What Exactly Defines Cars and SUVs These Days? Marketing Spin and a Regulatory Morass

What Exactly Defines Cars and SUVs These Days? Marketing Spin and a Regulatory Morass

Quick, take a look at the image above. Which of these Volvos is a car and which is the truck?

The Volvo on the left is the V60 Polestar, a bubbly 415 horsepower, 494 lb-ft family hauler cruising through its 2.0-liter turbo-four engine and electric motors. It has 5.4 inches of ground clearance and gets a fuel economy of 28/33 mpg city / highway (70/68 mpg-e on gas and electric). The Volvo on the right is a (discontinued) XC70 AWD, a refined wagon generating 235 horsepower and 236 lb-ft from a 3.2-liter inline-six engine. It has 8.3 inches of ground clearance and a fuel economy of 18/25 mpg city / highway.

On initial inspection, they are both wagons based on passenger car platforms. And they really look like the same type of vehicle, don’t they? False. The V60 Polestar is a station wagon, which means it’s classified as a car, while the XC70 is seen as an SUV, which means (technically) it’s a truck. At least that distinction is made according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which often ranks new vehicles in surprising ways that don’t quite correspond to perceived reality.

I don’t want to take it out on Volvo. All car manufacturers do. They can use the flexible parameters provided by the government to classify vehicles to help them better comply with regulations. If it is classified as a wagon (and therefore a car) or as an SUV (and therefore a truck), different fuel economy, emissions and crash test regulations apply.

But instead of looking at the underlying platform and structure (a car-based monocoque or a truck-based chassis body), the EPA simply groups automobiles by interior volume, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration groups cars for crash tests by weight. classroom.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. And sometimes the definitions run counter to automakers and consumers.

We have lifted hatchbacks that have barely more ground clearance than a Toyota Corolla sedan and are only offered as front-wheel drive, but automakers insist they are marketed as SUVs, adding their own spin in this classification fog. Yes, we are looking at you Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Venue and Toyota CH-R. But dig deep into the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov website, and you’ll find that they are (correctly) classified as cars.

But then we have a direct competitor to these vehicles in the Kia Seltos, which, in addition to its off-road look, has optional all-wheel drive and 7.3-inch ground clearance (although a bit shy of the 8.4 considered the cutoff point to call something an SUV). It even has a locking differential. This should lead you to your ski chalet. Is it an SUV? Yes, according to the EPA. But it’s also based on the same platform as the front-wheel-drive Kia Soul hatchback, which is a car; this platform also underpins the front-drive-only Hyundai Venue. Hmmm.

Even stranger, in the old days, vehicles could be classified as both a car and an SUV. For example, the EPA decided that, based on its parameters, the original PT Cruiser and Lexus RX 300 were cars, but manufacturers could classify them as trucks for NHTSA crash testing and for purposes average corporate fuel economy. Talk about leeway.

This year, we even have an automaker who symbolically shot himself in the foot playing with definitions. Mercedes-Benz insists on classifying its E450 All-Terrain as an SUV rather than a wagon (thus classifying it in the “car” category). As a result, the MotorTrend The 2021 Car of the Year win by the E-Class lineup doesn’t include off-roading, simply because Mercedes lifted the chassis a few inches, slapped a macho coating, and slightly upgraded its capabilities while -terrain compared to the standard E450 4Matic wagon it replaces this year. Pity. Our golden stirrups would look radiant on its long roof.

On the other hand, when we reach out to automakers to submit vehicles for the SUV of the Year, we caution them against sending in large sedans or front wheel drive wagons as they will inevitably get stuck in the silt. pit from the Honda Proving Center and therefore essentially will be disqualified. But they do it anyway, with predictable results. Continue the confusion.

While we certainly have more pressing regulatory issues facing the EPA and NHTSA, perhaps the automakers and these government agencies can come to a consensus on what these vehicles really are. These are cars, right?

More by Mark Rechtin:

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  • One White Chip: Why Dyson Could Not Match Tesla’s Startup Success
  • A prayer for Bergamo: Rinascerò… Rinascerai
  • How MotorTrend is testing cars now


The Position What Exactly Defines Cars and SUVs Today? Marketing Spin and a Regulatory Morass first appeared on MotorTrend.

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