By on July 30, 2012

Pictures of the “production” version of the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, which looks about the same as the “concept” version unveiled at Detroit in January. And along with the reveal, another body-on-frame SUV bites the dust.

Having driven the Infiniti JX (essentially, a really nice 2013 Pathfinder), I’m not at all concerned; the Pathfinder has become yet another toddler taxi. The most extreme situations it will ever see is a gravel driveway. This is a “truck” that needs to compete against the Honda Pilot and the Toyota Highlander – not to mention the Ford Explorer, which seems to be doing just fine with a unibody layout.

The body-on-frame SUV is a species in decline. Part of it is obviously cost considerations. There are perfectly good car platforms out there that can be used to create perfectly good, car-like crossovers. But how much of it is because these car-based SUVs are competent enough that having a body-on-frame design doesn’t matter? We can throw out arguments about towing, or off-road prowess, but very few of these vehicles will ever be used for those duties, and even then, they are often strong enough to fulfill the 99 percent of owner expectations.

So, my dear readers, here’s my question; how much of the lamenting of the body-on-frame SUV and its apparent superiority is merely cooked up in the hearts and minds of truck fans, longing for a bygone era? Or am I missing the mark?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

61 Comments on “QOTD: Farewell To The Body-On-Frame SUV?...”


  • avatar
    Sam P

    Most people don’t need BOF SUVs.

    For those that do:

    -Wrangler
    -4Runner
    -GM full-sizers
    -Ford full-sizers

    • 0 avatar
      markholli

      What about the Landcruiser/LX570? Armada/QX56? Lexus GX? Are they ladder frame or unibody?

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The Toyotas are BOF. As is the FJ. I believe the Nissans are as well; built on the Titan frame, if I’m not mistaken.

        If one regularly tows heavy enough to render unibodies unfit, Extended cab Pickups with battleship engines and football field length wheelbases are probably indicated.

        Lift kits, long travel suspensions etc. are supposedly easier, cheaper and more reliably done on vehicles with frames.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        The Nissan Pathfinder was based on the Titan frame coming in at nearly 4/5ths its size.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      I thought the Pathfinder went unibody in 1996. The Xterra picks up where the Pathfinder left off for people who need an off-road vehicle. Am I missing something?

      edit: Never mind. I see the Pathfinder mysteriously went BOF again in 2006.

  • avatar
    2012JKU

    Mainstream SUVs have been moving away from BOF construction for years now. The larger SUV’s like the Suburban, Escalade will still be based on the truck frames. The Jeep Wrangler is also BOF and being in a unique niche will not change either. Your average Honda/Toyota passenger hauler will be unibody though.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    I think that GM has a market for a body-on-frame SUV with good towing credentials. That’s really all I would want a BOF SUV for. We built our own house and everything arrived in our 16 foot utility trailer towed by a GMC Envoy. Sure, the Envoy’s transmission blows up at the drop of a hat, but something that could tow 7,500lbs, carry 5 people and some cargo with a load leveling rear suspension would get a good nod in my book. There’s really only a small number of shoppers that *needs* a BOF SUV, but those that do are kind of in a pickle.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      The tow ratings for unibody SUVs are starting to creep upwards. Another couple of product generations and I would bet that there is absolutely no reason to need BOF.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Well, the Ram Van was unibody its entire existence and the GM full-size vans were unibody until ’96, and those could be equipped with a fairly high towing/payload capacity. I think a 454 G30 was rated at 10000 lbs.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    We are all mini-vans now.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      Exactly. Different lipstick but the same pig.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        Because most women today now do not want a “station wagon” ie: the “mommy car of their grandmothers” nor the “mini-van” ie: the “mommy car of their mothers”.

        T’was much better when the women folk were just happy not have to harness the horse to the buckboard wagon…

        (ducks head to avoid incoming thrown lipstick cases, hair color bottles, and water bottles)

  • avatar
    morbo

    Yes and No. There have been several times in the late 00′s (aughts?) where I needed to haul several hundred pounds of test equipment through dirt/gravel/unpaved roads to a test site. I alwaqys rented cars for that task. I can inform you that 700# of test equipment in a Chevy Malibu, plus four bodies in the car across gravel is a BAD idea. The same task in a Chevy Trailblazer actually improved it’s ride across gravel (I know, I know, unsprung weight and such).

