuel economies comparable with cars. Despite the relaxed regulatory requirement for these vehicles, automakers are switching towards these models as a marketing strategy to reduce harmful emissions.

It improves their safety ratings and helps them to evade sanctions from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Types of SUVs

Earlier models were based on truck frames and had heavier weights and larger dimensions.

However, their designs evolved with time, and you can classify them into 4 categories based on their size and seating capacity. 

Small or compact size SUVs

Compact models are becoming popular because of their better road handling capability and fuel-efficient operation.

They have a car-like unibody structure and seating capacity of 5 persons. However, they have plenty of storage space to carry luggage.

They are usually available in 2-wheel drive options. For a small family, it is a perfect solution for frequent traveling. Another name for compact models is crossover.

Mid-size models

You will find mid-size SUVs in various configurations and features. They have models having unibody designs and pickup truck frames.

Furthermore, you will get more storage space and seating capacity of 5-7 persons with a spacious cabin. Mid-size models come in both 2WD and 4WD, suitable for off-road applications.

Large SUVs

Large or full-size vehicles are heavier built on pickup truck chassis. However, they have good off-road performance owing to their raised frame and 4-wheel drivetrain.

You will find a seating capacity of 7 persons suitable for a large family with a large trunk to provide sufficient storage space. They also have an excellent towing capacity to haul campers.

Extra Large Models

Although rare, these models have a spacious cabin to cater to 7-8 persons and massive storage compartments in the trunk and under the seats.

Furthermore, they have sturdier ladder frames similar to trucks making them excellent haulers.

They have elevated structures providing plenty of vertical space for tires to travel and are suitable for off-road purposes.

However, they have powerful engines to pull their weight, which results in loss of efficiency.

What drives manufacturers to build SUVs?

The USA government has different regulatory requirements for both pickup trucks and cars.

Initially built on truck chassis, SUVs are part of the trucks and have relaxed regulatory conditions. However, with the popularity of car-based designs, there is an ambiguity regarding their classification.

Fuel efficiency regulations for SUVs

Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) considers SUVs as trucks and have identical requirements.

It requires them to have a fuel average of 27.5 mpg compared to light trucks and SUVs to have an average of 23.5 mpg.

In addition, it allows the manufacturers to sell more compact crossovers to improve their overall fleet average and avoid penalties.  

Environmental protection regulations for SUV

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes vehicles based on their weights.

They classify compact SUV with 2WD as a car and 4WD option as a truck and apply the relevant conditions.

Therefore, models with 2-wheel and 4-wheel drivetrains trim levels are both cars and trucks. It also helps the manufacturer to fulfill the overall emission conditions set by EPA.  

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