Drivers searching for a vehicle with plenty of passenger and cargo space often decide a sport utility vehicle (SUV) is the way to go. Those same drivers seeking out a vehicle with plentiful passenger and cargo space might even find themselves gravitating toward a Jeep in particular depending on their taste and how they plan to use the vehicle.
So, is there a difference between getting a Jeep and getting an SUV? Or are they the same thing? Keep reading to learn more about how the SUV arose, how Jeep classifies its line of vehicles and what makes the brand unique even compared to other vehicles in their classes.
SUV: Definition and History
When asked to define SUVs, many people might respond with something along the lines of, “Well, it’s bigger than a car… but it’s not a pickup truck either.” It’s probably easier to point out the next SUV you see driving by than it is to define it.
As one enthusiast writes for Auto Trader, sport utility vehicles arose as a class of vehicles featuring body-on-frame construction — similar to pickup trucks on which the steel body was affixed to the separate frame. The result? A vehicle with greater towing and hauling abilities.
It makes sense, then, the SUV arose around the time of World War II with the U.S. Army utilizing rugged Willys “jeeps” as transportation throughout Europe.
Another common attribute of many SUVs today is their rear-wheel drive (RWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) systems. While an increasing number of vehicles of all kinds, even passenger cars, now come with all-wheel drive (AWD), the 4WD systems found in SUVs tend to be “more robust” than your average AWD system. This makes SUVs equipped with RWD, and 4WD when needed, ideal for tackling irregular terrain. Both systems are all about delivering equal power to each wheel to optimize traction, but SUVs equipped with 4WD maximize torque here.
There isn’t one neat, catch-all definition for what an SUV is — but higher ground clearance, durable construction, substantial passenger/cargo volume and 4WD are all common attributes of this class of vehicles.
Are Jeeps and SUVs the Same Thing?
Think back to learning about shapes in school for a moment — particularly squares and rectangles. Squares have four equal sides; rectangles have two sets of parallel lines. This means all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.
This is an apt way to look at SUVs and Jeeps. All Jeeps are SUVs — well, except the Gladiator, a pickup truck the brand unveiled in 2020, that is. But all SUVs are not Jeeps. While Jeep is one of the popular automotive brands making SUVs, it is far from the only one.
What sets a Jeep SUV apart from other SUVs? One hallmark of this brand is its Trail-Rated vehicles, meaning those designed specifically to handle off-road conditions — like a rock crawl or a desert excursion. This ties back to the 4WD discussion we had a bit earlier, as Jeep SUVs like the Wrangler depend heavily on this feature for the torque to handle adverse conditions.
Not every Jeep is made to go off road, though. There are plenty of examples of SUV models by Jeep better suited to cruising city streets and highways, like the compact Jeep Renegade and Compass models.
Ultimately, Jeep lists its Compass, Cherokee, Renegade, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler models as SUVS, answering the question once and for all that most Jeeps are indeed sport utility vehicles. Although they represent a popular offering within the segment, they are not the only brand of SUV on the market.