    The last time I needed to do that, the BoF SUV I reserved at Avis was unavilable. They offered me either the ‘big’ Hyundai SUV (Tucson? Veracruz? Santa Fe? Las Vegas? Phoenix? I lose track fo which Southwest city means what in their lineup) or a Town Car.

    Panther Love, 700# of equipment in the trunk, and still a better ride then an ES or 5-Series.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    The old body-on-frame SUVs were way overkill for nearly everyone. Years ago, I was watching the Long Way Round series where two guys take their bikes around the world. Their chase vehicle at one point in the deep uninhabited parts of Siberia was a BOF Nissan SUV. The guys in the show made comments to the fact that this vehicle is so capable, yet nearly everyone uses it to commute and go shopping.

    The all-wheel-drive systems in todays cute utes are more than enough for 99.9% of these vehicles’ buyers.

    Yes, there is always someone that needs to carry 700# of stuff or whatever, but the vast vast majority of people never do.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Who needs it, I guess? Probably the Frontier, but this is just another sign that it’ll also go away after ’12.

    Really, who needs a traditional RWD truck when you can get a FWD/AWD CVT?

  • avatar
    Viquitor

    Don’t care if it is BOF or not. It is just really nice to look at.

  • avatar
    86er

    The Pathfinder started out as BOF, was unibody from 96-04, then went back to BOF, and likely will stay unibody until the end of its production run.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Nothing wrong with body on frame when done right: Original Cherokee

    Cross-overs and most modern SUVs are right to go unibody as you mentioned–99% of them are basically station wagons/minivan alternatives, leave the real BOF units such as wrangler for those who actually need them.

    • 0 avatar
      DannyZRC

      I know somebody that has collapsed not one, but two Cherokee unibodies.

      a dented rocker panel is a dead unibody jeep, not true for body on frame construction.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “I think that GM has a market for a body-on-frame SUV with good towing credentials. That’s really all I would want a BOF SUV for.”

    The only reason for buying something like a Tahoe or ‘Burb is for towing something heavy enough that it needs tandem axles. People that have purchased BOF SUVS in the past as a fashion statement won’t care or know the difference.

  • avatar
    Feds

    Yeah, Unibody SUV’s are terrible. You need a real SUV, like the ’84-01 Cherokee, or the ’96-04 Pathfinder. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

    Unsarcastically: Construction doesn’t necessarily define capability. A Unibody SUV with a north/south powertrain and a real transfer case will do just as much offroad as a BOF one.

    On a capability front, the above-mentioned Pathfinder had a 5,000lb tow rating, and the Lambdas seem to be at 5,200. If the unibodys pay weight, packaging, and comfort dividends while delivering the capability you need, then why not?

    On the other hand, it’s unlikely BOF SUV’s will ever die. Once you’ve tooled up for the pickup truck, it only makes sense to cut out the back of the cab and bondo the truck cap to the bed. More sales for less development cost.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Who really cares how the suspension and drivetrain bits attach to the body? Who in class can tell the difference? The real story is its FWD/AWD and CVT… Bueller?

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      I think it is more of a question of durability than suspension design. Joe Sixpack may not know a solid axle if it bit him the ass but he knows that trucks (and by extension truck based SUVs) are built to withstand more abuse than a tall Altima. Talltima?

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        True, but anyone looking to do some serious off-roading, towing or drive 40 miles of bad roads everyday, likely isn’t shopping for “Talltimas”.

        The regular city and hwy grind is unlikely to crack the uni-body.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    People need minivans, but they want them to be called SUVs, so this is what you end up with.

