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Survival of the toughest

From the Jeep to the Range Rover, here’s how SUVs have evolved over time.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 20:02 IST
Grease Monkey
Grease Monkey
Hindustan Times

Asport utility vehicle, or an SUV, is a car that can go pretty much anywhere. Just like a sportscar makes it a lot of fun to drive around on paved roads, a vehicle designed to take on the elements on their own turf and win can be a lot of fun to drive off the beaten path — and also makes sense for our post-monsoon roads.

SUV origins: Jeep
The original SUV is probably the Land Rover that was built in the United Kingdom by constructing a body over a Jeep chassis. This offered the occupants some protection from the elements, while still retaining the abilities of the Jeep. The Jeep itself was constructed as a light go-anywhere vehicle for military purposes, and some say the origin of the term ‘Jeep’ is ‘GP’, short for ‘general purpose vehicle’.

The Jeep’s qualities were its ability to cover pretty much any terrain within reason — the really hard stuff was left up to the tanks and half-track vehicles. The Jeep managed to ford streams, go up inclines well beyond the realm of a normal car, and cover ground rapidly across unpaved roads.

Four-wheel driving
The Jeep did these seemingly impossible things with what seems like old-fashioned technology now. The first was four-wheel drive. You know that today’s cars either power the front wheels or the rear. Some manufacturers like Subaru and Audi still offer cars with permanent all-wheel drive.

The Jeep sent power to the rear wheels, and the driver had the option of sending power to all four whenever required, just like the Mahindra Scorpio does, if ordered with four-wheel drive.

The Jeep also had a ‘low ratio’ option, which when selected increased the torque to the wheels, thus sacrificing on speed. Today this option can be specified on most SUVs, but Mitsubishi customers are probably the most likely to order it on their Pajero or Montero.

Ancient engines
The engines that Jeeps had weren’t high-power ones, but they did generate massive pulling power. Even the petrols had a very uncharacteristic power delivery that was more suited to a goods truck than a car. Another contributing factor was their tyres: the narrow, tall rubber helped absorb shock and the tread pattern was suited to extreme conditions like mud, snow or crossing rivers.

Luxury for good measure
The Range Rover took all these qualities of the Jeep and added a new dimension of luxury to the interiors — thus was the SUV born.

Today’s SUVs have only been following that trend logically (some might have gone overboard) but for most part even their primary focus has shifted from being off-road vehicles that one can drive everyday to a luxury vehicle one can drive off-road as well.

They have been popular, no doubt — look at the number of Scorpios and Sumos on our roads. If a sportscar manufacturer like Porsche thinks it makes sense to build and sell an SUV, there must be more to them than meets the eye. We’ll get under the skin of today’s SUV next week.