Compact sport utility vehicle
According to Bob Lutz, an executive at several car companies, American Motors (AMC) invented an all-new automotive segment—the compact sport utility vehicle with the original compact Jeep Cherokee two- and four-door models.
The modern compact SUV models were introduced in 1983. General Motors released the two-door Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, a four-wheel drive wagon with a four-cylinder engine as standard. Mid-year, Ford brought out the Ford Bronco II. Both models were body-on-frame designs based on each automaker's small pickup trucks, the Chevrolet S-10 and Ford Ranger respectively. Chevrolet's S-10 pickup based baby Blazer came with an all-steel, permanent roof and a top-hinged rear hatch. The Bronco II's general dimensions, drive train, and cab details were identical to those of the compact truck with differences in the interior only aft of the doors. Both were station wagon-like vehicles with seating for four adults and an enclosed cargo area, while their similar compact truck versions that would normally fit two and have an open load bed.
The first purpose-designed monocoque (unibody) compact SUV, and the first with four-doors, was the Jeep Cherokee (XJ). It was introduced by American Motors Corporation in 1983 for the 1984 model year and was produced almost unchanged through 2001 in the U.S., and through 2005 in China. Automobile magazine called it a masterpiece of automotive design with room for five passengers and their cargo.
Although the compact XJ Cherokee shared its name from the full-size SJ model, it had no true pickup truck heritage, but came in both four and two-door versions that were extremely capable off-road. While the competing SUVs were adaptations of trucks, Jeep did not sell many pickup trucks so they designed a SUV first; starting with a 4-door version and featuring a very strong, lightweight unibody (monocoque) construction like most passenger cars, as well as with a lightweight "link/coil" suspension design that was praised by the automotive press for its superior ride, performance, and handling.
The compact Cherokee's design, appearance, and sales popularity spawned imitators as other automakers noticed that the Jeep XJ models began replacing regular cars. Compact SUVs have become an alternative to the minivans for families who need cargo space. While almost unchanged since its introduction, Cherokee XJ production continued through 2001 as one of the best-selling compact SUVs in the world.
Most current compact SUVs are crossover SUVs, of monocoque construction and limited off-road capabilities. These models are often derived from a compact car or small family automobile platform. As with crossover SUVs, third-row seating became optional on most models, such as the Toyota RAV4 and the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Some current compact SUVs have some features which resemble compact MPVs and regular hatchbacks, but still offer many of the perks of standard SUVs, like increased towing capacity and ample cargo space; examples of this are the Honda CR-V, SEAT Altea Freetrack, Renault Koleos, Nissan X-Trail, Dacia (Renault) Duster and Hyundai Tucson/ix35. Most automakers create new market niches by mixing segments with the goal of attracting new customers.
On the other hand, some compact SUVs appear SUV-like and are regarded as smaller-size alternatives to medium-size SUVs in a manufacturer's line. The Ford Escape, introduced in 2001, is an example of this. Others, such as the Jeep Liberty, Range Rover Evoque or Toyota FJ Cruiser have precise handling with independent front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering setup, but remain purpose built for off-road performance.
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Great designs never grow old, a truth no better confirmed than by designer Dick Teague's masterpiece, the Jeep Cherokee. Possibly the best SUV shape of all time, it is the paradigmatic model to which other designers have since aspired
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