  • avatar
    jco

    it would be nice if the Japanese makers would sell us their turbodiesel BOF suvs. I’m looking at you, Land Cruiser, Prado and Patrol. they sell us those models, just not equipped with the proper powertrain. I know, the answer for everything here at TTAC is diesel, but in a BOF truck it just completes the package. better towing, better MPG (which should make a stronger case for it now), etc.

    the Germans are happy to sell us diesel unibody SUVs, but that’s not the same and they cost a lot more money than someone who wants a BOF suv for work duty is willing to spend (generally..)

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Yes…I want a 70 series Land Cruiser that is not a 25 year old import from Canada. I drive a new 78 series here almost daily and I love it. 5 speed, Solid Front Axle, diesel, real transfer case shifted via a lever, roll up windows and vinyl as far as the eye can see. Well I can dream can’t I.

      This could be a good thing for folks like me though. Maybe the remaining BOF vehicles will return to their roots. An EcoBoost Bronco based on a short wheelbase F150 would be intriguing. Put the Raptor bits under it and aim it at the Rubicon and I’d give it a look. Just give me the option of a vinyl floor and seats please.

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        Now your speakin’ my language brother, an EcoBoost Bronco would be a dream come true. Until that day I’ll keep driving my ’96 XL with stick and bench seat.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The 4cyl diesel Toyota sells for the Prado abroad, is sooooo slow and sluggish that even the average retired makeup applying grandmother here in the US would think there was something wrong with it in day to day driving. It’s awesome for bad roads at slow speeds, even with a tow load, but it is literally too slow to be comfortable going to Wallmart via the occasional US freeway onramp.

      The V8 diesel in the widebody LC is wicked. Specifically engineered to perform the ultimate off road power and endurance feat; hauling enough beer to sustain an entire Australian, for an entire weekend(!), in the Outback. But us ‘Mericuns can get similar performance for one third the price in a pickup of some sort. And our beer really isn’t worth spending more than that on.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Not a truck person or an off-roader, but for 90% of SUV buyers, no one needs whatever benefits a BOF design provides. I would think in today’s world of metallurgy and computer designs, a unibody could be made strong enough to handle all but the most severe off road duties.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I mostly lament that instead of getting cars that are good at being cars, and trucks that are good at being trucks, we’re stuck with some freakish, underwhelming combination of the two.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    I’m more upset about the loss of stick and low range.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Not sure if my wife’s 11 Sorrento is considered an “SUV” but I specifically waited for the re-design in 11 to get Unibody. Safety ratings are much improved and it still has a tow capacity of 3500 pounds which is probably more than I’ll ever need.

    Isn’t the F-150 the best selling vehicle in the USA? Is it BOF ? (I’m not actually sure, someone correct me) In any case, can’t these things tow a ton? It should be easy to find one of these cheap/used if you really need to tow something from time to time and or/rent a truck.

    Sure I believe you should have a choice, but bof or not there are a LOT of trucks around that can tow lots of weight without needing bof suvs…

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    BOF seema the logical choice, as it is easier to repair and more durable. I have owned several BOF vehicles and ridden in many more, and I never ever found the ride bad.

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    The Nissan Xterra is still an excellent BOF go anywhere SUV.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I don’t believe BOF SUVs are going away completely, as there are people who need a vehicle with passenger and protected cargo space where a crew-cab pickup wth a bed cover just won’t do.

    Our neighbor – the same one who bought our MX5, owns a mini-ocean-liner and needs a capable vehicle to pull it. Their previous vehicle, a Honda Pilot just couldn’t cut it, so they bought a Chevy Tahoe LTZ. It’s not only beautiful to look at, but easily pulls their battleship and their gear to harbor every weekend with no sweat at all!

    For the majority though, how many people, especially wives, want to drive a small diesel wagon with a manual transmission anyway? Certainly not me nor wifey. Minivans have acquired a stigma of sorts, and a unibody CUV hides that and still looks like it means business – unless it’s a Hyundai or Kia! (chuckle, chuckle, tongue firmly in cheek)

    There will be a market, just a more realistic one, especially in these times and the OEMs under CAFE pressure.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    The SUV market segment target also wanted vehicles tall enought to look over the top of other vehicles.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    I can’t figure how the market prior to the 90′s SUV craze was able to support such a wide variety of capable, simple, rugged SUVs and why it is not able to do so today.

