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All about SUV-Compact

What is a compact SUV?

A Compact SUV is the smallest of the Sport Utility Vehicles, or SUVs. SUV is an American term that is used to describe what we used to call a four-wheel drive (or 4-Wheel Drive, or four-wheel drive). Other terms include AWD (All-Wheel Drive) or four-by-four (4x4). However, increasingly, many SUVs are two-wheel drive (2WD), be it front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD). The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) adopted the US term SUV to categorise all the vehicles it used to classify as 4WD.

Is a compact SUV really small?

Most Compact SUVs are small, or based on small cars or small car architecture. This makes such Compact SUVs light, as they do not have a heavy separate chassis (or ladder frame chassis) that more serious off-road 4WD vehicles need in order to withstand harsh treatment. Instead, they are constructed using monocoque bodies, and so are very car-like. Car-like Compact SUVs are also known as Urbane SUVs as a result. Most Compact SUVs range from under four metres to under five metres long, and are usually around 1.8 metres wide. Compact SUV ground clearance varies for each vehicle, but expect it to range from about 175mm to around 220mm.

Are all compact SUVs like a raised wagon?

The overwhelming number of Compact SUVs have four doors (4DR) and a tailgate like a wagon. Sometimes these Compact SUVs are also called five-door wagons (5DR wagons). A very few like the Suzuki Grand Vitara GV3 are Compact SUVs with two-door wagon (2DR wagon) body styles (or three-door 3DR wagon), and normally have a short wheelbase (SWB) rather than a long wheelbase (LWB). However, you can have a Compact SUV that is low-slung and sporty such as the Mazda CX-7, tall, boxy and practical such as the Mitsubishi Outlander, squat like a hatchback (Nissan Dualis) or upright and traditional, such as the Land Rover Freelander. Then there are the Compact SUVs which are clearly just jumped-up wagons or estate cars, such as the Skoda Octavia Scout or Subaru Outback.

Do compact SUVs offer a range of engine options?

Indeed, there is a wide range of engines and transmission choices for Compact SUV buyers to make. Most Compact SUV models use a four-cylinder (or 4-cylinder) petrol engine, of between 1.8-litres and 2.6-litres in size. Then there is the diesel or turbo-diesel engine Compact SUV models, ranging from about 1.6-litres to 3.0-litres in size and capacity. We can also expect petrol-electric hybrid Compact SUVs to be introduced in the near future. The standard gearbox choice for many Compact SUVs is the manual transmission in five and six-speed manual configuration. Americans often refer to this as a stick shift. People into Compact SUVs who don’t want to change gears themselves can choose an automatic transmission in four-speed, five-speed, six-speed or seven-speed gearbox applications. Increasingly, carmakers are turning to the Continuously Variable Transmission – also known as CVT – for their Compact SUVs. This is an efficient if complex alternative to a regular automatic gearbox. Also gaining popularity among Compact SUVs is the appearance of the dual clutch transmission or dual clutch gearbox. One famous trade name for this is DSG, introduced by Volkswagen and Audi during the early-to-mid 2000s.

Do all compact SUVs have to have four-wheel drive?

No, Compact SUVs can be two-wheel drive (2WD) or 4WD (Four-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive). Most Compact SUVs are based on front-wheel drive (FWD) small car platforms, so have a transverse engine application delivering torque to the front wheels. This means that these Compact SUVs are front-wheel drive too, even if they have a 4WD or AWD badge on them, since in most driving situations the front wheels are the driving wheels. When slippage or traction loss is detected, torque or drive is sent to the rear wheels in most Compact SUVs that are 4WD or AWD, via a differential, for extra traction. In some Compact SUVs, the driver can lock all four wheels for permanent four-wheel drive (or 4WD), although this is usually only restricted to fairly low speed on-road driving or if extra traction off-road is needed. Yet some Compact SUVs have all four wheels being driven permanently, as is the case for Subaru and its trademark Symmetrical AWD All-Wheel Drive system. While there are extra grip advantages to this set-up, having all four wheels being driven in your Compact SUV is often unnecessary and wasteful of power and fuel, according to some critics. As most Compact SUVs are small car-based, there are hardly any that are rear-wheel drive (RWD) only, although occasionally some do appear.

Which compact SUVs are ‘green’ or ‘environmental’?

Diesel powered Compact SUVs are becoming increasingly popular, due to their excellent fuel economy, long fuel range and lower carbon dioxide CO2 emissions rating. On the other hand, nitrogen oxide (NOX) readings are high, negating some of the fuel economy benefits and low CO2 emissions of a diesel in a Compact SUV. Petrol-electric hybrid Compact SUVs should be with us in the future, and these promise to be greener. In the long-term future, expect fuel-cell FCV Compact SUVs to come on stream, as manufacturers try to find ways to eliminate exhaust emissions by 100 per cent.

Are there benefits or advantages to choosing a compact SUV?

While most Compact SUVs are based on small cars, the extra traction afforded by their 4WD four-wheel drive or AWD All-wheel Drive system, combined with good ground clearance, approach angles and departure angles, means that they are capable of light off-road duty. Compact SUVs are also tougher than regular passenger cars. Compact SUVs usually have an elevated driving position and a higher hip point (or H-point) for easier entry and egress, as well as easier loading and unloading. Compact SUVs are often easier to see out of because they offer more panoramic views. Many Compact SUVs have a better resale value than the passenger cars that they may be based on.

Are there downsides or disadvantages to a compact SUV?

There are quite a few disadvantages or negative points associated with a Compact SUV. Many Compact SUVs have reduced rear vision and so pose a grave risk to children, animals and/or objects directly behind while reversing. Many Compact SUVs weigh more than the small-car models that begat them, which means they use more fuel, produce more exhaust fumes, and are less wieldy or heavier to manoeuvre or park. Many Compact SUVs have an image of being unenvironmental, which could make the owner or driver a target for green groups who hate urban 4WDs. Some Compact SUVs are more expensive to run than regular cars, since they cost more to buy, cost more in fuel, and – in some places – cost more in tax and registration fees because they are heavier and more profligate.

Are compact SUVs safe?

Many Compact SUVs are equipped with airbags, stability control and traction control and ABS anti-lock brakes, to help them achieve a five-star ANCAP or ENCAP crash test safety rating. On the flipside, Compact SUVs are inherently less stable in strong crosswinds because of their taller standing, and so may feel more roly poly or unstable than a lower vehicle. Also, their extra weight means that the brakes have to work harder to haul the Compact SUV up.

What are the best compact SUVs available?

Among the better Compact SUVs are the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Land Rover Freelander II, Renault Koleos, Nissan X-Trail, Nissan Dualis, Volkswagen Tiguan and Mazda CX-7.

Which countries do most compact SUVs come from?

Japan and Thailand provide our most popular Compact SUVs, although Europe (Germany, Belgium, France and Czech Republic) are also suppliers, as are China, the United Kingdom UK, United States of America USA, South Korea and Taiwan.

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