    I am too young to remember the market then but some significant segment must have been interested in SUVS. Presumably today’s CUV buyer would have bought a station wagon 30 years ago so who was buying SUVs at the time?

    Turn on the TV and you’ll find 10 different shows about ranchers, loggers, prospectors, roughnecks, survivalists, etc. Outdoor sports are more popular than ever so why has the demand dried up?

    Are we in a transition period? Is it just a matter of time before we get a compact, 4cyl diesel SUV with solid axles, a transfer case and bench seat? I hope that’s all it is. The Wrangler and FJ cruiser are great but us SUV lovers need a little variety. The Scion FRS brought back the simple, lightweight sports car and now other manufacturers are following suit…is not the SUV world ready for its own FRS?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Prior to the 90s, BOF SUV’s were cheap to build, as crash standards weren’t all that. Just plop a tincan on top of some sort of half straight ladder frame, attach an engine, and call it a day.

      Nowadays, the structure attached to the frame needs to be so solid for crash purposes, that the added bits and pieces required to make it self supporting, is almost nil. So why not do it, and skip the frame?

      Also, when a mountaineering tent was all that was required of a cabin on top of the frame, the vehicle’s gravity center, despite everything sitting on top of a frame, was still fairly low. Look at those old Alu Land rover’s with their horse carriage compatible front and rear tracks. Putting a cabin solid enough for today’s standards that high up, on that narrow a vehicle, and the whole thing would probably tip over if both front and rear doors on the same side were opened at the same time.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      Prior to the mid-1980′s there really were not that many SUVs available on the U.S. market. Chevy and GMC had the Blazer and Suburban. Ford had the Bronco. Dodge had the Ram Charger. Jeep had the CJ Series and Cherokee/Wagoneer. Toyota had the Land Cruiser. In the 1960′s and 1970′s International had the Scout and Travelall, British Leyland had the Land Rover and Nissan had the Patrol.

      That’s about it. In those days the SUV market was very small because they were only purchased by people who absolutely needed a 4×4 vehicle with room for several passengers and their gear. SUVs were rarely purchased for use as family cars and they were not considered status symbols. The market and buyer demographics were very different from what they became in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s.

      The reason demand for bof SUVs has dried up in recent years is because many people who didn’t really need an SUV have moved on to other segments. The decline of the bof SUV has been paralleled by the rise of the unibody, fwd/awd CUV which is really a station wagon or minivan jacked-up and dressed-up to look like an SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      The minivan was never quite the functional replacement for the traditional station wagon, these car-based SUV’s are. 40 years ago we camped using a BOF Chevy station wagon. As we got more into remote desert camping, a unibody Dodge A-108 Sportsman passenger van replaced it. BOF is not the holy grail of toughness. Back then a unibody Plymouth was arguably tougher than a BOF Chevy or Ford.

      Today, offering a station wagon for $200 more than a sedan is probably far less profitable than creating a more expensive SUV on the same platform.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        Each of these vehicle types has its advantages and disadvantages. Which is best for you really depends on where and how you drive.

        I never tow or drive off road and I live in the deep south where snow and ice are all but unheard of. The last time I was in the market for a new car I went straight for a minivan and did not even consider an SUV or CUV. For my purposes (family truckster for small kids and occasional light hauling) no other vehicle matches the versility of the minivan’s sliding rear doors, flat floors and flexible seating.

        I do have friends who regularly tow boats and heavy trailers and who hunt in areas where the roads are deeply rutted and turn into mud bogs after every rain. These guys all drive bof pickups and suvs. For their use a minivan or car-based CUV is not going to cut it.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    Land Rover LR3/LR4 has both. A unibody dropped onto a frame.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    Funny how my first BOF vehicle (’11 4Runner) is also my favorite owned vehicle to date. It just feels different (more primitive eliciting character perhaps?).

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      While not my most absolute favorite (though it’s pretty high up there), I have to agree with you here. I have a ’12 4Runner myself and I couldn’t be happier with it. Yes it has character and it is rugged, which is why I went for it. I’m a Ford guy, but for my needs and uses, the unibody Explorer won’t cut it durability wise. Not a knock on it as I do think it’s a nice vehicle and for it’s intended customers it’s just fine. For me though, I’m a photographer and I’m not above getting down and dirty to get a great photo. I don’t thrash my ‘Runner, but it gets used just like its intended. Still as much as I like it, I can see Toyota killing it off in a few years…. sad, but even here in southern California, the newer 4Runners are somewhat rare, especially if you compare it to the Venza, Highlander and Rav4. I went to San Diego recently with my new truck and only saw 2 for a major metropolitan area! Just 2 on the street!

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        I wouldn’t worry about Toyota killing the 4Runner. As long as there is the Hilux and Land Cruiser(and there will be) it will make financial sense for them to continue to make the 4Runmer. I never really saw the Pathfinder as an off-road SUV in the same vein as the 4Runner, anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Speed Spaniel

        4Runners here in southeastern MA appear to sell very well (along with Highlanders). In lieu of the many crossover vehicles Toyota sells, I’m willing to bet they keep the future 4Runners BOF, especially since there are many variants sold in other parts of the world. BTW – I read an article a while back stating the current gen 4Runner is one of the top ranking safest vehicles on the road. So, safety, comfort, fun to drive, style (subjective, but I like it), versatility, ruggedness, reliability, decent economy for what it is, who could ask….er…never mind, I won’t go there! ; )

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    Welcome to the Wiserhood.

  • avatar
    mountainman_66

    def. more outdoorsman than car guy here (buckeye state bowhunter/camper/boater/fisherguy…)
    that said, I have to guess that a unibody small to mid size SUV would be more than capable of doing more or less what a similarly sized BOF rig would be able to do, if the designers really wanted to.

    but i think its a moot point, as most smallish SUV’s tote anxious suburban moms around. and the most successful bowhunter i know uses a well used 3/4 ton GMC work van……all of his gear (stands, bows, misc. gear ) are all safe and sound inside his van. he can even put his 400cc 4WD ATV inside it in a pinch. Its 2wd and Ive never noticed him having any trouble on the snow covered coal mine roads we frequent October through January.

    yeah, its a shame that the SUV craze neutered this sort of rig…..the Bronco II, the original unibody Cherokee and the Scout were all capable rigs meant for the sportman.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Mr and Mrs “For the occasional trip to Home Depot we need an SUV” couldn’t care less abou BOF. They are like ‘whatever’ as long as it has high seating position, “looks like a truck”, cargo area for a bulk toilet paper boxes and GPS, they are sold.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    BTW, back in the day, station wagons with trailer hitches were used by ‘Outdoors’ enthusiasts.

    • 0 avatar
      mountainman_66

      yeah true lots of folks caught lots of fish and bagged many a deer with the help of Ford’s Country Squire or a Plymouth Fury Sport Suburban.
      But even back in the day, if one wanted to get off road or down a timber road without worry a 4WD truck or utility rig was the preferred choice. a few bears and lots of geese took their first and last ride in my dad’s ’68 F250 Camper Special.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        That Plymouth Sport Suburban was not BOF, but probably handled those duties better than the Country Squire. Ground clearance, not type of construction is more important out there. Our unibody Dodge A-108 rode high on its “Conestoga Wagon” suspension. I had damaged the Impala’s fuel tank on one offroad adventure before we got the Dodge.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    That’s for sure. Dad and I hunted a lot of elk in a ’55 Ford custom wagon (2-door). Towed the camping trailer, acres of room, 292 Y block and 3 on the tree. Rolling on lug tires over logging roads. Might as well been a BOF 1/2 ton PU as it was certainly heavier, bigger, as tough and more powerful than the ’56 with the 223 six.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    It amuses me no end to see the BOF pickups and SUVs of our fair suburb swerving to avoid either sticks no bigger around than my thumb or slightly sunken manhole covers.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    It’s because they are rolling 20′s. Ridiculous on a utility vehicle. I had to scrounge the country to find 18′s for the Rover.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States